Team: Mark Synnott, Kevin Thaw
When: Sept-Oct. 2003 (seven weeks total)
Where: Garhwal Himalaya, India Latitude 79° 04′ Longitude 30° 48′
Sponsor: The North Face
Kevin and I have been back home for a couple weeks now. Needless to say it is awesome to be home with my wife and kids again. It’s always kind of crazy reassimilating into civilization after a big mission in the mountains. I enjoy this time, though, because it gives me a chance to look back and to contemplate the meaning of a great Himalayan adventure. Even though we didn’t succeed in reaching any summits in India, I feel the trip overall was a huge success. Most importantly, Kevin and I returned safely. Of course, this is always the number one objective on any climbing trip. Equally important was the fact that Kevin and I got along perfectly and never had even the slightest argument. As most people realize, it’s not easy finding a compatible climbing partner. And simply put, we did a ton of climbing and hiking in one of the most beautiful and awe inspiring mountain environments on earth. We bivied above basecamp about ten times. We made two attempts on the East Pillar of Kedar Dome, reaching a highpoint just below 19,000 feet (3200 feet up the wall).
On our first attempt we made it 2500 feet up the wall, so altogether we climbed close to 7000 feet on the East Pillar. In our last dispatch, Kevin mentioned that we were planning to head out on a reconnaissance mission to check out some other peaks. Well, we ended up hiking up to the base of the Scottish Pillar on Bhagarathi III. On October 9th we left camp with two packs weighing about 45-50 lbs. Each. These contained food and fuel for 3-4 days, two climbing ropes, a light rack, sleeping bags and a stove. We debated long and hard about carrying the tent, but decided to leave it behind to save weight. One thing we learned on Kedar Dome was how unbelievably exhausting it is to climb with a heavy pack at altitude. We wanted to move lighter and faster this time so it was essential that we get rid of some items.
Although the bulk of the pillar is free climbing on impeccable white granite, the top 2000 feet of the route climbs mixed terrain through a shale band, then snow and icefields lead to the summit. So, in addition to rock shoes and rock protection, we also had to carry ice screws, double boots, crampons, and ice axes. Trust me when I tell you that there’s nothing fast and light about it. We spent the first hour and a half just getting across the Gangotri Glacier. We scrambled through a maze of giant boulders and crevasses, eventually reaching steep treacherous dirt slopes leading to a meadow on the north side of the glacier. From here we moved onto the huge rubble covered glacier which drops down to the Gangotri from the massive amphitheater below the west faces of Bhagarathi II and III. Slowly but surely we ground our way up through steep talus. It took the rest of the afternoon to climb up to a shale ridge at 17,000 feet. We found a spot to bivi below a small overhang on the western side of the ridge, just below a prominent landmark called the Brown Tower. An earlier snowstorm had dropped enough snow to leave a few patches hidden here and there between the blocks of talus on the east side of the ridge. We melted these dirty chunks for our dinner and water bottles. By this time we had gotten used to ingesting healthy amounts of organic matter with our water. It wasn’t overly windy and we both slept well considering we didn’t have a tent.
I was the first one up, so I collected some snow and started our morning brew of instant coffee and hot chocolate. By 9am the sun was up and Kevin and I were on our way again. We moved onto the south side of the ridge and followed a tiny trail that traversed across narrow ledges with drop-offs of hundreds of feet right below our feet. A few hundred feet below the start of the route we encountered two short pitches of loose 5.6 climbing in a gully. We soloed this section, pulling our packs up behind us on the 7mm rope. We arrived at the base of the actual pillar around noon. We were both keen to get onto the route immediately, but as we looked off to the south we noticed dark menacing clouds blowing into the Gangotri Valley. We had experienced cold but perfect weather for the past week so this definitely seemed like a perfect example of Murphy’s Law. We took a seat on a small ledge, waiting to see whether it would develop into a full blown storm. After an hour the sun was blotted out and wispy clouds were beginning to envelop the Bhagarathis. We decided to find shelter in a rock pile and see what happened.
