Expedition Reports 2009

09/01 Glaciological investigations in the Kebnekaise

Alessio Gusmeroli & Prof Tavi Murray from Swansea University with Tatiana Enzinger, Marco Fransci, Daniel Hjelk & Riccardo Scotti from Stockholm University and supported by Peter Jansson & Henrik Tornberg, (March-April 2009)

Although the MEF does not normally support expeditions to mainland Europe, it was felt that this work on one of the biggest glaciers in Sweden deserved encouragement, as it was utilising the latest developments in ground penetrating radar. Based at the Stockholm University Research Station at Tarfala (one hour’s skiing from the glacier) the team was very fortunate in having good weather throughout most of their stay in the area, enabling them to take continuous records. The new data will be compared with that obtained during previous surveys to determine how polythermal glaciers are responding to recent climatic warming.

09/02 – British Ruth Gorge 2009

Gavin Pike with James Clapham (April-June 2009)

Although the spectacular glacial rift known as Ruth Gorge is well-explored, there are still plenty of opportunities for new routes in the surrounding area. This was proved by this duo who, after warming up on the classic Shaken, not Stirred (V A15) on the south face of Moose’s Tooth, headed for the unclimbed east face of Peak 11,300 (3444m). On this, climbing mostly by night to minimise the risk from an overhanging sérac, they put up Night of the Raging Goose (1500m, V W15) on its central couloir, eventually returning to camp via the south ridge after 25 hours on the go. A week sitting out storms gave them time to recover before heading for the north face of Mt Church (2509m), climbed for the first time by a Japanese team in 2008. Pike & Clapham elected for the central line up the face, resulting in some hairy moments (plus serious bruises when a ‘bus-sized’ cornice collapsed), but eventually achieved a new route, which they named Amazing Grace (V A14).

09/04 – British Chang Himal North Face

Andy Houseman with Nick Bullock (October 2009)

Although Chang Himal (aka Wedge Peak, 6802m) in the Kangchenjunga Himal is reputed to have been climbed from the South, this team planned to make the first ascent of the 1800m Central Spur on its North Face which Lindsay Griffin had described as an ‘unclimbed gem’ in a magazine article. (A Slovenian team had attempted the line in 2007, but had been forced to retreat at less than half-height due to poor snow conditions.) This team established a Base Camp at 5050m on a very windy grassy plateau above the Kangchenjunga Glacier, directly opposite (and NE of) their objective. After an acclimatising on Pk 6215, (Dorma Peak?) and a rest, they started on their intended route, reaching the summit on the fourth day. Descent was by abseiling and down-climbing the ascent route, which they graded ED+ M6.

This expedition received the Nick Estcourt Grant for 2009

09/07 – British/New Zealand Alaska Extravaganza

Vivian Scott with Tony Stone plus Steve Fortune from New Zealand (May-June 2009)

The main objective of this team was Z Buttress on Mount Hunter (4441m), but on arrival in the area, they learned that a Swiss team had beaten them to it and made the first ascent one week earlier. However, they decided to warm up by climbing Moonflower Buttress, which they achieved in good style, descending by the West Ridge, the round trip taking 3 days. The Swiss team had reported dangerous cornices and ice mushrooms on the north face of Mt Hunter and the weather forecast was not good, so with the aim of maintaining some acclimatisation, they skied up to spend a night at the 11,000 ft (c.3350m) camp on the W buttress of Denali. Back at base with the weather still good, Scott & Fortune made an enjoyable traverse up the SW Ridge and down the E Ridge of Mt Francis (1531m). As the bad weather arrived they assisted in the evacuation of a sick climber on Denali, but after several days of snow, left the mountains altogether, and went rock climbing on the granite tors of the Chena valley. Fortune then went home, but with a few days left and an improvement in the weather, the others returned to the Ruth amphitheatre where they climbed Cobra Pillar on Mt Barille (2331m).

