AACZ Kyashar Expedition 2003:
First Official Ascent

Authors: B. Normand, A. Frank, S. Broderick and K. Riddell
Facts: Kyashar (also Peak 43, Tangnagtse), 6770m, Mahalangur Himal.
Coordinates: 27 45 17N, 86 49 30E.
First official ascent: B. Normand/A. Frank/S. Broderick,
W Ridge/W Face, 18.10.03.
Photos: http://www.afrank.net/Nepal2003/index.htm
picture of Kyashar

Official Report

     The internet has taken much of the effort out of first-ascending in the Himalaya. Now one can surf through lists of open peaks, previous attempts, journal references and search-engine pages of photos and text. All this was something of a blessing for our team when Peak 41, our long-coveted target, was climbed by a Slovenian party in December 2002. The search for a new peak began with the list of 103 ``New Peaks Opened to Expedition'' by HM Government of Nepal two years ago: lurking under the name ``Kyashar'' was Peak 43, although HMG Ministry of Tourism had helpfully muddied the waters by listing P6770 in the upper Hongu as ``Peak 43''. The back side of the mountain seemed to be lost in an information vacuum which the internet couldn't help us solve, so with the irrational conviction that something must be possible we signed on.

      E-mail has also taken the uncertainty out of expedition planning, and Ang Phurba Sherpa at Wilderness Experience had all the answers, within a day, on details great and small. With permit application, LO, flights to Lukla, sirdar and cook, porter equipment and staff insurance all under control, Bruce, as expedition leader, needed a grand total of 24 hours to take care of business in Kathmandu. The obligatory visit to the Department of Tourism for the signed permit, equally obligatory interview with the irrepressible Elizabeth Hawley, stacks of small-denomination rupees for porter salaries, snow stakes, fixed rope, generic antibiotics and kerosene lanterns were all dealt with, and the operation crowned by a trip to the Bhat Bhateni supermarket with our sirdar and cook, Dhan Kumar Rai, for a one-shot acquisition of half the expedition supplies.


      Bruce and Kevin were due to fly to Lukla the following morning, missing the arriving Andi and Sam at the airport, but Kevin was waylaid by Kathmandu quickstep. To nobody's surprise or disappointment our LO had gone missing, not to reappear until the final check-out at the Ministry of Tourism. At WildEx's Lukla base, the Sherpa Lodge, Bruce and Dhan Kumar met our second staff member and assistant cook, Pasang Namgyal Sherpa, and the three plied the main street buying food and vegetables, kerosene, baskets, polyethene strips for porter raincoats and finally the essential prayer flags. Dhan Kumar was surrounded by men looking for porter work, and with 13 of these a further problem was solved. Andi, Sam and a recovered Kevin were on the second flight the next day, and our porters appeared anxious to get started, so after a brief repacking frenzy the expedition was on the trail a mere 30 hours since Andi and Sam had arrived on Nepalese soil.


      The Hinku trek begins with a steep climb of the 4600m Zawtra La. Our acclimatisation policy was to cross at speed and worry about altitude nearer BC, which seemed just fine by our porters despite their 30kg loads being twice what we were carrying. The monsoon had not yet pulled back, and morning clouds would lapse into mist, then to rain by afternoon. As a sodden and bedraggled crew descended upon Tuli Kharka, the first teahouse on the Hinku side, aspertions were cast on Bruce's statement that the monsoon would finish by 1st Oct, now 30 hours away. The next day was no different, except for the stream-crossings and slippery descent in a moss-hung cloud forest, and brought us to Tashing Ongma, a small village by a river terrace offering a few fields. Dhan Kumar brightened the evening by baking a cake for Kevin's 32nd birthday. The leader's prophesy was vindicated when 1st Oct arrived with blue skies, although cumulus soon obscured all the peaks again. The trail wound through the boulder-strewn river bed, then up onto grassy meadows in real sunshine, which warmed both the bodies and the spirits of the party. We continued to the village of Tangnag (meaning: ``black rock''), at the foot of a huge, black rock buttress which forms the lower half of Kyashar, known in the Hinku as Tangnagtse.



