In this blog Mick Fowler shares with us his first hand story and his favourite photos from the Sersank Expedition – otherwise known as the Mick and Vic reunion. 44 key photos sum up their amazing journey. Over to your Mick…
The start of every mountaineering adventure in India. The offices of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation in Delhi. Let’s hope there’s no unexpected bureaucratic hurdles.
Here you see some of the kit I brought along – always fun at the airport! If you are interested in my kitlist you can read about it in a previous blog.
Formalities complete. All briefed – Mick and Vic are ready to leave for the mountains!
On the road! The wilds of Delhi. You never quite know what might happen next.
To me the real pleasure starts on day 2 from Delhi when we cross the Rhotang Pass at 3980m and descend into the heart of the Himalaya.
Descending the Rhotang Pass. The driving becomes more interesting here to say the least! …but so do the views!
After descending from the Rhotang Pass a prosecuted satellite phone user meets a timely warning sign. (Victor is reading the sign well as he was once prosecuted for using a satellite phone to arrange the rescue of an injured climber.)
You never know what is around the corner. Here a remote controlled drill is working away in the Chenab gorge. A combination of cheap labour and high tech kit is resulting in roads being pushed further and further into the Himalaya.
28 hours driving from Delhi. The roadhead at last.
Now look at that view! The South West side of Sersank dominates the walk-in up the Sural valley.
The peak was climbed to the base of the summit buttress in 2008 by a Japanese team using traditional Himalayan tactics of camps and high altitude porters. The final 100m buttress was not climbed because local people apparently asked them not to. We enquired at the last village and were granted approval to climb to the top.
Base camp is a grand sounding term. Ours consisted of a sleeping tent for me and Vic and a cook tent that doubled up as kitchen and sleeping quarters for our cook and Liaison Officer.
Vic meets dinner at Sersank base camp. It was rather sad to witness their numbers gradually fall.
Our pile of base camp food. Plenty here to help us blubber up before setting out to climb.
All packed up and ready for leave base camp for four nights of acclimatisation.
On a technical climb where we expect to gain height slowly we aim to spend at least a couple of nights within 1,000m of the summit. I have wrote a guide on acclimatisation previously.
Struggling up snow covered scree to the Sersank La with huge sacks and in an unacclimatised state was very memorable. Acclimatising is great fun.
In our unacclimatised state it took two days to finally reach the Sersank La pass.
This pass – which connects the Pangi Valley and Zanskar areas of the Indian Himalaya – is now rarely crossed because the glacier on the Zanskar side has become increasingly difficult.
I remember this moment and the feeling behind this photograph. A huge relief to arrive at the Sersank La, to see the face for the first time and see that it looks in good condition.
Having crossed the Sersank La and climbed an unnamed peak up to 5,300m it is acclimatisation time. Great spot to rest, relax, read and most importantly acclimatise.
And an excellent spot to start putting the prototype of the Ramche Micro to the test. A definite thumbs up.
We only had one prototype so had to fight over who wore it on the route. Victor convinced me that my weight of 70Kg included more blubber than his 59Kg and so his need was greater than mine.
Can you spot our tiny tent at our acclimatisation spot? The Himalaya is a big place.
Another one of our selfies. Here you can see myself with the prototype of the Hyper 100 on top of a prototype of the Ramche micro. The combination of a 99g waterproof and a Ramche Micro worked amazingly well. It was minus 10 or so with a brisk breeze I was nicely comfortable whereas Victor had to unzip his Ramche 2.0.
After 18 hours of snow at our acclimatisation spot the clouds cleared and we were treated to a wonderful view of the snow plastered north face of Sersank. There’s our expedition aim right in front of us!
After acclimatising it was back down to base camp to be treated with voluminous quantities of interesting food by our wonderful cook, Devraj.
How’s this for a view to wake up to? Most satisfactory. Plus, the good weather clouds mean we were keen to get on with the climb.
The last meal before leaving for the climb. Important to eat as much as humanly possible!
Day 1 on the climb. Powder snow on rock. Absolutely exhausting and surprising difficult to climb.
Day 2 on the climb. After the enervating powder snow on rock the east side of the lower crest was snow free and we climbed without crampons for two pitches. The ‘ice hose’ providing the key to the upper section looms above. Myself and Vic were looking on hoping it is ice and not powder snow!
At the end of our second day on the face the knife edge crest we had been following merged into the north buttress and the climbing became steeper.
The steeper it became the better the climbing conditions became. The entrance pitch to gain the ice hose on day 4 was one of the best on the climb. No powder snow problems here.
Magnificent morning panorama of the peaks of Kishtwar.
Climbing into the ice streaks of the upper buttress. Brilliant climbing. Note sure where to go. Hope we can get up!
Cutting out our 4th bivouac on the face. One ledge for me and one for Vic. Luxury. Not a bad view either.
Immersed in the wonderful surroundings of the summit buttress. Fantastic white ice, amazing position, great climbing. It doesn’t get any better than this… (it’s a pity for poor Victor that he had terrible diarrhoea at this point! – it happens)
A section of easier ground with the cornice in sight.
As we near the cornice its getting cold. We layered up!
My first attempt to get through the cornice failed . It was too soft to pull over and I retreated with much gasping of thin air.
The second attempt was more successful. Using an ice screw for aid I was able to cut through the fragile overhang of the cornice and flop out into the evening sun on the south west side of the mountain.
Obligatory summit selfie. The dents in my helmet are the result of my tendency to rest my head again the mountain when tired.
An unclimbed summit deserves a cairn. There weren’t many movable rocks around so it was a bit small!
The skyline of the Indian Himalaya. So many fine climbs still to be done. It’s a great time to be an alpine style mountaineer.
Reaching the summit is not the end of the challenge. Abseiling through the never ending icefall is a challenge in its own right.
Our 8th day threading our way through the maze of crevasses in the icefalls of the south west side of the mountain was hot, exhausting and required several abseils.
Job done. Sersank ticked. Successful trip. The retrospective pleasure can begin to flow.
It’s difficult to beat the feeling of contentment that comes over me while walking out after a great climb in the Himalaya…