09/08 – Western Kokshaal-Too 2009

Carl Reilly with Tom Bide, Dave Gladwin, Graeme Schofield and Tom Stewart plus Urpu Hapouja from Finland (August-September 2009)

The main aim of this team visiting Kyrgyzstan was to make the first ascent of the North Ridge of Kizil Asker (5842m). After meeting in Bishkek they spent a few days acclimatising in the Ala-Archa National Park, which offers an impressive range of high quality climbing. The journey to the Kokshaal-Too area was in a massive 16 tonne vehicle, which despite having 6wd managed to get trapped up to its axles in a bog at one stage, taking almost 24 hours to dig free. Once in the area, the team operated as separate climbing pairs. Gladwin & Stewart tackled Kizil Asker, and after three 18-hour days on the 2 km long 1400m high North Ridge reached the summit, taking another day to descend to BC. They graded the route WI3/4, Alpine V/VI, M6+/7. Meanwhile, Bide & Hapuoja climbed the N Ridge on Peak 4863m (AD) and Reilly & Schofield climbed the N Ridge on a peak not shown on the map (D). Finally Bide & Reilly climbed the W Face/S Ridge on Peak 5046m (TD/TD+). The above heights are as marked on the American Alpine Club 1:50,000 Climbers’ Map which they found very clear and easy to read, although their own altimeters recorded up to 400m difference from some spot heights. They noted that the weather in August tended to be colder but more stable than in July when most previous expeditions had visited.

09/09 – Anglo New Zealand Zartosh 2009

Simon Woods with Graham Rowbotham & Adam Thomas plus Jock Jeffrey from NZ. (July-September 2009)

Although there were rumours that Zartosh (6128m) in the Muzkol Range of Tajikistan has already been climbed by a team from the Eastern Bloc, these were unconfirmed, so this party hoped to make the first definite ascent. The 700m North face had already repulsed 3 attempts by Kenyan climbers but nevertheless was the first route that the new team attempted reaching c.5650m before unconsolidated snowpack, thin ice and powder snow on top of rock forced them to retreat. They subsequently reached the summit via the West Col on a route consisting of mixed technical ground, but found no trace of any previous ascent.

09/10 – Xuelian Feng 2009

Dr Bruce Normand with Jed Brawn from USA (July-August 2009)

For Normand this was a return visit to the Chinese Tien Shan, and he went back planning to climb new routes on the satellite peaks of Xuelian Feng (6627m). This is the highest group in the area away from the border peaks of Pobeda etc. The central peak, Xuelin Main, had been climbed from the SE by a Japanese team in 1990, but none of its subsidiaries had been touched. After acclimatising on a 4850m peak, the current team climbed Xuelin North (6472m) by its West Ridge, then Xuelin East (c6400m) by its East Ridge (summiting with two other US climbers completing a different route) and finally Xuelin West (6422m) by its North Face, the last with the addition of Kyle Dempster from the US team.

09/11 – Glacier Bay Climbing 2009

Dr Paul Knott (UK) with Guy McKinnon (NZ) (April-May 2009)

Glacier Bay National Park lies in SE Alaska, and the Johns Hopkins Glacier – although possibly never previously visited by climbers – is one of its major glaciers, surrounded by the major summits of the Fairweather Range. This team hoped to make the first ascent of the N Ridge of Mt Crillon (3879m) and then complete a traverse of the mountain, but aerial reconnaissance from their ski-plane approach revealed serious icefalls and séracs: they therefore decided to attempt the unclimbed 6 km NW Ridge of Mt Bertha (3110m) instead. From their drop point at 1200m on the broad snowy west shoulder of Mt Abbe, their trip started with a difficult descent to the south arm of the glacier: after 2 days to recover, it took them 4 days of unusually good weather to reach the summit of Mt Bertha – probably only the fifth team to do so. With time to spare, they then made the first ascent of the striking Peak 8599ft (2621m), which lies N of Mt Crillon and E of Mt Orville, proposing the (strictly unofficial) name of ‘Fifty Years of Alaskan Statehood’ in line with Russian tradition.

