AAC Member and McNeill-Nott Award winner Mike Ybarra reports on his trip to Nepal in April, 2010. He and his team had an exciting expedition--read on for the full story!
In April 2010, Seth Timpano, Ben Jones and myself trekked into the Annapurna Sanctuary to attempt a new line on Singu Chuli (formerly known as Fluted Peak), aided by a McNeill-Nott Award. A perfect ice pyramid, Singu (6,501 meters) is an outlier of Annapurna 1, relatively a mere bump on the rim of the imposing sanctuary wall—yet its steep South Face is one of the most striking sights in the cirque.
None of us had ever been to the Himalaya before, so we had little idea what to expect.
We established base camp on the edge of a meadow about 15 minutes past the cluster of tea houses that marks the end of the Annapurna base camp trek. The bulky, convoluted Northeast Face of Hiunchuli (6,331) towered over our camp on one side, while the massive South Face of Annapurna dominated the view to the north and the crumbling moraine of the peak’s namesake glacier fell off the other side.
After establishing an advance base camp across the South Annapurna Glacier at around 5,000 meters, we acclimatized on Tharpu Chuli, or Tent Peak (5,695 meters). From Tharpu we could see that our projected approach to Singu from the east would be difficult at best. The glacier was horrendously broken up. The Slovenije team that made the first and only reported ascent of the South Face (which they called the East Face; see AAJ 1996) had approached from this direction. Whether it was the time of the year (spring vs. fall) or the passage of 15 years, we concluded that forcing an approach this way was beyond the limits of our alpine-style expedition.
We spent another day exploring an approach from the west from our ABC, but again were again unable to find a reasonable route.
At this point we turned our attention to Hiunchuli, another “trekking peak,” that has seen only a handful of ascents, mostly from the south. A few parties have attempted routes from the north, most recently a two-man Korean team that disappeared on the mountain the previous fall. We decided to try the massive Northeast Ridge, which has no reported ascents.
The ridge is long and complicated but appeared to offer mostly moderate snow climbing. Starting from an advanced base camp near the start of a huge, 3,000-foot-tall couloir, we set off in the middle of the night and gained the ridge shortly after sunrise. We found an old fixed rope at the top of the couloir and a piton slightly further on the ridge, but no other signs of climbers higher.
The ridge turned out to require much more pure rock climbing and tricky route finding than we had expected. The rock was atrocious; most of the climbing fairly easy, but extremely loose. We climbed eight pitches, with short sections up to M5, to gain the first major step on the ridge, around 18,800 feet. This took most of the day, putting us far behind our anticipated progress. A lightning storm broke out on top of this step.
We decided to retreat, rapping back to the top of the couloir, where we spent the night—three of us in a two-person Lighthouse tent—in order for the snow to consolidate before rapping and downclimbing back to base camp.
The right side of the North Face offers a number of ice and mixed lines that might provide interesting climbing in good conditions and allow a party to gain the ridge substantially higher than our route did. Although pushing any of these lines to the true summit would still entail quite a bit of complex ridge climbing.