      True post-monsoon weather arrived with a spectacular sunrise on Kusum Kanguru and Kyashar. The summit of the latter, 2.5km straight above us, consisted of a set of seracs breaking over the compact, vertical buttresses of the upper S and SE faces. The trek led NE under the N face of Mera, dominated every step of the way by the triangular SE face of Kyashar. As the NE face came briefly into view our enthusiasm was muted: steep snow flutes and mushrooms, with not inconsiderable sections of bare rock. Our route diverged from the Mera La trail, heading N along the lower Hinku Nup glacier, whose western moraine provided easy trekking and beautiful views of the Malanphulan group at the head of the glacier, the Peak 41 group across it and Mera to the S.


      The moraine ceased to exist at a corner from which the upper glacier, BC and Kangtega were visible. The porters were not happy with the steep, loose descent to and impromptu route construction through the last 2km of the glacier, and it was with some relief that the team pulled into BC, flat and with abundant running water, by early afternoon. The mood improved rapidly with the big rupee payout: 4500Rs (c. 70USD) each for a nominal 10 days of work. While 11 of the porters left to return to Tangnag in daylight, Tenzing Sherpa and Dhan Badr Rai, who had worked in the kitchen during the trek, stayed to help set up BC. Soon five small, coloured flecks were decorating the otherwise stark landscape.


      The first order of BC business was to make sure the gods would look fondly upon our presence in their mountains: Tenzing took charge of the puja, for which he first erected a small chorten with help from Dhan Kumar and Dhan Badr. Some of our delicacies and a bottle of Mt. Everest whisky were produced for the tray of offerings, and sprigs of juniper were burned to appropriate incantations as the prayer flags were sanctified by the smoke. After a break to set up the 3 strands of flags, the process was repeated for the tray while a little holy water (the whisky) was sprinkled around, after which the offerings were consumed on the gods' behalf. After the ceremony Tenzing and Dhan Badr took their leave, the former to cook for another trek and the latter to return on the 20th with 7 porters.


      The first acclimatisation target lay across the glacier from Kyashar, where P6261 offered the quickest way to inspect its NE aspect. After a steep and unstable moraine E of BC, Bruce and Kevin headed across a pocket-sized glacier to the SE Ridge while Andi and Sam tackled the SW Ridge. The second pair turned around with altitude worries, but the first found an open road to the top after climbing a short but steep and loose rock band. All of us had good views of the daunting NE face of Kyashar and unstable N face of col 6034m, which would have to be crossed to reach the base of the real climb. Bruce and Kevin could also to look over to Ama Dablam, Everest and Lhotse, just visible past Malanphulan. On the descent the pair negotiated the technicalities without problems, but Bruce scraped a little finger clearing a turning boulder on a lower moraine. This turned out to be a displaced fracture of the tip which would later require surgery to repair, but back in BC he taped it up and went on with the expedition.


      We needed a high camp with access to the N face of col 6034m, and for serious reconnaissance of Kyashar's N Ridge and W Face from the slopes of Kangtega. Andi and Sam undertook a lightly loaded trip up the moraines W of BC, S across a snow ramp and onto a rock arete, finding a straightforward access ramp to the Kangtega Glacier exactly at the top of its icefall. Andi and Kevin established high camp the next day, spending a comfortable night there and continuing at dawn to inspect the upper glacier, but were unable to see the N or W sides of Kyashar. Bruce and Sam joined them at high camp with the rest of the gear, both pairs arriving simultaneously at the exact moment that the thickening clouds began to drop snow. We waited just enough to establish that this was no shower, then descended to BC to wait.