By early evening we were surprised to see that the storm was actually not materializing. The clouds were clearly dissipating and in all likelihood the stars would be out come dark. We decided to bivi right where we were and head up in the morning. Some quick calculations revealed that we had about three days of food and fuel left – just barely enough to get up the route if we went light and very fast. Small ledges were excavated into the steep hillside for our bivi. This involved hacking with the ice axe to clear frozen dirt and shaley loose rocks. My spot was about ten feet directly above Kevin’s on the hillside. When I tried to crawl into my sleeping bag that night, the bottom half of the ledge collapsed and several rocks the size of toasters cascaded down onto Kevin’s ledge. Luckily he was still hanging out over by the stove. People had told us that winter would hit some time around the second week of December. They were right. That night it was significantly colder than anything we had experienced so far. At nearly 18000 feet we estimate that it got down close to -20F during the night. We both curled into the fetal position in our Momentum 0 degree bags. I did get several hours of fitful sleep, but when I awoke from a short snooze at 5am I was alarmed to realize that both of my feet had gone numb. I called down to Kevin and he said that he was also having the same problem.
We still thought we would try and blast on the climb, but it didn’t go into the sun until 11am. By then we were still fully frozen and neither of us could yet feel our feet. By noon, we had been sitting in the sun for an hour rubbing our feet, and yet were still very numb. That’s when we looked at each other and the reality sunk in that there was no way we could get our frozen feet into a pair of tight rock climbing shoes. It had gotten so late in the season that the sun was not even warming the rock. As frustrating as it was, we knew that it was simply too cold for the free climbing that would be required on this classic route.
We were back down in the amphitheater in two hours, and here we ran into a Swiss Team which had recently succeeded in climbing the Catalan Pillar on Bhagarathi III. The Catalan is an El Cap like buttress on the left side of the north face amphitheater. The rock leads into a steep snow covered shale band and then a complicated and dangerous descent down the back. The Swiss fixed ropes about 2/3rds of the way up the wall. They bivied at their highpoint and then climbed the rest of the route and descended over the next two days. We swapped some stories and they gave us food and some hot drinks. It was great to see some other people because at this point we had been completely isolated for several weeks.
The descent back to basecamp was fairly rugged, involving some complicated route finding on the slopes leading from the lateral moraine out onto the Gangotri Glacier. We finally straggled into base camp at about 6pm. Dipendar and Dill Badhu met us with their unusual good cheer and endless supply of tatto panni (hot water) and onion rings. That night Kevin and I decided to officially call the expedition over. We had two days left in basecamp before the porters would arrive. This wasn’t enough time to launch another assault, and by now it was so cold that we were feeling pretty cooked.
Two days later Kevin and I left basecamp in Sunderban at 9am. Our plan was to hike all the way back to Gangotri, a distance of over 30 kilometers, most of it downhill. It was ice cold in the cook tent at 6:30 am, but by 9 when we left the sun was shining and it was obviously going to be a perfect day. We stopped in Topovan for an hour or so for lunch. There was no one around, just the windy swaying in the long grass and the mighty peaks of Shivling, Bhagarathi, and Meru shimmering in the sky. Kevin and I were simply gob-smacked by the beauty of the place. Perched on a hill, on the glacier side of the meadow was a small compound of stone houses. A woman stepped out into the sun carrying a basket of laundry. We waved and she waved back. It really sank in that we were leaving this place and it was a sad thought. We staggered into Gangotri at about 6pm, having hiked about 20 miles. My legs felt like blocks of wood so it was pure joy when we were shown into an empty room at a local hotel. A bed feels awfully good after six weeks sleeping on the bare ground.
Out of all the places that I’ve climbed in the world, I would have to say that I’ve never been as impressed by an area as I was by the peaks that surround Topovan and Sunderban above the Gangotri Glacier. The new route potential in this area is simply mind boggling. Kevin and I spotted a new route for next year which is clearly the prize of the valley. We simply can’t understand how it is that no one has climbed something this obvious. You’ll be hearing more from us about this. So on behalf of Kevin and myself I’d like to extend our sincere thanks to The North Face who single- handedly made this dream of ours into a reality. Without your generous support and enthusiasm for these projects, we would not have the ability to pursue adventure on such a grand scale. Our North Face Clothing and equipment has once again been held to the highest standard, and has come through with hardly a scratch. So until next time, keep up the good work, and of course, never stop exploring.
Kevin Thaw’s Expedition summary:
Summer’s Monsoon still firmly enforced its presence throughout our Indian travel, all the way up & into the high valleys of Garhwal’s Himalaya. From the plains our expedition traversed to the River Ganga (Ganges) and followed it upstream to the glacial source: A very special Hindu pilgrimage. Their destination the glacier’s snout, source of the river’s flow “Gaumukh” (Cow’s Mouth): Bathe and return home with a bottled memento or perhaps travel further; onto the Gangotri glacier and up to its first alpine meadow Topovan, immediately beneath Shivling.
