9 pm, an inky black sky, the distant rumble of a generator and dogs swapping barks across the neighborhood. The truck is loaded, and we’re stopped to pick up some jugs of kerosene for the final pieces of the supplies to a three week ski attempt on 7000m Kun (“queen”, in the Balti language of Purki, with Nun, the “king”, right next door). A final cup of chai from ama-le (mother of the house), and we roll on, down the Singge Kha-Babs (“from the mouth of the lion”, translation, the Indus river). The truck bounces and throws with its new load, about 500 kilos piled high, with food, stoves, tents, ropes, fuel, two cooks, and 2 powerful climbers, 1 Ladakhi (Namgyal) and 1 Nepali (Mingma). Earlier today, I’d been in the main bazaar (market) of Leh, searching out a new map source, and sourcing EP gas for climbs in 2016. I ran into Tsewang Namgyal, one of the newest Himalaya Alpine Guides. We discussed his plan to head to Zanskar, and I asked if he had room in the expedition supply truck. “Wait here, I’ll be back in ten minutes. An hour later, he turned up, “Ok Luke, we’re leaving at 9 pm tonight. I’ll pick you up.” My reasoning for wanting to join him was for research (a “reccy” or reconnaissance) in Zanskar for climbs in the autumn of 2016. Specifically, I wanted to have a look at the Drang Drung, Agshu (Hagshu), Kange, Haskira, and Bakartse watersheds for potential alpine climbing at the 5000-7000m elevation. This altitude provides tremendous
opportunities for attempting more challenging objectives in alpine style at a manageable altitude. I had heard stories and seen images of more technical, rocky peaks in these watersheds, and had experienced it firsthand on a climb of Z-1 to the northwest in the Nun-Kun massif last Autumn, along with numerous unnamed peaks in the mountains to the North of the valley. Having just flown here from touristed Chamonix, I’d seen the colorful placard in the town square demarcating a climb of Hagshu last Autumn by a Slovenian team, who received the Piolet D’or for their alpine style ascent. I can’t deny it didn’t refuel my interest to return to the area.
|Driving through Zanskar.|
|Dorje at the wheel.|
After about 20 minutes, we found a lift with Dorje, a man from Absang who was headed to pick up a “kettle”, and what he actually meant I came to learn later was “cattle”.
|Mail delivery. Zanskari style.|
Out came the first course of Khapse, fried barley bread. Next, the Yoszha, popped barley corn. Then, sweet milky black tea, Chai. Moments later, the yak appeared, with one daughter pushing from behind, and the mother pulling from in front. Dorje opened the tailgate, and the pushing and pulling reached its maximum effort. With what I expected to take some time, they were done in minutes, the yak loaded, and then one more, and the tailgate was shut, both of the yaks not looking too psyched to be off of terra firma. They were headed to higher pastures, a summer “doksa”, or grazing area where the grass was tall and waiting for them.
We jumped back in the truck, and started rolling towards the Pensi La (“La” means pass in Tibetan dialects, while “Lha” means god), the location of the grazing area, stopping occasionally to chat with locals, deliver mail, and discuss the location of other yaks. We passed the final village before a long stretch in the valley that wasn’t inhabited, and picked up our speed. Coming around a curve, Dorje spotted another herdsman, and stopped for another quick chat. This one became an in depth diatribe and then word exchange before we were turned around and heading back to the village, a deal had been struck and the man with the donkeys
I grabbed the boot up and we continued our trudge to the village. Over the next days, I had a good look round, and found the valleys of Zanskar to have a huge amount of climbing potential. We will have an alpine style expedition to the region in October 2016, along with a fixed-rope style mountaineering ascent of
|Locals in Absang.|
Alps were 200 years ago, an alien world. What will you find? -Luke Smithwick, guide, Himalaya Alpine Guides (http://www.himalaya-alpine.com)