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First Indian ascent of Meru North — a personal account

In 1986, mountaineer Mandip Singh Soin and a small group of friends made the first Indian ascent of Meru North, alpine style — fulfilling one climber’s determination to defeat the crux that had been his undoing before. Mandip Singh Soin writes a gripping account for The Outdoor Journal. 

The camera panned in slow motion sweeping across the 2,460-foot rock face to the glacier below. As I clung on at the crux, hammering a piton for protection, I felt the shiver again. Not from the 5°Celsius temperature while climbing at over 18,000 ft, but because I had just then sensed the enormity of this exercise.

My wife Anita, pregnant with our daughter Himali, had fretted frantically when I first told her I was planning to embark on an expedition with two Indians and a Swedish friend to climb Mount Meru. I soothed her with euphemisms: It’s a cakewalk, I said, a mere stroll through the Himalaya. Later, however, as we watched the telecast footage, Anita gasped. Everything came to scale: suddenly, the contortion on the screen seemed not too hard after all, whilst by contrast, in my own bedroom that evening, I hung on for dear life, fearful of the imprecations of my outraged wife.

And suddenly, it seemed unfortunate that Åke Nilsson, our Swedish friend, had filmed the climb so beautifully and that Charu Sharma had told its story with eloquence, for the film captured the experience perhaps too accurately and poignantly for my wife. The footage was aired on prime time television soon after the movie Gandhi. I tried, weakly, to remind Anita of the philosophies of ahimsa as she muttered beneath her breath.

The ‘clinging on at the crux’ depicted in that suspenseful scene was significant. It had been the culmination and undoing of the previous year’s attempt by Åke, part of a Swedish expedition, to climb Meru North.

So there we were in late 1985 after Åke’s return to Delhi, at the bar of the India International Centre – the watering hole before lectures on faraway places and unimaginable accomplishments. As with many a good expedition plan, in between Kingfisher beers and upturned beer coasters with rudimentary routes resembling ibex scratches, we evolved a plan of action to reach the crux. It was exciting to try to attempt a technical route, the likes of which were rarely attempted by mountaineers in India. With the last beer in the bar drained, the die had been cast and we toasted to what would become the world’s first Indian ascent of Mt. Meru’s North summit.

MERU’S NORTH UPPER ROCK FACE GOES AT 5.9 OR HARDER, AND HAD DEFEATED THE PREVIOUS SWEDISH ATTEMPT. THE TEAM’S GOAL WAS TO OVERCOME THIS TECHNICAL ROCK.

Åke would bring a strong climber friend from his previous Meru attempt, Birger Andren, and I would join him with two delightfully mad climber friends Dr Tejvir Singh Khurana and Charu Sharma. We had been climbing together since our university days in Delhi on the crags of the nearby Aravalli hills and its rough slates of sandstone. By the time Åke started visiting India on a work trip with the Swedish International Development Agency for groundwater research, he was quick to see that digging deep for groundwater was a lot of work, but climbing far above it was much better! It wasn’t long before he joined our motorcycle rides to Dhauj and Damdama in the Aravalli as we rode off with coiled ropes and rock climbing crash helmets.

Dr Tejvir Singh Khurana aka “Teji” was a fearless Sikh, very much on the frontline of putting up new routes at the Dhauj rock face. The joke was that between him and his other doctor-climber brother Jaisy, the only prescription ever to emerge from either was of countless alcohol bottles for “medical” reasons! He went on to Harvard to study medicine and is currently a researcher in Philadelphia, last known to have carried mice on Everest to study muscular dystrophy at high altitudes. During the Meru climb, he insisted on using us as guinea pigs. The experiment involved taking our blood samples far too many times, to calculate the extent to which blood thickened at altitude. A second experiment was to continually peer into our eyes with a flashlight, to check for retina blood vessel ruptures, and then correlate it with altitude adaptation. All his objectives were highly suspect, but we gave in the name of teamwork and tiredness.

Åke Nilsson had discovered in his many years in India that “Swedish” implied “dessert”. He adapted to the country and its idiosyncrasies of language, accents and pronunciation with a smile. He had also acquired a reputation as a ladies’ man. So it was always a bonus to be around him at parties! Having taken to climbing, he made rapid progress and was able to make the first ascent of Swargarohini in the Garhwal after the success of Meru. Today, as an international consultant, he traverses continents and flies the flag of the Himalayan club as its Local Secretary in Scandinavia.