India’s well developed roads grant rapid access to high elevation compared with neighboring countries; the old mark of Imperialism stamped this great network into some truly rugged regions. Gangotri being one, same name applies to a 10000ft town wedged into a steep sided ‘V’ shaped river valley host to temples, Ashrams and pilgrims unable to journey further on foot. The Ganga river & Gangotri glacier valley’s are known as Devbhoomi, Land of God. Gangotri and Topovan reflects this with a small population residing the summer season in caves, tarp shelters or crude huts while engaging their religious journey. Indulging much further than simply collecting water. One Babu has remained in Topovan’s strip of 14500ft meadow for thirty five years, without even heading down-valley during extreme winters. This same meadow host those desiring Shiviling or Meru’s summits. (The two images right are Shivling (21600ft) from Topovan and (below Left) Bhagirathi II & III (22300ft-ish)).
Our intended camp lay beyond Topovan yet we opted for a couple of days acclimatizing, bouldering and the company of Conrad Anker, Bruce Miller & Doug Chabot before auguring into our own base-encampment. Traveling under an eternal grey ceiling kept all vistas veiled until Topovan’s breathtaking cloud lift. Rime ice cloaked the Bhagirathi group and Shiviling’s conical form after such prolonged, incessant weather. The American trio’s hopes rose with the frowning cloud’s that had darkened their entire stay and quest for Meru’s Shark Fin. Tardy arrival of the year’s monsoon created many problems for India’s population, its lingering proved the same for climbers in greatly foreshortening the “Post-Monsoon” weather window.
Another unfortunate and temporary side effect of traveling to Asia’s mountains always seems to be loss of appetite for Rice & Curry dishes: Usually a personal favorite but too much is just that, specially after the inevitable violent ejection from one’s body; at least once per-trip? Unfortunately companions Mark Synnott and Cameron Lawson were suffering but recovering from their intestinal demons yet still managed to enjoy ‘world-class’ granite bouldering in Topovan meadow. So good I know a couple of folk who have made the journey with no intent beyond boulders. Sundovan three hours ‘up valley’, the next meadow/bench hovering above the Gangotri glacier shared little physical character with its namesake “Beautiful/Mystical Forest” and was to be our base. The North ridge of 22600ft Kedar Dome rolls right down to camp’s plateau, the Bhagirathis loom across the Gangotri and Shivling stands proud to the North beyond the Kirti glacier: Doubling its summits viewed from the new southern aspect (image right).
Kedar Dome’s previous trundling of perfect quartzite boulders onto a flat sandy wash behind camp provided fun and exercise maintaining fitness during uncompromising afternoon storms. Finest of the small stones was dubbed “The Five Star Boulder” and would be big news if adjacent to any urban area, each passage a multi stared classic, every landing flat sand; V0 to V8 and a remaining V11 project. Our true intent Kedar Dome is adequately described in Jan Babicz’s Peaks & Passes of the Garhwal Himalaya:”The massif seems to be most interesting from the side of the Ghanohim glacier above which rises, the only of this kind, monolithic East face of Kedar Dome. It probably constitutes the biggest Alpine problem in the Gangotri region”.
Our adventure lay on this East face, advanced base-camp was placed on the Ghanohim beneath the 7000ft facet. Alpine style was the way we approached the project: no fixed ropes everything necessary (stove, tent, sleeping bags, food n’ fuel) carried on one’s back up each pitch. Style is important in Alpine climbing, the uniform opinion of practitioners is that ‘Alpine Style’ offers a pure challenge and that fixing rope with a large team is a fine way to ensure a better result but rather 1970s in thinking. In preparation we traveled part way up the Normal (N side) route and bivied around 18000ft to further acclimatize. Having witnessed the entire innocuous looking slope shed a snowy layer in an avalanche leaving nothing unscathed; we had no desire to step above the line of shear which traversed a half mile of slope just below the summit.