      The snow continued for 24 hours, while impressive avalanche sounds ripped out of the clouds from all angles. The next day was bright and blue again, but we were camp-bound while the snow began to melt and stabilise. Some of the fluted snow faces around us, which seemed to change daily, began to show a disconcerting tendency simply to peel off the rock beneath. The following day we regained high camp, where 30cm of new snow had collapsed the tent. Dawn found Bruce and Andi breaking a new trail, first below the impressive N end of the Kyashar ridge, and then steeply up through a zone of large crevasses, emerging on a shoulder at 6400m with a view of Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam. A saddle at 6500m below the summit pyramid offered the goal for the day: an uninterrupted view of Kyashar, lying directly due S and looking as forbidding as ever. Andi spent some time glassing the W Ridge, now visible almost in its entirety. After a night back at high camp, Andi and Bruce walked over to the base of col 6034m, failing even to reach the start of the steep stuff due to unexpected avalanche danger on the slopes below the face, which was washed by a steady and worrying stream of ice spicules. Our consensus was clear: the N side might be climbable, but is not protectable in post-monsoon snow conditions. We packed up and headed down to BC.



      We used the rest day which followed to refine a plan. Kevin had decided he was not happy with the prospect of technical climbing above 6500m; Andi, Bruce and Sam had no problem with an attempt on the W Ridge. Logistically, this would mean a single, alpine-style bid from Tangnag, leaving the clearing of BC to Dhan Kumar and Pasang, whom we would meet with the porters in Tangnag afterwards. Legally, Bruce thought that changing routes on the same mountain required a 25% surcharge on the permit, which we were prepared to face. In the absence of an LO to consult we would climb first and ask questions later.


      After a lengthy packing exercise we shouldered distressingly heavy rucksacks and left BC in Dhan Kumar's capable hands. The upper Hinku Nup seemed even more malevolent in the other direction, and we camped on grass at Dig Kharka. Kevin went up to Khare, where he joined an Australian trekking group as stand-in assistant guide and climbed Mera. Andi, Bruce and Sam made good time down to Tangnag, then excruciatingly slow progress up the morainal slopes W of the village, finding a bivouac spot on the only flat rock in a boulderscape around a miniature lake.


      The next day began at 1am, with the sole aim of crossing boulder fields to the base of the huge S Face, and climbing 800m of snow slopes directly beneath it before the sun came up and rockfall began. Sunrise found the trio climbing out of the last ice gully between the face and the seracs of the neighbouring glacier, emerging on snow slopes below the 5800m col separating Kyashar from Kusum Kanguru. A flat, windless spot 50m below the col made an ideal high camp with a view of the S Face and W Ridge. The part of the ridge visible from the Kangtega Glacier was separated from the col by a 100m rock step, definitely vertical in places and of decidedly dubious-looking quality. Taking the 2 ropes and the rock rack, Andi and Bruce went to look at this obstacle: the easiest line was vertical for 25m, and the rock quality indeed execrable, but Bruce was able to find some forms of protection. The two climbed a third pitch, looser but no longer steep, to establish that the way to the ridge was clear, then fixed the ropes on the first two pitches while descending. As on previous days, cumulus rose on a cool W wind, but was gone by sundown; the weather looked to be set fair for summit day.



      After a cold, slow start jumaring the ropes, the team gained the W Ridge by 8am. The corniced, unpleasant-looking ridge turned out to be relatively straightforward: strong melting made the footing mostly firm on the S side, and where this dropped vertically tracks could be made on the deep, soft N side. Bruce broke trail and placed snow-stake protection for the long, steepening traverse, bringing the party to 6400m shortly after noon. Here the W Ridge becomes steep and rocky, and the route lies to the left in the couloirs of the W Face. Our chosen couloir began as soft snow for one pitch, but turned to perfect ice for the next three, letting Bruce set good ice-screw protection (and later Andi, leading the descent, set good Abalakov anchors). The couloir turned back to firm snow between the exposed rock sections of the upper face, then broadened into a long exit slope. Bruce arrived on the summit ridge 20 horizontal metres from the highest point, which turned out not to be a cornice, so the team gathered on the true summit. Timecheck: 4pm. Ritual handshakes were exchanged and photos taken, but enjoyment of the extensive view was curtailed by the cold W wind and by the sure knowledge of being only half-way there. One look down the NE Face confirmed that the final route choice was not a mistake. After some compulsory food and drink the team headed back into the W Face and the lowering sun. Night fell in the couloirs of the upper face, but the footprints on the ridge were clear to follow, and the anchors in the rock band were in place. At 1am the group was back at high camp, where Sam manfully kept the stove alight until hydration and thawing had been achieved all round.




