KY-1 (Eastern Summit) The Easier Western Summit (Not Seen) Is To The Right
KY1 has always captured the imagination of many a climber. There are 2 known routes. One from the East-South Eastern front along a rocky ridge to the summit where the height gain is a humongous 1400m and the other a knife edge ridge from the easier western summit to the main summit.
This latter route from the western summit is a taboo among the guiding community. “I don’t want to chance my fortune”, is what Kamal my guide politely told me in Hindi. About the eastern summit, unfortunately most climbers fail to document the route, conditions and tactics to negotiate the almost inhospitable terrain of the peak. The former route is a rocky terrain and needs an early start and after a couple of hours from the base camp to the eastern ridge one is unfortunately still at ground zero trying to make an ascent of this bulbous 2 summit peak.
Arpit (Left) & Jitu (Right) – Snap Is From Day 3 Leaving Nimaling For Base Camp
We initially intended to do this eastern route which seemed relatively achievable. We wanted to do a semi technical route. We, as in Jitendra, Arpit and “Yours Sincerely”. Did I say Semi technical? Well the human mind is fickle at best and we will see evidence of that towards the 4th day of this alpine style ascent of the Kang Yatse.
We arrived at Leh on the 26th of July, in high spirits. Arpit, an avid trekker was seemingly excited because of the prospect of being at heights he had never been to before. I had promised that we would take him to the base camp and may be even an advanced camp. Jitendra an old buddy and an alumni of NIM and HMI, 2 of the worlds best mountain schools. And I was excited about the ascent, more so because our intention was to be at the summit in 5 days against the 12 that people usually plan for a peak like the Kang.
5 days as opposed to the usual 12. Boy! Did we regret that. Most of 27th was spent visiting the monastries and palaces in and around Leh. My eyes were always on the team, more so on Arpit. Leh was at 3500m and we were only going higher. He seemed to be reacting well. Jitu had just completed a high altitude trek in Manali. So he was best acclimatized of the lot. We stayed at the Mansarovar. Nice place to relax. And relax we did; for some reallylong difficult days that were fast approaching.
Day 1 – 28 July 2010
Leh to the roadhead at Shang Sumdo was an uneventful drive. We had to trek for a couple of hours to Chuskarma. The object of my observation was Arpit. He is really fit but this was perhaps his first stint at high altitude. Ladakh is a terrible place for a beginner to foray into mountain sports because of the dry air and inhospitable terrain; and the total lack of vegetation only makes things worse. Seemingly, he was coping well. Jitu was his usual self; slow and steady. I know him from my days in HMI and this was like a dream come true. Climbing together in Ladakh was something we had spoken of in Sikkim about a year ago. We reached Chuskarma at about half past five and after some tea we set up our camp. We knew we had a big day ahead. A really long arduous trek through rocky gorges, steep terrain and a really high Gongmaru-La pass to the Nimaling plateau.
Day 2 – 29 July 2010
We were still in high spirits. We headed out to Nimaling via Gongmaru-La at about 0700 after a light breakfast. The first half of the trek was through a rocky gorge. Climbing, descending and crossing an ever present stream which ran alongside. After may be 3 hours, we reached a place where we had to climb a steep slope for about 90 min to reach the top of Gongmaru-La sitting pretty at 5200m. We had some lunch at the pass which Bhim our cook meticulously packed in an aluminium foil. Nobody had any inclination whatsoever to eat; we just stuffed in some food in our mouths; believing it was necessary if we had to have any chance at the summit. So we ate. Boiled eggs, potatoes and chocolates and whatever we could. While we ate, Jitu and I discussed the route we would take for the summit. By now we were sure that we were not doing the knife edge ridge from the western summit to the the eastern summit. We thought we should do the ridge from the eastern side of the mountain which was quite rocky. There was nothing very technical about this. Just being able to evade loose rocks would take us to 6000m and the final 4200m was purely dependent on adrenalin, stamina and JOSH. This route was still not final and for good reason. For in a day we were about to discover a hitherto unheard of route. A steep 1500 ft ice wall on the north western side of the mountain. This was the wall Jitu and I decided to climb to reach an advanced base camp. However, this was still a couple of days away so we will spare the details for now.
