Climbers from HMI (Himalayan Mountaineering Institute), Darjeeling summited the highest peak in Markha valley, Mt Kang Yatse I & II (also Known as Kang Yatze) in Ladakh region on 17th August, 2018 in Alpine style and did a first time traverse between the two peaks.
The team consisted of 20 members which included 2 cooks and the curator of HMI. All members were HMI staff and all the climbing members were mountaineering instructors at HMI. The expedition was an alpine style expedition which did not use any Sherpa/HAP or guide above Base Camp. Leader Devidutta Panda, Vice Principal of HMI says, "The expedition was done in Alpine style, I meant to say that we have not used any high-altitude porter or a Sherpa beyond the Base Camp. We did everything on our own. We carried all our own equipment. Like I said, we did the load ferry ourselves alongside establishing the camps and opening the route as well."
The team left HMI on 1st August and reached Leh on 6th August. On 12th August, the team reached the Base Camp after crossing Kongmarula pass (5200m). Approach to the pass was very steep and the descent on the Southern side of the pass was much less steep and after 200m or so it became almost flat. The Base Camp is situated in the western shoulder of Kang Yatse I.
The team was divided into two groups for both the peaks, Mt Kang Yatse I & II. Each group had 9 members. On 14th August, they did load ferry for Kang Yatse I (the approach was from the NE Ridge which joins another ridge towards North). They established Camp-1 (33° 45' 08" N 077° 33' 47.6"E, Elev: 5908m), which is situated in the joint section of North East Ridge and North Ridge, on 14th August. They did a load ferry cum recce on that day for Kang Yatse I. The first phase of the route to the Camp-1 is full of loose slate rock and scree. After that there was a hard ice and a rock wall. The team dumped all the load in the Camp-1 and returned to the Base Camp on the same day.
"Our initial plan was that at first, both the teams would summit, then they would start the traverse together so that both teams can crisscross each other. Also, we planned to stay at each other's summit camps. As in, once the Kang Yatse II team would traverse, they would stay at Camp-1 of the Kang Yatse I team and the Kang Yatse II team would stay at the higher camp of Kang Yatse I having completed the traverse once.," says the leader.
On 16 August, the whole team left Base Camp for Camp-1 at 0800hrs and reached the high camp at about 1300hrs. On 17th August, Kang Yatse I team left for summit attempt at about 0230hrs and Kang Yatse II team moved at about 0330hrs. The surface was hard blue ice and there was barely any snow. The route to the summit consisted of a series of ice walls and slabs. The entire summit pyramid seemed to consist of pure hard ice. Kang Yatse I team summited at 0930hrs and Kang Yatse II team reached the highest point at about 0630hrs.
"However, once we reached the summit, we realized that the climb itself was so tiring that none of the climbing members had any energy left to attempt the traverse and also, the weather was extremely bad. So, we decided not to do the traverse from Kang Yatse I to Kang Yatse II. But members from Kang Yatse II team attempted the traverse from Kang Yatse II to Kang Yatse I and succeeded as well," leader says.
3 of Kang Yatse II members i.e. Tenzing, Pawel and Girish had left for a 'Recce' at the possibility of a traverse. The three members got on the ridge joining the two peaks which was a mixture of loose slate rock, scree, ice and snow. Length of the ridge is 1.5km and it appears jagged. They stayed on the Southern Side of the Ridge though they had to cross it several times to the North. It took 6hrs for the 3 members to complete the traverse this way and they reached the summit of Kang Yatse I at 1300hrs.
"It was 1.5km. They started the traverse around 7am or so and reached Kang Yatse I approximately at 1pm. So, it took 6hrs. They did not use any fixed-rope or anything. As per as it is an Alpine climb, one person climbs and gives the lane. Then the other person climbs and open the route together, followed by the next pitch. They also climbed in similar way," Mr. Panda pointed out.
Kang Yatse II and Kang Yatse I team returned to Base Camp on 17th August and 18th August respectively.
