Bhagirathi III, The Seed of Madness (not to summit)
India, Western Garhwal, Gangotri
Roberto delle Monache and I hoped to repeat the Spanish route, Impossible Star (1,300m, 28 pitches, UIAA VI A3+, Aldeguer-Martinez-Moreno-Tomas, 1984), on the west face of Bhagirathi III (6,454m). However, the weather proved too bad for rock climbing, so on September 13 we turned to the broad icy face to the left that leads toward the 6,050m col between Bhagirathis III and IV. We originally planned to climb the left side of this face, close to the rocks of 6,193m Bhagirathi IV, unaware that this line had been climbed by French the previous year. However, after the first pitch we found the snow too soft to go left, so we continued up right. (There was considerably less snow than during the French ascent. Their base camp was on snow; ours was more or less in the same spot but on flowers). After six pitches we reached the right side of a broad snow/ice field, where we stopped for a few hours because the snow was getting soft. It was late when we started up the steep wall above. The next 50m took three hours, and then, while aiding overhanging rock, I fell 10m when a piton pulled. I descended, leaving the rope in place, and we bivouacked. The altitude was 5,745m.
Next day I reached the top of the fixed rope and, instead of trying the overhanging rock above, made a scary traverse left on thin ice to a good belay The next pitch was not as technical but delicate. Then Roberto led a wonderful pitch on good ice, followed by another, which included aid to pass a roof. Above, we were hit by an avalanche. For three minutes we were pummelled by spindrift while on belay. After the 12th pitch, 300m of snow (up to 60-70°), generally deep and worrisome, led to the ridge above. We climbed it roped but with no protection, following the avalanche channel, to arrive on the north ridge of Bhagirathi III at 6,178m (GPS). The ridge was covered in unstable snow and proved too thin for us to proceed farther, so we bivouacked on the crest. Wed planned to climb the face in a day and had taken little food, so we were really tired. It was 10:30 p.m. and snowing hard.
We had planned to finish our route on the summit of Bhagirathi IV, but this was now out of the question. Next day we climbed only 50m toward this summit, when I spotted a piece of rope on the east flank. We descended from the crest, then climbed and traversed, making six rappels, across the east flank to the straightforward east ridge of Bhagirathi IV. We descended easily to the glacier and made the long walk back to base camp. That morning we had started at 7 a.m., but poor visibility, this being our third day, and our not having eaten since the first meant we didn’t reach the tents until 10 p.m. Our round trip had involved 52 hours of climbing.
We named the 1,000m route The Seed of Madness (1,250m of climbing, WI5+ M6/M7 A2+).
Daniele Nardi, Italy
[Editor’s note:The French route, La Fée Clochette, was briefly mentioned in AAJ 2011. The four climbers were Simon Duverney, Benjamin Guigonnet, Christophe Moulin, and Cédric Perillat. They finished at the 6,050m col, also finding conditions too dangerous to continue up the ridge to the summit of Bhagirathi III. They descended east, which they found easy, and walked back around the mountain. They found the crux to be the section above pitch one. Thanks to Perillat for this information.]