Staying at the pass for long was a bad idea. So after a thirst quenching drink, and one more look at the evasive KY-1 we headed south/south west to reach the Nimaling plateau which was on the Merkha river bed. We all showed obvious signs of AMS. A heavy head, loss of appetite, yawns etc. A diamox as always did the trick. By 5 in the evening we were sipping hot tea and savoring salted Pistachio. Arpit had recovered from a headache by now and I could breathe a sigh of relief. Jitu was cheerful and warm having changed into his down jacket. We followed suit. The wind was gusty and the chill was pinching at times. So we thought it wise to change into something warmer. I changed into fleece under my windcheater and Arpit changed into his down. After a sumptuous meal we slept.
Day 3 – 30 July 2010
The next day Jitu, who didnt sleep well, complained about the surface being uneven. I reminded him that we were clibing; not holidaying in hawaii. So we laughed. We headed south to climb and cross a hill to reach the base camp. Usually the base camp is set near the base of the western summit. I rejected the idea outright. We needed the base camp as near to the eastern summit as possible. This was a really big day for us. Finalising the route, the location of the Advanced camp and load ferry the tent and most of the equipment was to be done today. All this depended on the location of the base camp. The guides and porters of some of the trekkers tried to convince me that the camp near the base of the western summit was the place to be. But we had to ensure the success of our expedition at any cost. Time was at a premium and I didnt want to trek a couple of hours to still be at the base of the eastern summit. So I insisted on the base camp being near the base of the eastern summit. My guide and cook reluctantly but surely followed my instructions.
The Vertical Ice Wall – With The Rock Face To Its Left (Place For Just A Tent)
After a quick lunch we took a few ropes, ice axes and basic climbing equipment to be left at the advanced base camp. The top of the rocky slope that was under the eastern summit on the north side had about a 40 or 50 sqft spot which we thought was ideal for an advanced camp. Our plan was to stay here for just 6 or 7 hours before attempting the summit. We sent Kamal, the guide with the ropes to the spot which was about 2000 ft high. This is when we noticed a glaciated ice wall about 1500 ft high to the west/north west side of this rocky north face. It was steep and it was exciting. He suggested we climb this route to reach the advanced base camp. I had climbed vertical ice walls before but never higher than 200 ft at a time. 1500 ft was pushing it too far. I didnt want my buddy to doubt my climbing skills. So I reluctantly said, “Lets do it.” I am older than Jitu; perhaps the wise thing would have been to check if he was sure about this. I realised the next day that he may have been sure but he was in no shape to tackle the obstacle.
Anyways, our minds were now set on this steep slope as if the summit of the KY-1 depended on reaching the top of this steep wall. Kamal was not sure if he could do this. He suggested that he would join us to the summit from the Advanced base camp and wanted to opt out of the ice wall. We thought it was a brave thing on his part to admit that he wont be able to do it. So we respected his call. We advised him to wait for us at the advanced camp site while Jitu and I negotiated the glaciated wall. We climbed down and all the while I was trying to read Jitus body language, trying to see if he showed any signs of doubt. He seemed his usual confident self. Arpit was busy with his camera. This was as far high as he was going on this trip. I had promised him the base camp but he was easily a 200-300 m higher than that and seemed to be in high spirits. The next day he was coming back to the base of the ice wall to see us off. I jocularly urged Dorjey the assistant cook to take care of Arpit on his way down to the base camp having seen us off and every body laughed.
