Friday, October 03, 2008

Manikaran Spires - an adventure in the Indian Himalaya

To read a recap regarding the beginning of this adventure please follow this link.

The view from the roof top of the Deep Forest Hotel.

As luck would have it Freddie Wilkinson, Janet Bergman, Ben Ditto, and I (Pat Goodman) found the one Hotel in Kasol that has a splendid roof top view of our climbing objectives in the Manikaran Spire Group. It was kind of surreal to stand their with bent necks looking up at was once just a picture on a postcard.
Fred, Ben and Janet looking at the postcard that inspired this adventure.

They were magnificent! Big clean granite walls, jagged summits and untrodden terrain - all of which seemed to scream out to our desires for long alpine rock routes.
But our gaze quickly turned to the ominously featured and horribly steep landscape below the Spires – "could this be why these mountains have no routes from this side" , I ask myself. We immediately knew we had to find a local guide to make it to the base of those peaks.

Ben and Janet overlooking the village of Manikaran.

Once again luck was on our side when we met Roshan "THE" local guide in Manikaran. He said it was possible to get up into those mountains from town, but that it would take four days and we would need four porters to help shlep the mass of equipment we have when we go play in the mountains.
On the 16th of October we started up the amazingly steep hillside juxtaposed to the mighty Brahmganga Nala, after a few hrs of hiking I started to understand why our new friends thought we were kinda nuts for wanting to go up to where only the shepards dare – my legs started to ache.
7 days after leaving the village of Manikaran we where soaked to the bone!! We made upward progress for two days, then got pinned down by monsoon like rainfall at the top of a really amazing ridge that rose several thousands of feet above the Parvatti Valley floor. Every now and then from our perch we would get a glimpse of the snow that was accumulating in the high mountains above.

The snowy south face of peak 5394.

We had as Ben put it "A total stoke that washed away". The porters had left us after 5 days of wet, cold rain, so when we split camp the four of us loaded our Mountain Hardwear South Col packs to the point I thought they were going to burst (they didn’t) - or at the very least I thought the potential for some one breaking a leg under the absurdly heavy loads was imminent.
No sooner then when we got back to Kasol did the weather break. We checked the forecast – sunny skies for the next 10 days. We spent a few days in town drying up and rubbing our sore legs, then packed up for another go.
This time the four of us went light with no support from our friends. We carried only the essentials – one Kiva and one EV2 tents, two Sterling Nano’s, 2 sets of Camalots, a few sets of stoppers, enough Mountain House freeze dried’s to last five days, 40 Gu’s, a rickidy old Primus stove that was burning unleaded gas, three pairs of crampons, four ice axes, and our personal gear. We managed the approach in two days under sunny skies.

Basecamp, Peak 5394 is on the left. Our route follows the left skyline, across the ridge then up the the summit headwall.

At 3:00 am, four days after leaving Manikaran we set out from our base camp at 12,500’ to climb the untrodden 3,000+ foot south face of Peak 5394. It looked to be mostly dry, although the storm that shut us down the week before left behind about three feet a fresh snow on the upper slopes – we knew the conditions were going to be trying at best. Unstable soft snow, wet rock and bad ice were certain! The four of us climbed as two teams for a full day.

Freddie Wilkinson buried in a chimney a few pitches up the lower wall.

We followed mixed terrain for 8 pitches on the rib of the south face that brought us to a big jagged ridge some – 1,200 feet below the summit. My boots were soaked at the days end and I was more or less worked from fighting with the snowy and ice choked cracks. We found a suitable spot to dig out some flat spots and decided to bivy. With us we had two sleeping bags and the stove - for me it was a cold and uncomfortable night. Fred and Janet seemed a bit more compatible to snuggle into one bag then Ben and I, but we managed.

Ben Ditto luvin it high on the route.

The next day – another gorgeous morning – started with waist deep snow waddling for several hrs across the jagged ridge top, that led us to the final summit tower and the best rock pitch of the climb. After about 6 pitches (and a V.2 boulder problem) from our bivy we stood on top of Peak 5394, happy and content!! My watch read 17,675 about 8,240 vertical from the village. According to an older issue of the American Alpine Journal this peaks summit was unclimbed. Our new route we tentatively called "Indian Beauty Queen - V+ 5.9 (ish), A.0", is certainly testement to our four Manikaran friends first impression of our sanity – or lack of. But was nothing less than what we believe as an outstanding example of perseverance and seizing the moment, after all, the burden of happiness can only be relieved by the balm of suffering.

Freddie Wilkinson soaking up the summit views.

We barely made the snowfield below the wall before nightfall and spent a few hrs waddling through more waist deep snow to get back to camp at around 8:00 pm. We split camp the next day making it back to the village of Manikaran in 7 hrs, with swollen feet and tired bodies.
After a day in Kasol the four of us hitched a jeep ride back to Manali where Ben and I said our goodby's to Freddie and Janet. Fred has plans to climb in Nepal and Janet went to Dharamsala to practice yoga. Ben and I are going to the Chhota Shigri Glacier north east of Manali to do a little bouldering and hopefully find another wall to climb. The weather looks ok and from what we can tell the adventure potential is great!

Stay tunned for an update…..



Anonymous Anonymous said...

from janet's mom- it is really hard for me to imagine WHY you all WANT to do this!! But your descriptions bring me closer to an understanding of the beauty you see and the satisfaction of achievement you feel. Thanks for sharing. YOU can not imagine how thankful I am that you are all safe. BE CAREFUL OUT THERE!!!

10/04/2008 8:50 AM

Anonymous Steve Metheny said...

thanks for sharing Pat. Sounds like a great adventure.
Glad you're safe.
All good things require effort. The wet rain and snow is just a bonus. Be safe. Have fun. Reach.
Uncle Steve
Colorado US

10/04/2008 3:12 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

sounds awesome, glad you guys got some good weather. - Jessa

10/07/2008 3:24 PM

Blogger sam said...

Sounds great Pat. The pictures look incredible!!! Keep us posted.

10/13/2008 7:27 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice report! Was this a supported trip? I have herd they have been sponsoring big trips. If so is this opportunity available to the general public or just the rad pro's?

10/14/2008 6:28 AM

Blogger Vivek said...

Very Informative writeup. I have climbed in the Manikaran region in 01, where we went for an expedition over the sara umga pass,route cuts left after a days worth of hiking into pin parbati valley and upon crossing the pass goes to the base of white Sail and into the Bara shigri glacier! Remote and pristine terrain. I met Freddie last week in NH while he belayed me at Dracula so I thought I'd reach out and say hello - Vivek

3/18/2009 9:48 PM

Blogger Vivek said...

Very Informative! I climbed in that region in 01, went over the sara umga pass, route shares a portion with pin parbati for aday, and reaches teh base of White Sail and Bara Shigri Glaciers. Amazing amount of climbing in that area. I was tempted to write as it was nice to have been belayed by Fred over the weekend when climbing Dracula with Silas!

3/18/2009 9:52 PM


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