Thursday, August 25, 2016

Zanskar Alpine Rock Climbing - July 2016

11:48 AM | 25 August 2016 | Chopdem, Goa, India | altitude:17m


Climbing!
A recap. I'm resting (Luke) and doing preparations for our next Zanskar expedition in two weeks, having just completed two Zanskar expeditions for July and August. July was one guest, a bit of a change of plans, with one guest from our Kharut Pyramid expedition coming over to India, and two others going for Kharut Pyramid next to K2. Our plan for the July Zanskar alpine climbing expedition was simple and multi-fold. The guest wanted to gain skills in multi-pitch rock climbing, while also learning about alpine climbing. Zanskar is the perfect arena for this.

Itinerary -
1 - arrive Leh - 3 July 2016
We spent the first day exploring Leh town, and acclimatizing to the new altitude of 3500 meters. I did a trip briefing with the guest, and then we did a gear check utilizing our gear list to ensure they had all the proper equipment for the expedition.

The following day, we got out early on Enfield Bullet motorcycles to a local crag, and the climbing began. The goal of the first day was to introduce new concepts, language, and methodology of multi-pitch rock climbing.  Our day plan was to climb a four pitch route that I'd climbed previously (and placed rappel/abseil anchors), discussing different concepts on terrain that was comfortable for the guest. Some images from the day. We completed the climb in 3 hours and were back to Leh for breakfast at 9:30 am. We brought light snacks and had a coffee to start the day. A pleasant experience, we now had the afternoon to explore Leh and the Indus valley.

Day 2 complete, we had covered:
-tying in with a figure eight follow through
-securing to the anchor with a locking carabiner and clove hitch
-restacking the rope for the leader for the next pitch
-cleaning cams and nuts from placements
-managing loose rock
-flaking out the rope for the leader
-anchoring the belayer
-communications for climbing - on belay, climbing, off belay, slack, tension, watch me, rock, ice, clipping
-alpine anchors
-three point equalized anchors
-rope types and applications - double ropes, single ropes, static/dynamic, alpine, crag, sport, traditional
-types of protection - cams, nuts/stoppers, wired hexcentrics, pitons, ball nuts, ice screws, natural, protection, slings, runners
-types of belays - terrain, anchors
-personal protective equipment - helmet, harness, shoes (approach, rock), gloves, hardware
-belaying the leader
-belaying a follower



Moderate multi-pitch granite climbing. Great fun!


The Khardung La is India's highest motorable road at 5300 meters.The following day, we drove to the top in a private jeep.

On the pass, we discussed pacing and moving at altitude, the rest step, and hydrating and eating while alpine climbing. It was a pleasant afternoon, with views of the Karakoram range to the North. Images of the afternoon below:

Short roping on the "Batameez ridge". Training for climbing higher in alpine style.
Route finding in new terrain.

Most of these concepts were a review for the guest, but you do not make assumptions when you are heading to climb first ascents in the Himalayas.
Over the following two days, we drove overland down the Indus river, stopped overnight in Kargil, and arrived to the Zanskari village of Agsho.  Some images of the road trip below:

On the road with the crew the jeep fully loaded.

Views of the mountains from on the road

The large Maitreya buddha carving at Mulbekh.

Reaching the village of Agsho on the evening of the 4th of July, we set up camp, got in touch with locals, and then went for a day of rock climbing before heading up the Agsho river to our base camp for the expedition. Images of that period of time below.


Wildflowers next to a field in Agsho.
Loading the yaks in Agho to head up the valley.

Heading up the valley with the first views of the craggy peaks of the valley (!).

Locals unload from the regional bus as we head out of town.

Rigzin looking back as he leads the yaks further.

Agsho village and the team.

Family in Agsho, all smiles.

Kunsang and Gomba with a yak friend.

A local lady heading home from a doksa (summer grazing settlement)

First views of the Bharnaj peaks (!).



Yaks can swim (!)
Ice climbing on a weather day. With a background in rock climbing, the guest picked up the skills quickly with some introductions and instruction.

The wildflowers peak in mid July in Zanskar.



Climbing at our first nights camp, a multi-pitch route.

The first nights camp at the base of the Agsho glacier.




Reaching base camp, we enjoyed eight more days of climbing. We covered the following morphology and skills, and continued to hone the ones we had started earlier in the trip:

top rope setting
climbing movement -
hands -  crimp, sloper, side pull, pinch, gaston, undercling, finger lock, hand jam, fist jam
feet - edging, smearing, jamming
glacier morphology - moulin, ablation zone, accumulation zone, ice fall, serac, dry glacier, wet glacier, tidewater, cirque, hanging, valley, moraine, erratic, terminal moraine, nose, snout, plastic flow properties
ice climbing - swinging and placing an ice tool, foot work, parts of the crampon / ice tool and their use, ice anchors, ice screw placement, abalakov v thread
belaying an ice leader/follower

Photos of those days:
Relaxing in base camp.



Climbing!

Building anchors.

Climbing!

Gomba Sherpa with an attentive belay while Luke Smithwick leads.

Our guest making their first traditional climbing lead (!)

Climbing!

THE END. Next, the story of Hagshu and the story of an alpine first ascent in the Changtang - August 2016. We will have an alpine skills course next summer in Zanskar, where we will cover similar skills and do some more first ascents. Stay tuned (!). -Luke Smithwick, guide, Himalaya Alpine Guides

The guest's feedback:
"You provide truly authentic, very well balanced trips, where nothing is missing and nothing unnecessary is added on top. You all are open, sincere, deeply passionate about mountains, knowledgeable, honest and friendly. You all are genuinely attentive to client's needs and above all I feel at home in the mountains with your company and part of the team.
I liked the style, flexibility, "lightness" and energy, choice of the destination, constant adaptation of the schedule. I had a feeling of "living" in the mountains from the first day, rather than ticking off prepaid itineraries to accomplish the next ambition. I actually learned and grew as a climber..."


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