On August 9th, Kumar Gaurav from IND and Jonathan Parker from the USA began the two day trek to Kang Yatse base camp, the site of their primary objective for the summer, Kang Yatse 1. Kang Yatse is technically one mountain, but with two separate peaks. Kang Yatse 2, the less technical of the two, reaches 6250m, while Kang Yatse 1 is 6401m.
Day one was a no fun march up Gongmaru La (5130m) and down to Nimaling with full packs. Fortunately for their sore shoulders and hips, day two was a short walk from there to base camp. After setting up camp and cooking dinner, they went to bed early because their scheduled 1:00 a.m. departure for Kang Yatse 2 would come quickly.
They made swift progress up the ridge, and reached the crampon point without incident. Having heard that groups earlier in the summer had encountered snow levels up to mid-thigh, they were thrilled to find fairly solid snow that only occasionally reached above the knee. With near perfect snow conditions, all of the crevasses were fully covered, and they climbed alpine style, quickly reaching the summit by 5:30 a.m. This allowed them to conserve energy, as Kang Yatse 1 would prove to be much more difficult.
After a quick descent back to base camp, the remainder of the day consisted of rest and food so as to be prepared for Kang Yatse 1 the following day. At 10:00 p.m. on day 4, they set out, and it didn’t take long for things to turn sour. Their chosen route up to the snow ended up being a horribly crumbly rock ridge that required delicate climbing. They had opted to go without a rope to save on weight, but it wouldn’t have helped much here anyways. The route became so sketchy that a retreat was no longer possible… upwards was the only way out. “I was more than nervous,” Jonathan recalls. “There were numerous times when I nearly dislodged a giant rock that would have either crushed Kumar below me, or knocked him right off the wall.”
Finally, they reached a 70-75 degree ice slope that would lead to the snowy ridge above; but while that spelled freedom for Jonathan, it meant sheer terror for Kumar. “I don’t have much experience on ice, so this made me more nervous. After feeling the steepness of the slope, I realized I was in over my head. I felt so alone in the small ball of light that my headlamp provided; everything else was pitch black. The experience of tiptoeing along the thin line between life and death was so overwhelming that it nearly shut me down. But I knew I had to keep pushing.”
While waiting for Kumar at the top, Jonathan started hearing the familiar, “whoomp” of ice and snow suddenly settling. “Each time it happened, I felt the ice jolt beneath my feet. I feared the whole sheet might calve off and send one or both of us over the edge.” He down climbed to Kumar so as to climb alongside him back up to the ridge.
Once in more stable snow conditions, they were able to make their way up to the crevasse section. But, like two nights before, the crevasses were covered with solid snow, so they didn’t encounter much difficulty as they navigated their way through. Passing below huge blocks of ice in the moonlight, they eventually gained the final slope that would lead them to the summit ridge. Those 350-400m of 65 degree climbing would prove to be the most frustrating for Jonathan. “It felt like trying to climb a mountain of sugar. Two steps forward, one and a half back.” The snow was deep and soft, so upward mobility came at a premium. “But at least there wasn’t much ice!” Kumar smiled.
After a couple hours of struggle, they collapsed on the summit ridge, straddling it with one leg on either side of the mountain. “I had no feeling at all,” remembers Kumar. “This was the highest I’d ever been, but I was still confused. Should I celebrate? Should I be afraid of the descent? We still hadn’t even reached the actual summit.” About 10 minutes of walking separated them from the stick (there were no prayer flags) that marked the summit. “It was absolutely beautiful,” Jonathan remarked. “Pristine snow conditions. No footprints but our own. And a final 20m along a snowy ridge that was no more than 45cm wide.”
At 8:00 a.m. they embraced at the summit, took a few photos, and hastily made their way back to begin the descent. Taking a safer, but longer way down, they finally made it back to camp and crawled into their sleeping bags to rest and make some porridge. Two down, one to go. Only Dzo Jongo (6280m) remained.
Day 6 (six) they shifted base camp to take a shot at Dzo Jongo. For the first time on their trip, theirs was the only tent in sight. This should be the easiest of the three peaks… just a walk-up. It didn’t exactly turn out that way. Unable to see the peak from base camp, they worked off of photos and memory, and made what they thought was the correct way to the mountain. Nope. A few hours later, they couldn’t tell where they were. Tired, confused, and in between a number of white capped peaks highlighted by the half moon, nothing looked right. “I thought I knew the direction we needed to go, but I just couldn’t be sure,” said Jonathan.
After some deliberation, they opted to turn around and head back to camp. Kumar’s stomach was acting up, and they were wiped out. “Two out of three ain’t bad,” Jonathan remarked. “It’s important to learn how to fail well. While we succeeded in our main (and more difficult objective), we couldn’t finish our entire itinerary. How will you respond when life doesn’t work out the way you want it to? We’re still pleased with how it all turned out. If it was easy, it would lose its luster, no? Besides, leaving with unfinished business gives a reason to return.” “Yes,” added Kumar, “I still plan on taking down Dzo Jongo sometime in the future.”
Watch Cosmin Andron and Cristina Pogacean nail a first ascent in remote Zanskar.
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