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Brits Scale ‘King of Snakes’ Mountain

A new route up the previously unclimbed west face of Vasuki Parbat (6782m), Garhwal Himalaya, India. Malcom Bass and Paul Figg established the climb in nine days, encountering grades up to Scottish VI, 7. [Photo] Satyabrata Dam

British climbers Malcolm Bass and Paul Figg have completed a new route up the unclimbed west face of Vasuki Parbat (6792m) in India’s Garhwal Himalaya, after nine days of climbing. Upon reaching the summit ridge, the duo stopped one meter below the actual summit as a sign of respect for Vasuki, the “King of Snakes,” an important figure in Buddhist and Hindu tradition for whom the mountain and its serpentine ridge is named.

They began their expedition as a party of three, with New Zealander Pat Deavoll, and had planned to climb Janahut (6805m), the highest unclimbed peak in the Gangotri. However, the climbers switched objectives after they were denied a permit from Uttarakhand state authorities. Despite their disappointment, the trio was intrigued about their new goal. “Vasuki was located somewhere none of us had been before, looked [like] fine climbing and had a history–British icons Mick Fowler and Paul Ramsden had turned back on it in 2008,” Deavoll wrote in her November 3 blog entry.

Fowler and Ramsden’s 2008 attempt on the west face ended at 6400m because of poor acclimatization and dangerously cold conditions. Theirs is one of only a handful of attempts in Vasuki Parbat’s history. The first recorded ascent took place in 1973 by the Indo-Tibet Border Police. However, the Indian Mountaineering Federation (IMF) does not recognize the ascent and details about the climb have been kept secret. Vasuki Parbat was summited for the second time by a Japanese team in 1980 via the east face, leading to the northeast ridge.

Malcom Bass leads the first pitch of the new route while Paul Figg follows. [Photo] Patricia Deavoll

Bass, Deavoll and Figg arrived at base camp and acclimatized for a few days on nearby Bagarathi II before setting off up the first of a series of frozen waterfalls on the mountain’s west face. The trio spent the first few days on moderate snow slopes. On Day 3, Deavoll decided to turn back because she was having a difficult time acclimatizing and had recently broken her back. She descended alone and returned safely to base camp two days later.

Meanwhile, Bass and Figg continued a long struggle towards the summit. Shortly after Deavoll’s decision to bail, Figg was hit by a large falling rock. He was able to climb up to Bass and the two waited on a ledge until colder temperatures stabilized the terrain. They continued climbing until well after midnight when they found a sitting bivy above a steep ice gully. The next day, they made good progress and merged onto the route that Fowler and Ramsden started up in 2008. On Day 5, Bass took a 10-meter fall and so the two decided to take a rest day. The subsequent two days were spent making slow, but steady progress up mixed pitches, hitting the crux of the climb in a steep, icy groove rated Scottish VI, 7. On the eighth day, they reached the summit ridge, where they bivouacked. The next day, they continued along the “spectacular knife-edge” summit ridge, traversing one meter below the summit. Having run out of food on Day 7, they did not linger on the top of the peak and began their descent via the northwest ridge.

Bass, Deavoll and Figg would like to extend their thanks to Mick Fowler and Paul Ramsden for route information, Mount Everst Foundation, British Mountaineering Council, The Alpine Club, The Shipton Tilman grant, DHL, Mountain Hardwear, and Wayfarer meals.