AN EXPEDITION TO THE MT.KUN 7,077 m (23,218 ft) LADAKH, SEP 2013 Authored by CAPT. SANDEEP MANSUKHANI
The Nun Kun mountain massif comprises a pair of Himalayan peaks: Nun, 7,135 m (23,409 ft) and its neighbor peak Kun, 7,077 m (23,218 ft) and Pinnacle Peak 6,930 m (22,736 ft). Kun is located north of Nun and is separated from it by a snowy plateau of about 4 km (2.5 mi) in length and is the second highest summit of the group in part of the Himalayan range lying on the Indian side of the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir. The massif is located near the Suru valley, about 250 km (160 mi) east of Srinagar, the state capital. This being my first attempt on Kun, I hope my companions will read this account they will realize how much I appreciated their company and above all their efforts in making the attempt both possible and as pleasant as indeed it was. The origin of the plan was initiated by Mr Ghazali Khan of Asansol (West Bengal) and his team of 13 climbers and 4 sherpas. But none of us had previously seen the Massif at close quarters before. As everyone knows, an attempt on a peak of this size had to be prepared many months ahead, the members were given added responsibility of different divisions such as food, medicine, photography, transportation and equipments.
From now on I shall record events much as they were written down in my diary:
I took a flight from Delhi (777 ft) on Sep 6th, 2013 for Srinagar (5,550 ft) and joined the team in Kargil (8,780 ft). It took 7hrs to reach Kargil via taxi.
Sept 7th, we left for Sapathnala (13,020 ft) in the Rangdum sector-our last road head and camped overnight. As far as I remember we had arranged for about eleven horse-loads, to carry our central load to the base camp. The team left along the Nala to our first campsite called Chashma (13,135 ft). It took about 2 hrs. The stopover was made as two climbers begin to have altitude sickness.
On Sep 9th, we left early to reach base camp (14,910 ft) after a very tedious trek of 5 hrs crossing couple of moraines, glacier, ridges and cracked down the grassy track past hundreds of protesting marmots. The weather was getting cloudy and there was little snow. We soon pitched our tents. The site of Nun from the base camp was majestic but there was still no glimpse of Kun which can only be viewed after reaching Camp2. No time had been lost so far, and at this rate we should be able to get some ten days on the mountain and at least a week above 18,000 feet.
Sep10th was the rest day and we performed Puja ceremony for the safe execution of the expedition and sorting of ration and equipment for camp1, 2 and 3. Shortly after, brilliant sun replaced the cloud and mist. By evening, we hit our tents for a good night sleep.
Sep 11th is our first day for higher camp acclimatization to Camp1 (17,663 ft) which would take about 5:30 hrs. The area which we were to cross had many open and hidden crevasses. Among the team of 13 climbers few climbers had already started getting the signs of altitude sickness and thus the team doctor advised 7 of them to stay back at the base camp. The load was divided between the rests of the team. On the way we crossed two streams by fixing ropes as the water current rises as the day progressed. Thereafter we passed couple of moraines and reached a widespread glacier. It was at the angle of 45 degrees and the march from its beginning would make us cross many crevasses. It is from the start of the glacier which we called the crampon point from where we put on our crampons to walk on the ice. It was very hot with a bright sun and we had to keep changing the layering of our clothes to keep our body hydrated. Further up on the route we climbed an 85 degree wall which was about 100ft using a fixed rope. It took us 4hrs to reach camp 1 from the crampon point. We dropped our load and set up two four men tent and left back after resting for half an hour. We then made our way down cautiously and reached back at the base camp by16:30. After dinner we were all in our tents by 20:30 hrs.
Sept 12th and I was up with a blister on my right ankle. Health is always a matter of concern for any climber as it is utmost important to be adjusted to extreme altitude. The same set of seven climbers after their morning rituals set out at around 09:30hrs along with sherpas. Enroute on reaching the crampon point the weather started turning foul. It had started snowing and was very windy. The temperature was dropping every minute. Sherpas prepared tea and we had an early dinner. We slept at 18:00hrs. The tents were very close to crevasses and we had a fear of being carried away by the strong gust. I took my daily core of homeopathic medicines. I really thank my family for supporting for my endeavor and miss them. Sept
13th, we five after our morning rituals left around 08:30 hrs for load ferry to Camp2 (20,041ft). We had to negotiate a 2300 ft ice wall. It would take about 6 hrs to climb on which the route is open by the lead sherpa by fixing fixed rope. Being safe is the utmost criteria. It’s a steep wall with the angle starting from 70 degree and inclining to 85 degrees until we reach the top. Upon reaching there another 150 ft straight we will establish Camp2. During the last half an hour of our climb weather turned bad and we faced whiteout conditions. As we reached the camp 2 site we dropped our load and made way down as wx was turning worse. We could not see Kun due to very low visibility conditions. Concern was coming down on that wall in such conditions but the sherpas were very cautious in their approach along with me. We reached back by 17:15 hrs totally exhausted. After some rest we had tea and dinner. It was very cold with temp close to -10 degree Celsius.
Sep 14th, after breakfast, sherpa leader decided to move down to base camp as the the weather was against us, and it was impossible to see more than a few yards. It was snowing off and on for last two days and we were not in touch with the rest of the team. As per our planned schedule we were supposed to occupy camp2 today and move to higher camps in the following days for the summit attempt. All expeditions around the globe are subject to weather. The members reached base camp by noon. On reaching back, the camp was stormed by a hailstorm.
