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The cover of the 2000 American Alpine Journal, showing Arwa Tower’s (6352m) northeast face, Garhwal Himalaya, India. Mick Fowler took this photograph in 1999, when he made the first ascent of the Tower with Steve Sustad behind the right skyline (northwest face). When this photo appeared, the northeast face became a coveted virgin objective. Stephan Siegrist, Thomas Senf and Denis Burdet ascended the iconic face (VI M5 5.9 A3, 900m) from June 1-7. [Photo] Erik Lambert / 2000 AAJ cover shot: Mick Fowler

Editor’s Note: Earlier this month Stephan Siegrist, Thomas Senf and Denis Burdet pioneered the iconic northeast face of Arwa Tower (6352m) in India’s Garhwal Himalaya. The 900-meter climb goes at VI M5 5.9 A3.

Arwa Tower, along with the nearby Arwa Spire (6193m), lies within the “inner line,” the disputed borderline between India and China. The area’s volatility once made permits difficult to acquire. The red tape became less complicated in 1999, and that year Mick Fowler, Steve Sustad, Kenton Cool and Crag Jones obtained a permit. After difficulty finding the peaks, Fowler and Sustad made Arwa Tower’s first ascent via The Northwest Face (VI 5b A3 Scottish V/VI, 1000m) from May 7-14. Remotely located and not readily visible from the Range’s outskirts, the peak may not have been photographed until 1998, when Harish Kapadia’s unprecedented shots inspired Fowler to travel to the region (a photo Fowler took of the unclimbed, until recently, northeast face of the Tower ended up on the cover of the 2000 American Alpine Journal, drawing a number of other parties to the region in subsequent years).

The Tower has seen only a handful of ascents since The Northwest Ridge was established: members of the French High Mountain Military Group climbed Pilier Guilhem Chaffiol (6b, 14 pitches, 550m, Munoz-Miston-de Choudens and Muffat-Joly) on the northwest buttress and the French Route (4c M5 80 degrees, 500m, Pellissier-Savary) on the south face gully in May of 2002; a Swiss team climbed the north face to the east ridge in the post-monsoon season five months later. Of the newly-established northeast face, Fowler said: “It is a brilliant objective.”

Sources: Denis Burdet, Mick Fowler, Menno Boermans, 2000 AAJ, 2003 AAJ

In the beginning of this year, it occurred to Stephan Siegrist, Thomas Senf and me to go on an expedition together. Mick Fowler’s photo of Arwa Tower played no small role in our choice–the mountain looked magnificent. While the peak was a mystery to us, its surrounding region seemed an incredible nest of unclimbed walls. We left on April 28; Ines Papert and Anita Kolar accompanied us to attempt the French Route on the west face. The base camp was still entirely buried in snow, and from there, the mountain remained beyond our sight. Anita got sick on the approach, but on May 7 we saw the mountain for the first time. We spent the next week equipping the snow slopes. Ice fell frequently from the face, and it was hard to protect ourselves. On May 18, we took our portaledge to Camp I, and continued climbing until May 22, as it snowed and snowed….

A night of hell under perpetual avalanches…. We calculated how much rope we had: just barely enough to reach solid ground, so we decided that was a sign we should retreat. Over the next three days eighty centimeters of snow fell in base camp. Good choice. After extending our permit and changing our airplane ticket, we started back up on June 1, this time for the summit. Six days later we reached the top at 2:30 p.m.–no wind, perfect sun, go figure.

Much of the climbing was mixed. The snow was in such bad condition that we often had to clear it all away into order to keep going. We aided up some offwidths and tiny little cracks, and hooked our way up some face-climbing sections; the rock was often loose. Between the rockfall and the icefall, we ended up with a total of three hurt shoulders: two for Thomas and one for me.

–Translated from the French by Katie Ives

Thomas Senf (left), Denis Burdet (center) and Stephan Siegrist (right) atop Arwa Tower (6352m), Garhwal Himalaya, India. On their second attempt the trio established the coveted northeast face (VI M5 5.9 A3, 900m) from June 1-7. [Photo] Denis Burdet