It was with a sense of disbelief that we discovered Birger Andren had unusually high blood pressure when he reached Base Camp. He would have to return to Delhi for further checks. This was a big loss for our team, but we took the rough with the smooth, and persevered.

From Delhi, things were falling into place. I managed to get permission to go on the trek by telling Anita that Meru was going to be a ‘cakewalk’ and the others had nodded in agreement – the first measure of great teamwork! Åke was asked to get from Sweden specialized climbing gear that we couldn’t then (and still today) get in India, like plastic mountaineering Koflach boots, and rappel devices. Pripps and Vicks became our overseas sponsors. Charu (who didn’t smoke) worked for Vazir Sultan Tobacco, so they became our major sponsors. We named our expedition the “Charminar Challenge Indo-Swedish Meru expedition”. We took a few trekking friends, including Jean-Phillipe who would assist us in filming, and Dr. Pathak, who was in cahoots with Teji for all his highly suspect medical experiments! Of course, with my own company, Ibex Expeditions, I made sure we put our best foot forward for helping arrange all expedition logistics.

Meru lies at the headwaters of the river Ganga (Ganges). It remains hidden as one walks up the picturesque Gangotri valley from the roadhead at the temple. Every ring of the temple bells filled the mind with a revolving kaleidoscope of the Hindu pantheon: this was a valley steeped in legend and mythology. Our first footfalls were already soft and obedient as we observed the evening aarti and started our neo-immersion into things godly. In 1986, at 29 years of age, one was apt to look more enticingly on the smoke out of the sadhu’s pipe rather than smoke out the demons of our minds. Although most of us were not really religious, and certainly not ritualistic, we too sought contentment in life. So we prayed to all the gods for safe passage at the ashram towns we passed through, happily conversing with people from all walks of life, reveling in this valley’s very special, spiritual atmosphere.

Meru's North upper rock face goes at 5.9 or harder, and had defeated the previous Swedish attempt. The team's goal was to overcome this technical rock.

After Rishikesh, we reached Uttarkashi and dealt with the paperwork needed for permits, and potential rescue procedures with the local administration, and also visited the famous Nehru Institute of Mountaineering. The next morning we set off in a private bus, passing landslides and journeying through the deep gorge of the Bhagirathi River. A small truck followed with our gear.

After Gangotri, we started trekking at about 9843 ft, passing Chirbasa, then Bhujbasa the next day, and finally Tapovan, the beautiful grassy meadow at 14,435 ft under the headwall of the mighty Shivling – The Himalayan cousin of Switzerland’s Matterhorn, both in shape and form. We spent this extra day deliberately, so that we didn’t confront any altitude problems, as we knew there would be enough technical ones to occupy us.

After a night at the BC, we were moving in slow motion the next morning as we struggled to get exceedingly heavy rucksacks on our back, get the climbing ropes in order and climb in pairs –Åke with Teji and Charu with me. Although it was tempting to use a few fixed ropes from the previous year’s attempt – and we did occasionally use them – we were very aware of possible cuts and damage. We essentially climbed with our double ropes and quickly moved on this not-very-steep ground. As soon as we got to the top of a pitch, the rest of us would jumar up quickly. Of course, Charu, despite his grunts, flashed his best profile as he neared Åke, who was busy shooting with the lightweight, first-generation Sony Handycam.

TEJBIR SINGH KHURANA BETWEEN THE FIRST AND SECOND BIVOUAC ON THE MERU NORTH HEADWALL, AUGUST 1986

Our first bivy was at a reasonably wide ledge called “Swallows’ Nest,” as it was just a third of the way up the face. We saw startling views of the twin peaks of Shivling as we gazed at its West face. The morning broke to light up the twin summits. As the sun’s first rays warmed us, we began climbing the rest of the rock face with the hope of getting as high as possible, so that the following day we would be well poised below the crux. This was at the very end of the rock face before joining onto the snow and ice ridge of the upper 2625 ft.

By now, the route had become far steeper at 70-80 degrees, and we encountered the occasional water stream. Later the same day, we faced some alarming rock fall, most of which fortunately bounced away harmlessly. Both Teji and I as Sikhs had taken the precaution of swapping cloth turbans for fiberglass helmets! The going got a bit slower here due to the gradient, and we arrived to our next spot where we would get a night’s rest. It was the same spot that Åke had used the previous year.

