Lugzl Pombo First Ascent dedicated to the memory of Lt. Nawang Kapadia
A five member team consisting of Divyesh Muni (Leader), Rajesh Gadgil, Vineeta Muni, Aditi Gadgil and Lt. Col. Shamsher Singh made the first ascents of two peaks – Petze Kangri (6130 m) and Lugzl Pombo (6414 m) of the remote Ang Tung range of mountains near the Pangong lake in Ladakh. They are all close friends of the family and have dedicated their achievements to Lt. Nawang Kapadia
The team, sponsored by the Himalayan Club and approved by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, reached Leh on 26 July 2012 and spent few days in preparation for the month long expedition. Approvals were finally received from the defence authorities and the team drove off to Pangong Tso along with their support staff consisting of two Sherpas, a cook and his assistant. They spent two days acclimatizing on the shores of the scenic lake which is partly under Indian control and partly under Chinese control.
The approach trek of the expedition started from the quaint village of Yurgo with a caravan of horses carrying about 1200 kg of ration, camping gear, ropes and technical equipment for the team.
The team met many interesting people in the village and asked them about any previous visits to the mountains in the vicinity. Chaten Namgyal, age 73 years, who had served in the Indian Army, fought during the 1962 war and was held Prisoner of War by the Chinese, was happy and amused to see us. He, like the rest of the villagers had grazed their Yaks and sheep in the Ku Lungpa valley and had witnessed ITBP and Army teams rarely patrolling the area. However, they had never seen or heard of any mountaineers operating in the valley. He hoped our expedition would open doors to other climbers and trekkers and also would give a boost to the local economy. He shared interesting facts and names of the mountains, lakes, passes and valleys of the area.
On 4 August the team established base camp at Vimgul (5210 m) after a two day trek. The valley, lush green and sprinkled with countless little ponds and lakes was like a paradise on earth. Yaks, horses and sheep owned by the vilagers grazed alongside the skyangs (wild ass). Marmots and Pikas ran around the campsite.
Two parties went in separate directions to explore the valley for the further route ahead. Back from the reconnaissance, they first decided to attempt Peak 6130 m. An advance base camp (ABC) was established at 5675 m on southeastern slopes of the mountain under the south face and on 9 August, the team left at 7 a.m. for the climb.
The initial route climbing over loose mud and rocks brought them to the base of the eastern snow and ice fields that led them to their objective. They roped up and put on their crampons and enthusiastically started their climb. The slopes were fairly easy except for a few steep sections and some crevasses which they had to negotiate carefully. Vineeta and Divyesh Muni, Rajesh Gadgil, Lt. Col. Shamsher Singh along with Sherpas Neema Thondup and Pemba Norbu were happy to be on the summit at 11 a.m. They were greeted with plethora of unclimbed peaks around them and in the northeast the beautiful Ku Lungpa valley stretching for kilometers towards the mountains of Tibet and East Karakoram. They could now study and photograph further climbing objectives. Happy with their first ascent, the team withdrew to base camp. As the peak (6130 m) did not have any name, we decided to name it as Petze Kangri (Petze meaning baby Yak and Kangri meaning peak in local Ladakhi dialect) based on the shape of the mountain.
After further reconnaissance from the base camp along the valley for a better perspective of the peaks they now planned to attempt, the team established a high summit camp at 5850m on a plateau surrounded by peaks all around including Lugzl Pombo (6414 m) in the southwest. They were now camped on Ice and did not enjoy the luxury of a cook.
On 17 August, early morning, the climbers left eagerly for the climb. Lugzl Pombo (6414 m) is situated at the head of the glacier towards southwest. The mountain is magnificent with steep rock and ice ridges dropping in all directions. An ice wall of 150 m towards south rose just above the camp to the col between Lugzl Pombo on the west and Petze Kangri (6130 m) in the east. It was decided to climb up to the col at 6000 m and explore the possibility of finding a route up the eastern slopes of Lugzl Pombo.
The ice wall rose steeply, becoming vertical and then almost overhanging for the last stretch of the climb. The view from the col was stupendous. Two large gendarmes’ (rock towers) barred access to the northeast ridge. We had to find a way to by-pass these two gendarmes. We gradually moved on the steep hard southeastern snow slopes above the col and were happy to see a possible line of ascending traverse that would enable us to by-pass the two gendarmes. We needed additional equipment and ropes to negotiate this obstacle. Excited, like little kids, we rejoiced at the opportunity offered by the mountain and quickly made our way back to summit camp.
The following day, the summit camp was stocked with additional rations and all the necessary ropes and equipment that we had kept handy at Base Camp. On 19 August, we climbed back up the fixed ropes to the col and started pushing the route past the two rock gendarmes. We traversed the first gendarme at about 6150 m at its base and moved on the steep southeastern face below the northeast ridge of the mountain. We were exposed to the risk of rock fall from the loose scree stacked on the rock gendarme.
Having climbed up the face, we crossed the second gendarme at around 6250 m. We could now see the route ahead up the northeast ridge. The exit to the summit ridge was blocked by a cornice on top of the steep northeast ridge. Whether we could find our way around the cornice or through it, we would know only when we make the final attempt. We had done our bit for the day and it was time to turn back and prepare for our summit attempt on the next day. It was tempting to attempt the summit on that day itself, but I realized that there was not sufficient time and the risk would be too much.
By now we were nearing our departure date and had only one day in hand to attempt the climb.
20August dawned clear with a brilliant sunrise. We started off by 6 a.m. and made fast progress up the fixed ropes. By 8.30 in the morning, we were at our previous high point at the top of the second gendarme. The route up the northeast ridge was quite steep but uncomplicated. We were making slow but steady progress. Unfortunately, one of the rope coils got entangled and it took ages to sort it out. We were now worried whether, the rope we carried would be sufficient to take us past the cornice. A small passage allowed us to bypass the main overhanging portion of the cornice and get onto the north south summit ridge and our rope was just enough to complete this section.
We were completely out of rope by this time and now we could see the summit ridge stretched out before us rising towards south. The eastern side of the ridge was heavily corniced and laden with deep soft snow. On the western side was a steep drop. A steady and gradual climb of about five rope lengths brought us to the summit by 11.50 a.m., just ten minutes short of our pre-decided turnaround time.
The views were glorious and no words can express the satisfaction and joy of standing there. It was indeed a unique spot. We were on a divide…. to the east we had the gentle peaks of the Tibeten plateau and to the northwest, the jagged high peaks of the Karakoram. The contrast of landscape was stunning. Towards west, we could see the mighty Shyok river deep down at the foot of our mountain. At the same time, towards north we could see the Kho Lungpa spreading out with the Ororotse Peak in the distance near its head. The hundreds of little ponds and lakes in the valley shone in the sunlight like little pearls on a green velvet carpet stretching out to the horizon. It was a dream comes true. We had spotted this peak, Lugzl Pombo, in 2005 as we walked out of the Rongdo valley in Nubra area now we could see in the northwest.
We decided to dedicate the achievement in the loving memory of our friend, Lt. Nawang Kapadia, who gave his life to guard these pristine mountains. He is always with us in spirit when we are in the mountain arena so loved by him.