Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Return to the Kingdom - Zanskar July 2017

Zanskar Exploratory Alpinism Notes

A few years ago I made a trip into Zanskar. It was summer. Warm. Barley growing in the fields, kids stepping aside in their school uniforms as we chugged past in our hired diesel jeep.  Not my first, and certainly not my last trip. I first went into Zanskar in 1999. Since then, roads have enroached the area, for better and for worse. I keep an optimistic and mostly positive perspective in life. The roads bring supplies to locals, healthcare, better supplies for education for the youth of the valley, and better access for tourism, which is now a boon to the local economy. And so there I was.
     A public works department road, made of stones that we bumped over as we passed through Shafat, Abrang and hamlets I'd once walked through as a teenager. My perspective anew. I was looking through the windows as well, and every valley held massive walls, ice clad peaks, and lifetimes of exploring. So there my plan began again. This time to take time in these valleys, get to know them, their weather patterns, their small shady areas. And catalogue each one. So I began in 2016 with three expeditions to the region, and again one more in 2017. This post is about that trip. I've stepped away from big peak expeditions in the area recently. Mostly because it's self defeating of the goal of the project. We aren't climbing big peaks in the area, yet are more focused aesthetic snow, ice and rock climbing lines on the massifs of the region. This allows us freedom to move with the yaks as we please. To new valleys, new locations, within a single trip. And so, my Zanskar project and love affair continues. This, my 8th trip to Zanskar.

Mankarmo | 4361m | 2113 | 5 July 2017

The blue sheep graze here without fear, in droves. The Dalai Lama walked down the Main Street in Leh this morning as we drank our final fancy flat whites and jumped in the jeep with Tashi to drive to the road head and come here, into the mountains. I always feel better the first night back, the logistics and preparations complete in whatever city or town it is; Kathmandu, Leh, Manali, Lhasa, Uttarkashi. This afternoon we climbed another four pitches on nearby chossy sedimentary rock, the goal of getting more mileage climbing rock in crampons complete for Lars.
Tomorrow, we will move up into base camp, and climb tomorrow night.

Sholo Karmo (not sure why I wrote this phrase)

Stok Kangri Base Camp | 4900m | 1154 | 7 July 2017
Summit this morning, Lars reaching the peak of Stok Kangri at 5:46 am after 5 hours 30 minutes of climbing. We were back in base camp at 8:17 am. It was a fast summit day, and good acclimatization for Zanskar. We opted to not climb Shuku and Pyramide, taking Stok Kangri as the best for acclimatization.
     There are four large groups up here, and they were climbing on the peak at the same time as us. It was a high overcast morning, and sunbeams were breaking through the high ceiling in Pangong and Saboo. On our descent, pockets of blue sky started to show, and the day became clear.

Agsho | 3828m | 2135 | 10 July 2017

It rained most of the afternoon, and then we crossed the Pensi La and the weather went hot, sunny even. Two days on the road, spectacular. I always enjoy the Suru valley, and I kick myself every time as I think, why aren't you living here (!). Sunny rock to climb for miles around, warm kind people, and fertile ground for growing. Next year I will make a rock trip to the Suru valley. Lars is good. He has a cold, but is psyched to be here. The mountains look great, more snow than usual. The rivers are really high, and the fields are verdant green. July in Zanskar is tough to beat. Tomorrow we walk towards the Agsho glacier, this time with donkeys. I am excited to return to this valley again, it is extraordinary.

Agsho Base Camp | 4399m | 2041 | 12 July 2017

The rain ceased in the afternoon, and I took Gomba and Kunsang multi pitch rock climbing. Lars rested and walked up later, snapping photos and getting a lay of the land. We're surrounded by rock, ice and snow climbs. This is what we have come for, and utilized the past 11 days preparing for. Acclimatizing, cycling through movement as a team on rock. Tomorrow, we'll go multi-pitch ice climbing, and then bring all those skills together on a climb in the coming days. For now, the weather is stable, some clouds moving around on the peaks above.

Agsho Base Camp | 4399m | 0834 | 13 July 2017

Today's goals
Ice climbing movement review with Lars
Multi pitch ice technique for group of three
Multi pitch ice rappelling with O thread

45 mins to venue
45 mins return to camp
2.5 hours climbing

Fairly close to estimate

Gear Bringing
6 ice screws
2 ice tools
Rain Gear
Two 50 meter ropes
4 alpine quickdraws
One liter water

Skills reviewed:
Equipment Discussion - Rope, Crampons, Axe.
Movement on Ice with Crampons
Movement on Ice with Axe
Ice Anchors - V Thread, Equalized Three Ice Screw anchor, Ice Bollard
Multi-Pitch Ice Anchors

Lars climbed well and feels good. He is out for a walk now and has been gone for about an hour now after going ice climbing this morning.  If the weather is good tomorrow we will climb a peak.
Peak climbing the following day at 5000 meters, Hagshu and bunch of other secrets in the background.

Blue rope
Small set of rock gear
Two ice screws
One axe each
Head torch
Boots and Shoes

Karzoo, Leh Ladakh | 3500m | 1825 | 20 July 2017

Full Circle. It’s been a whirlwind of a trip. We’ve traveled to four different mountain ranges over the past three weeks, climbing in three of those ranges. The Ladakh range and its granite. The Stok range and its sedimentary fins. The Zanskar range and its majestic peaks and towers. And finally the eastern Karakoram range, yet none too far to breach into its core, only on the periphery.  We’ve seen mask dances of the temples of Tibetan Buddhism here in the Indus valley, summited a 6000 meter peak, climbed virgin rock in Zanskar, and been to eastern Baltistan.
     I love Nepal, but when I go on expedition in one of its deep corrugated valleys, I am committed there for the duration of the experience. Here in Ladakh, you have mobility with a road system and topography to go where the weather and conditions are right, when it’s right for the team. I love that about Ladakh and the western Himalayas. Tibet as well, yet things are too regulated there these days. The western Himalayas of Jammu and Kashmir are truly where it's at in so many ways. I am psyched to continue to quest here.

-Luke Smithwick,