Conrad & co, left toward the end of September Cameron along with them: A fierce rain storm brewed and released, its duration almost timed to perfection dowsing those walking back down to the town of Gangotri. Their departure also brought an immediate shift in climatic gears, afternoon storms became limited, in fact they were limited to the immediate vicinity of Kedar Dome’s East face? The peak greeted advance base-camp arrival by spitting a chunk of ice from the summit’s serac barrier (just right of the rock summit, image right) resulting in a blast of snow pellets (inset image, couloir is visible in both images for reference): Of course our equipment was laid out for packing and inventory at the time; luckily no large debris. Intent was to climb directly up the lower buttress (left of the visible couloir), traverse the ridge to the upper pillar which would be climbed on the left side of the skyline. Seven thousand feet of elevation gain and what looked to be at least ten thousand climbing feet.
The first day didn’t offer up anything very technical, eighteen hundred feet of elevation gain. Two rope lengths breached the bergschrund and initial rock band gaining a system of grassy ramps that finalized with several mixed pitches and onto a snowy terrace. We soloed the mixed climbing and set up the tent as the ridge adjacent to Kedar Dome began spewing large dark cumulus clouds. Devoid of energy from groveling with sizable loads snow flurries forced shelter and brought a very welcome break, though short climbing day. Snow relented as wind reached worrying speeds then dead calm; a clear brightly starred night sky. Morning sun quickly dispensed yesterday’s fresh fall but the cumulus gained strength early during the second climbing day. By afternoon we were pinned by a fresh snow layer coating rock pitches, again the flurries relented by evening. Repetitive storm syndrome still remained localized to the ridge dividing Kedarnath’s east & south faces: Every day around eleven am the cumulus would build on the ridge dowsing Kedarnath and Kedar Dome but nothing more? Day three on the climb dawned to a murky sky, cloud filled and was showering by nine am. Only four pitches had been possible the previous day, free climbing up to 5.9/5.10- with sparse protection. Day three passed tent bound trying not to delve into food rations. Day four offered little more promise, we stashed the tent, food & fuel at high camp descended, leaving further equipment mainly rock gear, above the mixed pitches at the first bivouac site. The idea was to re-supply food and wait for a higher pressure weather system to force out daily storms. Snow early each afternoon and the morning melt cycle minimized climbing time and frankly, we needed more usable hours each day to pull off such a lengthy objective.
Afternoon build-up won the game a further week followed by a rise in barometric pressure, the highest thus far: All the signs needed to pack up and return to the climb. The most violent of rime ice spraying storms initiated as if triggered by arrival back to advanced base. Morning sun succeeded its melting task as we returned up the ramps and mixed terrain, en route with the mindset that we had to beat building clouds and gain the prior high-point. Cumulus began fluffing the ridge as usual but without expected vigor, receding instead of releasing in the afternoon. Regaining the prior highpoint in a single climbing day boosted psyche: Leading was divided into blocks instead of switching packs and racks each pitch. Front man proved the easier task, jumaring beneath the 60-70lb pack was much more physical; absolutely draining more like, yet we stayed in motion. Our second climbing day saw minimal cloud building, the pattern had broken! Several hundred feet of simul-climbing, two steep rock pitches following good, protectable crack systems then a lengthy traverse to a couloir/gully.
Mark lead up the gully trailing our two ropes; a 60m, 10mm diameter lead rope and a skinny 7mm, also 60m. Mark placed a belay and anchored the main rope on the right side of the gully removed his pack and clipped it to the belay; he then continued up the remainder of the gully trailing the skinny rope while I jumared the 10mm up to the belay. The belay consisted of three cams in what looked to be perfect cracks, I was walking up the snow pulling on the rope for motive power, my full weight not upon the belay: Then a moment of weightless-ness, first realization came as I rotated, head down under the pack’s mass, jumars flapping yet still attached to the now slack rope, instinct without processing had me flip onto the pack in the hope its odd shape would add friction and stop my slide. This worked, until Mark’s pack overtook my slithering form pulling further down slope. When the anchor failed I fell left as the block that was the belay rolled down the right side. Dramatics ceased, I was completely unscathed. Packs were clipped and being hauled, Mark still apologizing, the blocks brief meeting point with our main 10mm rope was glaringly obvious. A fluffy white patch of protruding core; as per “Murphy’s Law” it was immediately beside the rope’s half way mark. Three and a half thousand feet lay beneath and the same above; the rope had put us out of the race and could still make descent problematic.
