In Nepal’s geopolitical landscape, the West has a special place. West Nepal was one starting point of the Maoist revolution and forms a perfect example of the dramatic imbalance of economic development and tourism that exist within the country. Climbers and trekkers can be counted on the fingers of one hand, and mountaineering in this remote area has a different dimension from the popular regions of Nepal.
Ironically we nearly didn’t get to the Far West; the plane was commandeered at the last minute to evacuate tourists stranded at Lukla. We finally got a flight to Simikot, headed west along the Humla Karnali, and then south up the Kairang Khola, past Chala Village, to reach a 4,276m base camp northeast of Firnkopf (6,730m).
Saipal is little visited, and in the 12 years since the previous ascent, conditions have changed markedly. We attempted the northeast ridge, climbed on only one occasion before by two expeditions within two days of each other in October 1990 (Saipal has only five ascents, the first in October 1963 by Katsutoshi Harabayashi and Pasang Phutar Sherpa, via the south ridge). On October 29 Frank Bonhomme, Frederic Jung, and I stood atop Saipal East Humla. Despite not reaching the main summit of Saipal, only the northeast top, it was my most enjoyable expedition. We realized there is so much to discover in the West: mountains, treks, and especially the people. 2011 has been declared the Year of Tourism in Nepal. If only one percent of the tourists who went to the Annapurna or Khumbu regions could find their way west (or to other forgotten parts of Nepal), then this initiative will be successful, and our climb will have more meaning.
Saipal can be reached in six or seven days from Simikot. The northeast ridge is probably the easiest line, with no objective danger and a superb ridge traverse. It is perhaps V/AD in Himalayan grade. After a glacier approach the steepest section is the ascent of the northwest face of Rani Himal (6,382m), a small rocky summit at the start of the northeast ridge of Saipal. We hit the ridge a couple of rope lengths right of Rani Himal’s top and made our final camp at 6,400m (it seems likely that with teams focused on the main summit, the top of Rani Himal has never been reached). We failed because the distance between our top camp and the summit was too long; we recommend installing another camp further along the ridge, just before it becomes narrow. However, lower virgin peaks are accessible from our base camp. Kairangtse (6,233m), Liz Himal (5,950m), and Rani Himal, all north of Saipal, would make fine objectives. Why don’t you go west?