Summit Route: Leh - Chilling - Nimaling (5019m) - Kongmarula pass (5200m) - Base Camp - Camp-1 (5908m) - Mt Kang Yatse I (6401m) & II (6250m)
Traversing between Kang Yatse I and II: Three of the expedition members did the first time traverse the ridge joining between the peaks (from Kang Yatse II to Kang Yatse I)
Team Members: Team Kang Yatse I: Wg Cdr Devidutta Panda, Nodup Bhutia, Tushar K Tapadar, Soumendu Mourdunya, Hav Pankaj Kumar, Umang Mukhia, Nima Lamu Lepcha, Sulaxchana Tamang and Robin Gurung
Team Kang Yatse II: Lakpa Sherpa, Roshan Ghatraj, Nk Deepak, Aditya Gurung, Powel Sharma, Pasang Tenzing Sherpa, Girish Gimnar, CN Das and Suraj Gurung
Summit Members: Kang Yatse I: All members
Kang Yatse II: Lakpa Sherpa, Roshan Ghatraj, Aditya Gurung, Powel Sharma, Pasang Tenzing Sherpa, Girish Gimnar and Suraj Gurung
Summit time: Kang Yatse I: 17th August, 0930hrs - 1300hrs
Summit time: Kang Yatse II: 17th August, 0630hrs
Organised by: Himalayan Mountaineering Institute
(By the expedition leader, Wing Commander Devidutta Panda, Vice Principal, HMI Darjeeling)
1. HMI had planned a mountaineering expedition to Mt Kang Yatse I & II in Ladakh region. Kang Yatse is the highest peak in Markha valley which is a popular trekking route. The expedition was led by self and consisted of 20 members which included 2 cooks and the curator of HMI. All members were HMI staff and all the climbing members were mountaineering instructors at HMI. The expedition was an alpine style expedition which did not use any Sherpa/HAP or guide above Base Camp. The expedition had been planned with the following objectives.
(a) Refresher training of the HMI instructors
(b) Simultaneous Alpine style climb of Kang Yatse I & II without compromising safety
(c) First time traverse between the peaks
(d) Carry out the entire process of the expedition i.e. planning and execution in house
(e) Learn valuable lessons from the mistakes made during the expedition and disseminate them to the mountaineering course participants
(f) Carry out Markha valley trek in anticlockwise direction by entering from the Western side to approach Base Camp of Kang Yatse and exit from the East after the expedition
2. The team left HMI on 1st August and travelled by train to Delhi, further we travelled to Leh by road via Manali reaching Leh on 6th August. After a couple of days at Leh for acclimatisation, procurement and packing we left for road head at Chilling on 8th August. However on 7th August there was a cloud burst in Markha valley which had caused mud slide and the approach to Base Camp from this side was blocked. We left Chilling on 10th August after visiting the site of the mudslide when we were convinced that the pack animals would not be able to cross it. Our route back to the road head on Eastern entry (Chogdoh) passed through Leh and we replenished our slightly diminished supplies.
3. On 11th August, we trekked to Nimaling (5019m) by crossing Kongmarula pass (5200m). After reaching there we were told by other trekkers & climbers that hardly any team reaches Nimaling from Chogdoh in a day. They stop at a camping site before crossing the pass and we were one of the rare teams who had not done so. Approach to the pass was very steep and the day was very hot without a wisp of cloud or a little wind. It sapped us of the last ounce of energy to cross the pass. However the view was overwhelming when we reached top of the pass. The Kang Yatse Massif was standing tall to the south with all its glory and we could see the glaciers and streams absolutely clearly. It gave us a good opportunity to study the probable climbing routes to the respective summits.
4. The descend on the Southern side of the pass was much less steep and after the initial 200m or so it became almost flat. There was a sprawling meadow for about 2km where marmots were aplenty. They seemed to play hide and seek with the passing trekkers. We reached Nimaling camping site where a trekking company has set up tents and other facilities for wandering trekkers. We set up our tents nearby and rested for the night on the shore of the river originating from a glacier North of Kang Yatse massif.