A bivouac was taken atop the ridge and descent the following day. Weather shifted once more, firmly delivering autumnal conditions. Cold (-20 to -30°C) clear nights, ground frost, a chilling wind & shrunken climbing days. Having just enough equipment and time for one quick challenge sights were trained upon Bhagirathi III’s Scottish pillar (right skyline, image below/right ). Two thousand five hundred feet of granite topped by a slightly shorter shale band: El Capitan capped by a Canadian Rockies peak. Lightning the load by omitting the tent wasn’t a brilliant idea worth it’s four pounds in weight twice over, for projection and added warmth. Bivouacked beneath the climb we had problems staying warm and a wall of morning cloud effectively ended the venture (image right).
As with any trip to the mountains we came away much wiser and with intimate knowledge of the entire Gangotri valley’s remaining prizes. Several unclimbed 20000ft+ peaks and numerous walls remain for the future, not forgetting Kedar Dome’s monolithic pillar. See you soon.
The following phone logs are recordings that Kevin and I made for The North Face with a satellite telephone. We called in to an extension of their 800 line and then someone, I’m not sure who, transcribed them.
Sept. 16th at 6:40AM PST Kevin Thaw: Hello and greetings from the Indian Garwhal Expedition. We have just arrived in our base camp – followed the Ganges River from Delhi to its source; 3 days on bus, 3 days hiking. We’re now in Sundovan meadow a beautiful grassy meadow above the Gangotri glacier. Shivling, the Bhagirathis & Kedar Dome immediately above camp and close-ish proximity to the Tibetan border. Today we hiked loads up-valley and established an advance basecamp beneath the East face of Kedar Dome – left a tent, stove, fuel and food supplies. The climb follows a beautiful monolithic prow of granite. 5500 ft. of rock beginning at the 15,500 glacier level and topping-out at 20000ft, then a further 2000 feet of ice to the 22000ft summit. Definitely one of the most inspiring mountains features that either of them have seen. We will be climbing alpine style – entirely self contained – hopefully 3 or 4 days of actual climbing should get us to the top of the buttress.
Sept. 16th at 6:42AM PST Mark Synnott: Hello everyone. This is Mark. I just wanted to give you guys a little bit more info about our plan now that we’re finally settled here in base camp. I got up here four days ago, a day before Cameron and Kevin who decided to spend another day acclimating in Topovan Meadow at Conrad and crews base camp. This higher meadow is about a three hour hike further up the glacier. A lot of it is on grass but for the last hour you are crossing the Kirti Glacier and it is pretty rugged. The day after I got up here I hiked up to the base of the southeast pillar of Kedar Dome, our objective. It took me about 3 1/2 hours. I went by myself. The face looked quite different than it did in any of my photos. A major snowfield in the middle of the face that was used by the Hungarian attempt in 1989 is completely gone. It has melted out. Yet another prime example of global warming. As a result of this recession, this wohole section of the face appears loose and prone to rock and ice fall. To the left of the hungarian route is another even bigger pillar that was attempted by a Polish team in 1986. They climbed 60 pitches to a position below the final pillar. This final unclimbed pillar is about 1500 feet tall, overhanging and pretty blank looking. Then above this is the summit ridge leading to the 22,400-foot summit. So far, the plan is to climb the wall alpine style with 2 ropes, a prototype 2 man single wall tent , 1 rack of cams, plus 5 days of food and fuel. We’re hoping we’ll find good ledges along the way — looks like we will. Right now we’re working on acclimatizing and stocking up advance base camp. We’ll be hiking back and forth a lot. The hike is not bad though 75% is on glacier, first the Gangotri and then the Ganohim. Planning to go up the normal route on the mountain to gain elevation and scope what we hope will be our descent. It is basically glacier walking and in the spring is a popular ski descent. We’ll check back in soon and let you know how things are going.