Compared to the previous night, we felt downgraded, like having gone from Business class to Economy, only even worse. We all sat on a narrow ledge on this massive mountain wall, with legs dangling; no blankets, only sleeping bags; and since there was no service at this altitude, we resorted to using our delicately balanced gas stoves for lots of tea and soup.

The next morning, the sun was slower in reaching our rock face and we made a variety of excuses for a delayed start (which we bought into happily–good thing, this teamwork business). Making sure we didn’t drop any gear into the abyss below, we packed deliberately. It had not been a very comfortable night: Each of us had had a similar experience of nodding off and finding ourselves pulled and pressed at those delicate parts of the anatomy. We unanimously called it the ‘Ge Night-al’1 bivy.

Now the ground got steeper to about 80 degrees and more; soon we were near the last 320 ft of the rock face, at the crux. Åke had led up to a pitch below and it had been HVS / E1, (English grades) climbing in the last few pitches. With a secure belay from Åke, I led the last one up with some delicate moves despite large plastic Koflach boots. Having managed to get up and secure the belay, I yelled with happiness for them to come on up. Finally we were at the snow lip. The route went on to flatten out in a snow bowl, and here we made our third bivy (called simply the “platform bivy”), cut out with our snow shovel. Now, back in Business class, we could claim our flat beds!

This was called the “Sautan” bivy–Swedish for ‘Satan’. It was cold at minus 15º Celsius and we didn’t even have our sleeping bags. Legs were stuffed into emptied rucksacks; climbing rope coils became our seats. The one emergency bivy bag we carried was spread as a thin sheet as we sat huddled up, shivering, with a weak stove, even weaker jokes, and howling spin-drift. At one point, it was fascinating to convert Sikh jokes into Irish ones: Why did 19 Irishmen go to see the movies? ‘Because they read the movie poster that said – Under 18 not allowed’.

At that moment, the movies seemed so far away.

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: MANDIP SINGH SOIN, THE AUTHOR OF THE STORY; ÅKE NILSSON, TEJBIR SINGH KHURANA (TEJI) AND CHARU SHARMA. ÅKE CARRIED A SONY HANDYCAM UP THE ENTIRE CLIMB, VIDEOING IT FOR PRIMETIME INDIAN TELEVISION. BIRGER ANDREN, THE FIFTH MEMBER, HAD TO DROP OUT FOR MEDICAL REASONS.

We were the quickest to get up at day break and started to get ready – luckily we had carried our emergency bivy stuff and the stove and re-hydration had come in handy. We had six pitches left and Teji led valiantly on steep snow with the final pitch being taken by Ake along the gentle crest that made the Meru North summit. We sat straddled and enjoyed the 5000 ft chasm that lay on one side of us–between Meru and Shivling–with the Thaley Sagar massif behind us. Åke’s filming was luckily going to come to an end, and Charu would stop striking his best poses; as a result I thought we had a good chance of descending quicker!

As it happened, we had to be doubly alert on the descent, because nightfall set in just as we reached the platform bivy. We had to jump across a few crevasses very deliberately and slowly, as this was not the time to lose alertness. The summit is only halfway. We were at the end of an exhausting day. With only enough food supplies left for the last day, we got back to the edge of the snow lip, pulled off crampons, changed gear, and started rappelling down all the way into ABC in one shot.

The following day, we were met by some of our team who had come up to ABC and were we glad to give up some weight. At base camp, hot pakoras and Indian chai never tasted better.

The journey back was uneventful except that when we were leaving BC, a Japanese team of four was also going to climb Meru North, taking a variation on our route on the rock face. On our return in Delhi, we heard they were killed in a rock fall. We were shattered, having exchanged a few pleasantries with them, but it put perspective to our own ascent – of the luck we had had and really some of the many gods, perhaps, who had cast a protective eye over us. We were certainly more centered after the ascent of the beautiful Meru – the centre of the Universe, according to Hindu lore. Regarded as the Olympus of Hindu mythology, with all the planets revolving around it, the Ganges falling from heaven on its summit, and the whole mountain covered with gems, Mt. Meru’s summit is the residence of Brahma and its four quarters, guarded by the Regents. It makes for a perfect place of meeting of all the divine beings.

The film ended and when Anita looked into my eyes, I knew I could never say I was off for another “cakewalk” again. I am still looking for another word.

Feature Image:  ÅKe Nilsson and Charu Sharma on the summit of Meru North.