Day 4 – 31 July 2010 (Conquering The WALL)
We woke up late. Rest was good. The day gone by had taken a toll on Kamal and I, for we had worked the most for ferrying the load and setting up the camp. We had hiked the most to check the base campsite and to decide the advanced camp. And we even argued at times about getting things done our own way. But I wanted us to be on the same page before the big day and so I took the initiative to call it truce. Kamal obliged. This was the big day for us; perhaps bigger than the summit day itself. At about 1000 we started checking our equipment. Boots, crampons, tubulars, carabiners, jumars all and sundry. In an hour the equipment was ready and we lay under the sun for an hour or so. We had an early lunch and then packed our sacks. At about 1 PM we departed from the base camp. Kamal headed to the east/north east side to climb the rocky slope. We headed south to climb from the base camp to the North western side of the summit to reach the base of the imposing ice wall. We wore all the safety equipment and roped up to overcome the obstacle. I asked Jitu one last time, do you wanna do this, and he looked me in the eye and said; do you? I said, “Lets do it”. Remember!! we were climbing this alpine style with just one rope, a few tubulars, carabiners and one jumar. Our sacks weighed about 10 kgs. “Up” was the only way we could go. Jitu seemed pretty unperturbed by the obstacle. He was pretty confident. So we said our good byes to Arpit and Dorjey and set out to climb the ice wall at about half past 3. Since my buddy from HMI was beaming with confidence, I let him lead. We didnt need belaying for the first couple hundred feet. Then I started to notice the first signs. Jitu kind of politely inquired if I wanted to lead and I obliged. We still thought we didnt need belaying and climbed about 50 feet. This is when the wall was getting really steep. So he urged that I plant a tubular, and I agreed. He used the ascender to get to me. We did this for about a hundred feet. Jitu with a deep sigh told me that he is kind of not sure about this whole thing. I was dumbfound. “Don’t say that. Now now”, I thought to myself. Obviously I had the wisdom to check my emotions and was composed in my conversation with Jitu.
The Gospel at 19000 ft.
At times such as these one would wish that he were alone; ’cause if one dies, he dies alone. But when you place someone else along, one kind of HAS TO assume the responsibility for the other person too, which is unfair. I called on my Lord to tell him I didnt think this was fair. I knew that if I died I would see him and be with him. That is my inheritance in him. But I couldn’t possibly belay this guy for the rest of this really tall wall; what with about 1000 ft still to be climbed. It is difficult to climb such routes on ones own let alone with someone piggy backing you.
Mid Way Through The Ice Wall (Setting Up Systems For Jitu To Ascend)
Jitu was exhausted from ascending with the Jumar. I wasnt sure if this was the right time for the Gospel of My Jesus Christ. But Everything in the scriptures screamed that it is never the wrong time to preach. Paul told Timothy to preach the word; to be instant in season; out of season. And Having received the gift of teaching/preaching the scriptures from the Lord, I of all people knew that this was as good a time as any to preach. So I called on the name of him who had saved me 4 odd years ago. I made sure Jitu heard me call on his name. I was careful not to use the word “god“, lest he thought I was calling on one of the gods of this world. I made sure I called on the name of the Living God. I made sure he knew that Jesus was the Only Way. I made sure … I made sure. I called on the God who answers by fire. I told him that when Jitu makes it to the top, he must know that it was the Only True Living God, The Lord God of Israel who saved him. I thanked Him. And every time I belayed Jitu, I thanked Him. Every time I set up the tubular for him to ascend on a slightly slopy surface, I thanked Him. And every once in a while I prayed that He save me from shame, for if Jitu didnt make it, it would be a shame and the very existence of my God would be questioned. Whether I made it or not made no difference to me. But for Jitu to believe he had to see deliverance from this wall. He was as good as dead by now. It was getting dark and really cold. Ice had started to seep into our boots. I was shivering from the cold. Jitus equipment was in much better shape than mine. I was carrying some glucose and offered some to him hoping it would make some difference. It didnt. I got all the tubulars from him; for who knew how many systems I might have to set up in order to get him to ascend. It had been a couple of hours since we did this. Every once in a while, I kept checking if he was alright and kept reminding him that I was calling on the name of Jesus for His sake and that he was going to make it. He seemed indifferent most times and loosely interested at others.
