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Chumser & Lungser: Part 1 (Leh – Churchu – Chumser Kangri)

Part 1

This year, right from the beginning, Ladakh was a pot pouri of uncertainties. I should not have even gone to Ladakh in the first place.

I had planned a climb in Kyrgyztan (Lenin or Khan Tengri) and I had to call that off because a friend invited me to climb MK4 and the peaks in its vicinity with him in HP. While we were planning on that, IMF detailed me for an expedition in Bataal (CB9, 10 etc). There is a certain Wg Cdr Chaudhury with the IMF who was supposed to lead the climb. He came across as an eccentric and “Do I care?” kind of a person to me. IMF called off the climb on two occasions; and on both occasaions causing immense monetary loss and logistical inconvenience to the participants. I spoke to the Wg Cdr and he sounded unapologetic and carefree. I had resolved in my mind that this was the last time I would let IMF ruin my plans, even if it meant spending out of my own pocket.  Because IMF ruined my climbing calender (well almost), I decided to go to Jaipur and work some more on my riding. My last trip to Jaipur was smashing and I was hoping Vishal and Ajay will make this one worthwhile too. This would keep me fit and give me some time to sort out a new plan.

So I decided to climb peaks higher than those planned by my friend and IMF. And to soup things up, I decided to climb two such peaks for good measure. The icing on the cake was to do all this in a two week window (including acclimatisation). The two peaks that came to my mind were Chumser and Lungser in Ladakh. Chumser is 6625m tall while Lungser is 6666m tall. Climbing even one of these bulbous objectives can be a handful, not to mention two. Doing that in 10 climbing days is another matter altogether. I have heard of so many people gloating over the fact that Chumser is a “trekking” peak and come back empty handed and a truck load of cold injuries and high alt illnesses to add insult to injury. True – sections of Chumser can be classified as “trekking” peak. But there are some sections that we did which were quite steep especially just short of “our” summit which @ 6635m was 10m higher than the main summit.

A few reasons why I feel expeditions to Chumser fail are (Not even talking about Lungser now)

1. The mountain is humongous. People underestimate the magnitude of the climb. The base camp is at an altitude of 5688m which is higher than the everest base camp

2. The tree line in Ladakh is low (very low) sometimes even non existent. Oxygen levels are lower than in other parts of the Himalayas. Climbing 22000 ft in Ladakh is not the same as climbing 22000 ft say in Himachal, Uttaranchal or even Sikkim.

3. For anyone serious about summiting Chumser, one must consider a high camp at 6100m. The downside is that the weather is very fickle at this point and it is perpetually cold. We experienced this bitter coldness (we climbed in september) but the reward was sweet – “summit”.

So much for planning. But I was a lone climber. Not that that was going to deter me. But that just meant more funds and better logistical support. I had made an enquiry with a couple of logistics agencies in Leh. One of these agencies, put me in touch with Nabarun Ghosh, an aspiring climber from Kolkata. He too had aimed to climb chumser and lungser in a very small window (timeframe); what are the odds? Without wasting much time, We got down to the finances and logistics. Nabarun was more than willing to let me manage the climb and I obliged. We planned the climb between the 8th and 20th of Sep with a days rest between the two summits and a reserve day which turned out as good as non existent.

Mistake – 12 days is just about enough for ONE peak measuring well over 6500m, let alone two, to be summited in a period of 72 hours. We realised the magnitude of the task only one day before attempting Chumser. That is when Nabarun my new friend suggested that we concentrate on one objective as opposed to two. I said that we should believe in our plan. We were the ones who made the plan, and of all the people we should show faith in it. More on this episode later.

I reached Delhi on the 7th of Sep. I had a flight for Leh the following day. I picked up a pair of CAMP G-Shell lite+ from Munesh, my acquaintance in Delhi. I didnt use the gloves though. My Millet Ice Fall did stellar duty on the arduous ridges of Chumser and Lungser.

September 8th  – Day 1 Leh

48 hours in Leh was what I had planned for acclimatisation. Sam, who helped organise KY1 for me in 2010, picked me up from the airport around 10. Rudra the Manager of Hotel Mansarovar on Fort Road was delighted to have me as his guest. I quickly settled into a sedentary mode for the next few hours. On my back, on the bed was the preferred course of action, apparently. The sudden difference in altitude from around zero in Delhi to 3500m in Leh is bound to affect the most hardcore outdoor junkie and I wasnt willing to take my chances.

I had to meet Sam sometime in the evening. So after a nice heavy lunch and a nap, I walked up Fort Road towards Raku Complex to visit Sams new office. I spent some time at his desk discussing the trip and also met with Deepak, my mountain guide, a native of Manali. He appeared to be a very “crisp” fellow and has somekind of a reputation among his clientele. A reputation for being forthright, which I thought was good. We didnt need someone who would beat around the bush either. After meeting with Sam and Deepak, I spent sometime lazing around the main bazaar in Leh, especially near the Masjid, where native Kashmiris sell delightful meaty delicacies on skews called sheekh. There was also Rista, a spicy meatball cooked in soupy stew; a mouthwatering affair. After hanging around the town, I headed towards Mansarovar. Rudra told me that someone had been meaning to meet me while I was gone. I assumed it was Nabarun. We had agreed to meet the following day, but 8th was not totally ruled out. Nabarun had made it to Leh a week earlier, since he intended to climb Stok Kangri before attempting Chumser and Lungser with me. I was keen to find out if the gentleman was Nabarun. I had to wait a few more hours until the next morning to learn about the mysterious visitor.

September 9th  – Day 2 Leh

The next morning after breakfast, I was hanging around the lawn, testing the GPS and altimeter on my N8. The altimeter was about 40m off. The positioning was pretty accurate though. While I was busy testing my device, Nabarun walked into the entrance towards the hotel lobby. We shook hands and it turned out that the mysterious visitor from last evening was him indeed.

Nabarun told me about his stok expedition; how he just about managed to scrape through a summit at the last moment due to bad weather. They stayed put at the base camp for 5 days due to incessant weather. The weather only just about cleared up late on the 7th. So the leader suggested that they venture into the mountain as far as possible. By the time they left the base camp, it was 10. They somehow made it to the summit by 1730. The string of events on stok sounded like a satirical imitation of a laurel and hardy episode. Well! to me. 🙂</