5. Trek to Base Camp from Nimaling was a short one and took us only a couple of hours to complete. The route was across a ridge from Nimaling. There were few other teams at Base Camp all attempting Kang Yatse II which is actually the Western shoulder of Kang Yatse I. There is a gentle ridge leading to it from above the Base Camp. I didn't like the location of Base Camp as it appeared too far from the Base of the ridge which leads to the summit of Kang Yatse I. So I took two members with me and walked till the base of the ridge to check possibility of establishing Base Camp near it. It took about 30min to reach there, but it was too wet and too rocky to stay comfortably. Finally we pitched our tents on the side of the river on a dry patch at the traditional Base Camp. The next day was spent taking rest and organising load for the higher camp.
6. I had already tied up with Indian Meteorological Department for weather forecast and we were receiving weather bulletin for next 48hrs every day. We were carrying satellite phone and communicated with HMI on a daily basis. While passing the "all ok" report, we also obtained the weather forecast which was received by email at HMI.
7. The team was divided into two groups for both the peaks. The plan was that we would establish high camp as near the summit as possible so that we would have adequate reserve of energy when we reached the summit. Thereafter both teams would try to traverse between the peaks and would get down on the other side. Each team had 9 members so that there would not be a problem of sleeping bags when one team got down the other side and would rest at the other team's high camp for the night. The team composition was as follows
Wg Cdr Devidutta Panda
Tushar K Tapadar
Hav Pankaj Kumar
Nima Lamu Lepcha
Pasang Tenzing Sherpa
8. We did a recce cum load ferry for Kang Yatse I on 14th August. For Kang Yatse I the approach is from the NE Ridge which joins another ridge towards North. The point where these ridges join is the location of Camp-1. The lower Northern Ridge is filled with loose slate rock and scree. After reaching base of the Northern Ridge, we started climbing up clinging to the precarious slate stones. After laboring for about 2 and ½hr we reached a slope with hard ice. Luckily there was a team which climbed just before us and had left their fixed rope here, so we just checked the condition of the rope and the pitons and started jumaring up. There was a rock wall at the end of the ice pitch. We had 3 options: climb straight up the rock wall/circumvent on the West side on loose slate stone and scree/circumvent on the East side on hard blue ice without any fixed rope. After a little deliberation, we decided to try the second option as it appeared to cost less energy. However it was easier said than done, we had to literally try out all kinds of rock climbing holds in the text book and haul ourselves up the slope. A final short pitch of rock climbing wearing climbing boots led us to the location of Camp-I. (33° 45' 08" N 077° 33' 47.6"E, Elev: 5908m).
9. We pitched one tent at the junction of the ridges where sufficient flat ground was available and dumped our entire load into it. There was another team of 4 sherpas and two German climbers who had just summited the peak. We spoke to them in details about the route ahead. They also confirmed that they would leave their fixed rope as it is. As the ominous black clouds had covered the whole sky and we could see all signs of bad weather approaching, we made a hasty descend through the same route. We were back at Base Camp before evening and voraciously polished off an entire vat of chicken biryani which our cooks had prepared.
10. As per our original itinerary we would try to summit both peaks on the independence day, but due to the delay in reaching Base Camp, we could not stick to it. So celebrated the day at Base Camp by hoisting the Indian flag at the site of our prayer stupa where we had prayed the mountain gods for success of our expedition.
11. On 16th August, as per plan we left Base Camp for Camp-1 at 0800hrs as we were already aware of the route and had fewer loads to carry. We reached the high camp at about 1300hrs. We had planned to start our summit attempt at 0200hrs of 17th August. Accordingly we organised our equipment and kept them ready. Had an early dinner and tried to get as much shut eye as possible before the assault. I could not blink my eyes out of excitement and worry about the whole thing.
12. By the time we were ready to move, it was 0230. We established contact with Team-2 which had moved up to high camp for Kang Yatse II. This camp was on a rocky ridge about 300m higher than the Base Camp. Team-2 left for summit attempt at about 0330. They climbed roped up on the gentle ridge towards Kang Yatse II.