Images:  Mandip Singh Soin

10 Places on Earth that Feel Like Outer Space

 

Himali Singh Soin writes about ten places on Earth that feel like outer space. This article was originally published by vice.com. Images by Himraj Soin.

Like every child, I wanted to touch the moon, wear stars on my face and blow bubbles into supernovas. Growing up on a diet of David Cronenberg and Star Wars movies, it always felt like the stars were so close and yet so far. But, like you, I soon learnt that the stars aren’t what they seem. They’re just hot, dying stones instead of lit masses of wonder. So I decided to go in search of the most distant, faraway and paranormal places on this planet instead.

I stocked up on warm jackets, cool hats, canvas, wool, muslin and rope, waterproof cameras and barometers. A plane, a train, a bus, a boat and a yak later, and I was at the peripheries of the planet. There, I found breathtaking views, monolithic outcrops, and vegetation that looked like something from another world. But I was on Earth, held by the same blue sky, feeling like I’d travelled light-years away.

If you want your Instagram to look like Nasa’s ISS feed, then check out these 10 landscapes on Earth that could definitely belong to other planets.

Ikh Nartiin Chuluu, Mongolia

This is an arid region in which traces of dinosaur eggs and fossils have been found. Rocky outcrops look like fallen meteorites that have been flattened and smoothened over time. From the top, the semi-desert steppe is solitary and the only signs of life are rare sightings of the elusive wild Argali sheep in a ravine or an abandoned mine.

Tsingy and Baobabs, Madagascar

Disney aside, the raw romance of Madagascar makes for a perfect inter-galactic love story. The Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve is a UNESCO world heritage site, made of sharp limestone formations that seem to tear the sky open.

The upside down trees on Avenue de Baobab looks as if Calvin and Hobbes walked into the Jataka Tales, like currents of electricity, hanging on their own accord.

Sossusvlei and Damaraland, Namibia

Sossusvlei, which means marsh of no return, is a salt clay pan with burnt-camel thorn trees protruding out of the parched earth. The dunes are also covered in tiny shrubs growing in perfect circles, referred to by locals as ‘fairy circles’ because scientists have yet to learn the reason behind them.

Klip River Valley in Damaraland is the land of rhinos, the unicorns of the earth. Flanked by the Namib Desert in the west and the Kalahari in the east, it looks like a crater where tectonic plates rift and part in pleasant separation. The flat plateaus would make a perfect spot for a UFO landing.

Lamayuru, Ladakh, India

Referred to as ‘moonland’, the high altitude mountain desert is filled with mineral deposits. Its purple and teal hues, combined with the famous Lamayuru Monastery—known as the ‘eternal monastery’—carved out of the mountain, lends that divine sense of the grand unifying theory that everything is one.

Grey Glacier, Chile

At the southern tip of the Chilean Patagonia is a wall of warm blue ice, rising up as high as fifty feet, giving way to fjords, horns and glaciated valleys. To experience this sense of distance shortening, scale and sculpture is to experience the periphery.

Atacama, Chile

If Saturn was on Earth, here it is. In the driest, most uninhabitable part of the world, the stars look like sheet of silver and the sand is layered in snowy-looking salt. The meteorites found there help astronomers trace the beginning of the Big Bang, and here is where we can actually touch a thing that has burst through from outer space.

Mahabalipuram, India

In a small town in the state of Tamil Nadu this 5 meter wide, 250-ton round monolith has been precariously balanced on another rock for over a thousand years. Local residents quip that the rock is the god Krishna’s butter ball. It’s believed that at this spot the forces of this world give way to the mysterious, the miraculous and the marvelous.

Maras, Peru

Beside quinoa fields and hummingbirds and orchids, in one of Peru’s sacred Incan valleys there’s a stunning white natural stairway of evaporated salt ponds. It looks cold like Heaven (or Jupiter), and tastes like tears. Maybe it was a natural metaphor for the core, the source of things, like a lesson in the idea of the essence.

Borneo, Malaysia

You know those movies about alien plants from nearby galaxies colonizing us? In the deep rainforests of Kota Kinabalu’s forest reserve are the most bizarre and terrifying plants. Beside the giant meat-eating pitcher plant there’s a parasitic flower with leathery petals and no roots, no stems and no leaves. The Rafflesia is the world’s largest and most putrid smelling flower, one meter in diameter and blooms for about a week every year. As the forests dwindle, its status has changed from rare by nature to endangered by humans, but who knows, it may take over the world next week.

