A British team of three has just made the first ascent of Cha Ri (6046m) in the Jammu and Kashmir Himalaya. The group, all UKClimbing regulars, summited on 24 August and have since returned to Leh, from where they sent us a report. Due to the local internet connection they've only managed to get us low-res images so far.
The expedition was led by Douglas Briton (username almost sane), a research student at the University of Edinburgh, who was joined by Derbyshire-based outdoor instructor Caroline McCann (aka CarolineMc) and Yorkshire-based data analyst Matt Jones (mattbillplatypus).
The team had been given official approval by the Indian Government to explore the unvisited mountain range, which they have christened Kang Yabat after the glacier at the head of the valley, and to attempt one of the peaks.
After two years of planning they set up base camp in the village of Gya, the ancient capital of the kingdom of Ladakh. From here the team began their exploration of the Yabat valley, assisted by a local horseman. It took them five days to reach the foot of the glacier, where they stuck their advance base camp.
'The camp was an oasis of safety amongst constant rockfalls and landslides from the surrounding peaks and glaciers' Douglas tells us.
The three then recced the glacial approaches to the mountain to work out the safest and most efficient way to climb the lower reaches on their summit attempt. Two local staff, Wangtuk and Nimu, helped lay caches of supplies on the lower part of the glacier for use in descent. This preparation proved useful, they say, and when a weather window arrived the first ascent of Cha Ri was pulled off in a single 13-hour push by Matt and Caroline while Douglas waited in ABC.
Proving that there's more to Himalayan new route-ing than hard technical climbing by sponsored stars, the team needed no rope, rock or ice gear on Cha Ri - but there was plenty of scrambling, they say. Luckily the mountain had good weather while the surrounding valleys were battered by storms. In the course of the climb, the duo also discovered an unrecorded glacial lake which they will map and report to the authorities.
'The lower flanks of the mountain were quite loose scree and rock, but the upper reaches were solid red granite which Caroline and Matt very much enjoyed climbing' says Douglas.
'The summit pyramid however, was very steep and loose. The final eight metres were too unstable to bear the weight of the team. The next day, the climbers’ decision not to ascend this final pile of rocks was validated when they saw a significant rockfall from the summit cone.'
'The successful ascent was complete when the climbers returned to advanced base camp just after nightfall, accompanied over the last 2km by their colleagues.'
Due to Indian Government restrictions on the use of satellite phones they were an old school expedition on the hill, with no mobile phone coverage either.
'In the event of an emergency it would have been a case of give a note to the ponyman and watch him ride down hill to summon help' Douglas tells us.
'And of course [we had] no current weather forecast, which made choosing a summit window a bit of a finger in the air job, especially given the weather patterns we had been experiencing, with daily storms of rain, hail, snow or all three. The summit team dodged a bullet on summit day, watching storms hit all round whilst our peak remained mostly clear. There was significant damage from landslides on our way out, from storms on summit day that hit lower in the valley than us. It was a bt fraught in ABC as we sheltered from hail that was digging up the soil, knowing Caroline and Matt were on the hill, but they escaped
It's not often you get to name the peak you've climbed. The team chose the name Cha Ri, meaning Mountain of the Flying Bird, after a Lammergeier was seen circling the mountain most days. Coincidentally Cha also means tea, which the team say they drank pints of during the course of their expedition.
'There is much scope for future exploration' says Douglas, 'and the Kang Yabat range holds many challenges for climbers of varying levels of technical expertise.'