First Ascents in the Miyar Valley
The Himalaya is one of the great mountain ranges of the world, and it's no wonder it has a lure on alpinists. We were lured to the Miyar Valley in the Himachal Pradesh of northern India, where there are many unclimbed peaks awaiting first ascents on both rock and snow. The mountains in this part of the Himalaya are probably considered babies in Himalayan terms, with nothing much more than about 6000m in elevation - a good altitude to still tackle technical climbs.
We had read a couple of recent accounts of teams venturing into the Miyar Valley to make first ascents, and we felt it was a place with a lot to offer the intrepid climber, but without too much information available to detract from the exploratory nature of the area. We decided to focus our efforts in a side valley where the Tawa Glacier flows toward the Miyar. Italians had first climbed in the Tawa in the early 1990s including an ascent of one attractive peak, Neverseen Tower, and since then a few more teams had climbed in the Tawa and nearby valleys.
4WD took us from Manali to Udaipur at the start of the Miyar Valley, and up as far as the village of Tingrat where the road ends. From there we hiked for two and a half days, having recruited a few porters to help us carry all our gear and food and fuel to last us a bit over four weeks. We bid ourporters farewell and set up a base camp on a lovely grassy meadow in the Miyar, just below the Tawa. From there we ferried loads up into the Tawa Valley over a few days. From this advanced base camp we scoped out possible lines and unclimbed peaks, with the help of information that we'd extensively researched on what had been climbed in the area.
We warmed up on a on JAMES Point which had been climbed before, but we made a new 110m route and found the rock quality to be pretty decent. For our next objective, we started off in sunny weather and made a long climb (~800m) of an unclimbed rocky peak we called Nazomi Peak (5300m), topping out as snow began to fall. Both these routes were climbed clean placing no bolts.
We were excited about heading further up the Tawa Glacier, so we ferried our gear over about 6km of gruelling moraine more times than we cared for! Our higher camp was located at about 4900m, and we got the last of our gear there when bad weather same in and lasted for four days. Snow built up on the surrounding rocky peaks, and although they looked beautiful, it certainly made them unclimbable.
During this weather we recced a bit further up the valley scoping out objectives. One particularly obvious and striking peak appealed to us, and we were surprised that it had never been climbed before. We dubbed it Triple Crown as it had three distinct sweeping summits. Once the weather cleared, we needed to let it melt and settle before attempting Triple Crown, so we climbed up a gully to attempt to climb something quite close to camp. The fresh snow did limit our options, but we discovered a lovely snow basin up high at 5473m which was surrounded by rock towers, none of which had ever been climbed. We ran out of time in the day to attempt any of these, and as we didn't bring bivvy gear with us, we had to head back to camp.
Our plan for climbing Triple Crown, was to bivvy near the start of our chosen route and make the climb in one day. As we headed up the glacier to find a bivvy spot, we heard "Hello!" coming from afar! This was a complete surprise to us as we'd had the entire valley to ourselves up until then. We saw the figures on a rocky outcrop and headed over. It was three Italians from a bigger team who were climbing new routes in the region. They looked strong and fit, all wearing matching outfits covered in sponsor patches and logos, and here we were, two Aussie girls looking haggard under our backpacks that looked like they'd crush us! After asking them where they were headed and what they were doing, they said, "We are going to climb that one", and they pointed to Triple Crown. Our hearts sank as we replied casually something like "Oh yeah, we thought that looked good too, but we really don't know what we are doing". What was the chance that this inspiring hulk of a mountain had never been climbed, and now two teams were planning to climb it the same day?
We parted ways and went further on, finding a big flat rock in the middle of the glacier, just big enough for the two of us to bivvy on. We'd spied a long couloir running up behind a smaller rock tower, that lead to the north-west ridge and thought this would be a good line to take. So after forcing down porridge at 5am, we set off. The couloir was cold, and even when the sun came up we were climbing in the shade. So it was with joy that we popped out onto the north-west ridge into the sunshine where our toes finally warmed up. We followed the steepening ridge which ended at Triple Crown's middle summit, and were delighted to see there were no footprints in the snow leading to the highest summit. Although one likes to think that it really doesn't matter if you make the first ascent or not, we were pretty chuffed to have climbed it first. We got back down to our rock bivvy very tired at about 11pm. We slept there again, and in the morning saw the Italians on the peak - they'd climbed a line that we'd eyed off, but thought it would be very difficult, and they later told us they climbed it in two days and that it did involve some difficult rock climbing.
We headed back down the Tawa, enduring the moraine maze again, and explored a bit more in the lower Tawa where we bivvied in a great cave with a big flat roof - although we had to excavate goat shit to get a flat area! We climbed to a col where we had great views over into the Dali Glacier, and could just make out a camp that we’d learnt was a team of Koreans making a big-wall attempt on Mt Mahindra at the head of the Dali. When we got back down to the Miyar Valley, we were surprised at how many tents there now where - apart from the Italians, there were also the Koreans and an American team, and more. Our Italian friends invited us to dinner, and in their mess tent, complete with chairs and tables, we had cured meats from Italy and pasta, a nice change from our instant noodles and bland cuisine. Our porters arrived just before more snowfall which made the first part of the hike out a bit tougher, especially for the porters who seemed inexperienced and ill-prepared. They also didn’t seem too concerned about the glare from the snow and only one of the four porters had sunglasses. Needless to say, the next day the three without glasses were snow-blind. After they discussed their predicament, two porters stayed behind and we carried big loads back to Tingrat with one healthy porter and one who bravely soldiered on with stinging, watering eyes wearing Gemma’s sunglasses.
The recent snowfall had blocked the Rohtang Pass, so our driver took us to a camp in Tupchiling where we had to wait a couple of days for the pass to be cleared. While we were there, we hiked up to a Tibetan Monastery, and en route we met some friendly, happy Tibetan nuns who knit while they walk. Also, we didn’t mind staying at the camp as we were treated to proper beds, and lots of delicious Indian food and chai!
The Miyar Valley is in northern India in the State of the Himachal Pradesh, in the Lahaul and Spiti district.
Near the head of the Miyar Valley are several side valley - Jangpar, Dali, Tawa, Nameless Valleys - with many possibilities for first ascents. We climbed in the Tawa Valley.
New route on Point JAMES (4965m), 110m, grade 13.
First ascent of Nazomi Peak (5300m), 800m, grade 17.
First ascent of Triple Crown (5800m), by north-west ridge, 1000m, 70°, AD+/D.