September 20, 2003 Sat 7:45AM PST Mark Synnott: Hello. This is Mark Synnott calling in from Kedar Dome base camp in India. Everything is going great. Went up normal route yesterday to about 17,000ft and did a bivy to acclimatize. We didn’t bring a tent so we were worried that it would storm, as it has done pretty much every day, but we lucked out and had a perfect, windless starry night. We all slept warm in Momentum ) degree down bags. Our next mission is to hike back up to the spot I found on the Ganohim and set up our advanced base camp. From camp it will be another 30-40 minutes to the base of the route. Lost connection…
September 23, 2003 6:35AM PST Kevin Thaw: Hello from Sundovan Meadow in India’s Garwhal Himalayas. Our friends Conrad, Doug & Bruce got weathered off Meru’s Shark Fin and were unfortunately unable to finalize their attempts. They headed home today. Advanced base camp beneath Kedar Dome is now fully stocked & ready we are just waiting out a storm – Barametric pressure took a down turn several days ago now we’re hoping it will go back up soon – the storm should not adversely affect the route. The sun dries peaks visible from camp very quickly when it can be bothered to appear. Bouldering in Sundovan is world-class, great quartzide with flat sandy landings. Put up two V8 problems a lots of other classics plus a bunch of warm-ups. Storms have been keeping us indoors but we’re excited to get on the main project as soon as the weather breaks. talk to you soon…
September 26, 2003 Friday at 5:43AM PST Mark Synnott: Hello, greetings to everyone at The North Face. It’s Mark calling in from the Kettar Dome Expedition. It’s about 6PM at night. Right now we’re sitting in our tent at Advanced Base Camp on the Ganohim Glacier directly below the East Pillar of Kettar Dome – it is truly one of the most impressive cliffs I’ve ever seen. The weather has finally gotten good. We just sat through a 4 day storm and now that things have cleared out we’re poised and ready to go. The alarm is set for 5:30AM. We have been fine tuning our equipment for the ascent. Looks like we’ll be taking 1 set of cams, 3 screws, and lightweight ice climbing gear. Looking at spending 3 – 6 days on the cliff. We don’t really know how long it is going to take us to climb this thing. The pillar alone is about 5000 feet tall and the route is very circuitous so in terms of climbing there is tons more than 5000 feet. We have been scoping out the best way to go and we think we have a relatively safe line picked out. So first thing in the morning we will be hitting it very hard. We are very excited now. We’re 3 weeks into the trip and we haven’t really got to do any climbing yet. All we’ve been doing is hiking loads and climbing up rubble ridges trying to acclimated. We both feel in good health and very motivated for this adventure. This is going to be one of the all-time biggest adventures for me and Kevin. Down glacier we’re staring across at Bhagarathi I. Cameron left a few days ago so it is just Kevin and I…
Friday at 6:02AM PST Mark Synnott: We are lying on our stomachs looking out the door of our tent at the east pillar. We just had a nice Pad Thai freeze dried meal and we’re brewing a hot chocoltae right now. Not too long ago a gigantic avalanche came down the right side of the pillar. For a second, I was a little worried even though we were out in the middle of the glacier. The powder blast came all the way through and doused everything inside the tent. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the door shut in time.Speaking of avalanches it looks like our new plan now is to climb the East Pillar and then rappel down. The original idea was when we reach the summit to descend the normal route on the back side, but actually about 10 days ago there were 2 Indian climbers on that route who got swept to their deaths in an avalanche – the Indian Army has been flying around in Helicopters trying to find the bodies. So we decided we are going to stay away from that route. It was one of the biggest avalanches I’ve ever seen. We actually witnessed it in base camp. The fracture went from one side of the mountain all the way to the other. But over on this side it is pretty much a shear cliff and our route follows the prow of a pillar so it really looks very safe in terms of falling rocks and ice. We are really excited. Thanks to everyone at The North Face for all the support and we will touch base as soon as we touch ground in 4 – 7 days from now. So don’t worry if you don’t hear from us.
