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Unclimbed Nepal: The Explorations of Paulo Grobel
Posted on: September 20, 2017
From time to time, Alpinist.com features new stories from the American Alpine Journal (AAJ), which is published annually by the American Alpine Club. New AAJ stories are frequently posted at http://publications.americanalpineclub.org.—Ed.
Khumjungar Himal (a.k.a. Khamjung, 6759m), one of the highest peaks of the Damodar, seen to the north from the approach up the Labse Khola towards the Teri La. This south-facing aspect of the mountain has not been attempted. [Photo] Paulo Grobel
Over the past decade, French guide Paulo Grobel has traveled to Nepal once or twice nearly every year to explore remote areas and lead adventurous clients up unclimbed peaks and new lines on well-trodden summits. In the spring of 2017 he was at it again, exploring the Damodar Himal, north of the Annapurna group, and making the first ascent of a subpeak of Himlung Himal, a popular 7000er north of Manaslu. Grobel's two reports for the 2018 American Alpine Journal are presented below.
DAMODAR HIMAL: FIRST ASCENTS AND EXPLORATORY TREKKING
The primary aim of our trip was to climb summits of the Teri Himal, a small subrange northeast of the Teri La (itself northeast of the Thorong La) in the southern Damodar Range. I felt these 6000-meter peaks would offer interesting climbing at a moderate grade, and in climbing them we would be promoting this "forgotten" region.
We surveyed the trek up the Labse Khola above Naar, finding the correct local names of campsites for a new map, locating a suitable base camp, and taking pictures of the nearby summits. These summits were ideal for our purpose, but unfortunately we didn't climb any. The weather was poor and we had to leave enough time for the second part of the project: opening a trekking route from the Teri La, over the Yakawa Kang Pass, to the small village of Jhong, northeast of Muktinath Temple, all without crossing into upper Mustang.
This journey proved excellent, through pure wilderness, and the terrain made it somewhere between trekking and climbing. Along the way we climbed a couple of small, easy summits; Purkung (28°48'54.05"N, 83°59'25.20"E) and Belgian Peak (28°50'1.86"N, 83°57'35.58"E). The icing on the cake!
We climbed Purkung (6128m, a.k.a. Purkhang) from a camp at 5795 meters, via the north-northwest snow slopes, at II/F+ (Dominique Ansel, Jean-Paul Charpentier, Philippe Duchene, and me on May 26; Rajan Bothe, Anil Rai, Karma Sherpa, and Urpa Tamang on May 27). The only previously known ascent of this peak took place in 2004, via the west ridge, by a large team of Japanese and Sherpas (AAJ 2005).
We climbed Belgian Peak (6110m) from a camp at 5640 meters, via the west ridge and snow slopes, at II/F (Ansel, Bothe, Duchene, Anil Rai, Karma Sherpa, and Urpa Tamang on May 28). This peak was probably first climbed from Muktinath to the west in May 2011 by the Belgian Jean-Francois Meyer. We returned via Jomoson and Pokhara.
The Teri Himal is a perfect location to conduct an adventurous trip. Apart from its unclimbed peaks, there is also potential for fine new lines farther south, including Purkung from the Mustang side or the northeast face of Yakawa Kang (6482m). Just open a map, take the right permit, and go!
Unclimbed Purbung Himal (28°48'4.71"N, 84°1'4.74"E, 6500m), seen from the north-northeast after crossing the Teri La. [Photo] Paulo Grobel
Purkung and an unnamed 6000-meter peak to its left (southeast). The 2017 route of ascent on Purkung more or less followed the right skyline. [Photo] Paulo Grobel
Looking northeast at unclimbed summits of the Teri Himal from the top of Purkung. [Photo] Paulo Grobel
HIMLUNG EAST AND HIMLUNG TRAVERSE
I live right below La Meije in the Ecrins Massif of France, and it is a pleasure to be able to traverse such a peak. Traversing a high summit is like opening the door to a new world. At the point where the trip is normally a success—the goal of the expedition—you are only partway through. Everything is different and interesting.
On the high summits of the Himalaya, only a few top climbers play this challenging game: The Mazeno Ridge on Nanga Parbat is one of the masterpieces of this decade—an inspiring success. I wondered what traverses might be possible for ordinary mountaineers in Nepal. After many expeditions to Himlung Himal by various itineraries, I felt confident to try a big journey at altitude, traversing this accessible 7,000er via a previously untrodden ridge, carrying more than four days of food.
Regis Bardet close to Camp 4 (6850m) on the northwest ridge of Himlung Himal. The high peaks behind lie on the Tibetan border to the northwest. Ratna Chuli (7035m) is almost directly above the climber's head, and Lugula (6899m) is farther left. [Photo] Paulo Grobel
Isabelle Guillaume and Jangbu Sherpa descending the east ridge of Himlung Himal (summit visible behind) en route to the first ascent of Himlung East. [Photo] Paulo Grobel
Our plan was to climb the normal route up the northwest ridge of Himlung Himal (7126m), without fixed ropes, put a high camp just below the summit, then climb over the top with food and all our gear and continue to unclimbed Himlung East (6932m). The latter is a recently opened (2014) peak on the frontier with Tibet, on the ridge that leads north toward Ratna Chuli. We would then continue down this north ridge, over several tops, including Phu Kang (6694m). [Opened in 2003, this peak is still unclimbed, though it was the goal of a 2008 Swiss expedition that found no accessible route to the summit. It is not to be confused with the 6767-meter peak Phu Kang Go, which lies well to the southeast, a little northeast of Panbari Himal, and was first climbed by Paulo Grobel in 2011.—Ed.] We planned to carry on to the vicinity of Peak 6566 (meters), where we would descend the ridge west and eventually reach the valley north of Himlung Himal, so completing a "horseshoe" route.
It was a strange climb. We established five camps on the northwest ridge of Himlung Himal, the last on a flat shoulder at 7050 meters, northwest of and not far from the main top. It was higher than our eventual goal, Himlung East. We arrived at this camp at 11 a.m. on May 7; the previous day, two members of our group, Jean-Francois Males and Karma Sherpa, had reached the main summit. However, the weather on [that day] was not good. We had spent a lot of time acclimatizing so we could live safely at 7000 meters and now our schedule was tight. More importantly, the weather felt too unstable to commit to the full traverse. Reluctantly, we made the decision to make Himlung East our primary goal.
Camp 5 on Himlung Himal at 7050 meters, looking north-northwest to unclimbed summits on or close to the Tibetan border, southeast of Ratna Chuli. [Photo] Paulo Grobel
On May 8, Isabelle Guillaume, Jangbu Sherpa, Rajan Bothe and I left camp and skirted the summit of Himlung Himal by the northern slopes to reach the east ridge, which was narrow at first, and which we descended to a col. We then ascended the west ridge of Himlung East to its summit, completing the first ascent. On the return we climbed up the east ridge of Himlung Himal and over the summit, so making the first ascent of this ridge. By the time we had returned to camp the weather was poor again, but, fortunately, next morning the cloud level rose and we were able to make our descent safely.
Traversing a summit is such a great game! The ridge over Himlung East is fantastic and the continuation north is still there to be done.
—Paulo Grobel, France
WESTERN NEPAL: NEW PEAKS AND OTHER OPPORTUNITIES
In AAJ 2015, Paulo Grobel published an extensive review of climbing opportunities in the far west of the country. Some of these peaks were newly approved for climbing in 2014. Most are still unclimbed.
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