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Abalakovs and Avalanches

Abalakovs and Avalanches

journal
Mark Thomas
October 2017 | Read
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India‘s Himalayan region of Himachal Pradesh contains the remote and relatively unexplored peaks of the Miyar Nala valley.  Freshly back from this latest excursion, Jöttnar’s Mark Thomas recounts his successful First Ascent of Tharang 1 (6066m).

All preparations for the expedition were going well and as planned, except for one small detail - my visa. Wednesday the 12th of Sept, 12 hours before leaving my home in Wales and still no sign of it.  Not panicking yet, just slightly concerned. After a few hours on the phone, finally I manage to track it down together with my passport.  It’s in an office block in Cardiff, with a chap also named Mark Thomas, whose phone number I managed to get from the delivery agent. Unfortunately, Cardiff is a good few hours from my little home in West Wales.  After another few phone calls, the delivery agent agrees to pick it up for me and deliver it to it‘s correct address.  Blood pressure slightly lowering now, bring on the Himalayas!

Tues 18th Sept 2012

Huge storm in the night. Spent the night in a lovely farm house up the Miyar Valley about 30 kms east of our last village of Udaipur (2640m). Hiked up yesterday in the pouring rain, but last night amoungst the thunder and lightening, it started to snow, really low down. We have to delay our departure this morning as the mules are unable to get up to Base Camp in such deep snow.

I fear that conditions in the high mountains are going to be difficult and dangerous over the next few weeks as it’s been snowing here for almost 3 days now and has put down over a metre of fresh snow.  Bring on the trail breaking!

Weds 19th Sept 2012

Our first sight of our range of mountains - awesome! Spend the whole day trudging through the snow and climbing up to Intermediate Advance Base Camp (4300M). Tough day, crossing a pretty gnarly gully, a bit like the Grand Couloir on the Gouter Face of Mt. Blanc – The Bowling Alley! We named it the Gully of Doom. Fixed two ropes through it as to minimise the time spent in there.  Defo not a place for a picnic! Descend back down to BC where our friends, Navim, our BC cook and the porters Mangal, Govind and Heera await us with their warming smiles and delicious climbing fodder.

Sat 22nd Sept 2012

Climb from BC upto ABC and set up camp there, big sack carry and trail break - the Suffer Fest begins! Sleep the night at ABC.

The next few days are spent climbing the glacier up to Summit camp (5450m) and ferrying gear and clients. Weather has turned for the better, amazing blue skies, just light breezes, awesome views, but really cold at night and in the morning. Still loads of really deep, bad snow everywhere. Huge avalanche risk.

Tues 25th Sept 2012

Miserable night in the freezer at 5450m and then up at 2am for summit day. Temperature close to -30 deg C. Myself, Steve and Richie head off into the beams from our headtorches, up the glacier towards the North Face of the Col to Tharang 1.  After some delicate levitation over a non-existant rimaye, I bring the boys up onto the face.  It’s still pitch dark, no moon and we’ve passed through the bands of seracs and under the avalanche slopes of the west face with my heart in my mouth. I recce‘d the area yesterday and found what looked like a way through - a narrow passage between plenty of objective danger and it seems to work. Six pitches of ice and up onto the Col and the morning sun with amazing views south; very cool. The West ridge begins with snow covered rock, golden in the early sun and some exposed snow ridge traverses, ending at a third of the way up in a broad snow ridge before the top half of mixed climbing. The snow on this broad slope is a nightmare of a breakable crust, making progress at 5700m slow and tiring.

Half way up there‘s suddenly a gun shot that goes off to my left as a fracture line appears beneath my feet. My head goes numb with the combination of lack of oxygen in my brain and with the feeling of inevitability. I stop still, as if frozen in time.  Richie and Steve are in the same state.  Nothing is said.  There’s no need to speak.  We all know what’s going on. A huge roar echoes up from the west face and over the ridge towards us but still we remain fixed, glued to our spot, confused, in apprehension.

The moment has passed and we have been given a chance.  It wasn’t our time, this time. I tell the guys to stay where they are as I dash, as best you can at 5700m, towards some rocks on the west ridge on my left. They feel an eternity away. Soon I’ve fiddled in some gear and with a sigh of relief clip in the rope, my hands shaking from the view accross the west face and the headwall of the avalanche.  We were lucky.  This mountain is really testing our nerve. Beneath Steve and Richie I can see the steep sweep of the south face, ending in a nothingness of cliffs down to the sea of ice of the glacier over a thousand metres below us.

We all re- group at the belay.  Nothing is said about the past events as we look up and prepare ourselves for the upper half of mixed terrain and the summit climbing.

The climbing on the upper ridge is truly amazing.  A little like the Kuffner Arete on Mt Maudit in the Mt Blanc Massif, twisting and turning around towers with short but difficult steps with pure rock and mixed climbing. The altitude kicks in and we are all panting hard with every  move up this glorious golden granite, sometimes bomber, sometimes completely rotten. The views over my shoulder are magnificent and it’s hard to be suffering in such an inspiring place.  It’s the true wonder of where we are that brings about the energy and the will to push through the pain.

At 1130 am we are standing at 6066m, on the summit of Tharang 1. Emotional and relieved after our roller coaster of a climb through some incredible terrain.  The summit is a narrow point of granite in the sky and around it, nothing, but blue skies and the freedom of nature and simplicity.

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The descent is long and tiring.  I use abalakovs to get down the ice face where at the bottom, both the boys manage to fall through the rimaye!  The snow is getting hot and we feel threatened and vulnerable. On we go, moving swiftly and efficiently. We pass over the avalanche debris which has completely wiped out our morning tracks from the west face. The remains come to an end just short of our summit camp.

We arrive at our tents, laying down and breathing deep. A truly memorable mountain in many different ways; for its beauty, its secrets, its obstacles and its danger. It offered us all the challenges we  wished for on a truly remarkable journey in the India Himalayas.

My most emotional moment of the trip, was arriving back at Base Camp after what seemed a lifetime in the high mountains, ducking and diving and reaching the summit, to be greeted with open arms by our BC Chef and good friend, Navim. Our embrace lifted my soul.  There was no need for words.  Navim has spent a lifetime in the mountains and he knew my toil.  His man hug was full of safety and happiness.

I would like to thank Martin Moran for the opportunity to lead the expedition, the climbing team and the support team including the High Altitude Porters and the lovely people in all the villages we passed through, who always welcomed us with open arms and hot tea.

Congratulations to Mark and his team and thanks for the words and images.  He is a full-time UIAGM International Mountain Guide and is a co-founder and Director of Elite Mountain Guides, a Chamonix-based guiding company.

Mark can be contacted here.

Written By
Mark Thomas

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