After twenty-nine years apart, the fabled duo of Mick Fowler and Victor Saunders reunited for another first ascent–the North Buttress (ED 1100m) of Sersank Peak, aka Shib Shankar (6050m) in the Indian Himalaya on October 3.
The pair set off up the face September 28 and returned to base camp after eight days on the go.
“The technical difficulties were exciting, varied and challenging,” Fowler said. “It was a brilliant and memorable outing. The first day was crossing the Sersank La to the foot of the face. The second day was slow going with powder on steep rock. The third day was mainly a sharp, exposed crest with powder and rock challenges (crampons removed at one point) and the fourth, fifth and sixth days were fantastic ice/mixed climbing. Day 7 was mixed/snow climbing to the summit followed by glacial terrain in descent. Day 8 was very complex and satisfying glacial terrain involving several abseils from abalakovs.”
The dehydrated food they brought presented an additional test of fortitude, as it caused stomach problems for Saunders. “Victor had serious diarrhea on the third, fourth and fifth days on the face,” Fowler said.
Fowler and Saunders’ famous first ascents go back to the 1980s. They climbed some of the hardest Scottish winter routes at the time, notably Shield Direct (VII 7) on Ben Nevis, which may have been the first route graded as a “VI” in a Scottish guidebook. Until now, their last climb together had been the coveted first ascent of The Golden Pillar (Scottish V/VI, 2200m) of Spantik Peak, aka Ghenish Chhish (7027m) in Pakistan, 1987.
“We climbed a lot together in the 1980s but in the ’90s we went our separate ways with Victor becoming a mountain guide based in Chamonix and me sticking with my tax office job in the UK,” Fowler said. “We are very different personalities but the banter between us is good and we think the same way in the mountains. Climbing together again just felt like carrying on where we left things 29 years ago. At 66 years old, Victor has lost none of his ability, drive or determination. He is a truly remarkable man.”
Last year Eric Vola, a Chamonix-based mountaineer and interpreter, compiled segments of other books by Fowler and Saunders and published the collection in French as “Les Tribulations de Mick et Vic.” It won the Grand Prix award at the Passy Book Festival. The book project brought Fowler and Saunders together again, Fowler explained. “It led to the idea that we should climb together again in the Himalaya,” he said. “[Sersank] was so good we are discussing doing another climb together next year.”
Fowler’s interest in Sersank began from a report he read several years ago.
“I had seen [the mountain] from Kishtwar Kailash in 2013 but it was the British mountaineer Martin Moran who really prompted our interest in Sersank,” he said. “He led a trek across the Sersank La in 2011 and wrote that the north side presented a ‘tremendous north face of linked White Spiders’ [alluding to the famous feature of snow and ice on the Eiger Nordwand–Ed.]. Victor and I knew Martin well enough to read between the lines. We contacted him, confirmed our suspicions and found our 2016 objective.”
The Japanese team credited with the first ascent of the mountain in 2008 stopped 40-meters shy of the true summit after climbing there from the west side.
“The 150-meter-high rocky summit pyramid was previously unclimbed,” Fowler said. “The Japanese reported that the local people asked them not to climb to the summit for religious reasons. We asked about this on our way through the last village but the locals there said they had no objections to our climbing to the true summit. And so we did.”