13. We started roped up and the climb appeared too steep. The surface was hard blue ice and there was barely any snow. After about ½hr of climb, suddenly the gradient got much steeper and we could see the beginning of the fixed rope. The ropes had been fixed about 5 days earlier and we were not sure whether the tubular pitons were still in place. Therefore Nodup went ahead roped up while Umang gave him belay. He checked the rope and tightened the tubular pitons. Thereafter rest of the team jumared up till the end of the rope. We had to repeat this procedure again and again all throughout. Route to the summit consisted of a series of ice walls and slabs. The entire summit pyramid seemed to consists of pure hard ice and nothing else. In the absence of snow, it was too tiring to climb the steep slope with front points. The wall was so hard that many a times the crampon points would simply rebound after hitting it.
14. In all there were about 7 steep long pitches to be climbed and there was no gentle slope even to rest the tired limbs for a moment and to pull out the thermos flask for a cup of warm water. Its only when the day broke, we realised the actual magnitude of the climb. One had to look 90° up to be able to climb as the slope was always steeper than 75°. The weather was marginal, sky was completely overcast and there was a gentle wind. Continual negotiation of the tough pitch finally brought us to summit ridge at 0930hrs. There are 3 peaks on the summit ridge, each about 10m higher than the ridge. The entire area is filled with crevasse and cornices. As per our observation the middle peak was a meter or two higher than the others but had hanging glaciers and was heavily corniced. So we decided to put our flag on the eastern most summit. As even this one had a corniced face, Umang went roped up and put prayer flags on the top while Robin gave him belay. Rest of us stopped about 5-6m below the top lest the corniced face gave away under our combined weight. The weather had now turned putrid and it was a complete white out with light snowfall. We could barely see each other. Further we had underestimated the climb to the summit; the steep ascent had sapped us completely and we had no energy even to think of attempting a traverse towards Kang Yatse II.
15. In the meanwhile Team-2 had reached summit at 0630 and 3 of their members i.e. Tenzing, Pawel and Girish had left for a 'Recce' at the possibility of a traverse. As the weather had turned so bad, rest of the members had decided not to try the unknown traverse. The three members got on the ridge joining the two peaks which was a mixture of loose slate rock, scree, ice and snow. Length of the ridge is 1.5km and it appears jagged. The three members moved on the ridge roped up. It was a matter of climbing a pitch and descending another. Without fixing any rope, they negotiated the ridge in sequence climbing method i.e. one climber climbs and the second one is giving belay while on self anchor. Once the lead climber reaches the end of the pitch, he anchors himself and gives top belay for the second and third climber to climb up. They had to continue this technique several times to cross all the short pitches. There was not long pitch to be negotiated on the ridge. For most part of the route they stayed on the Southern side of the ridge though they had to cross it several times to the North and South. It took 6hrs for the 3 members to complete the traverse this way and they reached the summit of Kang Yatse I at 1300hrs.
16. Team-1 stayed on the summit for about an hour waiting for the 3 traversing members of Team-2. All the members of Team-2 also waited on the summit for about 3hrs for them, however they had not carried any walkie-talkie with them and it was not possible to contact them. Further in the face of the white out nothing was visible on the ridge. After due deliberation I decided that both the team should now retreat back as everybody was getting cold and weather was deteriorating by the minute. As 3 mountaineering instructors were together there was some degree of surety that they could hold out themselves.
17. Descending down the steep slope was as difficult as climbing it and our tired limbs were now giving up. After getting down half way, we could see one climber descending from the summit of Kang Yatse I. We all could breathe a sigh of relief as we were sure that these were our 3 members who had been in the traverse. We reached summit camp at around 1400hrs. Team-2 wound up their high camp on the same day and returned to Base Camp. Team-1 returned back to Base Camp on 18 August.
Photo Courtesy: HMI
This news was revised on 05-09-2018