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CHOMOLHARI FIRST ASCENT HISTORY REVISITED
Posted on: October 15, 2007
I have not yet had time to read through Alpinist 21 properly, but I noticed a picture caption on Page 82 that gives the impression that the first ascent of Chomolhari (7326m) was in 1996. The record of ascents of Chomolhari is a bit confused, and few people are aware of the significance of the epic first ascent—alpine style—by F. Spencer Chapman and team in 1937.
Some Chomolhari history:
1924 - Seems to have been the first noted reconnaissance of the mountain by Noel Odell on the way to Everest, although many others will have looked at Chomolhari as they entered Tibet from Sikkim.
1937 - 1st ascent by Freddy Spencer Chapman and Sherpa Pasang Dawa Lama - as a team of five they started from Gangtok in Sikkim and in seven days walked to Phari on the plains of Tibet from where they carried out a reconnaissance of the south ridge. Finding this impassable they spent another four days making a detour into Bhutan, and then continued on directly to make an alpine-style ascent of the mountain in just seven more days. This was then followed by an 'eventful' descent.
1970 - 2nd ascent led by Col 'Bull' Khumar - a joint Indo-Bhutan Army expedition sponsored by the King of Bhutan repeated the '37 route from Bhutan, but experienced tragedy when the second summit party did not return, presumably having fallen down the Tibetan side from the summit ridge.
1996 - 3rd ascent by a joint Japan-China expedition from the Tibetan side - they fixed ropes and camps through the 'impassable' icefall to the south col and along the south ridge to join the '37 route below the sharp crest of the summit ridge.
2004 - 4th ascent and reconnaissance of north, west and southern aspects by Clyma and Payne, and 1st attempt on the northwest buttress—stopping around 6000 meters—and alpine-style ascent of the Japan-China route.
Except for the most active climbers climbing alpine-style in the Himalayas, very few people realize the excellent alpine style of many of the pre-World War II pioneers. Many people have heard of Shipton and Tilman (part of whose tale is told in Alpinist 19's "Elsewhere" —Ed.), but few will realize that they were inspired by Tom Longstaff, who made remarkable alpine-style journeys in the early 1900s, including the first ever ascent of a 7000 meter peak.
Chapman seems to be a bit of a forgotten figure in climbing, and the account of the first ascent of Chomolhari is well worth reading. A short bio on Chapman can be read here. He is best known for his World War II experiences in Malaysia, which he recorded in his classic book The Jungle is Neutral\—which is an amazing story.