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1st ascent of the South Face of Brammah II (6486m)

Early in 2016, I was reminiscing over images from the last expedition I took with my homie and regular climbing partner, Chris Gibisch. It had been too long since our experience in Western China and the trip down memory lane ended with me picking up the phone to poke Chris with a stick; “Dude… I think it’s time to go somewhere.”

Being the “up for anything” alpinist that he is, Chris was easy to convince. Only issue was… where? We have always been most drawn to objectives that require exploration and an emphasis on adventure. Word on the street indicated that adventure was easy to find in Northern India so, after seeing the stunning imagery from lines completed the previous year by friends, it seemed to us that this was a region worthy of a look.

Northern India’s Kishtwar National Park has been mostly off-limits to foreigners since the early 1980’s. Flying the area on Google Earth provided all the psych we needed with numerous pyramidal peaks jutting up through the range. The rudimentary imagery Google provided hinted at steep rock and ice faces throughout the Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh Himalaya. Further research revealed that not only did many of these peaks remain unclimbed… some of the most attractive faces hadn’t even been photographed! This was indeed where we wanted to go.

The long, 3-day drive began after typical pre-expedition formalities at the IMF, deep in the chaos of Delhi. Once on the road and past the mountain town of Manali, we continued to the Buddhist village of Udaipur through the mighty Himachal Pradesh, followed by another full day to Galabgarh on one of the wildest roads either of us had ever experienced. Drops of 1500′ straight to the river below had us laughing out loud when the tires of the Jeep came within 6 inches of “the fast way down”. Being a passionate BASE jumper, I remember thinking that much of the road would have been a very nice “exit”.

Our expedition truly began with the task of getting our massive pile of gear, 12 porters and the two of us, along with our Government appointed Liason Officer, across the cable trolley that bridged the Chenab River. It would be three more days of hiking big loads through heat that had me question whether we were actually ascending into the high Himalaya.

The Kijai Nala is notorious for difficult travel but, we found the locals to be reasonable and the goat trails beautiful. Our only major worry came when we were informed by a local herdsman that a leopard had killed one of his prized cows only a hundred meters above our camp. Still most of the wildlife was less threatening; the occasional snake, monkeys and even a flying squirrel making for good company as we progressed up the steep Nala toward mountains we had traveled from the other side of the world to climb… but still could not see.

On the third day, we had to cross a bridge that pushed the limits of what our porters felt was within their pay grade. The final result saw us laying down our gear in a spot not much past the bridge that would have to do as our Base Camp. Even though it was miles away and thousands of feet below where we had hoped to set up, it was hard to be anything but psyched! Big smiles and waves of encouragement from the Nepali crew left us alone with the two Indian friends who would stay with us at camp and act as support for the expedition. It was simply time to get to work.

Over the next two weeks, we slowly unlocked the mysteries of the approach. Weather was a bit too perfect with temps well into the 80’s, and the mountains spoke loudly and often. Spontaneous rock fall, collapsing seracs and the absence of ice on the lower half of Arjuna all helped us to narrow our focus toward an acceptable objective. Racked up for a “fast and light” mixed rock and ice route (in other words, not having the gear or time for a big wall route), the unclimbed South face of Brammah II seemed like the best fit. Starting just above 17,000′, the 4300′ wall that made up the technical part of the Southern aspect seemed to have most of the elements we were hoping for. We just had to find our way to the base, a prospect that was not as straightforward as we might have hoped.

It took 2 full days and involved a “run for our lives” under an overhanging serac band that, like us, spent the warm afternoons sweating until collapse.

But when we did eventually reach the hanging glacier at 17k and got our first view of the South Face, we were psyched to see a few options that looked, not only logical, but also big, fun and adventurous. As the afternoon heat built, the clouds did as well and the mountain came alive again. One of the most attractive lines was repeatedly scoured by numerous rock and ice avalanches which narrowed our choices even further and increased our conviction to start early.

The first morning, we simul-climbed 1000′ in the dark while the sky was continually strobed by lightning flashes from a distant storm, intensifying the atmosphere of our position. By late in the afternoon, thin ribbons of blue ice bisecting short rock steps (welcome reprieves from endless 70 degree, calf burner alpine ice) led us to a ridge line bivy that I would have paid for. We had the best views in the house and a very welcome rest after a long day on the move in heat we’d never before experienced in the high mountains. We were at exactly 20,000′ and right on schedule.

The next day started off with an epic sunrise while traversing a “good morning” pitch through fun mixed ground leading back onto the ice-face proper. A 500′ band of orange and gold granite seemed to guard the summit slopes but upon closer inspection, the ramping “sneak” that we’d hoped to find was indeed there. A chimney and crack system created a weakness through the band that had us hooting and hollering with pure psyche. To emphasize the point, Chris took off his gloves in the warm temps to “bare-hand” the last cruxy boulder problem – looking down to laugh out loud at our position.

As the day wore on, we ascended and traversed the summit slopes to the South-East. Starting to feel like bonking might be for dinner, I was relieved when I finally built a belay in a rock band that I felt confident was close the top. I couldn’t see the summit from the overhanging rock band but I “knew” it was there.

Less than 60m further, the rope stopped moving and when I joined Chris, we sat together smiling, surrounded by one of the most dramatic horizons either of us had ever seen. We could go no higher. Pointy, raw and rugged peaks were lit up by the last rays of the sun in every direction and barely a breath of wind interrupted our silence as we took it all in.

After rappelling more than a thousand feet, we arrived at the top of a steep, broad ice face just before midnight and it would be fair to say that we were officially “cooked”. While chopping seats into the ancient, bullet hard ice to sit in for the night, more lightning strobed the sky and I couldn’t help but look over at Chris, my friend and brother for more than 15 years, and consider our surroundings.

We were in one of the most remote spots on the planet, at 20,000′, at midnight, and we were both completely worked – but we were friends and on a hell of an adventure. I remembered at that moment that profound experiences and the deep-seated friendships we form in the mountains are the true summit.

Kit used on this expedition

Zero G Jacket

Introducing the Zero G Jacket, our first ever 1000FP technical alpine down jacket, made with ultra-fine 10d fabric, this specialist piece is the ultimate fast-and-light alpine piece.


Latok Summit

The Latok Summit is a 2 person waterproof bivi, designed for light-weight, single-night use at base camps, or in high mountain and polar environments.