Asia, India, Himachal Pradesh, Dharamsura (White Sail), Southwest Ridge, P 20,300, and Papsura, Southwest Ridge, Kulu

Publication Year: 1978.

Dharamsura (White Sail), Southwest Ridge, P 20,300, and Papsura, Southwest Ridge, Kulu. We left England by air in two groups, having hacked down our equipment to within the normal accompanied baggage weight allowed. Food was bought in the Kulu valley and we carried all our own supplies once above Base Camp. Bad weather early in May causing a lower than normal snow line resulted in extended load-carrying by the advance party of Rowland Perriment and me, but despite two of the original four porters’ quitting and continual heavy snowfalls, by May 19 Base Camp had been established on the East Tos Glacier at the foot of an impressive icefall. The main party, George Crawford-Smith, Barry Needle, Tara Chand, Steve Berry and my wife Dawn, arrived, the two loyal porters were sent down and on May 23 Advanced Base was finally set up above the icefall at the foot of Dharamsura at 16,000 feet. Again the team split into two groups so that climbs could be attempted simultaneously, slotted into one of the occasional periods of predictable, never good, weather. On May 25, Needle, Chand and I set off across the remainder of the heavily crevassed Papsura Glacier and bivouacked at the foot of the south couloir of P 20,300, the peak west of Papsura. An electrical storm arrived during the night. Progress next morning was continually halted while the storm’s direction was discussed, but eventually we ignored it in favour of greater speed. We traversed into a second couloir, which became quite steep and exposed before it led onto the southeast ridge and summit, which we reached just as the storm moved in again at 11:45. The weather encouraged a fast descent and we got to the bivouac as the snow began to fall and Advanced Base just after dark. Meanwhile the first attempt on the southwest ridge of Dharamsura failed through the temporary collapse of Berry’s health. Attempt two, comprising Perriment and Crawford-Smith, left Advanced Base on May 27. They climbed the steep couloir/ramp leading to a prominent shoulder on the southwest ridge, vanished into the clouds as they passed their previous high point and even succeeded in getting above a huge sérac bulge before camping for the night. Above the clouds, they were rewarded with a glorious sunset but woke early next morning to a familiar sound of falling snow. Knowing the summit was only 1000 feet higher, they set off to grope their way along the narrow ridge. The summit (21,148 feet) was reached by this new route shortly after seven A.M., still in a thick blanket of cloud. They reached Advanced Base late that morning with a success story that was a tremendous surprise to the rest of us in view of the weather. The southwest ridge is an excellent and direct route to the summit, without objective dangers and possibly safer than the normal route. Having accomplished both of our original aims, we decided to attempt a new route that we had previously thought required a stronger, more heavily equipped expedition. The southwest ridge of Papsura (21,165 feet) is the most striking feature of the area, but after a careful study through binoculars, it was decided to make the attempt. While Perriment and Needle waited for better weather, Crawford-Smith and Berry made the first ascent of the southwest ridge of Angdu Ri (19,500 feet), east of Dharamsura, for the purpose of our survey. Chand, Berry, my wife Dawn and I then added a small peak that overlooked Advanced Base, which provided spectacular climbing along an airy ridge of soggy snow. The southwest ridge of Papsura starts not as a ridge so much as a vertical buttress, 1000 feet high, of compact granite. At the shoulder the ridge continues for 1500 feet of sustained difficulty to a snow ridge, the angle of which gradually falls back to the summit. Needle and Perriment bivouacked on May 31 at the foot of the buttress and next morning climbed through two rock bands and over steep connecting snowfields on the south face. From the shoulder they stepped left and for hours struggled up ice-filled chimneys and finally back to the ridge crest. The ridge was then closely followed with several very delicate slab pitches of UIAA V+, one pitch of VI and finally a tension traverse and VI pitch to a bivouac ledge at about 20,000 feet. There was not room even to pitch a tiny tunnel tent. On June 1 they climbed mixed pitches, a steep snow ridge, past a huge bergschrund and finally at one P.M. onto the broad summit. As we watched from Advanced Base, our joy sank into gloom as a terrible snowstorm arrived minutes later. Their descent, which ended the next day, down the unknown northwest ridge, in a storm and through numerous spindrift avalanches, had always been under control—just! We abandoned Advanced Base on June 4.

Paul Bean, Cleveland (England) Mountaineering Club