Irish/British Singekang Exploratory Expedition 2010
|Date: Oct/Nov 2010
Submitted by: Alan Tees
Irish/British Singekang Exploratory Expedition 2010.
The objective of the expedition was to penetrate the unexplored Singekang Valley in Spiti, India, and permission was gained to attempt Singekang (Lion Peak), a remote and unclimbed peak at the valley head, and on the border with Kinnaur. Due to the location of the area, a special “X” visa was required. Before applying for this, permission in writing was required from the Indian ministries of Defence and Home Affairs, and a long delay in the latter, meant that the issue of X Visas from the shambolic High Commission in London, was a fraught affair! Despite numerous increasingly panicy telephone calls, emails etc, one visa was not available until the day of departure, one arriving by post at home, 3 days after arrival in India!
We all did however arrive in Delhi, George Sandra, Martin and myself, all Colmcille climbers, to be met by Raja, our expedition facilitor, and two taxi men, who had some difficulty in locating their taxis in the newly renovated and extended Delhi airport. We were soon joined from Kathmandu by Jeremy Windsor, a doctor and UIAA medical advisor, who had been guiding a party for “Jagged Globe” on Mera Peak. Jeremy has previously summitted on Everest and Cho Oyo.
The following 2 days were spent sightseeing, shopping for provisions in Delhi, and being briefed by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, where we were joined by our liason officer Imram, a confident young man who had already been to 7000m- apparently. Whilst the others browsed the excellent IMF library (good to see the latest copy of IML prominent), I had tea with Col. Ravinder Nath, the director, before the briefing.
An overnight bus took us to Manali and the mountains where it was noticeably cooler. This was 16 hours but fairly comfortable for us all as we had miraculously escaped the dreaded “Delhi Belly”. We were soon joined in the Highland Hotel by our last member Andrew Tees who had just flown in from Oz via Delhi. There had been unexpectedly early winter heavy snowfall closing the passes to our destination, but the first one, the Rothang La 3800m had just reopened, so at 6.00AM our party set off in a jeep, with the staff of Adventuremania (Thendrup, Indra, Kiran, Lackpa, and Rikchung) following in a small truck with the kit. As we neared the top of the neverendin hairpins we came to a halt in a traffic jam. One lane had been cleared only, and our convoy of lorries, jeeps and busses from the south found itself face to face with a similar convoy coming in the opposite direction. No one was going anywhere! As the hours ticked by, people huddled in their vehicles from the bitter cold, but then the sun came out and a carnival atmosphere prevailed with smily ladies parading their most colourful saris out in the snow, and a makeshift tent/café doing a roaring trade in teas and eggs chapattis etc. There was an air of optimism that it would all get sorted, as indeed it did. Agreement was reached that the southbound traffic would pull aside, and a digger appeared, many hands were available to push, fires were lit under lorries to thaw out their diesel pipes (including at least one petrol tanker!) and four hours later we were over the top and descending the other side. Our troubles were far from over, as we had many hours of rocky and snow covered hair raising road to negotiate before we got to our second major pass, the Kunjung La 4551m. It was getting dark by that time and our driver was very concerned as the road was icy and deteriorating by the minute as the temperature dropped. He threw the 2 wheel drive Tata into each bend with great skill, skidding and accellorating hard to gain momentum for the next upward stretch. Several times the slick tyres cound find no purchase, and we all had to get out and push (hard work at 4000m!) We made the pass and by 9.30 were in Kaja at our dark and rather chilly lodgings, 15 hours in a jeep.
In the morning spirits were raised as the sun rose to reveal the magnificence of our surroundings, and while we visited the remarkable Ki Monastry, Raja went to check access to our Singekang valley, and our liason officer went home to Mombai, the travel, cold, and altitude obviously not agreeing with him. The good news was that there was a bridge across the Spiti River giving convenient access at Poh, and an amenable farmer called Nawang who would let us camp beside his house, and he would also be our guide up the base camp, 3 hours up the valley where there used to be some grazing. No one to his knowledge had been beyond this. The bad news was the fact that the valley was more of a gorge, and entirely unsuitable for the mules that we had hoped to hire. Raja had, as always, a local contact, and was optimistic that he would put him in touch with locals who might be prepared to act as porters. In the morning before we left, we had a “Puja” at the new Kaja Monastry, where a young Lama blessed our expedition, and on the 2 hour journey to Poh, we visited the spectacular Dhanka Gompa, undoubtedly the most breathtaking I have ever seen.
Pomrang camp was established in Nawang’s orchard, and Jeremy was soon ministering to the family’s various ailments. Nawang couldn’t believe his luck having a eminent London physician camped in his garden, and we were duly supplied with apples and firewood, while lots of neighbours turned up just to have a look at us!