      Descent below the S Face would require a 3am start, so safety and torpor dictated a semi-comatose 24-hour break. At the appointed hour the group struck camp and, with two abseils, passed the serac narrows to walk down and out of the snow slopes below the face, admiring the sunrise from the safety of the earlier bivouac site. After breakfast in Tangnag, first Kevin and then Dhan Kumar with the porter train arrived from Khare. In talking with different trekkers and Nepalis, we learned that every expedition in the valley after ours had been met near Tashing Ongma by some gentlemen with AK47s requesting a ``donation'' to the Maoist cause: 1000Rs per foreign trekker and 500Rs per porter. Popular support was not in evidence among the locals. Sam had sustained a contusion on his left hand from stonefall during the abseils, and this was treated by some attentive female doctors. We would finish our expedition by trekking over the Mera La and Amphu Labsta to the Khumbu, and thence back to Lukla, so spent the day drying gear and reconfiguring our loads and those of the porters. They and Dhan Kumar would leave the next morning to return to Lukla, and thereafter either home to their families for the Diwali (New Year) holiday or straight out on another trek to earn more high-season income. Dhan Kumar marked the occasion with a Kyashar cake, featuring icing-sugar snow and seracs over steep, red-walled sponge.



      Our porters duly made it back with no rebel attention. We completed our Hinku/Hongu/Khumbu experience with a detour via Mera, the relative solitude of the upper Hongu, a snowstorm and avalanche danger on the Amphu Labsta, a school festival in Dingboche, awe-inspiring views of the Lhotse wall and of Ama Dablam from Pangboche, a morning service at Tengboche, the calm of Khumjung, the commercial chaos of Namche and the warm, green forests of the lower Khumbu. At the Sherpa Lodge we rearranged flights, and established that Dhan Kumar had dealt with all the garbage, recyclables and paperwork for redeemimg the environmental bond. While Andi and Sam flew to Kathmandu for a brief look at lowland Nepal, Bruce and Kevin returned to Khunde hospital with a medical donation. Eike Mrosek, trauma surgeon, Everest summitter and friend of the expedition, had asked us to deliver a significant amount of broad-spectrum liquid antibiotics of the type which save the lives of children with pneumonia.



     Back in Kathmandu, the leader had just arrived at his hotel reception when Miss Hawley called to schedule her post-expedition debriefing. The next priority was HM Government, negotiated with aplomb by WildEx's faithful driver Tenzing: in a display of unprecedented bureaucratic efficiency, Bruce was steered through the Department, the Ministry and the Central Bank of Nepal, at 3 different places in town, requiring the attention of 5 government functionaries and the disbursement of 1000USD in hard currency, in just 1.5 hours. The final piece of expedition business was to transfer some of this currency directly to Dhan Kumar: in 5 weeks of work he hadn't put a foot wrong, whether moving our equipment, arranging our provisions, cooking our food, spending our money, ensuring the safety of the porters or dealing with bureaucracy. He'd done it all with or without our ``oversight'', with good humour and helpful advice, and had more than merited a generous tip. He bade us farewell by presenting us all with katas (traditional silk scarves) ``until next time''.
The Kyashar team would like to thank the Akademischer Alpen-Club Zurich for the club's generous support of the expedition.