How to find good Himalayan objectives – Mick Fowler

‘How can I find a good Himalayan objective?’ I lose track of how many times I get asked that every year.

Looking for a good objective? How about one of this lot? Photo taken descending from Sersank in 2016.

Getting the objective wrong can easily mean that your ‘once in a lifetime’ trip is doomed before it even gets off the ground. So how best to go about making as sure as possible that you have chosen wisely?

Endlessly searching on line sources is all very nice but everyone does that. My experience is that to find the really great objectives a bit more effort, risk – and sometimes luck – is required.

Having gone through the routine nearly every year for 35 years I thought it might be useful to list a selection of my objectives and how I ended up choosing them.

Taulliraju South East (Right Hand) Buttress 1982

I found this objective through a photograph in a calendar. I made inconclusive enquiries of climbers who had been to the area. Being keen to climb in Peru I decided to give it a go anyway without knowing if it had been climbed or not (a mountain being unclimbed is usually on of my main deciding factors).

Golden Pillar of Spantik 1987

Spotted in the distance during an unsuccessful attempt on Bojohagur Duonasir. Stared longingly at my photographs and was persuaded to go for it by Victor Saunders.

Changabang North Face 1997

A well-known objective which led to simultaneous interest from several well-known climbers. We ended up with six climbers on the face at the same time, pushed ourselves too hard, survived several dangerous moments and ended up losing Brendan Murphy.

With hindsight an example of blinkered pursuit of a well-known objective leading to bad experiences. Not something I plan on repeating.

Arwa Tower 1999

A photograph of the nearby Arwa Spire published in the Alpine Journal by Harish Kapadia was captioned ‘Probably never photographed before.’ As Steve Sustad and I were on the walk-in the mists parted and a fantastic looking summit peeped over the top of an intervening ridge. We changed our objective there and then and climbed what turned out to be the Arwa Tower.

Siguniang North West Face 2002

A photograph of the south side by Tom Nakamura looked interesting. Steep, shapely and nearly 500m higher than any other mountain in the area Paul Ramsden and I decided to give it a go. A couple of weeks before departure the American mountaineer Jack Tackle showed us a photograph of ice line on the north face that we ended up climbing.

Manamcho 2007

Thanks largely to Tom Nakamura’s photographs on the internet there is no shortage of known objectives in the Nyainkentanghla East range of Tibet. But bureaucratic challenges are extreme. Being ready to apply for permits in windows of opportunity and being willing to accept bureaucratic uncertainty are often essential in the more adventurous areas.

West Face of Mugu Chuli 2011

A bit of a cheat this one. The British journalist Ed Douglas sent me a photopgraph with an arrow pointing at the ice couloir line with a covering note saying ‘This looks like one for you.’ Thanks Ed!

Prow of Shiva 2012

Following up a small photograph in the American Alpine Journal led to information from the photographer, Bruno Moretti and an introduction to Andrey Muryshev who supplied more detailed photographs. We were told that the rock was poor and Google Earth made the line look uninspiring. We weren’t at all sure we could do it but we decided to go anyway because the line looked so good.

Gave Ding North Face 2015

A very distant photograph in an expedition report promised a steep and interesting unclimbed mountain.

No westerners had seen the north side before. Shadows visible on the time setting of Google Earth suggested the north face was the highest steep face in the area.

Paul Ramsden and I were keen to visit the area and took a punt. In the event there was just one safe line. We were lucky but went with the mindset that it would be a great exploratory trip even if the objective turned out to be unfeasible.

Sersank 2016

In an Alpine Journal article a few words written by the British guide Martin Moran led Victor Saunders and I to think that a photograph of the face was not as flattering as it could be.

We contacted Martin, studied other very distant photographs, ignored a very unflattering photograph we found on the internet, took our chances and had a great time.

So in light of my experiences, how should I answer the question ‘How can I find a good Himalayan objective?’

My advice is simple. Research hard, follow up every lead and, most importantly, go to an area that you really want to go to. Take chances and get into the mindset of enjoying visiting a wonderful part of the world whether or not your climb is successful.