Americans Bag Unclimbed Spire in India

By Dougald MacDonald ,

Peak 5,394m (17,697') in Himachal Pradesh, India. An American quartet followed the left skyline to make the likely first ascent of the peak, via its south face. Courtesy of / Pat Goodman.

After storms foiled a traditional porter-assisted approach to a striking peak in India, an American quartet regrouped and went ultra-light to bag the likely first ascent of the 17,697-foot summit.

Inspired by a postcard-size photo that Freddie Wilkinson had seen in a shop, Janet Bergman, Ben Ditto, Pat Goodman, and Wilkinson planned to attempt new routes in the Manikaran Spires, southeast of Manali in Himachal Pradesh. There was no trail to the peaks. The team hired a guide and four porters to help them carry loads into the mountains, but two days after leaving town they were halted by a huge storm thousands of feet above the valley floor. The porters fled for home after five days of cold rain, and the Americans gave up two days later, hefting staggering loads onto their backs and retreating to the village below.

Freddie Wilkinson on the summit boulder problem on Peak 5,394m. Courtesy of / Pat Goodman.

After discovering that the forecast had improved dramatically, the four Americans decided to try again, but this time they’d go on their own. They stripped their gear to the bare minimum—two ropes, a single set of cams per rope team, and five days of light rations—and then struggled through a two-day approach to base camp at 12,500 feet.

They left camp at 3 a.m. for an attempt on the south face of Peak 5,394m (17,697'). The heavy storm had left deep snow on the upper mountain and choked the cracks with ice. Climbing in two pairs, the quartet ascended eight pitches of mixed ground to reach a ridge top about 1,200 feet below the summit. After a cold bivy sharing two sleeping bags among the four climbers, they waded through waist-deep snow and then climbed a rock headwall to gain the summit, more than 8,000 feet above the village below. The descent lasted into the night, and they returned to camp around 8 p.m. They have tentatively named the route Indian Beauty Queen (V+ 5.9-ish, A0).

Peak 5,394m (17,697') in Himachal Pradesh, India. Courtesy of / Pat Goodman.

Read Pat Goodman’s full account of this climb and see more photos at

Date of Ascent: Early October 2008,

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