Malcolm Bass and Paul Figg have made the first ascent of the 1600m West Face of Vasuki Parbat, a rarely climbed 6780m peak in the Garwhal Himalaya, India.
The face was first attempted by Mick Fowler and Paul Ramsden in 2008, but a period of heavy snow fall gave them no time to acclimatise, and once the snow stopped temperatures plummeted. Despite this they made a strong attempt, reaching over half height and solving the critical route finding problems. Equipped with this secret Vasuki knowledge, hard won and generously shared by Fowler and Ramsden, Bass and Figg headed out to the face in mid September. With them on the climbing team was Patricia Deavoll, the renown Kiwi alpinist.
Torrential rain marred the start of the trip and ruined the plans of most other teams in the area. But once the skies cleared the weather stayed perfect for a month. After an initial acclimatisation foray on the lower slopes of nearby Bhagarathi II, Bass, Figg, and Deavoll started up the face in early October. The route began with a water ice gully, before opening out onto moderate snow slopes. Nightime temperatures were bitterly cold, so sacs were heavy with big sleeping bags and lots of clothing.
On the third day Deavoll, who had broken her back in a fall only 5 months earlier, decided to descend, which she did over a day and a half, firstly of downclimbing and then abseiling the ice gully on the team's haul line. Just after Deavoll began her descent Figg was hit by a large falling block. Luckily a gas canister in his rucsac took most of the force. Slightly chastened Bass and Figg sheltered under a roof drinking tea until the sun went off the face.
The hard climbing began that evening, up a steep gully on gritty black ice that blunted their ice screws. At midnight they reached a point where the gully reared up into overhangs, so they broke out left onto mixed ground and a sitting bivvy on a ledge from which Bass dropped his camera. On day 4 they dropped down onto and then along the ice traverse pioneered by Fowler and Ramsden. Day 5 began badly with Bass taking a 10m fall from steep mixed ground just above the bivvy, knocking himself (temporarily?) daft. Unimpressed with his partner's grip on reality Figg wisely insisted on a rest day, and the tent went back up, but in the process Figg dropped one of the tent poles.
The next day's efforts were altogether more impressive, superb mixed pitches leading to a steep, rotten rock tower which succumbed to bare handed rock climbing in the afternoon sun. Amazingly nothing was dropped from the bivvy on a snow crest. The crux pitch came the next day, day 7. A fine steep icy groove of about Scottish 7 led to the upper snow field, a lot of heavy breathing, and a commodious bivvy beneath the Kilnsey-like head wall.
Day 8 saw the team finally reach the sharp, serpentine summit ridge (Lord Vasuki is the King of Serpents in Hindu mythology). A bit of high altitude rock climbing action gained the summit on day 9, the 12th of October. Traversing over the summit, more hungry for food than summits by now, the pair continued northwards along the ridge, feet on the west face, tool shafts sunk into the east face.
Day 10 saw them downclimbing and abseiling the north west ridge amongst rotting fixed rope relics. In a final flourish of dropping, Bass dropped a stuff sac with his headtorch, map, compass, and multi tool. The plod from the foot of the ridge over unknown ground back to BC was not pretty.
Thanks to: The Mount Everest Foundation, W.L Gore (Shipton-Tilman Grant), The BMC , The Alpine Club, DHL, Mountain Hardwear , and Wayfarer meals for financial and product support.