Wednesday 6:36AM PST Kevin Thaw: Just came back from our climb. Unfortunately we had a lot of bad weather. Afternoon storms minimized our climbable time. Each day snow storms lasted through the afternoon until just before sunset: morning sun always melted the fresh layer but we had to wait a couple of hours. We left advanced base camp for the climb on the September 27th. The lower section involved a series of ramps then several mixed pitches leading to the terrace on the buttress. Roughly 1800 feet of climbing for the first day. We hoped to make it further but an afternoon snow flurry pinned us, we put up the tent and hid out immediately. Climbed until about 2:30PM, the first day, all solo: 45-50 degree easy snow and mixed climbing with occasional interesting technical moves. Heavy loads with 5 days of food, fuel. Around midnight a very strong, worrying wind began yet the next morning all was calm and clear. We believed weather had changed for the better so moved up the route, managing to do four pitches before the weathers games resumed. We hacked a ledge into the side of a scree ramp, finally building a wonderful terrace for our single wall tent. Second day the tent was up by half past one and it snowed most of the night finally stopping at night. It’s probably about -10 or -15 degrees at night, very very cold until the sun hits the wall in the morning. Water bottles would freeze in the tents next to us. Next, third, morning we awoke to two layers of cloud, a high cirrus layer and a low threatening layer of cumulus coming over the adjacent ridge and was snowing by nine AM. Kevin Thaw Third day breakfast was prolonged until after it began snowing. Spent all day in the tent waiting to see what the weasther would do? The route was slowly coated with rime ice. The 4th morning (Sept 30th) clouds were still rolling in with more snow looking imminent. We opted to cache our gear at the high camp and rappel down to the first bivouac site. From there we could just about down climb back down to advanced base camp. Morning of the 30th we left all of our equipment at the highpoint and rappeled down, left a few pieces of gear mainly just the belays; plus all of our remaining rock gear was left at the first bivi site, below the technical climbing. We are ready to back on the climb as soon as the weather looks good. Back in base camp now, in a holding pattern, still stormy. We decided to come down the route to get more food and wait until the storms dissipated allowing more climbable hours each day. We need to be able to climb further every day to pull off suce a large objective. The momentum 900 bags are really, really wonderful for their weight to warmth ratio – they are definitely styling us –
Oct 3rd, about 10AM Thursday 9:35PM PST Mark Synnott: Kevin and I spent last two days resting after our first attempt on the mountain which lasted 4 days. Last night a high pressure system blew in and the barometer is now showing 10.41 millibars sea level pressure which is the highest reading we’ve seen yet. There’s a developing breeze coming out of the southeast and the sky is pure blue. The past few days have been extremely cold with a high between 40 – 50 degree F. during day when the sun is out and then getting down to 10 below at night. Our water bottles are freezing solid in our tents. Today it is a little bit warmer so it appears the weather gods are smiling and Kevin and I have decided we are going to head back up today for another attempt on the east face. We will leave base camp after lunch. The hike up to ABC along the Gangotri and then the Ganohim Glacier will probable take us 2 ½ hours. Our ABC is located on a moraine pile in the middle of the glacier right next to a little pond of clear water. Last time we were there we had to break the ice with a rock to get water. We will bivy there tonight and then head out at 7 AM. Our first day of climb will be very tough – we need to gain about 3000 feet of elevation. The last time it took us three days to get that high and it worked us over pretty hard. We have a lot less weight this time because we’ve stashed most of our stuff up on the bivy ledge. We have a lot of the rack up there, a tent, sleeping pads, food and fuel. Climbing with a heavy pack at altitude is unbeleivably hard work. We have to carry not just rock gear, but ice gear as well for the top part. We’ve been getting a lot of afternoon cloud build up and snow squalls. Of course, we’re really hoping this won’t happen while we are climbing tomorrow because the last 700 feet up to our camp is vertical poorly protected about 5.9 in difficulty. We are carrying 7 days of food supplies hopefully that gets us through the rest of the climb. From our second bivy we have another 3000 to 3500 feet of steep technical mixed climbing with overhanging rock and if we can top that out then we have about 3/4 of a mile of corniced ridge that will get us to the summit at 22400 feet. Snow conditions have stabilized so plan is to drop down the back side of the normal route. Thanks to TNF for all the support.
Oct 8, 2003 at 6:11 AM PST Kevin Thaw: Hiked up to advance base camp on Oct. 3rd an afternoon squall hit the face with more rime ice than previously viewed. On the morning of the 4th we optimistically headed out with the sun hitting the face and water melt cascading down the route. Again we soloed the lower ramps & mixed climbing to the ridge’s terrace where we previously stashed our climbing hardware. Then four sixty meter pitches to regain our previous high point; tent & food stash. The next day we soloed 600ft of easy scrambling then Mark lead 2 pitches and a long traverse across the face to a snow and ice Couloir. The 400ft coulior led to the summit of Kedar Dome’s pinnacle ridge which is about 3200 feet into the climb. While I was jummaring up the rope with a heavy pack the anchor failed; I didn’t fall very far and was cushioned by snow, the real damage was to the lead rope. A block had rolled over it and severed the sheath and a good portion of its core. Unfortunately, all the damage was within a couple of feet of the halfway point and the second rope wasn’t sufficient as a lead line, it was only a 7mm. The expedition was over on that route. We bivouaced on the top of the ridge and spent the night on the ridge overlooking a beautiful valley looking the East face of Kedarnath; which many people have tried to access but without success. Now we are back into base camp and not sure what to do. We plan an exploratory trek to check out some big walls and some unclimbed peaks. We want to thank you for all the help and support.