Lemaire Channel, Antarctica

The biggest tabular iceberg, over half a mile long and half a mile wide, broke off the Antarctic Larsen B Ice Shelf and is floating in the Antarctic Ocean. Climate change caused the complete collapse of this ice shelf in 2002, making it the largest disintegration event in 30 years. Witnessing a massive and heavy thing floating with only a third of its structure visible, inverts everything we know to be true. You feel a simultaneous sense of beauty and alarm from seeing it.

This article was originally published by vice.com. Images by Himraj Soin.

Ladakh: A Photographic Journey To Little Tibet - Ibex Expeditions

LADAKH: SPECIAL EDITION PHOTOGRAPHY JOURNEY TO “LITTLE TIBET”

Ladakh: A Photographic Journey To Little Tibet - Ibex Expeditions

Flying into Leh, the former capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh, feels more like landing on the moon than landing in India. Its harsh, mountainous terrain is starkly beautiful and very dry, due to its high altitude and cold desert climate. Dotted with stupas and whitewashed houses, the Old Town is dominated by a dagger of steep rocky ridge topped by an imposing Tibetan-style palace and fort.

Our 40th anniversary special edition journey to Ladakh this September will be led by Himraj Soin, an adventure travel journalist and photographer.

Following a theme of a responsible eco adventure, walking in the footsteps of the  this photo adventure journey will take you to all Buddhist monasteries, trek through breathtaking passes. You will discuss Buddhist traditions, learn about renewable energy projects with conservationists, visit outfits promoting sustainable development and walk along hillsides dotted with chortens and monasteries with exquisite Himalayan vistas.

Since 2012, Ibex Expeditions has supported the Give Back to Nature programme of WWF India and for each participant of this journey, we will donate US $ 40 per person.

ITINERARY
13 nights / 14 days
15 – 28 September 2019

15 September
Arrival Delhi
Hotel Imperial

On arrival into IGI Delhi airport, you will be met by our Office Assistant, holding a
name placard followed by transfer to your hotel. Since your arrival is late night, check-in to your hotel and catch up on jetlag.

16 September
Delhi
After breakfast, proceed on a guided tour of Delhi at 0930 hours which includes the city’s world heritage sites.
Drive through New Delhi roads & sights such as India Gate, The Presidential Palace and Parliament house to get a feel for the grand new city that Sir Lutyens built in the early 1900s.

17 September
Delhi – Leh (3500 m) by flight – Stok Village by road (30 minutes)
This morning you will be transferred to the airport to board early morning scheduled flight to Leh.
Note – Check In starts 1.5 hours prior to flight departure.
Met on arrival at the Leh airport followed by transfer to your hotel in Stok Village.
On this day, it is important for you to take it completely easy to allow for good acclimatisation, taking plenty of liquid and relaxing.
Today you meet Raja Jigmet of Ladakh and interact with him, as he welcomes you to his family home (note – subject to his availability).

18 September
Leh
This morning, you can still take it easy for further acclimatisation and then go out for
a half day sightseeing only after lunch. You will be taken by a Ladakhi guide to see two local sites and walk in Leh’s main bazaar.

Shanti Stupa – Dominating Leh from a high, rocky ridge, this gigantic white spired
pudding of a stupa was built in 1991 by Japanese monks to promote world peace.
You can circumbulate to canned mantras and meditate in the Buddha Hall, but the
greatest attraction is the stunning view over Leh. Ideally, make the breathless 15-
minute climb when golden afternoon light still illuminates the city but the steps up
from Changspa are already bathed in cooling shadow.

Shey monastery, 15 Km south of Leh was constructed by the first king of Ladakh,
Lhachen Palgyigon and of successive kings. Around 12 ft Shakyamuni Buddha’s
statue made by copper guilt is the largest in the region, built by Deldan Namgyal in
1633 is a funerary memorial to his father, King Singee Namgyal. There is another
statue of the Buddha three story in height at Dresthang down the castle. Stone
carving and many chortens are scattered around the Dresthang Gompa.

This evening visit a local home in the village for a culinary class and home cooked
meal. Interact with the host family and learn about the Ladakhi lifestyle.

19 September
Leh – Likir by road (45 Kms, 1.5 hours) – Yangthang (3630 m) by trek (3 hours)

After breakfast, check out and do a short drive to Likir where you visit the monastery atop a hill, upstream of the village.

