American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, India, Himachal Pradesh, Gangotri, Thalay Sagar, North Face, Central Couloir with a New Finish

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2007

Thalay Sagar, north face, central couloir with new finish. In September 1998 Koreans Choi Seungchul, Kim Hyun-jin, and Shin Sang-man, whose previous experience included a new route on the Norwegian Pillar of Great Trango and the summit of Nanga Parbat, spent just three days on a direct route up the central couloir of the north face. Having made their last bivouac at 6,700m, the three climbed through the black shale band and into the final chimneys. Watched by friends at base camp, they took six hours to climb the chimney system to the final snow slopes. Reaching the summit from this point looked short and easy, and the base camp observers expected to see the three continue swiftly to the top of the mountain. However, at that moment the top became enveloped by cloud. The observers were unable to see anything of the summit area for over an hour and were perturbed, when the cloud lifted, to see no trace of the climbers. Just after sunrise on the following day one of the team spotted an object at the base of the mountain. Inspection found the bodies of the three Koreans still roped together, having fallen the length of the face. Since then, the north face of Thalay Sagar has aroused grave sentiments in the hearts and souls of the Korean climbing community.

In 2006 Kim Hyeong-seop recruited 23 Korean climbers to partake in the NEPA-sponsored Thalay Sagar North Face Expedition. Members of the Seoul Alpine Rescue team formed the majority of this group. They arrived at base camp on August 1 and began climbing immediately after a memorial service on August 5 for their lost comrades. They pitched a nine-man tent at 4,900m as an advanced base, from which both Jogin and Thalay Sagar (6,904m) are accessible via a Y-shaped couloir. To acclimatize for Thalay Sagar, the group intended to climb the normal route on Jogin I (6,465m). However, their maps were confusing, and by mistake they first summited Jogin III (6,116m).

On August 11 Camp 1 on Jogin III was established at 5,500m. On the 14th Gu Eun-su, Yu Sang-beom, and Yun Yeo-chun reached the summit. They soon realized that they had actually climbed Jogin III and not the intended easier mountain, so on the 17th Kim Hyung-su, Yeo Byeong-eun, Yeom Dong-woo, and a Korean Broadcasting Station team summited Jogin I in just 15 hours from advanced base. By the 18th other members of the expedition had established Camp 1 at 5,400m below Thalay Sagar's north face.

The following day Gu and Yu pushed the route up to Camp 2 at 5,600m. The weather remained clear for three days, during which time all members helped haul gear and provisions to Camp 2. Heavy snow fell on the 27th, but Gu and his teammates pushed on to 6,400m, despite deteriorating conditions. Continuing snowfall forced all climbers down to base camp, and on the 30th Camp 2 was completely buried. Climbers spent the next five days excavating fixed rope and tents at Camp 2 from beneath at least two meters of snow.

It was not possible to start climbing again until September 5. At 11 a.m. on the 7th, Gu and Yu fixed rope up to the start of the steep shale band—the Black Tower—and bivouacked at 6,800m. The following morning they aided their way to a point just 30m short of the top of the Black Tower, fixing more rope as they climbed. They rappelled from this point and regained their previous bivouac site, spending a second night there. The climbing that day had involved sections of A3. Starting again at 10 a.m. on the 9th, Gu and Yu completed the final 30m of the Tower and the snow slopes above, reaching the summit at 1:15 p.m.

Gu Eun-su named the new route Period For Friends, dedicated to his three friends lost in 1998. The grade of the 1,400m route is 5.8 A3 M5 WI5.

Lee Young-Jun, Corean Alpine Club (translated by Peter Jensen-Choi)

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