Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Langtang Wanderers 2014

Langtang Valley, north of Kathmandu in Nepal, has been one of the most popular spots for mountaineers as well as lay nature-lovers in the world due to its relative proximity.  But this has never meant that the peaks might have lost their glimmers to climbers, including the late Slovenian Tomaž Humar, who died on the precipitous South Face of the highest Langtang Lirung in 2009, was unescapably attracted to the marvelous peak in the midway of the area.  They enticed too me (Oh Young-Hoon) and Kim Jin-Seok, letting us to plan dare to climb four lower peaks among a handful number of those closer to the center of the Valley within a period of twenty days in January, 2014.  They were: Gangja La Peak (5,652m), Naya Kanga (5,863m), Yubra (6,264m) and Langshisa Ri (6,427m).

Langtang National Park (in Korean)

Three peaks (names in red) of Langtang National Park

Gangja La Peak, commonly called so by the villagers yet without an official name, has an easy slope on its east side (PD for the entire ascent) up to its top where we climbed for acclimatization.  Its northern side, where a large glacial plain formed the way, let us to camp on its foot (5,130m) before trudging deep snow on the glacier.

After spending two nights at Base Camp where the HMG-Finn map refers to as (Naya Kanga’s) “Low Camp” on 4,300m, we crawled up directly below the Northeast Face of Naya Kanga, the second peak as we planned, through what we call “Hom-Thong” (meaning gutter in Korean), a large chimney shaped against rock and glacier walls, and camped the night up on the glacier (5,230m).

Before and after our journey, meanwhile, we found this peak's naming somewhat controversial.  Firstly, Nepalese government has announced the peak’s name ‘Kangja Chuli’ with the height 5,844m and endorsed NMA (Nepal Mountaineering Association) to manage it.  NMA, in turn, named the peak Naya Kanga as to which now popularly referred.  However, the plotting of the latitude and longitude to designation by the institutions points out a spot about five kilometers to its west, and this is the point where the popular HMG-Finn map that you can easily buy from a Thamel bookshop marks Naya Kanga.  Also, it names the peak that we aimed “Urking Kanggari.”  The so-called Schneider map, relatively more legitimate in mountaineering world, notes our peak Naya Kanga, describing the whole ridge of the peak as “Urgen Kangri.”  We have not been sure still of which to be correct, although Lindsay Griffin, the American Alpine Journal editor believed the latter.

We climbed the central couloir of the face before joining the 400m east-west snow ridge that led us to the top (D).  The normal route on this peak heads up toward the Gangja La before traversing west across the large glacial terrace on which we camped, to climb a little gully onto the crest of the northeast ridge, which is then followed to the summit (PD+/AD-), and this is the route we climbed down.

Ganja-la Peak through the east ridge

"Naya Kanga" or "Uriking Kangri" (?) through the central rib of northeast face route - we named it "evergreen"

Jin-Seok on top of the central rib of the northeast face of "Naya Kanga"

I, traversing the iced summit ridge of "Naya Kanga"

On top of "Naya Kanga" (taken by Jin-Seok)

We moved Base Camp to the place HMG-Finn map describes Chalepoche, 4200m, a Yak-grazing field between Langtang Lirung Glacier and Yubra Glacier, one-and-half hour walk to the north of Kyangjin village (pronounced Gengjin), to climb Yubra.  Yubra has seen at least a dozen times attempts since it was opened in 2002, notably by different Japanese climbers, as I checked the database of NMA.  The peak was officially first-ascended by two Japanese and three Sherpa climbers earlier that month.  Mr. Griffin opined it FAed earlier, however, as he described Langtang as “always an excellent place for people to climb without permits, and I think most of the peaks there - except for the very high and difficult - have been climbed.”

The peak is far inside of the Yubra plateau up on the glacier, and so we had to scramble half-glaciated terrain for about five hours to reach at what we called “shoulder” to camp the night (5,420m).  This part of Langtang Himal must have generated interest to many climbing-oriented trekkers since such stunning peaks like Kinshung and Yansa Tsenji, perhaps not ascended yet to my view, rise next to the plateau.  The next day we were relieved to find the plateau being with crevasses less than we concerned, and, after three hours of trudging the glacier, we finally arrived at the foot of the Southwest face.  The face was of about 70° and relatively straightforward, although its bergschrund was wide and deep.  We climbed about 800m on the face, still 200m shy from the top and yet, seeing clouds were approaching from southwest -- perhaps signalling an arrival of winter monsoon -- decided to turn back.  We spent one night more on the shoulder camp and retreated to the village.  We called off our last plan of climbing a new route on the North Face of Langshisa Ri, for it seemed tougher than our spirit we discovered.  The remarkable face saw only a single and solo ascent twenty years ago: the late-but-must-be-remembered Slovenian Vanja Furlan, who died on Julian Alps in 1996 a few months after his great climb on Ama Dablam in Khumbu that brought him a posthumous honor of the Piolet d’Or, ironically duoed with Tomaž Humar.

Yubra seen from Ganja-la side

Making a campsite on the "shoulder" of Yubra (taken by Jin-Seok)

Climbing Bergschrund of Yubra

Climbing the southwest face of Yubra

Climbing the southwest face of Yubra

The stunning north face of Langsisa-ri

At Thimbu (1500m) where we took a bus to Kathmandu - I cannot by far find any single moment that may be comparable to the mixture of relief, comfort, and nostalgia one would have to face at an actual end of journey.  Realizing I was seeking this bliss at every end, then, "wandering" -- going aimlessly -- has always to be ironic, if not helpless faking.

We dubbed our journey "Langtang Wanderers 2014," without hiring any guide or Sherpa, mostly because we just wanted to wander in actual from mountain to mountain without posing any sense of duty to our climb beforehand, which has, I believe, indeed been cases among Koreans on high mountains.  I have found, then, there was Langtang Wanderers 1999 of four Western climbers who climbed Gangchenpo and Morimoto without issuing permits.  One of them writes: “I'm not a criminal by nature, but the royalties and rules in the Himalayas these days are nearing extortion, and the governments of some Himalayan countries are notorious for skimming funds which are earmarked for the population. Also, I had arrived in Kathmandu with only four hundred bucks to my name.”  As it seemed this type of rendering of the law of the country not infrequent, we think of this unfair and counter-serviceable to the future of mountaineering.  We did almost same things -- we only bought a permit for Yubra, but not for the first two, to be honest and to be clear.  So we still feel sorry about that and want to make apology; but to whom?

Note: Special Thanks to Korean Himalayan Fund, who assisted our journey.

You might want to read another version of report written by myself (in Korean!!!), published in magazine mountainman&mountain; e-mountain written by Jin-Seok; or american alpine journal by Lindsay Griffin.