An invigorating trio of new routes in India’s Bhagirathi group.
By Marko Prezelj
After my expedition to Makalu in the fall of 2008, a big project that demanded lots of time and energy—and ultimately was frustrated by poor conditions—I felt the need to recharge my motivation. That winter I went to the Lofoten Islands of Norway, where we climbed lots of interesting ground in good company. In late spring I went to Alaska, where I met many motivated climbers. In the summer I guided in Europe and began to build a new house for my family. My life was intense from many perspectives, and I began to feel a fresh enthusiasm for climbing.
In the fall I joined forces with Rok Blagus and Luka Lindic, who belong to the young generation of Slovenian alpinists—the generation that is upgrading “old school” alpinism with a sport approach. Luka is just 22, a student, and Rok is 28, finishing a doctoral degree in statistics. I was 44, and last autumn I was surprised (again) by the fact that I could still push my limits. Once again I found that alpinism has the power to stop time and refresh one’s perspective.
Our original goal for the fall expedition was Rimo III, which borders the Siachen area in the eastern Karakoram. However, at the last minute, one month before our departure, the Indian army refused to give us permission to climb there—after we had made all the logistical arrangements and bought our plane tickets. We quickly shifted plans to visit the Bhagirathi group. We knew only a little about the Bhagirathis or what routes had been done. With this “onsight trip,” we didn’t have any specific expecta- tions besides having fun climbing big mountains. The seeds of spontaneity were sown.
When we left home our idea was to attempt to free climb the Catalan route on Bhagirathi III’s west pillar. But after we set up base camp it snowed and rained for a week. We knew we’d have to be very patient and lucky to do any rock climbing. As a result, we looked for lines that were less technical and would be useful for acclimatization; for that reason, and not because of any greedy ambitions for an unclimbed summit, we chose the route on Bhagirathi IV. During the approach to that climb, we spotted a logical line on Bhagirathi II, but we knew we’d need very good acclimatization for that serious route. So, for our second climb, we chose Bhagirathi III, which we hoped would be climbable even though the rock was still snowy; we followed mixed ground at the beginning and just looked for the most logical line up wet rock in the middle. In general we just followed our intuition: “Look, that is a logical and interesting line. Let’s try to free climb it.” The most intense part of this experience was juggling all the options. It’s a great feeling when you see that you’ve made the right decisions and you are able to realize your ideas despite a lot of uncertainty. On this expedition my motivation for climbing was fully reinvigorated, and I proved to myself that I’m not yet ready for retirement, even in the company of young, strong climbers. I felt the same joy as I had when I was much younger and more naïve.
Area: Garhwal Himalaya, India
Ascents: Southwest couloir and north ridge of Bhagirathi IV (1,000m, D+), September 15, 2009, possibly the first ascent of the peak. The climbers descended the same route with four rappels and downclimbing. New route on the southwest face of Bhagirathi III (1,300m, ED 6b M5 WI5, two rappels), September 21–22, 2009. The route lies between the 1982 Scottish Route and the 1993 Czech Route, and it shares a few pitches with the former. The climbers descended by the southeast ridge and northeast face, with another bivouac en route. New route on the south-southwest face of Bhagirathi II (1,300m, ED+/ ABO- 6b+ WI6+ M8, one tension traverse), September 29–October 1, 2009. The climbers descended by the east face. All ascents by Slovenian climbers Rok Blagus, Luka Lindic, and Marko Prezelj. See Reports/Climbs & Expeditions for more details and a route photo from Bhagirathi II.
A Note About the Author:
Born in 1965, Marko Prezelj lives in Kamnik, Slovenia. His first ascent of the northwest pillar of Chomolhari, with Boris Lorencic, was featured in the 2007 American Alpine Journal.