At Base Camp on Sept 15th and 16th were getting worse due weather conditions. Not even a single ray of sunlight, winds were picking up and the temp was below freezing due to wind-chill factor. We the entire group had to be patient and prayed together for the opening of the weather. A gale blew from the west, and snow swirled around our camp in great clouds drifting against the cookhouse door. We could do nothing as the visibility during the day was nil. We needed five days of clear weather from B.C. – Summit – B.C. Sep
17th was a bright and sunny day after four days of bad weather. Now the plan is to leave tomorrow to Camp 1 subject to weather. The view around the B.C which is mainly surrounded with virgin peaks looks magnificent in the morning sun. As the day progressed due to bright sun we had a grand view of avalanches thundering off the peaks around. Rest of day was spent sorting out our stores for the final assault as we did not want to expend our strength carrying unnecessary loads.
On Sep 18th, I along with three climbers and four sherpas left for Camp1 (17,663 ft). On reaching the crampon point we faced lots of snow deposition which blotted out our tracks and made the higher moves very tiring. The open crevasses were now hidden due snow made it very critical for us to negotiate. From time to time the violent noises made by settling crevasse snow sent our hearts to our mouths. By the time we reached Camp1 one of the climbers had fallen sick. Due clear night the temperature was drastically falling. It was close to -10degree Celsius.
Sep 19th, we left for Camp2 (20,041ft) which was the technical climb up on the 2300 ft ice wall. The climber which had fallen sick returned to base camp. Climbing the wall with more fresh snow and bright sunlight did not give us a good grip on our crampons. We reached Camp2 close to 1630hrs. On reaching we saw this spectacular sight of Nun- Kun massif. It comprises of Nun, Kun, pinnacle and white needle. Our leader also was not feeling well after his climb. This was our concern. We ate some maggi, tea and went in our sleeping bags. Temperatures were by now close to-18degree Celsius by night fall.
Sep 20th, About 15 days prior I had summitted Stok Kangri 6153m (20,182 ft) in the Ladakh region. Our team leader fell sick and he returned back along with a sherpa. Anand and myself along with three sherpas were the one left on the higher camps. We did our necessary load ferry of ration and equipments to camp3 (20,582 ft). It took us about 4hrs as finding the route was of great difficulty due heavy snow deposition. On our way back to camp 2 we were in a snow blizzard. On reaching our camp site wee ate maggi and had tea before retiring for the day. Temp dropped down to -20deg Celsius of frost.
Sep 21st, sleeping for two consecutive nights at a height of 6000m (20,000 ft) and above could be very tiresome. Mountaineering is basically a mental game. With a positive note we left Camp2 at 0930 hrs to reach Camp3 (20,582 ft) by 1230hrs. Two sherpas went ahead to open the route and fix ropes for our initial climb till the ridge line and we set up the tents as winds again started picking up. The oxygen level was down considerably. We had some soup and prepared our rucksack for the summit attempt. Water bottle, chocolates, biscuits, dry fruits, extra pair of socks, gloves, snow goggles, extra batteries and jacket were checked and thrown in. I tried to sleep for a while but couldn’t. Temp was close to -25deg Celsius.
Sep 22nd, we marched quite early around 03:00 hrs for our final summit bid. It was freezing as we came out of our tent. We wore our crampons and harness after having cups of black coffee and filling our thermos with hot water. We made final checks on our equipments specially our snow goggles and the headlight. Initially we walked for 45mts up to the ice wall which would lead us to the west ridge line. The wall which is at the angle of 85deg is close to 600ft high. It has lots of crevasses in between which had to be negotiated carefully. After reaching the end of the wall we roped up and traversed to the left side which had a slope of 50deg. After clearing the slope cautiously we reached a rocky part close to the ridge line and rested for ten mts. The whole ridge which leads us to the top is very scary due to the huge drops of 4000 feet as the features keep on changing. Most of our climb we were very close to the cornice line. Fear of it collapsing was always running on my mind. The thrill of this probably keeps one going. The conditions due to the new snow lay deep and we sank in close to our knees. The whole surface showed signs of slipping over the edge. As the day progressed it gave us the amazing sight of the peaks around which were all below us. We kept on pushing further, the altitude was beginning to take its toll and we found ourselves fighting for every breath. It is the mind u works while u up there, it’s like talking to oneself. U set desired targets to reach or count numbers and keep moving. On reaching a good rest point we checked our height which was reading close to 22,200 ft, from where the summit was about a 1000 ft more. We had some chocolate and hot water. It had been close to 10 hrs of climbing. The last 100 feet or so were where we had to gather the total determination and reached the top close to 1530 hrs. It had been close to 12 hrs. The weather was getting bad with winds picking up. We were late on reaching due to snow conditions. We wasted no time at the top and commenced our way down cautiously. Descend is the part where maximum incidents happen. It took us about 5 hrs to reach back to camp 3. By the time we were at Camp 3, I had no energy left and after a while we had some soup and slept off.
Sep 23rd, we were greeted with bad weather. We quickly packed our rucksack and left for Base Camp which took us 6 hrs. The whole scene was in cloud and visibility was very restricted. I pushed up my glasses to enable me to see better and later regretted this. On reaching the fixed rope we tried to clear the steps, they were heavily covered with snow. The rope itself took a good deal of freeing in the wind-packed snow. At last we reached Base camp and hugged each other and thanked the mountain to give us the opportunity to climb her. We celebrated by making ourselves some hot coffee. We rested and shared our experiences. I was really grateful to my sherpas and my fellow climber Anand who had been a great support to me.
Sep 24th we closed in our base camp and burnt the garbage. After cleaning the area, we all left with our loads for Sapathnala, and took a ride to a small town called Panikhar and met our entire team and exchanged greeting. The same night we left for Srinagar and I boarded the flight for Delhi the next day, to join my family and resume my flying duties.