Five porters turned up next day, and Nawang guided us up the gorge,on the remnants of an old trail, so 3 hours and three river crossings later with heavy packs, we had a base camp. We returned to Pomrang, and our porters returned home, saying the terrain was too difficult to carry. This meant that we, (and the five Adventuremania guys) had to do two more carries to stock base camp, before we could consider moving up to “Advance” (ABC). Beyond base camp was unknown, so we spread out to look at the various options for access to the next camp. A major landslip made the left hand side of the gorge difficult, and the right side was vertical. Various blind allys were checked,( including wading the ice-bound river), before we decided on a steep loose gully which gave access to more level thorny ground above, and three carries on consequitive days had us established at ABC 4200m, on the rivers edge and at the base of a prominent pointy peak which we proposed to climb for acclimatisation, and name “Lynam Peak”. Time was moving on however, and it aws decided that we should concentrate on our target peak, Singekang, which was still some distance away, and look at other ascents on the way down, so the next day found us stumbling up the GFH (Gorge from Hell), 3-4 hours of purgatory with a heavy pack, to establish high camp at 4800m in a broad snowy valley surrounded by magnificent peaks. Going down the loose rubble and ice of the GFH was just as bad (maybe worse), and the following day we had to do it again, before we could occupy High Camp. The next was the first rest day of our trip, and we enjoyed more hours in the sun that were available in the enclosed gorge below, before it disappeared behind the mountain, and we dived for our duvets. The weather was settled and we experienced no cloud or snow, although it aws very cold at night.
At 3.00AM we set off by torch light up into the hidden valley behind a satellite of Singekang (Singekang Minor). By dawn it had become brutally cold, cold as I have ever experienced, and Martin recognising the signs of hypothermia, wisely turned back. Thendrup, Lackpa, George, Jeremy and Andrew climbed steep snow and moving shale to the col, 5400m leaving a fixed rope in place for Sandra and myself. By the time Sandra and I got up to the col and the welcome rays of the sun, Thendrup was checking access to the summit ridge, which frankly did not look feasible to me! 400m (height)of gendarmed corniced ridge, all covered in fresh snow, Alpine TD at least, led to the summit. It was certainly beyond me in my state of acclimatisation, but the boys would give it a try.
They did, but abseiled off from about 5600m when reality checked in! Jeremy found that his toes were frostbitten on return to high camp (a legacy of Everest) so the next day we all retreated down the GFH to ABC. Frost bite is a serious business, so Jeremy decided to walk out to the road the next day, and was accompanied by Andrew, and Raja, who had arrangements for our homeward transport to make. This left Martin, George, Sandra and myself with a couple of spare days, so we decided to try a 5500m peak just above ABC. We established a high camp of three small tents at 4800m on a platform carved out of a snow slope above a glacier and facing Manirang, the highest peak in Spiti. There were many snow leopard tracks on the ridge above, and we were entertained by massive avalanches off the North face of Manirang. The ridge above was interesting, with several traverses to avoid obstacles, and one fixed rope to climb a short steep gully. Soon we traversed around the corner to a spur, and there it was the summit above, and in between straightforward snow slopes, but our troubles were only beginning! We were immediately into deep powder and sugar, and if that wasn’t enough, more often that not a collapsing crust! With the help of Thendrup, breaking trail, determination overcame exhaustion (only just in my case), and we were on the summit 4.5 hours after leaving camp. We decided to call it Snaght Kang, after my favourite mountain in Inishowen (joke) but it seemed appropriate, the views from the top were magnificent, and it proved the ideal viewpoint to survey the unexplored Singekang area. Photos were taken, and the descent was also intitially unpleasant, but 3 hours later we were back at ABC feeing well pleased with ourselves.
A six to seven hour big load carry the next day had us back at Pomrang ( the Adventuremania lads carried phenomenal packs as I think they were keen not to have to go up again!) and camping in Nawang’s orchard, and a day later Raja arrived with our transport for the journey back to Delhi via Shimla.
This was always going to be a long shot! To book a peak that no one has ever seen, via a valley that no one has ever been up, may seem optimistic, but that was the main attraction. There are no records within the IMF, the Alpine Club, the Himalayan Club or the AAC of any incursions into this particular valley, and it is an obvious hole in the map, particularly as it is so close to Manirang and the highest peaks in Spiti. We found the Leomann Map no 6 reasonably accurate in the circumstances, and were able to tie it up with Google earth, from a number of viewpoints, most notably Snaght Kang, although there were variances in the heights given. The Singekang Valley’s right wall is made up of the precipitous North Faces of a number of 6000m peaks, including Manirang, and there are few areas of weakness, whereas the left side tends to be easier angled, is mostly bereaft of snow, and mainly covered in stones and thorny scrub. The valley culminates in a huge flat glacial col, to the NE of Singekang, gradually descending to Yaling Lungpa and the Hangrang Valley
22 Nov 2010
Sounds like a tough trip but no better people to be up there. Well done you lot!
29 Nov 2010
Good effort for old-timers. You need a young fit lad like me with you next time :)
29 Nov 2010
All of you have come up with the goods again: putting Irish/British Mountaneering and the CCC in the limelight; and having a great adventure too. Well done, I can barely begin to express how I wish I'd been there with you.
05 Dec 2010
An amazing achievement for no better people. True exploratory monuntaineering ........ Congratulations to all of you.
24 Apr 2011
Just one more thing, having looked at the top picture again. Did you train on Croagh Patrick barefooted? I ask because it looks like you did and then wore socks, instead of high altitude boots. If so, hardcore!