Here you meet the trek staff and mules and thereafter commence trek to Yangthang. The trail passes over a small pass of Phobe La (3550 meters) and Charatse La (3650 meters). Arrive Yangthang and camp near the stream.

20 September
Yangthang – Hemis Shukpachan (3600 m) by trek (6-7 hours)
After breakfast, gear up for the day ahead.

You walk alongside the river and trees amidst the gorge to the Rizong Monastery, which is isolated at the back of a natural amphitheatre and has three main rooms to visit, two with large Buddhas and third with a large stupa.

After visiting the gompa, you ascend gradually to the Shushut pass (4000 m). From the pass you will have a view of Hemis Shukpachan as well as surrounding peaks. An easy descent towards your camp at Hemis Shukpachan takes a couple of hours. It is one of the major villages of Sham, and the name of the village is derived from the conifers (shukpa cedar or juniper).  Visit the village for photography and interaction with the locals.

21 September
Hemischukpachen -Thimsgam by trek (4 hours) – Alchi (3100 m) by road

From Hemis Shukpachan post breakfast, you go onto a flat ground as far as ill-defined pass alongside the Chortens (stupas). A steep descent will lead you to the right side of the mountains and climb steadily on the slope towards the Mebtak La (3720 m). After a short rest and enjoying the view from the pass, you head down to the village of Ang.  From Ang, you head towards the south on the dusty jeep road to the village of Thimsgam . Thimsgam, is well famed for its monastery, and is perhaps the most affluent  village in the Sham valley for its apricots, apples, nuts and beautiful houses.

Here you meet your transport followed by drive to visit the famous and ancient Lamayuru Monastery – the oldest monastery of Ladakh.  Thereafter, proceed onwards to Alchi Village for overnight stay, with a visit to the village for photography. The village of Alchi is unmissable for the murals and carvings of its world-famous temple complex, founded in the early 11th century by ‘Great Translator’ Lotsava Ringchen Zangpo and one of the Himalaya’s great artistic treasures. The village itself is a charming and relaxing place.

22 September
Alchi – Nubra Valley (3050 m) by road (230 Kms, 6-7 hours)
After breakfast, depart for Nubra Valley via the Khardung la pass. This is one of the highest motorable roads in the world, passing over the Khardung la pass at a height of 5602 m.  The road begins from Leh itself and winds its way up to reach the Khardung la.  The views from here are magnificent and take in the Zanskar and Karakoram ranges.

After this you descend to Shyok Valley in Nubra. From the hamlet of Khalsar, which is at the far end of Shyok Valley the trail divides, one heading up along the Nubra River to the Siachen Glacier and the other to the villages of Bogdang and Turtuk, which were once a part of erstwhile Baltistan, now a part of Indian-administrated Kashmir. On arrival in the valley, proceed to your resort for check in. Later visit Hunder village and take a brief Bactrian camel ride.

Hunder – is a pretty village set among lots of trees and mingling streams and is about 7km from Diskit. Between Diskit and Hunder is an area of sand dunes, not unlike the Sahara region if one ignores the snow-capped Alps like mountains in the background. The Gompa here is about a 2km walk above the village. It is completely deserted and quite eerie. There is only a small Buddha statue and some frescoes, but the climb is worth it for the views and atmosphere.

Hunder has a palace, deserted 50 years ago and now belonging to the Hunder monastery.  Hunder is a pretty village full of religious and historical sites including the palace and monastery and a huge Chorten arch with fine paintings in the dome.

Possibility for Upgrade to TUTC’s Chamba Camp in Diskit Village for a supplement.

23 September
Nubra Valley
After breakfast, visit Samstanling Monastery in Sumur.
The picturesque village of Sumur is a charming spot in Ladakh. Calm and peaceful is what this village is all about and giving it an added beauty is the Samstanling Monastery. Set amidst scenic mountains and greens Samstanling is a popular monastery which showcases the traditional touch with shades of gold, red and white. It houses about 50 monks.
Afternoon free for independent activities.

24 September
Nubra Valley – Pangong Lake (4350 m) by road (5-6 hours)
After breakfast, check out and drive to Pangong Tso. Remainder of the day is at leisure to walk around and for many photographic opportunities. Thereafter, drive to Tangste (14 kms away) where you check-in to your fixed camp for the night with the evening at leisure.

25 September
Pangong – Stok Village by road (160 Kms, 4-5 hours)
After breakfast, check out by 0900 hours and drive to Leh, visiting Thiksey monastery enroute.

