British First Ascent of Gangstang NW Ridge, India

Malcolm Bass and Guy Buckingham recently made the first ascent of the beautiful NW Ridge of Gangstang (6162m) in the Himachal Pradesh Himalaya. They reached the summit on 9th June and descended to base camp the next day, completing a five day round trip. The pair have sent in a brief report of their expedition.

NW Ridge of Gangstang in the foreground, 226 kb
NW Ridge of Gangstang in the foreground
© Guy Buckingham

Gangstang is a classically pyramidal peak, reminiscent of the Matterhorn. It was reportedly first climbed by Italians in 1945 via the South West Ridge which has since become the normal route. In 2007, Martin Moran and team explored the northern and western aspects of the mountain, establishing a partial new route from the west that joined the normal route at 5850m. It was Martin’s photos of and enthusiasm for the unclimbed NW Ridge that inspired us.

After making a tiny impression on the superb granite bouldering surrounding base camp, with our Liaison Officer, Parmender Sharma, we acclimatised with a climb of Neelkantha (5324m), previously know as Thirot Shivling, the rock bastion that stands on the tip of the NW ridge of Gangstang. For those going on expedition to India, it’s worth noting that the Indian Mountaineering Foundation will now hire out bouldering mats to expeditions at a very reasonable rate.

Malcolm getting stuck in on the knife-edge ridge on Day 1, 198 kb
Malcolm getting stuck in on the knife-edge ridge on Day 1
© Guy Buckingham

After a couple of days' rest at the comfortable and well located base camp, we headed off towards the ridge packed for a five day adventure. The first night was spent on the glacier under the North Face at around 5000m and in the early hours of the following morning we crossed the bergschrund and climbed a couloir onto the North West Ridge. From then on it was rock and mixed climbing all the way; we torqued and crimped, jammed and pressed down, with the blissful absence of any objective danger from above. By Himalayan standards the rock quality was good but just needed to be managed with respect.

There were two camps on the ridge itself, one being palatial compared to the other, which was half perched over a cornice with everything and everyone tied off in numerous directions.

Guy on Day 3, 124 kb
Guy on Day 3
© Malcolm Bass

The climbing, on blocky granite, was excellent, with brilliant situations; for example on day three, Guy torqued up a short wall and reached onto a slab above to find himself peering through a hole straight down the immensity of the west face overhanging the ridgeline by a good 5 metres. However, that was the end of the “fun times”.

As we approached 6000m, it was beginning to snow and the wind significantly strengthened, blowing straight up the west face leaving us cold and exposed. The climbing, now mostly on bulletproof grey water ice, became monotonous and arduous. We were tiring, the air was thin and our calves were screaming. The pitches just never ended; then, rather anti-climatically we were on the tiny summit. With visibility low, snow and wind still blowing there was only time for the obligatory selfie and fist-bump prior to using a short break in the clouds to locate the start of the South West ridge to camp as soon as possible. After a 100m descent, we established our last camp in light, dry snow - glad of the rest and a chance for something to eat.

Guy on the Grey Towers Day 3, 155 kb
Guy on the Grey Towers Day 3
© Malcolm Bass

It snowed all night and was still snowing in the morning, but by 8am it started to clear and allowed us to see the descent route (following Martin’s 2007 ascent line). Four abseils, a lot of down climbing and some dodgy bum-sliding, (almost not stopping for the bergschrund!) and finally we were away from the dangers of the mountain. All that remained was the 6 hour moraine trudge back to base camp for man-hugs, pakora and screech.

Summing up the climb, Malcolm commented: “We were looking for a great Himalayan line to climb and we found it in spades!”

Descending on Day 5, 147 kb
Descending on Day 5
© Malcolm Bass

North West Ridge of Gangstang 6162m, 1500m ED1 [UK Rock 5a, Scottish 6] 7-10 Jun 16

Guy Buckingham is a director of Infinity Mountain Guides and a member of the Association of Mountaineering Instructors.

Both climbers would like to thank their sponsors and supporters without whom such trips would not be possible: Montane, The British Mountaineering Council, The Mount Everest Foundation, The Alpine Club and The Austrian Alpine Club

Malcolm is sponsored by: Lyon Outdoor and Montane

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