Climbathon 2013, Bara Shigri Glacier, Lahaul-Spiti, Himachal Pradesh, India
Team: Mihnea Prundeanu (instructor), Cosmin Andron (instructor), Vasile Dumitrica (student)
During July 20 and August 10 2013 we took part in the “Climbathon 2013” an event organised by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation and sponsored by the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, Government of India. Apart from our Romanian team, Dr. Paul Schweizer from Scotland/USA and three foreign students, all the other participants were from India.
The event took place on the Bara Shigri area and aimed to facilitate the exchange of information between Indian mountaineers and Western mountaineers and also to focus on alpine style ascents of several peaks in the area.
It was July and the town was no longer the place where i wanted to spend my time. My legs were hurting from walking too much on the hot asphalt and my mind was busy for too long to find ways of financing my two big expedition projects at the same time. I needed to escape, to cool down my mind and to let my body enjoy some mountain climbing.
And then, Cosmin Andron let me know that we were invited to participate as instructors to “Climbathon 2013” in the Indian Himalaya. It was a sort of expedition and training camp organised by The Indian Mountaineering Foundation with the aim to enhance the skill level of young mountaineers and to promote a self sustainable idea of alpinism among them. The invitation seemed appealing and in my mind the idea of a possible opportunity to climb some interesting peaks was also growing. The base of this expedition had to be placed on Bara Shigri Glacier in Himachal Pradesh, in the heart of the Himalayas and in a very remote place.
There was no doubt we were interested in this opportunity. The arrangements were made and off we go to India. I remember reading this quote somewhere about this country: “India is the One land that all men desire to see, and having seen once, by even a glimpse, would not give that glimpse for all the shows of all the rest of the globe combinedî- Mark Twain.
Indeed, my first contact with India was unique and the culture seemed to me almost impossible to discover in a single lifetime not to mention on this sigle trip.
We moved northwards to the town Manali, the starting place for almost all the expeditions in Lahaul and Spiti regions. Here we met the organisers, the other instructors and the students. In total we were aproximately 70 people who had to depart for the mountains. At first the organisers’s military ways to deal with this expedition seemed to me unsuited for people who have chosen mountaineerg out of passion but soon i understood that keeping together a big group of people (majority indians)was a really big deal. We found the program challenging for us as well because the students had so many different experiences in the mountains, opinions and even their alpine techniques were generally lacking. Some of them were totally beginners, others had only trekking experiences and some of them even climbed Mount Everst. It was not an easy task to try to make them understand why do we climb the way we do, why have we chosen the “alpine style” way of ascending the mountains and why do we like to expose ourselves and take the hardway when there are so many technological and logistical means to climb a mountain.
The acclimatisation process was slow, and it took almost a week to reach the 4100 m Base Camp. Boring as it was but none from the entire group suffered from altitude sickness. We were surrounded by more than twenty 6000 m peaks, some of them unclimbed, other climbed just once or twice ages ago,so indeed, the area was offering a big potential for new climbs.
Once we reached the base camp in the place called Concordia (a big junction of multiple smaller glaciers that looked like a town square among tall buildings) the course began with basic mountaineering techniques, glacier travel and bivouaking. We focused on teaching the students on how to drop their old habits of using the jumar on any rope or to fix camps and carry all day long the equipment between them and try to focus on a simpler, more responsible and more direct way of climbing.
In the final stage of the training every instructor had to form small teams of students and climb with them one of the peaks nearby in alpine style. I had a team of 3 and chose to climb a summit called Shigri Parbat on a line which i have seen in some photos of the mountain. But reaching the base of the mountain i realised that the gully from the start of the route was dangerously loose, and this south eastern face of the mountain was actually colapsing bit by bit under the sunshine. Not wanting to go back to base camp without even trying to climb something we moved our interest for the neighbor mountain. What made this mountain so interesting to us was that we were standing just under it and we did not know anything about it, not even it’s name. It’s west face looked climbable so we decided to give it a try the next morning. Even if it was lacking serious technical difficulty the route was still interesting with some small ice climbing parts and quite spectacular having most of the time the bottom of the valley hundred of meters right under your feet. Reaching the summit was nice, students were happy and i was welcomed with an incredible Himalayan view for the first time: hundreds of massive peaks all around us streching towards the horizon.
Two days later we returned to base camp where we were told that our mountain was called Khang Sering and it had a height of almost 6300 m. Days later we were informed that our route was never climbed before.
The training program had it’s ending on the 10th of August and the base camp was removed. Me, Cosmin and our friend Vasile Dumitrica had 8 more days to stay in the mountains and we had approval to try another climb on one of the peaks nearby.
Kullu Makalu, a 6349 m peak seemed a nice choice, with it’s north west ice and mixed face never climbed before. We spotted quite a safe way up dodging on the center of the face from a potential serac fall. With this new objective in our minds we started the climb two days later on poor weather. Fortunately the precipitation and the wind did not last long and we could enjoy a nice morning of climbing the icy part from the first half of the face. The sun came above us just before mid day and along with it some small rockfalls from the rock band above us. We decided to steer a little to the right and take some cover under some seracs. This decision was right but it was too late. A moment of fear swept us when an imense pile of rocks started rolling downhill. Vasile was leading and he was able to take cover somehow. I couldn’t run anywhere on that steep terrain and my safest option was to hang tight on my ice axes and hope that all the rocks were going to miss me. The incident was not as optimistic as i wished and two rocks hit me. The firs one hit me in the back of the helmet. I assume the rock was not very big because the helmet had no major damage but the second one hit me on the back. The backpack simply exploded and all the gear from inside started falling towards the base of the face. I did not feel pain, just a strong coup and then my lower body became numb. I couldn’t feel my legs anymore and yet i was standing on the frontpoints of my crampons. I was fortunate i did not fall or that i am still in one piece. I soon realised that my backpack filled with the sleeping bag, tent, down jacket and some food saved my life. I evaluated the damage and i was really worried because i wasn’t feeling my legs. Then, after some minutes the sensataion came back along with a huge pain in my lower back. I was in no shape to continue the climb and with no more gear for a bivouac we had to descend. Putting weight on the left leg was really painful. Fortunately we were abseiling and some of the bodyweight was suported by the harness.
Getting back to base camp passing all the moraines and scrambled terrain was an ordeal. I remember myself really determined at that time and very focused, a great power came from inside me when i found myself in that real survival situation.
The expedition was over safely and i consider it to be one of the richest experiences i had both from cultural point of view and from a climbing perspective.