The Good ‘Ol Tubular & Clove – Ice Was Not Always Hard Enough For Tubulars
The rucksack on my shoulders now seemed like a boulder. I didnt have the strength to hold the ice axe and wished that my hands just fell off the sockets. My calf muscles were tearing from my weight constantly being on the front points and the shoulders were sore from belaying Jitu. I was really hoping that the worst was behind me; so I wished. I climbed a few meters to notice that there was a deep 2 feet wide crevasse on our way. We were still a good 100 meters from the top. One might think that when you are as good as dead and exhausted and call on the name of the Lord, he would make things easy for you. In that context the crevasse was a terrible surprise. But the lord teaches Isaiah otherwise. He says his ways are higher and cannot be fathomed. That was just a thought. So instead of pondering on the useless, I thanked him for showing me the crevasse and traversed to the right where the width of the crevasse was least. I struck the ice axe as far to the other side as possible and pulled myself and then continued climbing to a safe place where I had at least a foot of space to belay Jitu. In about 5 minutes I reached a convenient place. Before I told Jitu about the crevasse, I prepared him by speaking about the Cross.
Setting Up A System For Jitu To Jumar Or To Belay Him Depended On What The Wall Offered
I spoke about how good and loving my God is. And I told him that he alone is the almighty. Jitu seemed to be taking this well. And when I told him about the crevasse he seemed to receive it well. He followed my directions to the place where the crevasse was the narrowest. I asked him to strike the axe as far high as possible and asked him jump on my count and I pulled him with the belay the moment he jumped. A little victory there.
I continued the climb, constantly thanking HIM and there it was; another crevasse. This time with softer snow which made it even more risky. Because jumping off soft snow is virtually impossible. I traversed right and left to find a place where the place for my foot and the place to strike the axe was hard enough. And in a couple of minutes I found a place. While I was giving directions to Jitu, we noticed Kamal to my right and Jitus left. About 50 m higher and 200m to my right. Jitu for the first time in the last 3 hours seemed hopeful. But I knew that the last 1000-1200 feet; it was my Lord who carried Jitu; not Me, not Kamal, not the gods of this world; But my Jesus alone. I sternly told Jitu to follow my directions and to ignore Kamal. So we continued the climb. The last 50 m were slopy and relatively easy. By the time we reached the top of the ice wall, Kamal had traversed to where we were. It was quarter past 9 and we were sapped of all our energy. Even the thought of attempting the summit in a few hours made us sick. In about 30 minutes we made it to our tent. Kamal and Jitu didnt speak much. They just entered the tent and were in their sleeping bags. How could I get into that tent without properly thanking my Lord who has always been more faithful to me than I have been to him. I thanked him for Jitu.
Will he believe? Wont he believe? Will he think that Jesus is just one among the gods of this world? Will he ever know that Jesus is the only way that God has ordained? Or will he think that Jesus is just one in the multitude of the gods of this world? These are the questions I took with me into the tent. Then I rested in the fact that the God who saved a pig headed, arrogant, good for nothing idiot like me through Jesus Christ is mighty to save a humble man like Jitu. So I wept. I slept.
Later we regretted taking the route of the north western ice wall, but in my heart I was grateful we took that route, because it was on that wall on the night of 31 July 2010; that I told Jitu about the greatest truth and perhaps the only truth worth mentioning. I pray one day he can see the one I wanted him to see.
