A First Ascent in Ladakh
Well, this was it. Our last day in basecamp, and our one and only chance to attempt the unclimbed peak that had dominated our skyline for the last three weeks . And as luck would have it, in this “high altitude desert”, it was raining. I peered out from my tent to find the normally-impressive virgin snow-dome frustratingly immersed in a pall of heavy cloud. The expedition had been a success already, – both “fires” in the camp had summited the rarely-climbed Samgyal and Dawa, both just under 6,000m – so the temptation was to shrug our shoulders and zip up our sleeping bags again. Eventually, however, a bit of trademark optimism from one of our number - “I think it's clearing guys!” - sent us tentatively on our way.
The mountain had been the objective of one of the teams on this youth exploration expedition, but had been deemed too difficult to manage a group of ten up, on account of the extensive tottering pile of boulders and scree that led up to the glacier. And sure enough, it resembled Brighton Beach tipped on its side (only without the raining deck-chairs and nudists that such a phenomenon would cause). Every step was taken with precision. Dislodging one large block would result in the whole slope momentarily shifting down towards you.
On reaching the modestly-angled glacier we could see that from now on the ascent was non-technical. This “snow plod”, however, was made hard-going by the soft, fresh snow. Every step sapped our energy as slabs of snow stuck to the bottom of our crampons and our feet sank deeply. In fact, as we plodded up through that porridge-like snow in continuing white-out conditions, there was just one place this isolated virgin summit in one of the world's remotest mountain regions reminded me of. Scotland. I laughed at the irony.
At 2PM the summit seemed not to be getting any closer. This was the rough time we had agreed to turn back, so that we would at least make it over Brighton Beach before nightfall. It seemed that a disappointing yet unanimous decision had been reached:
“I don't have the energy to trail-break any more”
“I don't have the energy to take over”
“The top's still a fair way off I think”
It was at that moment that very slightly, very briefly, the cloud parted, enough to reveal that the summit was no more than 50 metres away. Turning back suddenly seemed foolish. A final burst of energy came from somewhere. Minutes later we were posing for a brief photo with the BSES flag on the mist-enshrouded summit. We checked the GPS for an altitude reading. 5,980m. “Discrepancies with the GPS”, we reassured ourselves, would surely make up that extra 20 metres! We began to hurry down again, conscious of the advancing hour and reflecting, in between deep breaths and plunge steps, on this incomparable experience and improbable achievement.