Raru Valley, Zanskar, Ladakh, Indian Himalayan
First ascents of the peaks Katkar Kangri (R35) 6,148m, Mutik Skal (R26) 6,243m, Lama…Soo (Lame So) 5,947m and second ascent (new route) to Skilma Kangri 6,020m.
In August 2012, a small Greek team consisted of Panos Athanasiadis, George Voutiropoulos, Nikos Lazanas and myself (Nikolaos Kroupis) visited the Raru valley in the Indian Himalayan (erroneously also referred to as Reru) with the intention to scale some unclimbed peaks there. On August 12th we arrived in Delhi and the next day we took the flight to Leh in Ladakh. After a two-day stay in Leh to organize the expedition, on August 15th we began by car the long journey to the Raru village in the Zanskar valley. Our cook, Nirot Panday from Nepal, and his assistant Stanzin Gonpo from the Raru village travelled with us. On the first day, we passed Kargil and continued to the Zanskar valley, where we stayed overnight in the alpine hut of Penzila. In the afternoon of the next day we reached the Raru village (3,789m) and we camped near the school of the village at a designated area. For our stay in the village and for all the days in the mountains, we were charged 120 INR per night per tent by the major of the village.
On August 17th, with 8 horses and two horsemen, we continued on foot from the Raru village walking at the left side of the valley. For the first 5 km the path was in good condition. After about 12 km we reached Sumdo, the point where the valley spits into two secondary valleys: Katkar Nala (on the left) and Nateo Nala (on the right). At the associated river confluence (Sumdo) we stayed on the left side (Katkar valley) following a faint yak trail. Late in the afternoon, after 15 km of trekking, we found a convenient site for spending the night (a grass covered opening with a big spring of crystal clear, cold water nearby). This site was at 4,297m elevation and immediately next to the rocky slopes, approximately 400 yards from the river). The following day, we continued trekking for about 3 hours and reached the point where the secondary stream, originating from the glacier of Skilma Kangri, and the river Katkar meet. There, we made our Base Camp (BC) at an altitude of 4,460m. (Location: 33ο10′ 44.2”N - 76ο 59′ 40.9”E).
On August 19th we did a first reconnaissance of the peak R35 from its NE side, carrying at the same time some equipment to store high (next to the glacier, at 5,100m). After 2 km of walking on the left side of Katkar Nala we reached the alpine lake from which the river of the valley Katkar originates and we continued on the left of the stream originating from the glacier East of peak R35. At an altitude of 4,975m, there is a wide and flat area where the stream is slow and shallow and thus easier to cross. We continued on the right side of the stream and we reached the glacier at an altitude of 5,100m. The glacier had no crevasses, yet there were a few water steams running over the glacier. Finding a spot to jump across these glacial torrents was quite easy, but falling in would be lethal. During this reconnaissance trip, the team left some climbing equipment and camping supplies near the glacier, and in the afternoon returned to the BC.
On August 21st the team reached again the base of the glacier and continued SE for about 2 km up to 5,300m. From here the SE face of R35 was visible, giving the impression that it offered the easiest route to the summit. We decided to return the following morning to try climbing this way. However, on our way to bivouac at the base of glacier, the weather changed and a shower forced us back to BC.
After two days of waiting at the BC, we returned and camped at the base of the glacier. The following day (August 24th) at 4am we started from our advanced camp (5,100m) and followed the glacier until the base of SE slope of R35. At dawn we went up the lower, scree slopes and then we continued in the main snowy gully. We crossed a rocky rib to the left and we climbed the final slopes (hard snow and ice, 45 degrees) up to a shoulder at about 6,080 meters. There, after a bit of rock climbing, a steep, rotten tower blocked our way to the summit [SSE face, AD, max 45ο, III, 600m].