(PS: In a few days I did get to explain the gist of The Bible, The 2 covenants and about the True Living God to Jitu. This was a day after a flash flood caused havoc in Leh)
Day 5 – 1 Aug 2010 (Summit Day)
We hadnt slept at all since 10 last night. Our scheduled time of departure was 0200 but I told Kamal that we would leave at 0300. Having placed the advanced camp at 5900m gave us the advantage of time. People usually start at 1200 AM from the base of the mountain which is at 5000 to 5100m and at about 0300 they struggle to make it to even to 5400m. But being at 5900m already gave us that added edge and so we could afford the luxury of starting late. I had a bar of chocolate and some liquid glucose. We encouraged one another. I prayed (Jitu knelt with me – Was I reaping; having sowed just a few hours ago) and then we set off. It took us an hour to climb a steep, narrow 100m slope. Jitu refused to climb further for his legs had given way. We had been in freezing cold for about 6 hours on that wall last night and I didnt want him to push himself. Kamal and I advised Jitu to return to the advanced camp. We endeavored to reach the summit. We had some liquid glucose and resumed. The climb only got steeper and narrower. We had to climb up snow and do some rock climbing. At about 6250 m still 150m short of the summit, we reached a forked path. We chose the lower slope with the lesser gradient (however it was really narrow and steep our right, i.e. the North side) and climbed another 40 or 50 odd meters. The slope on our right was about 45-50 degrees and there was a steep fall to contend with. Kamal looked at me with intriguing eyes, his piercing eyes checking if I had exhausted all I had. I returned a glare, Saying “I will do it; With or without you”. These guys from Nepal have a client policy that harm comes to the clients over the guides dead body. So he said, I am not leaving you. I felt for him, but I had to do this. I was not going to give up. Kamal now told me he was tired. I asked him to switch places so that I could guide him. The 45 degree slope had to be prepared with ice axe for an adult to stand. So we dug the slope for a few meters. And there it was. A 10 ft wide crevasse.
THE CREVASSE (Probably @ 6250/6300M) I Considered Jumping But The Ground Beneath Wouldn’t Allow Us
Even if this was a full scale expedition, where people carry really long ladders to negotiate crevasses, the snow was too soft so that it would be virtually impossible to anchor the ladder. I even gave a sparing thought to the idea of jumping across the crevasse with ice axes. But the 45 degree slope under us was too steep to even stand on for one person, let alone running or even walking. Besides the loose and now fast melting snow would make it impossible to perform this superhuman feet. I wished for the snow to freeze or some sort of a miracle. But thats the thing about climbing, it doesnt work on wishful thinking or even recognize bravery, courage or skill. The Himalayas have humbled the greatest of climbers. Kamals requests were now turning into stern urges. It was half past 6 and he suggested that there was no way to summit the KY-1 from this really technical route, definitely not this year. The crevasse was too wide and probably extended upwards to block other routes as well.
Highest Pt – Probably 6300 M Or So (This one Is On The Steep Route Above The Bi Fork)
I could only find solace in the fact that we were 100m or so higher than the western summit. The thought of missing the mark by just a 100m made me feel incompetent; especially after we had overcome the toughest part of the route just a few hours ago. With the hot glaring sun on the eastern side of the moutain, Kamal urged me to rush back to safety as soon as possible because the bulky ice walls which were like a overhang above us ran the risk of melting and washing us away down the steep fall on the northern side of the mountain. So we took a few snaps of the crevasse and rushed back to the bi fork.
Here I halfheartedly enquired with Kamal if he would come with me on the upper route from the bi fork. His eyes said NO but his heart probably saw the immature little boy in me and probably made him decide otherwise. We knew the crevasse might in all probability have extended to the route above. But I didnt want to leave any stone unturned. So we climbed the steep upper route from the bi fork. It was half past 7 now and the snow was getting slushy. It was waist deep and even preparing the route with ice axes as in the earlier route was not working. We probably went a little higher than what we accomplished on the earlier route but Kamal just sat and said, “Sir! Ab wapas jaana hi hoga”. Meaning, “We have to return NOW, or we wont make it.” All my courage, skills, intellect, composure and everything within me seemed to belittle me. This was no way to return. 100M!! Ouch. It hurt. “I will come back”, I told Kamal. “I will get you”, I told the Kang.
