Koreans Climb Huge Himalayan Wall

By Dougald MacDonald ,

The line of Gate to the Sky (VII A5 5.10) on Meru South, with Meru Shark’s Fin just to its right. The 1,800-foot headwall required nine days to surmount. Photo courtesy of Extreme Rider Alpine Club.

A Korean team has climbed the northeast face of Meru South (6,660m/21,850'), adjacent to the well-known Meru Shark’s Fin in India’s Garhwal Himalaya. Although the east face of the Shark’s Fin has seen at least 20 expeditions, very few have attempted the larger peak to its south. Meru South is believed to have been climbed only once, by a Japanese team in 1980. A Spanish team reached 21,000 feet on the peak’s east face and ridge in 2001.

The Korean Extreme Rider Alpine Club climbed a direct route up the northeast face, which is capped by a huge rock wall that starts above 20,000 feet. The climbers fixed nearly 6,000 feet of rope to Camp 2 at 20,175 feet over 10 days, and then, despite poor weather, began climbing the upper face on July 5.

Three climbers — Kim Sae-joon, Wang Jun-ho, and Kim Tae-man — spent nine days climbing the headwall’s 10 pitches of vertical and overhanging, loose rock. Kim Sae-joon, who had attempted the east face of Meru Shark’s Fin in 2005, took the lead at the base of the headwall. The crux second pitch required 20 hours of aid climbing (A5), but the most dangerous section came a couple of pitches higher, where the climbers spent two days negotiating 160 feet of extremely loose rock, including a huge block they had to trundle in order to continue. The climbers named this A4 section ED, for Extreme Danger.

The trio climbed capsule-style on the upper headwall, bivying in a two-man portaledge and a hammock, with ultralight sleeping bags and minimal food. They had no food at all during the final three days of the ascent. In 10 days they had only two hours of sunshine.

Climbing on the headwall of Meru South’s northeast face. The Koreans had only two hours of sunshine in 10 days on the upper mountain. Photo courtesy of Extreme Rider Alpine Club.

Fractured rock made for difficult and dangerous climbing. One 50-meter pitch took two days to climb. Photo courtesy of Extreme Rider Alpine Club.

Finally, the three climbers reached the shoulder and continued to the summit, topping out at 4:30 p.m. on July 13. They spent two days retreating to base camp, with one night at Camp 2 at the base of the wall. With worsening weather, they were unable to remove all of the fixed ropes from the lower face, managing to clean a bit less than half of the lines they had fixed. They left 20 bolts, 17 rivets, and three ptions on the wall. The new route is called Gate to the Sky (VII A5 5.10).

Date of Ascent: Summit reached July 13, 2008

Sources: Lee Young-joon, American Alpine Journal

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