09/14 – Kara Gakar Exploratory Mountaineering 2009

Ms Sally Brown and Eddy Barnes from UK plus Sari Nevala from Finland and Vanessa Wills from Australia (August 2009)

This team had intended to explore and climb in the remote Dzhalgal-Mau valley of the Borkoldoi Range in Kyrgyzstan, but as they arrived in the area hunters on horseback informed them that this was their territory and prevented entrance. Faced with a swift decision on an alternative location, the team stood at the highest point on the plateau to try and select an area to which access looked feasible. They moved first to the Western Kokshaal Tau, and later to the Acha Kaeyndi valley in the At Bashi range, for neither of which had they maps or done any planning, thus ensuring that this was a true exploratory trip. Nevertheless, they reached the summits of 16 peaks up to 5250m, but it will take some time to ascertain how many of them were first ascents.

09/16 – British Kluane Icefields 2009 – Staircase Glacier

Glenn Wilks with Jenny Foister, Peter McCombie & Mark Weeding (May-June 2009)

Virtually nothing was known of the mountains around the Stairway Glacier (part of the St Elias range) in the Kluane Ice Fields NP suggesting that this team might have been the first climbers to visit: prior to departure, they identified fifteen possible objectives. Access was by ski-plane flying from Silver City which dropped them on the glacier: from three separate camps they made first ascents (up to Scottish grades 2/3) of nine of the peaks with heights ranging from 3160m to 3490m

09/17 – New Zealand Charakusa Big Wall

Bruce Dowrick with Jonathan Seddon from NZ and Adrian Laing & Scott Standen from Australia (July-August 2009)

These experienced big wall climbers visited the Charakusa valley intending to attempt to free-climb a new route on the 1300m west wall of Nafee’s Cap, a sub-peak of K7. Although they did not actually reach the summit due to heavy icing and snow, they were successful in their aim, creating ‘Naughty Daddies’ a 19 pitch route up to grade 25 (7b), which they believe to be the hardest free technical rock route climbed at altitude by New Zealanders or Australians. A new 10-pitch line (6a) was also climbed on Nayser Brakk (5200m), a beautiful spire above their basecamp. With its excellent rock and little precipitation, the team feel that the Charakusa area still has a lot to offer.

09/18 – Indo-American/British 2009 Saser Kangri II

Jim Lowther (UK) with Mark Richey, Steve Swenson & Mark Wilford (from USA) and Chewang Motup, Ang Tashi, Konchok Tinles Dahn Singh & Tsering Sherpa from India) (August-September 2009)

With access to the Indian Karakoram largely forbidden to foreign expeditions, many of the stunning mountains in the area remain unclimbed, including the East (ie: Main) summit of Saser Kangri II (7518m) – reputed to be the world’s second highest unclimbed peak. This team planned to recce the area and hopefully make its first ascent. After finding a route to the peak’s South Face, they spent 4 days climbing steep ice (55º-60º) and mixed ground until they were stopped at 6700m by the combined effects of slow progress, technical ice climbing, a lack of bivouac sites and extremely cold, deteriorating weather.

09/19 – New Zealand Nyambo Konka 2009

Ms Penny Goddard & Ms Lydia Bradey (both NZ) plus Kenny Gasch & Mark Jenkins (both USA) (April-May 2009.

This team planned to explore the Daxue Shan Range of West Sichuan, and hopefully make the first ascent of Nyambo Konka (6114m). They attempted the peak’s East Face from the Bawangou Valley, and moderately technical mixed rock snow and ice brought them to the summit ridge at 5800m. Unfortunately, this presented them with incredibly hard, steep blue ice with many crevasses, which they deemed impassable. No other route on the peak looked more feasible, so following a period of bad weather they turned their attention to a c5020m peak in the Qionglai mountains to the east where, using an (illegal) ‘Blackberry’ as their main navigation tool, they made what was probable its first ascent via a route involving mainly steep rock scrambling.