Thiksey is an imposing monastery and one of the finest examples of Ladakhi architecture. This Gompa is situated on the top of the hill and part of the Gelukpa order.

The 12-storey monastery complex contains numerous stupas, statues; Thangkha, wall paintings, swords and a large pillar engraved with the Buddha’s teachings, there are sacred shrines and a many precious objects to be seen. The successive reincarnation of the Skyabje Khampo Rinpoche act as in charge of the monastery. The main prayer hall has a 15-metre-high-seated Buddha figure. 

In the afternoon, visit the Leh office of the Snow Leopard Conservancy Trust India (weekdays during office hours only). Interact with the staff and learn about the good work being done by them in partnership with the local communities to preserve this beautiful mammal.

Thereafter proceed to your hotel in Stok Village, for the night.

26 September Leh
Enjoy the colourful Ladakh festival which is a celebration of the rich cultural heritage of Ladakh spread over 4 days. The activities include archery competitions, polo matches, masked dances from the monasteries and dances by cultural troupes from the villages. There is also a grand procession/parade with musicians, dancers and cultural troupes.

27 September Leh
Continue to enjoy a second day of the Ladakh festival and imbibe in the colour and dance and music of this amazing landscape.

28 September
Leh – Delhi by flight -Depart
Early morning, you will be transferred to the Leh airport, for your flight to Delhi.

Southwest face of Nilkanth - Ibex Expeditions

First Ascent of Southwest Face of Nilkanth

 

 

Southwest face of Nilkanth - Ibex Expeditions

Climbers Chantel Astorga, Anne Gilbert and Jason made the first ascent of the Southwest face of Nilkanth between 29th September and 2nd October 2017. The following post written by Chantel Astorga is a riveting reflection of their ascent. The journey was managed by Ibex Expeditions.

This blog was originally published in American Alpine Club.

Between September 29 and October 2, Anne Gilbert Chase, Jason Thompson, and I made the first ascent of the southwest face of Nilkanth (6,596m, a.k.a. Nilkanta or Nilkantha).

Anne Gilbert, Jason, and Caro North had planned to attempt the southwest face in 2015, and they climbed most of the peak’s west ridge, which would have formed their descent route. However, the weather did not allow them to set foot on the southwest face (AAJ 2016).

Two years later, Anne Gilbert and Jason were awarded an AAC Cutting Edge Grant for another attempt on the unclimbed southwest face. They invited me to join, and with assistance provided by Ibex Expeditions, we arrived in mid-September at a 4,115m base camp directly below the south face. The monsoon extended well into the month, bringing warm temperatures and heavy rain.

Access to the southwest face involved 1,000m of ascent over gravel-covered slabs, and featured brief periods of exposure to overhead objective hazard. Straightforward glacier travel then led to the foot of the wall. Our only opportunity to acclimatize through the unset- tled weather was to ascend these approach slabs and establish an advanced base below the wall at 5,180m. At that time, the first third of the wall looked in poor condition, with high temperatures melting the ice and exposing loose scrappy rock. Rain only began to turn to snow around 5,100m.

On September 27 a long weather window began, and although not well acclimatized, we decided this would be our opportunity. We left advanced base on the morning of the 28th, finding just enough ice on the lower face to afford reasonable passage. There were a few pitches of mixed climbing up to M5, simul-climbing on steep snow slopes, and a steep WI5 ice pitch. Our first bivouac was at 5,670m in a moat.

On day two we pitched most of the climbing, which consisted of technical mixed ground and some beautiful steep ice. We were unable to locate a tent platform that evening, so we chopped out a bench at 5,944m and succumbed to a sitting bivouac under the stars. On most days the mountain would see convective cloud buildup and light precipitation during the afternoon hours.

Day three was the crux. We needed to find a way to the top of what we’d dubbed the Castle, a steep granite formation. As we got nearer, we saw that our intended route would require big-wall tactics. Instead, we opted to navigate around the Castle’s right side and found a delicate ice runnel leading into an overhanging cave. To exit, we tensioned over a slab and gained access to difficult mixed ground; this was followed by a steep ice pillar, eventually depositing us on top of the Castle at 6,248m. The bivouac here was the coolest ever, the exposure and views unforgettable.