The following morning, Athanasiadis and Voutiropoulos left again from the advanced camp (5,100m) to attempt climbing R35 from its East ridge. This side looked harder but there were no hidden problems. The pair joined the ridge via a gulley at its left side. The top part of the gully gave a pitch of hard snow up 60ο. From the col, at about 5,700m, they continued on the ridge (average slope 50−60ο with a short passage of 80ο). Before noon it started snowing but the pair continued to the top. The summit of R35 (6,148m) was reached early in the afternoon in adverse conditions. From there, 11 full-length (60m) rappels were needed in the way down following the same route. This was a 15-hour return trip tent to tent. This peak was named Katkar Kangri as it is the most prominent peak in the Katkar valley from all viewing angles. The two climbers returned to the BC the following morning [Route: E ridge, D+, 50-80ο, III/IV, 700m].
After some rest the team regrouped. Athanasiadis and Kroupis departed on August 28th to attempt peak R26, which is located between the valleys Katkar and Nateo and south of the point of Sumdo, the junction of the corresponding rivers. The pair crossed the Katkar river early in the morning (when the flow is low) and ascended the morena of the glacier that comes from R26. It took them 8 hours to reach the secondary glacier tongue (east of R26). They camped at the edge of the glacier at 5,520m. (33ο 10’28.4”Ν - 76ο 57’33.2”Ε). The next morning it was snowing. After it cleared, at 9am, the pair approached the apex of the glacier (5630m) and climbed the direct couloir (45ο) that leads to the NE ridge of R26 (5,833m). For the first part, the ridge went horizontally, then the inclination gradually increased to about 50 degrees. Before the steepest part, where a rock band needs to be crossed, a loop of weathered, thick, static rope was found attached to a rock. As there are no previous references about this peak, we assumed that this rope came from a previous unsuccessful attempt.
Beyond that point, the ridge is very sharp, and the rock is generally very poor. There is also plenty of ambiance and grandeur due the big drop at the back side of the ridge. The pair stayed close to the ridge line (on the left) and got directly on the ridge only at an altitude of 6,150m. From that point to the summit remained approximately 200m of climbing (rotten rock, ΙΙ/ΙΙΙ). The summit of R26 was reached at 4pm (altitude 6,243m, N33ο10′37.5”- E76ο 56′47.2”). This peaked was named Mutik Skal (meaning “lost pearl” in the local language).
The descent involved twelve 60m rappels. As the pair had only one rope, Athanasiadis down-climbed the entire route. This was a 12-hour endeavor tent to tent. The next morning the pair returned to the BC [NE ridge, elevation gain: 500m, 900m development, D-, 40-55ο, ΙΙ/ΙΙΙ].
At the same time, Voutiropoulos and Lazanas climbed at the other side of the Katkar valley. They went up the morena of Skilma Kangri’s glacier and they camped next to a small lake (5,190m) at the foot of the smooth slope of Mount Jules. The following day (August 29th) they started at 6:30am in light snowfall to attempt the nameless peak which is located NE (left) of Skilma Kangri. They climbed it from its north side [AD, avg. 30ο, up to 50ο, 500m] and they named the peak “Lama…Soo”, meaning “the monk’s tooth” in the local language. The altitude of the peak was measured 5,947m by means of a barometer. There were no previous records for this summit; therefore, this is considered to be the first ascent. They made their descent from the East Ridge, leading to Mount Jules. Continuing on the smooth ridge towards Mount Jules, they traversed over two secondary summits (Peak 5,820m and Peak 5,795m) and reached their camp site at the small lake late in the afternoon.
The next morning they left again at 5:00am, reached the highest point of the glacier and climbed the icy slope up to the col between Skilma and Lama…Soo. From there, they continued on the snow-covered East ridge of Skilma Kangri. This was the second ascent of Skilma Kangri by a new route [East Ridge, D-, avg. 50ο max 70ο, 500m]. They descended the same route doing 7 rappels. The altitude of Skilma Kangri was found 6,020m by means of a barometer. On 31st of August the climbers returned back to the BC.
After a two-day wait, resting at the BC, they whole team trekked back to Raru village. From there another two full days of road travelling led back to Leh. On September 8th the 4 members of the expedition flew to Delhi and the following day back to Greece.
Dr. Nikolaos Kroupis