09/20 – British San Lorenzo 2009

Mick Fowler with Steve Burns, Ian Cartwright and Es Tresidder (September-October 2009)

Cerro San Lorenzo (3706m) is the second highest peak in the Patagonian Andes, and was first climbed by an Italian team in 1941: it has received a number of subsequent ascents, but this team hoped to make the first ascent of its South Face. However, on arrival in the area, it was immediately obvious that this year séracs would make any attempt on the face too dangerous. Alternative objectives attempted include a big gully between Pilar Sar & Cumbre Sar, which was abandoned below the bergschrund because of deep snow etc, and the East side of Cerro Penitentes (2967m), abandoned for the same reason. Although an attempt on Cerro Hermosa (2450m) was contemplated, strong winds and heavy snow made any further climbing unsafe.

09/21 – Zhungar Alatau 2009

Stuart Worsfold with Jamie Goodhart, Liam Hughes, Paul Padman and John Temple plus 2 Kazakh nationals (August 2009)

The area south of the Koksu River in the Zhungar Alatau region of Kazakhstan has had few visitors, so offered a good destination for this exploratory expedition. River crossings prevented them from establishing their base camp in the planned location, so they had to make do with a lower site, which naturally increased the length of walk-ins, although it also added flexibility. They spent 4 days climbing in the valley of the Kyoabl-Kapacau River and then five more in the valley of the Tblwkah River. With relatively good weather during their 17 days in the area, the team climbed a total of 16 peaks up to 4162m, nine of which may have been first ascents. However they feel that the area still has plenty of scope for further exploration.

09/22 – 21st Century Altai

Tim Moss with Dr Marc Bullock, Matthew Freear, Nancy Pickup, Spike Reid and David Tell (May-June 2009)

Although a number of teams, primarily Soviet, have previously visited most parts of the Russian Altai, little is known about their achievements, so this team of non-technical climbers felt it would offer scope for considerable exploration leading to a simple guide to the area. After establishing a base camp in the South Kurai range they climbed five peaks (c.3100m) graded F to PD, four of which were possibly first ascents. Some team members also spent a few days in the Northern Chuysky range at the end of the trip, where they traversed the Teacher Horseshoe.

09/23 – British Yangmolong

Dave Wynne-Jones with Dr Derek Buckle, Dick Isherwood & Peter Rowat (September-October 2009)

Yangmolong (6066m) is one of the few remaining unclimbed 6000m peaks in Sichuan, and has become something of a target for this leader. In 2007 (MEF Ref 07/22A) he attempted an ascent via its North face but was stopped at 5400m by steep and difficult terrain with sérac barriers. However, during the trek out, the team spotted what appeared to be an approach from the east, so this return trip was to investigate further. They noted three possible lines on the East Ridge, although soon discounted two of them. Despite poor weather (rain up to 4000m and heavy snow at 4900m) which held them up for a full week, they established a high camp at 5400m, but were prevented from tackling the technical summit. Unfortunately, early in the trip, they discovered a dramatic attitude change in the local people, who not only stole from their tents, but also extorted money with menaces: the local police seemed powerless, and none of the team is keen to return to the area.

09/24 – British Ruth Gorge 2009

Jon Bracey with Matt Helliker (May 2009)

Although this duo hoped to climb a new route on the South Face of Mount Bradley (1017m) in Ruth Gorge, when they arrived in Alaska they found that unusually warm temperatures made anything but north faces too dangerous, so they turned their attention elsewhere. They were successful in climbing two new routes: on the 1300m N Face of Mt Grosvenor (2572m) they climbed Meltdown (VI, grade 6+ ice/mixed, ED3) and on the 1150m N Face of Mt Church (2509m) – only two weeks after the visit by Pike & Clapham on MEF Ref 09/02 (see above) – ‘For whom the bell tolls’ (V, Grade 6 ice/mixed, ED2). They also repeated the Japanese Couloir on Mt Barrill (2332m) while searching for two missing climbers, who later turned up safe and sound after spending a grim night out near the summit.

