September 3, 2008

Welcome to the Kishtwar Shivling Expedition – 2008 (Sept. 3 – Oct. 2)

Ath_kevin_227x227The North Face elite athletes Kevin Thaw, Mark Synnott, and Peter Croft tackle the unclimbed 1,300-meter (4,265 feet) East Pillar of Shivling (6,000 meters / 19,685 feet) in the Kishtwar region of Kashmir, India, just south of Zanskar.

Ath_mark_227x227_2Following the arrival to Padum, via Delhi and Kargil district, the trek to base camp should take the team two to five days. In traditional alpine style, the team will aim for a four-to-five day, three-to-four night push on the route, in one shot with no time to fix ropes.

Ath_peter_227x227Kishtwar Shivling saw its first and only recorded successful ascent in 1983 by the British team of Stephen Venables and Dick Renshaw. The East Pillar remains unclimbed, with two known, unsuccessful, attempts, one by an Italian team. If successful, Thaw, Synnott and Croft will be the second party to ever stand on the summit. The east route is considered one of the most difficult in the Kishtwar mountain region.

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September 10, 2008

The Arrival

Sept10 Arrival into India could not have been smoother. Being a day behind Mark & Peter allowed for quick airport transfer secure in the knowledge that red tape had been dealt with and all was in place. The peak permit is always first order of business & Peter had it in hand. Leh was our final flight destination and the city in which we convened to commence overland transit north Leh to Kargil was stage one for the jeep journey. Somewhere between Kargil and Rangdum the road changed character quite radically. Must admit my mind has been expanded as per four wheel drive capability. Another factor on that particular transit day was the driving snow which could hardly be described as inspiring. Views of 7000m Nun & Kun from Rangdum again, did little to inspire arrival confidence but the following morning granted clear skies and a rapid melt, certainly a bolster for our psyche. Gaining altitude and traversing over the Pensi La pass further granted a bolster, whether it was just a raise in temps or a different weather system we do not know but sitting at the end of the road in Ating a very different perspective is offered.

September 10th, beautiful & sunny no slushy ground cover and not a cloud in the sky!

Sept10_carview Unfortunatly we need more than good weather for our objective. I’ll use the term objective because Kishtwar-Shiviling may proove elusive, tomorrow will tell? Porters from the surrounding villages aren’t very interested in heading over the Umasi La pass (5100m) even with a wage increase! Tomorrow we’ll travel to the closest phone and contact our outfitter to see what can be done. If the worst becomes apparent and the pass cannot be traversed another objective will have to be chosen.

September 12, 2008

Kishtwar isn’t happening…

Peter_sept12 Kishtwar-Shiviling isn’t happening! Attempts to get porters to journey over the Umasi La pass have failed forcing adjustment in objectives. Kun (7090m) has an impressive 4000ft West face that will provide a challenging new route, specially as the rock buttress tops out within metres of the summit. It’s always strange to have to adjust one’s plan but psyche is the main thing and ours is brimming over!

Weather is bolstering our motivation, clear skies and strong sunshine are melting the fresh fallen snow and returning the granite walls to amenable climbing conditions. Last night we returned down valley and camped in Ringdom Two hours in jeeps will place us at the glacier’s snout where our foot approach will commence.

September 14, 2008

The Plan has come together

Prayerwheel_sept14 Our plan has finally come together. Permission arrived from down valley earlier today. Our Liason Officer Berrang & one of the outfitters Swami recently returned from Kargil with a new peak permit for Nun & Kun. Access to basecamp for these two 7000m peaks does not require a glacier to be traversed by porters, problem solved we hope!

The three of us strolled toward our new basecamp earlier today, in fact we visited the intrim camp where we’ll spend the night of the 15th. It’s always good to stretch legs and lungs, specially for Peter & I as we picked up a bit of a cold. Harder to avoid than one thinks in the mountain valleys as all locals seem to be afflicted. Today’s brief bump in altitude will serve us well and already did so simply in getting the blood flowing. Marvellous to return from our up valley stroll to find news of successful permission as you can imagine: A clear objective toward which we can channel psyche is equally as important as physical exercise. Indian red-tape is never seamless, permission seemed easy to glean but word of mouth means nothing in this realm of tripple signed and officially stamped documents.

September 15, 2008

Heading toward Nun- Kun…

Basecamp_sept15 Heading toward Nun – Kun. With a new permit in hand we’ll begin foot journeying. Perfect shift in gears from Jeep Safari! Massively relieving to finally achieve a basecamp scenario and to be able to point our psych toward an objective. Unlike most peaks Nun & Kun seem to be packaged as a unit as per peak permission.

Basecamp_sept15_2_2 Only real info came from a meeting with some outbound Czech climbers while en route to basecamp, there’s was unfortunatly not a successful summit bid but hopefully the knowledge they gleaned will help us? One sad tale did previously leek of a French soloist who passed in his sleep from altitude sickness. Never good news and reason to take stock and be extra self aware! 7000m is not a zone to take lightly.

September 17, 2008

Arriving at Base Camp…

Basecamp_sept17 We arrived into basecamp yesterday afternoon (16th) and spent today doing little but coming to terms with elevation. All feel great, hence the rest day to keep it so. Current locale on a morain bench above glacial approach is roughly equivalent to Mt Whitney’s summit. As ever, key to acclimatization is slowly, slowly. Rushing one’s assimilation to rarer air can force the need to descend and reset the whole process. Next step is to move up (3000ft) and recon the objective, then drop back down to sleep. Following what will be tomorrow’s up & down mission we will move up the same three thousand feet to sleep. Sleeping high (18000ft) and honestly assessing our condition should leave only the final alpine style assault to the summit. This is of course all pivotal on the fact that today’s incessant snow proves merely a bump in conditions and normal clear skies return. Of course they will!!

September 18, 2008

Snowing in Kishtwar

Snowybasecamp_sept18

A new reality descended in the form of snow last night. Today was slated as the beginning of uphill venturing but unfortunatly we only managed a couple of thousand feet above camp during an afternoon lull in the snow storm. Felt good to get the blood flowing but was merely a tease in the grand scheme.

September 24, 2008

Bad Weather Not Allowing Fun…

Premonsoon_sept24 It became evident that weather was not going to allow us access to steeper fun. Borang Doral our liason officer along with the three of us felt it time for exodus after our road closed for two days due to a storm, plus Tapa our cook informed of being trapped in the region on a prior visit!

It seems the unfortunate incident whereby the porters refused to travel over the Umasi La pass cost us the trip!

Premonsoon_sept24_2 There is a village immediately below the East pillar we intended to climb and perhaps future stability in the region will allow drive-up access but for now a strange ‘catch 22′ situation seems to exist: Access over the pass is refused after the monsoon and expeditions are not allowed via road!? Perhaps a fine mild winter would be okay for Kisthwar’s pre-monsoon conditions?

September 29, 2008

Current scene can hardly be described as conducive

Snowybasecamp_sept18_2

Current scene can hardly be described as conducive for alpine climbing. Mornings have been reasonably friendly but by mid-day clouds have billowed into our valley and standardly cloak the peaks. Resulting snow takes time to melt even though morning sun can be strong. Main issue is that said sun is only evident until it rises into the forming cloud, usually by 10am-ish.

Peter_sept20_2 Bouldering proved a fine diversion earlier today, post-breakfast session was good for getting a fine pump on our solitary local gem. Super steep and perfect for post warm up projecting. The easy problems weigh in around V3 but the best are in the V7 to V 10 bracket. If tomorrows weather follows pattern then we’ll head to the block and conclude some unfinished business.