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KY1 – Taming The Eastern Summit

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