09/27 – Kings College Alumni MC Western Kokshaal-Too 2009

Edward Lemon with Martin Jones, Dr Gareth Mottram and Jacob Wrathall (July-August 2009)

This team originally planned to base their expedition on the Malitskovo Glacier, but then discovered that many of the peaks in the area were climbed in 2007, so decided to use the Sarychat Glacier instead. Access to this was delayed by a driver who did not know the area, eventually dropping them 30km short of their intended base camp. Once established they were further disappointed to find that, instead of being good quality limestone, the local rock was shale. Nevertheless, they climbed three mixed routes ranging from Scottish II to V. They reached five previously unclimbed summits, the highest being Peak 4989m, although their GPS recorded it as 5014m.

[A follow-up to this expedition was mounted in 2011, reference 11/14 ]

09/28A – New Zealand Batura Glacier 2009

Ms Pat Deavoll with Paul Hersey (June-July 2009)

Although the initial submission was for a 3 person team planning to explore and hopefully make the first ascents of the South Faces of Kampire Dior (7142m) and Kuk Sar (6934m), the political situation put these out of bounds, and by the time it took place, it was of 2 people (both from New Zealand) hoping to make the first ascent of Karim Sar (6180m), on the southern side of the Batura massif. This had been the subject of a failed attempt by an Italian team in 2007, but all attempts to contact them prior to departure were unsuccessful. After a 2 day walk-in up the Shitinbar Glacier from the road head at Budelas, they established a base camp on a very pleasant site at 3535m, directly under the peak’s south face. The area had experienced more snow in the previous winter than for many years, and when Hersey suffered an undiagnosed illness, the prospects of success looked poor. Nevertheless, he agreed to set off with Deavoll, and actually reached c.6000m before leaving her to continue alone. This she did with great trepidation, climbing up a mixture of deep snow and 60º-70º ice until finally she reached the summit.

09/29 – British St Elias Range 2009

Simon Yates with Paul Schweitzer (April-May 2009)

This team was originally hoping to make the first ascent of the West Ridge of Mount Hubbard (4577m) in the remote Wrangell St Elias Range on the Yukon border with Alaska. However, when they heard that this had already been climbed, at the suggestion of local activist Jack Tackle, they turned their attention to Mt Vancouver – in particular the 2400m SW Spur of its S summit, Good Neighbor Peak (4850m), which forms the border between Alaska and Canada. (Although previously climbed by a large Japanese team in 1968, this had been from the Canadian side in very snowy conditions, and used fixed ropes for most of its length. Three team members were killed in avalanche.) After negotiating problems concerning bush pilots crossing the border, they were eventually dropped by ski plane in a small glacial basin at the base of the ridge, where they set up their base camp. From here, climbing in strictly alpine-style over a period of five days they followed the west side of the ridge up 3000m of ice and mixed climbing to the summit. This was very serious and committing climbing (overall Alpine ED with up to Scottish V ice and 6 mixed), with retreat virtually impossible in the second half. Moving east along the frontier ridge, they reached the top of the original line on Good Neighbor, the 1967 Centennial Route on the SE Spur, which they descended over two days in storm conditions..

09/30 – British Apolobamba 2009

Kris Hill with Adrian Dye, Matt Griffin & Simon Wyatt (July-August 2009)

After acclimatising in the Condori range this team moved to the Cordillera Apolobamba on the northern tip of the Bolivian Andes,where they hoped to make first ascents of peaks over 5000m. In particular, they hoped to climb a peak which they had named ‘Rock Peak’ but were unsuccessful on this due to the conditions – in particular the lack of snow which they had anticipated would enable them to climb a section of rubble. In fact, they decided that ‘Rubble Peak’ would be a more appropriate name for it. However, they did manage other climbs, including a 5255m rocky peak named ‘Cherro’) and a rocky ridge ‘Wompa Ridge’ (PD+) to a point just below the summit of Cherro. The team made a successful traverse of Canisaya (5706m) climbing up the NW Face and descending the WNW Ridge.