Anticipating more straightforward climbing, we hoped day four would take us to the summit. However, the technical ground continued almost to the top. The rock quality deteriorated and route-finding became more difficult. By evening we had arrived at a false summit. The summit ridge looked steep, difficult, and exposed, so we opted to descend 30m to a flat bench and set up camp at 6,523m, the highest elevation any of us had slept.

After a cold and restless night, we awoke to another beautiful morning, sluggishly melted snow for water, and packed our bags to complete the summit ridge. This turned out to be straightforward, and a couple of hours later we were standing on the summit, psyched. Our route, Obscured Perception (1,400m, VI WI5 M6 A0 70° snow), had overall been of very high quality.

The west ridge was still fresh in the minds of Anne Gilbert and Jason, so we hoped for a fluid descent. We downclimbed névé ridges and made about 10 rappels, with Anne Gilbert doing a great job remembering the locations of the previously rigged anchors. Fifteen hours later, at around 2 a.m., we made it back to our advanced base, rested a while, and then continued our descent to base camp later in the morning.

– Chantel Astorga, AAC

This blog was originally published in American Alpine Club.

Image © Chantel Astorga, Anne Gilbert, Jason

Ladakh: A Photographic Journey To Little Tibet - Ibex Expeditions

Ladakh: A Photographic Journey to “Little Tibet”

Ladakh: A Photographic Journey To Little Tibet - Ibex Expeditions

Flying into Leh, the former capital of the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh, feels more like landing on the moon than landing in India. Its harsh, mountainous terrain is starkly beautiful and very dry, due to its high altitude and cold desert climate. Dotted with stupas and whitewashed houses, the Old Town is dominated by a dagger of steep rocky ridge topped by an imposing Tibetan-style palace and fort.

Ladakh Tours - Ibex Expeditions
Our special anniversary edition journey to Ladakh this September will be led by Himraj Soin, an adventure travel journalist who is an avid skier and climber;
studied at Colorado College. He is a National Geographic Student Expedition leader
and photographer and his expeditions have taken him to Tibet, Mongolia, Bhutan,Borneo, Madagascar, Peru, Morocco, Namibia, Argentina, Chile, and Antarctica, and more.

Ladakh Trips - Ibex Expeditions

Following a theme of a responsible eco adventure, walking in the footsteps of the  this photo adventure journey will take you to all Buddhist monasteries, trek through breathtaking passes. You will discuss Buddhist traditions, learn about renewable energy projects with conservationists, visit outfits promoting sustainable development and walk along hillsides dotted with chortens and monasteries with exquisite Himalayan vistas.

Himraj - Ibex Expeditions

The journey will take place this September. Send in your queries to ibex@www.ibexexpeditions.com!
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Racing To Cross Antarctica - Ibex Expeditions

Antarctica Matters: Racing to Cross Antarctica

Racing To Cross Antarctica  - Ibex Expeditions

Two adventurers are attempting to cross Antarctica alone, without support, without being resupplied by food, or assisted by any means of transport other than the power of their legs. If either or both succeed, they will be the first to do so. No one has been able to cross Antarctica on foot, unsupported, yet.

The two adventurers are attempting this feat separately, and couldn’t be more different than each other.

Lois Rudd is a 44-year-old British Army captain. He wishes to slide into the record books, tracking two other British explorers—Roald Amundsen and Ernest Shackleton.  Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole in 1911. Ernest Shackleton wrote that “there remained but one great main object of Antarctic journeyings — the crossing of the South Polar continent from sea to sea”. 

Mr. Rudd is a grizzly British Army adventurer, carrying hot chocolate powder, dried porridge, along with the rest of his kit.

The second explorer is a 33-year-old American mountaineer and explorer—Colin ‘O’ Brady. Mr. Brady is a chiselled professional triathlete-turned-mountaineer. He has over 70,000 Instagram followers, a YouTube channel, and brought his own custom-made energy bars called Colin Bars.

While for Mr. Rudd the reason for taking on this journey is a personal one, Mr. Brady wants to win the race, and make history. 16 people have attempted to cross Antarctica so far. All failed. Waiting to see what happens now.

Source: Financial Times

We are going on an epic voyage to this expansive continent in March 2019. The journey aims to create ambassadors for Antarctica, who will pledge to protect and preserve the region from exploitation of all kinds. Check this link for more details of the journey, and send in your enquiries to us at ibex@www.ibexexpeditions.com

 

UPDATE: Colin O’Brady eventually won the race in 53 days. For more, read this BBC story.