In September 2001, Adam Thomas, Simon Woods, Phil Amos, Jim de Bank (all UK), Bryan Godfrey (NZ) and Graham Rowbotham (Canada) explored the far west of Nepal with the intention of making the 1st ascent of Raksha Urai (6593m). The expedition won both the Helly Hansen Mountain Adventure Award 2001 and the Lyon Equipment Award 2001. The journey took the team by bus from Kathmandu for three days to the road head near Deura and then on a 12-day walk in up the Seti Valley. This area has rarely been visited by westerners with only one trekking group and three previous expeditions known about. All previous expeditions had been turned back by poor conditions low down on the mountain.
Base camp was situated at the foot of the mountain at 4100m, with easy access to all four of the Raksha Urai peaks. The weather throughout was perfect and progress was relatively rapid for the first week. The team elected to try Raksha Urai III, which had also been singled out by the previous expeditions, the most likely route being the east flank and the 900m southeast face.
After a period of acclimatisation and load carrying up to 5400m, Thomas, Amos, Woods and Rowbotham set out for an attempt on the mountain. Godfrey and de Bank elected to explore the western flank up the Salimor Khola, but were turned back by an impenetrable gorge on the second day. It had been suggested that if a way could be found up the valley, access to the upper peaks would be very good. Unfortunately the gorge was so difficult that this route would not offer a viable approach for future teams.
On 8 October, Thomas, Amos, Woods and Rowbotham left base camp and climbed to ABC at the foot of the glacier at 5000m. They arrived at Camp 1 on 9 October, where they had previously cached loads. They spent the following day carrying and acclimatising up to a cache at 5800m. On 11 October they all climbed up easy ground to their high camp at 5900m, situated on a large serac about 100m up the southeast face. Another day of acclimatisation was followed by a small storm, which delayed the summit attempt for another day. Meanwhile Godfrey and de Bank had returned and were just a day behind.
At 3am on 13 October the four at high camp set out for the summit. Climbing continuous 60 degree ice of varying quality for 13 hours, they eventually hit deep, unconsolidated snow just 50m from the summit ridge. With upward progress almost impossible, evidence of an avalanche to their right and not having been able to stop on the face for food or liquid, they were forced to make the decision to descend.
They estimated that the true height of Raksha III is in fact likely to be around 6650m, rather than the official height of 6593m and that they were less than 150m from the summit, having reached a height of 6500m (set by GPS fix).
A long night followed. They took 9 hours to make the twelve 60m rappels necessary, mainly from Abalakov Threads and ice screws. Temperatures dropped to -20 degrees C and they had major problems with their ice screws freezing up and not working. They were finally greeted at their high camp by Godfrey and de Bank at 1am on 14 October.
Realising that under present conditions they would be unable to climb the mountain, all six retreated to base camp on 14 October and spent the next week recovering and exploring. They made possibly the first western visit to the Tibetan border at Urai Lagna (5200m) and also reconnoitered possible future climbs. They then walked out for eight days from 22 - 30 October and flew to Nepalganj from Chainpur, thus avoiding 4 days walking and 2 days by bus.
The failure to climb the last few metres to the summit means that Raksha Urai is still unclimbed. There are four peaks of Raksha Urai and all would make for superb high standard alpinism in a beautiful and remote area. There are also other possibilities in the region, although any trip would necessarily be a long and serious undertaking.
If you are interested in visiting this region and would like to read the full expedition report, it is available for download here (24kb zip file).
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