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Two Americans climb three new routes in Nepal's Rolwaling Valley

Posted on: January 13, 2017


This past autumn Nik Mirhashemi and Mark Pugliese climbed two potential new routes and one confirmed new route on three different peaks on their first trip to the Himalaya.

Nik Mirhashemi and Mark Pugliese climbed a route they called Wrong Way Bud (5.6 M4, 500m) on Norbu Peak (5634m) on October 23. [Photo] Nik MirhashemiNik Mirhashemi and Mark Pugliese climbed a route they called Wrong Way Bud (5.6 M4, 500m) on Norbu Peak (5634m) on October 23. [Photo] Nik Mirhashemi

Chugimago North (5945m) with Witness the Sickness (M4 AI4, 75 degrees, 500m) marked in red, which Mirhashemi and Pugliese climbed October 28. They had to descend 100 meters shy of the summit because of snow conditions. [Photo] Mark PuglieseChugimago North (5945m) with Witness the Sickness (M4 AI4, 75 degrees, 500m) marked in red, which Mirhashemi and Pugliese climbed October 28. They had to descend 100 meters shy of the summit because of snow conditions. [Photo] Mark Pugliese

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Mirhashemi and Pugliese climbed Mixed Emotions (M6 AI5, 80 degrees, 900m) on the West Face of Chugimago (6258m) on November 1-2. [Photo] Mark PuglieseMirhashemi and Pugliese climbed Mixed Emotions (M6 AI5, 80 degrees, 900m) on the West Face of Chugimago (6258m) on November 1-2. [Photo] Mark Pugliese

The two Americans arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal, Oct. 10, and spent a week getting their permits in order before traveling to the village of Na, which was their hub for the rest of the trip.

"After a few acclimatization hikes and some really fun bouldering we slept up at Yalung Ri basecamp (4800m)," Mirhashemi said. Yalung Ri (5647m) is a popular trekking peak. The next day, October 23, the two men headed up what they thought was a new route on Yalung Ri.

Mirhashemi bouldering near Yalung Ri basecamp. [Photo] Mark PuglieseMirhashemi bouldering near Yalung Ri basecamp. [Photo] Mark Pugliese

"We climbed snowy slabs through a few small rock bands (M4) on the north face and then corkscrewed around the east ridge to the south side after a failed attempt to reach the west ridge," Mirhashemi said. "From there low fifth-class [climbing] led to the tiny rock summit."

Mirhashemi nears the summit ridge of Norbu Peak (5634m) on what was potentially a new route that they called Wrong Way Bud (5.6 M4, 500m). Kang Nachugo (6737m) is in the background. [Photo] Mark PuglieseMirhashemi nears the summit ridge of Norbu Peak (5634m) on what was potentially a new route that they called Wrong Way Bud (5.6 M4, 500m). Kang Nachugo (6737m) is in the background. [Photo] Mark Pugliese

That's when they realized they were not on top of Yalung Ri but something else. They had apparently climbed a peak to the north of Yalung Ri known locally as Norbu Peak (5634m). They descended the way they came and named their potential new route Wrong Way Bud (5.6 M4, 500m).

The pair returned to Na for two days of rest and then set up an advance basecamp under the west face of Chugimago North (5945m) on the Yalung Glacier. On October 28 the men climbed "through steep flutings and a few short mixed sections (M4) on the northwest face to reach the north ridge." Mirhashemi said. "Unfortunately, a corniced section of ridgeline prevented us from reaching the true summit and we stopped 100 meters short. We followed tracks from another party down the north ridge, rappelling and down climbing to a notch in the ridge. From there we [rappelled] an 800-foot wall in the dark to the glacier below and descended to [basecamp]."

They dubbed the potential new route Witness the Sickness (M4 AI4, 75 degrees, 500m).

Mirhashemi climbs the summit ridge of Chugimago North (5945m) on what is potentially a new route, Witness the Sickness (M4 AI4, 75 degrees, 500m). They had to descend 100 meters shy of the summit because of snow conditions. The true (south) summit is in the background. [Photo] Mark PuglieseMirhashemi climbs the summit ridge of Chugimago North (5945m) on what is potentially a new route, Witness the Sickness (M4 AI4, 75 degrees, 500m). They had to descend 100 meters shy of the summit because of snow conditions. The true (south) summit is in the background. [Photo] Mark Pugliese

Following two more rest days in Na the men set up under the West Face of Chugimago (6258m). The next day, November 1, they started up a line to the right of the 2014 Slovenian route (M4 90 degrees 900 meters) and on the right side of a "major rock buttress."

"The lower route consisted of steep snow and neve up to 70 degrees with some short sections of AI3 and M4, most of which we soloed," Mirhashemi reported. "A leftward traverse brought us to the base of a 1,000-foot headwall that we climbed in six pitches up to AI5 M6 with one wild pitch of 80- to 90-degree snow. Once on the north ridge darkness hit us and we found an excellent bivy site at 6100 meters next to a prominent gendarme. With the long nights this time of year we endured a long, cold night. Electing to go light we had left our sleeping bags and brought the tent and [puffy jackets]. The next morning we continued up the north ridge past a short rock step to the summit."

Mirhashemi follows one of the M5 pitches on the headwall of Chugimago's west face during the first ascent of Mixed Emotions (M6 AI5, 80 degrees, 900m). [Photo] Mark PuglieseMirhashemi follows one of the M5 pitches on the headwall of Chugimago's west face during the first ascent of Mixed Emotions (M6 AI5, 80 degrees, 900m). [Photo] Mark Pugliese

Pugliese sets off on an M5 pitch on the headwall of Chugimago. [Photo] Nik MirhashemiPugliese sets off on an M5 pitch on the headwall of Chugimago. [Photo] Nik Mirhashemi

Eight rappels and much down climbing returned the pair to basecamp and they were back in Na that evening. They titled this confirmed new route Mixed Emotions (M6 AI5, 80 degrees, 900m).

In retrospect, Mirhashemi said that sleeping in a tent with puff jackets and no sleeping bags "might be a better technique for short nights in the Alaskan summer" than in the Himalaya.

"It was a truly amazing experience and I can't wait to return," he said. "Our logistics coordinator Mingma Gyalje Sherpa and his company Dreamers Destination did an outstanding job, and we would highly recommend them to anyone visiting the region. Our trip was partially funded by [an American Alpine Club] Live Your Dream Grant. Consider it lived!"

Mirhashemi stands below the west face of Chugimago on the way down from another successful ascent. [Photo] Mark PuglieseMirhashemi stands below the west face of Chugimago on the way down from another successful ascent. [Photo] Mark Pugliese

Mirhashemi is originally from Dolores, Colorado, while Pugliese grew up in Rochester, New York. The two met in 2013 while guiding for Alpine Ascents in Washington.

"Nik and I have climbed together a lot over the past three years," Pugliese said. "[We] dirt bagged in Yosemite and the Utah desert for two full fall seasons together, then climbed in Alaska."

Regarding their choice of destination in Nepal, Mirhashemi said, "We knew we wanted to climb in the Himalaya but we weren't sure where exactly. Originally we were looking at Sichuan, China, but were discouraged from reports of permits not being honored there in a lot of places. Our friends Sam Hennessy and Alan Rousseau had been to the Rolwaling (separate trips) and they gave us really good beta, so we were hooked! From there it was just a matter of getting in touch with an outfitter and buying plane tickets."

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