American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Cerro Kishtwar, West Face and South Ridge, Yoniverse; White Sapphire (6,040m), West Face, La Virée des Contemporains

India, Kishtwar Himalaya

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year: N/A
  • Publication Year: 2012

At the end of September Denis Burdet (Swiss), David Lama (Austrian), Stefan Siegrist (Swiss), and American photographer Robert Frost made the second ascent of Cerro Kishtwar (6,155m). This area of the eastern Kishtwar Himalaya, untouched by the mountaineering community for almost two decades, holds many unnamed, unclimbed summits. Limited information and outdated maps made planning difficult, and after approaching up the Haptal Valley the team faced initial problems when they realized that to make an alpine-style attempt they would need to move base camp closer. They established an advanced base at 5,000m.

Their first idea was to link the west and northwest faces, and on September 25th all four climbed north-facing slopes of loose rock covered with snow and ice to reach a glacier terrace at 5,400m, where they placed a camp. The day was long, as 40cm of fresh snow from two weeks previous had not consolidated. Next day they saw a logical line that had not been visible from below: a thin diagonal ice ramp/couloir on the west face that curved up for 200m toward the south ridge. However, they were unable to reach the couloir that day and rappelled back to camp, to have a rest day and then set out early for the summit.

On the 28th the alarm went off at 3 a.m., and they left with light sacks. The first six pitches in the couloir were ice and styrofoam, good for climbing but less than ideal for placing pro. They were mostly reliant on rare rock belays. The couloir steepened to 85° before giving way to vertical rock, which gave climbing up to 6a. The temperature was -25°C but on reaching the south ridge they were able to warm their feet in the sun. The crest above, difficult at first, then with easier sections on rock and snow, led to the southeast summit, which they reached at 1:15 p.m. The GPS gave an altitude of 6,155m, rather than previously quoted heights of 6,200m and 6,220m. All except Frost traversed for 15 minutes to the northwest summit (one rappel, then an easy snow ridge), which they measured as five meters lower. Twenty-six rappels brought them back to camp just after dark, and on the 29th they all descended to advanced base. They named the route Yoniverse (1,200m, WI5 6a).

Several days later Burdet and Siegrist left for an unclimbed peak south of Cerro Kishtwar, on the ridge leading to Sentinel Peak (5,950m). On October 4 after a long day in heavy snow, they camped at 5,200m below the western side of the mountain, the alarm set for 3:30 a.m. on the 5th. They opted for a narrow, deep gully on the west face, slanting left toward the summit. Being acclimatized, they climbed fast, and after an avalanche-prone traverse, found themselves in a chimney system similar to Exocet on Patagonia’s Cerro Standhardt. There was dry-tooling, 90° ice, a difficult roof, and tricky protection. They topped out at a col to find the peak has a double summit. Leaving one sack, they traversed northwest, at first over horribly loose rock on the north flank of the crest, until after two pitches they discovered a hole leading onto the south flank, where the rock was much better. A couple more pitches led to the top, which they recorded as 6,040m GPS. Reversing their steps they continued over the southeast summit (5,980m) and down the south ridge (Eagle Ridge). Toward the end of the descent, they made four rappels down the southwest flank and reached camp at 7 p.m. They named the peak White Sapphire (33°20.532' N, 76°34.430' E) and the route La Virée des Contemporains (850m, WI5 with two crux pitches of WI6, M6, and A2).

Hans Ambuhl, Visual Impact GMBH, and Stephan Siegrist, Switzerland

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