Ikualari (6,059m), southwest ridge; Nital Thaur (6,236m), southwest spur and west ridge; Hardeol (7,151m), south ridge attempt.
By Matija Jost, Slovenia
In autumn Urban Golob, Boris Lorencic, Karel Zavrsnik, and I visited the mountains at the head of the Milam Glacier, a relatively little-visited area. After the border closure with China in the 1960s, only Indians were allowed here for many years. There have been few ascents; many summits are virgin, and most faces untouched.
Just a few foreign expeditions have climbed from the upper Milam Glacier, so we were surprised to arrive at our base camp and find a Swiss commercial expedition in place and attempting Tirsuli (7,074m), the immediate neighbor of our main goal, Hardeol, the highest summit of this area. [Editor's note: The nine-member German-Swiss team abandoned its attempt at 5,700m, when time ran out.]
Tirsuli West (7,035m) remains unclimbed. Most peaks on the west side of the glacier have been climbed from the Uttar Rishi Glacier, in the Nanda Devi Sanctuary, but have not been attempted from the Milam, from where they have difficult and dangerous approaches. On the east side lie several unclimbed 6,000ers such as Nanda Gond (6,315m), Chalab (6,160m), and Kholi (6,114m). These look less difficult, but are connected by sharp ridges with many subsidiary summits.
We wanted to acclimatize and gain more information on Hardeol, so for our first climb we decided on Ikualari. We established our first camp at 4,600m on the upper glacier and our second at 5,200m on the southwest ridge. On October 3 we reached the summit in only three hours climbing from this camp, in sunny, cold, windy weather. The only previous ascent of this peak was made in 1968 by a team from Mumbai University. We repeated their route.
A few days later Golob went home, due to ill health, while we remaining three started up the southwest ridge of Nital Thaur, directly east of base camp. There were no difficult or dangerous glaciers barring access, as with other nearby mountains, and the ridge had no seracs. It seemed a good choice for a second acclimatization ascent before tackling Hardeol. There was one previously recorded attempt; on the south ridge in 1974. We made our first bivouac at 5,400m, joined the west ridge at 5,700m, and made a second bivouac at 5,900m. We reached the top on the 10th, grading our route D (UIAA III 60°).
At 5,300m we found old fixed rope and two pitons. The rock was so poor that we pulled both pegs out by hand. Our descent followed the west ridge at first, and then the snowy southwest face, which did not exceed 60°. Ours was probably the first ascent of the mountain.
On the 14th we cached gear on the approach to Hardeol’s south face and returned to base camp for a rest. Karel didn’t feel strong enough to make an attempt, so on the 16th Boris and I regained our cache and climbed an exposed gully and ramp east of the ice fall, reaching the glacier plateau beneath Hardeol at 5,300m. In late afternoon we gained the south ridge of Hardeol and bivouacked at 5,800m. From here the rock quality on the ridge looked poor, and there was very little ice on the southeast and southwest faces. Next day we attempted to climb the southwest flank of the ridge, but after 200m retreated due to the constant fall of rock and ice. We returned to the ridge, which was sheltered from objective danger, but the rock was poor, and the ridge looked desperately steep higher up. We spent another night at our previous bivouac spot and the next morning made one rappel, then reversed our dangerous approach route.
This little explored area offers many interesting objectives, but we would recommend parties think about coming pre-monsoon. Although we had good weather and much sunshine, the walls were dry and composed of terribly rotten rock. May, or possibly April, when there is more snow and ice, would be better months to climb here.
Editor’s note: The south side of Hardeol was first attempted in 1974 by an Indian-New Zealand female expedition that gave up at 5,450m due to avalanche danger. An Indo-Tibet Border Police expedition made the first ascent in 1978. They also approached up the Milam Glacier, but then climbed to above 6,500m on the ridge coming down from Tirsuli, before heading for a high col at the foot of Hardeol’s northeast ridge, which they followed to the summit over a subsidiary ca 6,850m summit. In 1991 a team from the Border Security Force made the second and only other ascent, likely via the same route.