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American Duo Goes Neck-Deep in the Rolwaling

Posted on: December 18, 2014


Alan Rousseau paused, breathing hard at 6200 meters above sea level. Lifting his arms out of the neck-deep snow, he used his ice tools to clear his path upward. The light, faceted flakes sloughed back onto him, but he burrowed upward; his partner, Tino Villanueva, followed behind. The motions repeated for 60 meters. Another pitch higher, he and Villanueva emerged on the summit of Pachermo (6275m).

Just above 6000m on Tengi Ragi Tau (6938m), Alan Rousseau leads one of the hardest pitches he and Tino Villanueva encountered during their seven-week trip to the Rolwaling this autumn. [Photo] Tino Villanueva

Over seven weeks in October and November, Americans Rousseau and Villanueva climbed 2700 meters of technical new terrain in Nepal's Rolwaling Himal. They made a Grade V ascent of Pachermo's west face and reached 1500 meters on Tengi Ragi Tau (6938m) before descending, unable to find a safe bivy option.

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Their expedition is one of several small climbing teams visiting the broad, U-shaped valley this season. "We were blown away by how much action was going on in the Rolwaling this year. There was no one else there on our last trip," Rousseau told Alpinist. "I think more people are going in there because the peaks are steep, super intimidating, and there is lots of new-routing potential." [Read about ascents of Chukyima Go (6258m) and Chekigo (ca. 6260m) in the December 5, 2014 NewsWire.—Ed.]

Rousseau and Villanueva first traveled to the Rolwaling in November 2012, when they made a number of climbs in light style. Six hundred meters of exposed M4 brought them to the summit of Pt. 5766, and they climbed Langmoche Ri (ca. 6600m) by its northwest ridge, an ascent that consisted mostly of steep, aerated snice. They'd hoped to try the unclimbed north ridge of Tengi Ragi Tau, but high winds and low temperatures deterred them.

(Top) The Americans' new route up Pachermo, The West Face (AI4 M5, 1220m). | (Bottom) The November attempt on Tengi Ragi Tau, where the climbers found difficulties up to WI5 M6 over 1500 meters of previously unclimbed terrain. [Photos] Tino Villanueva (both)

On that trip, they learned to expect slow, difficult climbing on the Rolwaling's ridges, so this year they sought direct routes up open faces. They chose a line up the 1200m west face of Pachermo — a mountain that is frequently climbed via its north ridge by trekkers and acclimatizing alpinists, Villanueva says. Touching the Void author Joe Simpson knows it as the peak where, in 1991, he dislocated an ankle, ruptured a nostril and broke a cheekbone in a 200m fall.

Streams of solid neve and water-ice amid granite rock composed the lower face, but the desirable terrain dissolved into deep, unconsolidated snow as they moved higher. The pair summited after 12 hours of climbing. They followed the north ridge back to base camp in strong winds.

Next, they aimed for Tengi Ragi Tau, one of the higher summits in the Rolwaling Himal. Despite a number of attempts since the Nepali government opened the mountain and 102 others to climbing in 2002, the main summit of Tengi Ragi Tau has seen just two ascents. That year, a Japanese-Nepali team made its first and second ascent in siege style by the 1600m southeast face. The average age of the six Japanese members was 59 years.

Villanueva starts up a "calf-crushing" section of Tengi Ragi Tau. [Photo] Alan Rousseau

This autumn, the Americans started up the untrammeled western aspect and reached 6200m before making camp. "All night we heard objects whizzing past us, with fortunately only small objects bouncing off our ultra-thin tent," Rousseau told climbing.com. Though they made consistent progress the following day, the available bivy spots at 6500m were even more exposed to debris.

"Tino did not feel the rib offered enough protection. We debated for a bit, but I told Tino a vote to descend always trumps a vote to go on when a partner feels the situation is unsafe." Rousseau wrote to Alpinist. "I was struck by a piece of ice on our first rappel so maybe he had a point."

Twenty-five rappels and more than eight hours later, their feet touched the base of the mountain again.

Sources: Alan Rousseau, Tino Villanueva, 2003, 2010 and 2013 American Alpine Journals, The Game of Ghosts, climbing.com

(Top) Rousseau at a bivy on Tengi Ragi Tau. The next day, he and his partner would bail from their attempt for lack of a safe bivouac higher up. | (Bottom) Rousseau starts off a block of simulclimbing through mixed terrain low on Pachermo. [Photos] Tino Villanueva



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