"The next time I come back to India, it will be with my skis"
A trip to the heart of India with the objective to be the first to ski Tharang I and II. Etienne, Tristan, David and Maxime (mountain and ski mountaineering enthusiasts, three of them ski instructors) have never done an expedition in this part of the world, this is a first for them. Régis puts his experience and knowledge of expeditions in the Himalayas to good use and shares his experience with the four young friends from the same village: Monêtier Les Bains. This expedition requires a complete self-sufficiency of about twenty days.
May 15, 2019 - Arrival at New Delhi airport
The team arrives in full! We learn that the Rothang pass (3950 meters) which is the gateway to the mountains, is not yet open. According to reports, there are still 7Km of road to be cleared of snow. We consider all the solutions to cross this pass, the only possible way to reach the starting point of our expedition.
Prem, our local contact, advises us to wait... Should we start thinking about changing our destination? We then learn that we can pass in two days, yes! The next day, Prem calls me to tell me that we leave today at 14:00, even better!
The amount of snow increases as we climb, the walls on either side of the road become narrower and narrower. As we reach the pass, sometimes the mirrors touch the walls of snow on both sides. In some places there are over 10 metre walls of snow, incredible!
The next day we arrive around noon in the village of Urgos, at the gates of the Miyar valley. We already feel the first effects of the altitude, we miss air.
In the morning, the bags are ready, after seven days of travel, we are finally in action! It's good to stretch our legs and to discover the incredible landscapes that surround us. The dimensions are doubled or even tripled compared to what we are used to seeing in Europe. We pass the last village, we are finally alone among the cows and the yaks. After a day of walking, we set up base camp at 3800 meters.
The next day
The next day, the laborious "mule" phase is launched, we understand a little better what the animals have endured for a day carrying our equipment two days before. We leave on May 23rd at 6am to find the location of our supposed camp 1 at 4300 metres. We set up camp, the tasks are divided up naturally: some rest while sitting around melting snow for the 15 litres of water that the five of us drink daily, others level the ground and put up the tents. The altitude is already making itself felt: if you are busy handling the shovel with your head down, you feel dizzy as soon as you stand up. So sometimes we work sitting down, taking our time.
Sunday 26, departure for Tharang Fang at 5490 m, a ridge topped by a granite summit tooth of about twenty meters. For the first time since the beginning of the trip, we start out light, what happiness! After a progression in crampons on a beautiful slope in hard snow at 35°, we reach the ridge. Régis gives us a good demonstration of how to sing on the rock with crampons - what he prefers in mountaineering, he admits later. Here he is balancing on this thin piece of granite suspended above the void. Tristan, his son, secures him from the bottom with the red rope strand that seems to be the umbilical cord coming straight out of the bowels of his father Régis' passion. We stay there, on the ridge, watching the tightrope walker who joins us followed by Tristan, our first Indian summit on skis, the joy is intense.
We are finally all together at Camp 3, the most advanced at 5370m. We are now in the heart of the mountains, at the foot of the three Tharang mountains which dominate us. The camp is set up, two tents and the kitchen area for lunch: a snow bench facing the "snow bar".
We start with Tharang III at 5880m, the most accessible. During the ascent, we hear the characteristic "whoum" of a fragile layer rupture near our route, indicating a risk of avalanche departure. We are alert and decide to avoid a steep slope by climbing up a ridge, in the shelter. We stop our progression 20 metres below the summit, the last ridge is about 100 metres long and has a huge cornice. We don't want to risk climbing on this potentially unstable area which would throw us 500 metres lower... The view is obviously indescribable, snow-covered peaks as far as the eye can see. We also have a privileged view of our two main objectives, Tharang I and II. The visible face of Tharang II is not very welcoming as we have seen spontaneous avalanche starts. For the moment we are in an observation phase, before deciding how to climb them. We descend from Tharang III, enjoying every turn.
Monday 3rd June, departure at 4.00am, it's -10°C and the weather is clear, the conditions are ideal. We take the steps cut the day before by Régis and Étienne to reach the Tharang pass at 5700 m, before descending to the south face and joining the foot of the south-east couloir leading to the summit of Tharang II. After all these days spent in altitude we feel the accumulated fatigue, especially Tristan who struggles to follow our already slow pace. Jackdaws are circling around him, he is so tired that he starts to think that these birds are after him and start to attack him, fortunately not! We support him as much as we can while Régis takes care of the safety. He sets up a belay 30 metres from the summit ledge to secure each other in case of a fall, also to prevent the instability of the snow cover on the north face. We finish step by step and here we are on the summit ridge, with the concentration and the accumulated tiredness I have difficulty in realizing what we have just accomplished. We enjoy this unique moment together, we quickly fall back into concentration and set up the safety manoeuvres to leave the ridge one by one. The descent into the couloir is a real treat on snow that has softened a little in the sun. When we arrive at camp 3, we are exhausted, I lie down in the tent without moving for a while, as do the others. In the evening the storm rumbles around us, lightning strikes less than 300 metres from us, not very reassuring!
Tuesday, June 4th, we go down to base camp and collect all our equipment from camps 2 and 3. We help each other to load up packs weighing more than 30 kilos, the weight finishes off my legs after 15 days of mountaineering and skiing