Sometime earlier this year, I started taking a much closer look at the Rolwaling and which side valleys remained least explored. In particular, the Ripimo and Ripimo Shar (East) glaciers seemed like a gigantic hole, with few prior expeditions exploring their upper reaches. Those who did, the likes of Chris Bonington and Bruce Normand, reported giant peaks, natural beauty and wildness.
A week ago, I set off from Na with what felt like a huge amount of support: Furtemba as the guide and climbing partner, Rajendra as cook, and three porters: Babu Ram, Purna and Buskar. It became clear pretty early on, however, that given the ruggedness of the upper reaches of the valley, that the resources we had were definitely not excessive. Our first day, we established camp at Omi Tso, a gorgeous alpine lake at the base of Nachugo and Omi Tso Go, one of the peaks for which I had a permit. The next day, we carried gear up the moraine and around the corner to an elevation of ~17,200 ft, where unfortunately, we discovered an astonishing lack of water on the upper reaches of the glacier. This meant a heartbreaking and super tricky descent down some of the tippiest talus I’ve ever encountered. Now that I’ve covered this stretch six times, I’d be happy to put the upper Ripimo Shar up against anything in a “World’s Sketchiest Talus” competition. It’s not an understatement that in certain stretches up to half a mile long, roughly 80% of the rocks (all of which ranged in size from volleyball to sofa) would suddenly shift. Often this would trigger a chain reaction. Heinous!
We ended up having to do two carries to establish our base camp at ~16,500 ft. The next day, Furtemba and I established a route to ~18,500 ft on our main objective, unclimbed 20,856 ft Langdung. The highlight of the lower route (after a tremendous amount of talus of course!) was a few hundred meters of 4th and low 5th class sparkly granite. We soloed the whole section but did establish two rappels to make descent with heavy packs easier.
Classic butt shot. The rock was pretty good!
Following a rest day, Furte and I returned to high camp on the summit push. We had a gorgeous bivy spot with spectacular views of the Ripimo Shar. Just after sunrise, we moved up on summit day, which involved a short glacier crossing, then ascent of a broad couloir and short traverse to the upper glacier. This was like entering a different world. A huge flat expanse extended to the Tibetan border, with the south face of Langdung, the highest objective around, towering over us on the right. We ascended this glacier to the base of the face, choosing a direct and fairly straightforward, if not monotonous, line up steep snow and alpine ice toward the summit. From the glacier, the face was ~600m (2000 ft). The face was in pretty good condition, allowing us to simul-solo nearly the entire route until it steepened to about 75 degrees for the last couple pitches. It was hard work, with little opportunity for rest or hydration. As we approached the last ridge, tantalizingly close to the true summit, things changed dramatically. Furtemba, usually steadily making upward progress, was now scraping his axes through horribly sketchy, unconsolidated snow in between bouts of profanity-laced outbursts. I took stock of my situation…one picket placed between us was the only thing keeping us on the mountain. After a lot of searching, Furte made an awkward move over a crevasse and onto the corniced ridge. I followed. It was there that we realized both how close and far we were from our objective. Probably 25 vertical meters and just 50-100 horizontal meters separated us from the snowcapped summit, yet the way was blocked by snow mushrooms on one side and overhanging, unconsolidated powder beneath the cornices on the other. Assuming this section were passable, we still had some mixed climbing of unknown difficulty to yet another cornice at the summit. It was just way too much risk for our liking. So I ascended the final couple meters of cornice and as I peeked my head over the edge I was met with thousands of meters of air down into Tibet. In the not-so-far distance, the world’s highest mountains stood before me: Cho Oyu, Everest, Lhotse and Makalu made up just a small part of the spectacular skyline.
Langdung’s true summit just 25 or so meters higher
Returning to our measly picket, we backed it up with another, and Furte stood on them to add some additional psychological protection. I made the first of 8 or so rope-stretcher rappels off the face, mostly snow anchors but a few v-threads where we could find decent ice. The rest of the day was fairly uneventful…hard work into the frigid evening, but not the most tiring or epic descent I’ve made. A few hours later, after breaking down our high camp, we returned to the rocky Ripimo Shar. Soon, we spotted the headlamps of Purna and Buskar, who gave us some tea and juice and shouldered our heavy packs for the boulder-hop back to camp.
Some more photos to tell the story: