American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, India, Sikkim, Kangchenjunga Himal, Zemu Gap (5,861m), First Documented Ascent from the South

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2012

Kangchenjunga Himal, Zemu Gap (5,861m), first documented ascent from the south. Reaching Zemu Gap from the south proved a long-standing mountaineering problem. The Gap (27°40'9?N, 88°12'53?E) lies on the high ridge extending east from the south summit of Kangchenjunga, between unnamed Peak 7,038m and the Simvu Twins (6,812m and 6,811m). From the north (Zemu Glacier) it is straightforward; from the south (Tongshyong Glacier) it is a steep icefall, though the main problem is the remote, complicated approach. Dr. Alexander Kellas was the first to reach the col, in May 1910, from a high camp above Zemu Glacier. In 1920 Tobin and Raeburn tried from the south but found the objective danger so great “the route would have been little short of suicidal.” In 1925 the Greek photographer N. Tombazi claimed to have reached it from the south (and while in the region apparently made one of the earliest sightings of the yeti), but he took no photographs, and his ascent is doubted. The following year Captain Boustead said he’d reached the Gap from the south, but H.W. Tilman, in 1936, found Boustead’s description completely at variance with reality. Tilman tried from the south but found the final ice wall impregnable. In the intervening years the Gap had seen another ascent from the north, by two members of Paul Bauers 1929 Kangchenjunga expedition. In 1937 John Hunt and Pasang Kikuli also reached the Gap from the north, as did Tilman in 1938. Tilman descended the south side, making the only crossing of the col. An Indian team failed from the south in 1975, after which bureaucratic difficulties made it impossible to visit this region until 2008, when a small British team gained a permit to cross the Guicha La to the Talung Glacier, and hence via the Tongshyong Glacier cross the Gap from south to north. They traversed the La but were turned back shortly after, as were Indians in 2010.

In November 2011 we crossed the Guicha La and continued up the Tongshyong Glacier, until five days of heavy snow thwarted our chances, and we escaped following Claude White’s 1890 footsteps east to Sakyong Sanklan, Sampo, and finally Mangan.

In December I returned with Pemba Sherpa and Thendup Sherpa, starting our trek from above Mangan on the 5th. On the 9th we put base camp on the Tongshyong Glacier at 3,750m and by the 12th had Camp 2 at 4,968m. On the 14th we placed Camp 3 at 5,250m on the moraine shelf above the first icefall on the glacier descending from Zemu Gap. Next day it took us six hours to climb the second icefall (250m) and the final headwall (200m), avoiding the overhanging blue ice that dominates the center of the Gap by the rock wall to its left. While ours is the first documented ascent from the south, and Boustead’s claim is as unbelievable as Maestri’s claimed first ascent of Cerro Torre, we find no reason to believe Tombazi did not reach the Gap.

Anindya Mukherjee, India

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