Kamal Snaps The Eastern Summit Behind Me – So Near So Far
I took some snaps of the surrounding peaks for proof of how high we had gone. And so I returned with Kamal with a heavy heart. We had a terrible time on our way down to the advanced camp. On more than a few occasions we sank waste deep in the snow. We halted at a couple of places where Kamal told me some funny anecdotes to keep my mind from off the summit. I knew what he was upto. However, I played along. He was being nice and I didnt want to spoil that. The snow was soft, slushy and unforgiving. By 10 AM we made it to the advanced camp. We had some boiled eggs which Bhim had packed the previous day. Had some water and headed back to the base camp with all our equipment. The sack now seemed like a ton. Jitu by now had had some rest, having returned form about 6000m. I felt like I would fall anytime from insomnia and stress. 5 days against 12. That was suicidal. What were we thinking?
Then it hit me. What if this whole expedition was never about the summit. What if it was about Jitu and the Lords love for him which I shared with him for about 4 hours the previous night and which I was easily forgetting. I saw how selfish I was being. So I thanked HIM for what he had done for us and this time I climbed down with Jitu with a smile on my face. Somehow even in this loss of mine I felt like a winner. Perhaps we will climb a higher, more technical peak. But it wont be as sweet as sharing the Gospel of the one who gave his everything for me. This time Jitu was more important because when he turns to the living God; the heavens will rejoice and I will also rejoice with the angels of God.
By 12 we reached the base camp. The tents, the kitchen, our camp clothing and equipment were sent to Nimaling earlier this morning. Arpit was nice enough to wait to receive us. Dorjey stood by his side. We did a slow leisurely hike to Nimaling. By 3 in the afternoon we made it to the Nimaling campsite. I looked at the Kang behind me and fell by the river on my face. Bhim served me some hot tea. We washed up and let everything sink into our system. Things had been happening too fast and as if all that was not enough, we had to trek about 44 km the following day.
So we lazed along the Merkha river and after a satisfying meal we slept.
Day 6 – 2 Aug 2010
We started late. An 0800 departure with some of the other trekkers having left at 0700. We caught up with them midway and made it to the Gongmaru-La by 0910. Had a light snack. Looked at our peak one last time before descending to head for the gorge that leads to Chus Karma our camp site on day 1. In a couple of hours or so after weathering a demanding terrain and evading the mobbing locals we made it to the little kitchen at Chuskarma which was run by an old man. We had some soupy noodles and relaxed for an hour before almost trotting to Shang Sumdo. We made it to Shang Sumdo by 1400 and waited for the ponies, Kamal and Bhim. We had a nice cold soft drink and lay on the green grass for about half hour before Kamal arrived with all and sundry. We drove back to Hotel Holiday Ladakh, where we were received by a clueless staff who were uninformed about our arrival. On realising that we were to be their guests, they were apologetic and received us with warmth. We had a nice hot bath and headed to the centre of the town to pounce on some juicy Kebabs. We headed back to the hotel for dinner and slept like babies after leeching on the free internet at The Holiday Ladakh which was made available to us through the hotels Wi-Fi.
Day 7 – 3 Aug 2010
Visit to the Pangong lake. Sam our organizer had managed an innerline permit for us to visit the lake which lies on the Sino-Indian border. It was a long winding 4 hour drive through Chang La, the worlds third highest motorable pass. We stayed at the beautiful spot for an hour or so. Arpit as usual was inseparable from his digicam. Jitu couldnt resist his gastrointestinal urges and headed to the nearest restaurant. We chanced on some hot noodles at the tented restaurant and had some terrible hot salted tea. The locals seem to like it for odd reasons. At about 1230 we headed back to Leh and made it to the town by 1700 or so. This brought an end to our Expedition and acclimatory (if at all that is a word) visits to places around Leh. There were still a lot many adventures or should I say terrible “Misadventures” awaiting us in Leh. The return from Pang about 190 km on the way to Manali on the 4th – 5th and the flash floods in Leh on the 6th of Aug. But that is another long dreary tale.