New Route on Indian Giant

By Dougald MacDonald ,

The Anglo-American team of Ian Parnell and John Varco made the first ascent of the Northwest Face of 22,674-foot Saf Minal in the Garhwal Himalaya of India. First climbed via its snowy southern slopes in 1975, Saf Minal apparently had never been climbed from the north. The two summited on October 5 after several days of climbing, plus 36 hours trapped in a tent during a storm. Unlike neighboring Kalanka and Changabang, with their 5,500-foot, near-vertical faces of perfect granite, Saf Minal features nearly 6,500 feet of black shale and loose mixed climbing. Climbing in pure alpine style, with no reconnaisance, fixed ropes, or camps, Parnell and Varco started up a distinctive ridge that led to sustained mixed climbing on poor rock and snow-covered slabs, and finally a system of ice couloirs in the upper part of the face. After three days of reasonable weather, a storm trapped the pair in a partially erected tent. After 36 hours of torment, they opted to climb in the continuing storm and reached the west ridge in the dark, only about 700 feet below the summit. To their surprise, the following morning brought perfect weather for the successful summit push. The poor rock and traversing nature of the line took its toll during the descent. After two days of rappelling and tricky downclimbing, the two staggered into basecamp with a cut rope, no food, and with only one nut and a couple of cams remaining from their rack. Parnell, who lost over 25 pounds on the ascent, said, "This climb was probably the most expensive but rewarding diet plan we've ever followed."

Saf Minal on left; Kalanka and Changabang on right.Photo courtesy of

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