Athahra Saya Khola Himal (Mountain of 1,800 Rivers) is a bizarre name, one that evokes the feeling of a faraway place, a mythical wonderland of Buddhist culture, exotic. This is the name we gave to a previously unclimbed 6,767m summit on the Tibetan border, just north of Panbari (6,905m), in the region between Samdo and Phu, north of the Manaslu massif. Athahra Saya Khola is the Nepali name for the river that flows from the foot of the mountain and is the ancient name of the region now known as Nubri.
The Valley of 1,800 Rivers is dominated by a group of three snowy peaks called Three Brothers, or Tin Bai in Nepalese. They stand in front of Panbari, which is only just visible beyond. They are not technical peaks, nor are they particularly impressive, but they are important geographically, since they control access to the vast glacial plateaus below the east faces of Nemjung and Himlung, also in the Peri Himal. The presence of major cols suggests the possibility of a lovely glaciated traverse from Phu to Samdo.
The route we established is clearly visible when heading up valley and particularly noticeable from La Chen, the col that leads to Ru in Tibet, the home village of many of the inhabitants of Samdo. It is a route that should become classic, since Panbari, despite being 95m short of 7,000m, will likely draw alpinists seeking new and unexplored terrain. Our route also provides a nice alternative to the heavily crevassed Fukan Glacier, followed by the Japanese who made the only ascent of Panbari (AAJ 2007).
Initially I thought the moraine at the junction of the Athahra Saya and Fukan Glaciers would be an impenetrable labyrinth of boulders and debris. However, a base camp on the moraine is comfortable and easily accessible with pack animals. These are readily available, as the large pastures of Samdo village are near.
It snowed heavily during our autumn trip: only two short storms during a stretch of otherwise clear weather, but they dumped more than a meter of light, powdery snow, beautiful to look at but very unstable. At the high camp for Panbari, I woke in the morning and realized that we would not be going to its summit. It had snowed again the night before, and the Nepalese team that was resting at the camp below never rejoined us. However, we were overwhelmed by a bout of energy, so we got out of the tent and wallowed through the snow, eventually gaining the plateau, where we saw Panbari - the summit of our dreams - and the col to its north. The ascent to the plateau comprised huge, moderate snow slopes and a small, elegant arête. It took an entire day to gain just 100m of elevation. Above, on the windswept arête, things went better. We shoveled and shoveled, picking our way up the route with determination and persistence. On October 27 Svend Caron, Jacky Crouset, Jean Milteau, Caroline Strube, Michelle Quatrini, Benoit van Lerberghe, and I all made it to the top of the dome of Hindu Himal. The day wasn’t yet over. Caron, van Lerberghe, and I continued northwest to Lilia Peak, and then van Lerberghe and I kept going to Athahra Saya Khola Himal, reaching the summit at 2:30 p.m. From the top we could see the major col that separates Himlung and Nemjung and will perhaps be part of a future, epic trip between Samdo and Phu.