Report by Aleš Česen
Visiting the Kijaj Nullah valley was on our bucketlist since 2015, when we were climbing above Chomochior glacier. At the end of our expedition we were planning to have a look at the Kijaj Nullah valley, since there was so little information – who knows what kind of interesting climbing objectives could be lying in the untraveled corners? Climbing on Cerro Kishtwar kept us busy for longer than we thought, so we postponed our visit to the next fall. I planned a climbing trip to Kijaj Nullah Valley with Hayden Kennedy and Marko Prezelj for 2016. A week before our departure we were shocked by the news about the accident of our dear friend Kyle Dempster and his climbing partner Scott Adamson. We cancelled the climbing part of expedition, but instead myself and Marko went to India to check out few potentially interesting climbing objectives. We visited Kijaj Nullah valley and were most impressed by the magnificent West Face of Arjuna (6250 m). This valley has had a few alpine visits, especially in the end of the 70’s and the beginning of the 80’s.
The first ascent of P6013, which lies on the west bank of Kijaj Nullah, was made by Polish climbers in 1979, (Krzysztof Łoziński, Stanisław Gorgon, Jan Marczak, Józef Makinia and Stanisław Pelczarski). That same year there was an attempt to climb Arjuna by Polish climbers, Jacek Szczepański and Jan Oficjalski. When not returning after four days, Jan’s wife Barbara, who was with them in base camp, started the search. After eight days of searching for any sign of them she decided to descend, which was also a story for itself. Polish climbers returned to the area in 1981, when they were successful at climbing on the South summit of Arjuna (Wacław Otręba, Janusz Bartos and Piotr Puzyrewski). They climbed the East ridge.
In 1983, Tomasz Bender and Przemysław Piasecki climbed the West Face on the South summit of Arjuna in alpine style. That same year, Mirosław Dąsal, Jerzy Barszczewski and Zbigniew Skierski climbed the West Face of Arjuna to the main summit. They fixed the ropes in the lower 500 meters of the climb.
In 1994 the valley also got a visit from the German climbers with an objective to climb on Arjuna. American climbers Chriss Gibisch and Jeff Shapiro came to the valley with the same goal in 2016. Because of unfavorable conditions on the West Face of Arjuna, they redirected their attention to the South Face of Brammah II, where they climbed a new route and completed the third ascent of the summit.
In the past few years we were visiting the Kishtwar Himalaya in the fall. This year we decided to visit it in spring, mainly because we were expecting much better conditions for mixed-climbing. On May 29th, we put up our base camp on the West side of the glacier (4008 m). The first impression showed that surrounding peaks were covered with much more snow than they were last fall. For acclimatization objective, we decided to try P6013, which lies on the West side of the valley and offers a nice view on the West Face of Arjuna.
P6013 (6038 m); North Ridge, D (2.6.2017 – 4.6.2017), new route, 2nd ascent of the summit
A snow and ice climb – the ascent was via the glacier to the west of our base camp. We set up our first bivy on the glacier around 5000 meters and the second one at the end of the glacier around 5500 meters. From the second bivy we ascended a side peak of P6013, around 5700 meters – from where we could see the possible route to the summit of P6013. The next morning, we climbed to the plateau on the west side of P6013, at which point we traversed under the NW face towards the North ridge. In quite variable snow conditions on the North ridge we reached the summit of P6013 on June 4th. GPS device measured 6038 meters.
There was nice weather on the summit of P6013, so we could see our main objective from there – the West Face of Arjuna. We saw a line that was really standing out which started in a gully to the right of the main summit. We all agreed that this line deserved our full attention. Motivated and full of expectation for the days to come, we descended to base camp on the same day.
In variable weather on June 10th, we carried part of our gear and food to the glacier under the West face of Arjuna where we were planning to set up our advanced base camp. We returned to BC on the same day in a heavy snow-storm. On June 15th, we came back to ABC. The weather was nice, so we put up a tent and later in the day broke a trail to the base of our planned route. It started snowing again that evening. The next day we were planning to leave at 2am, but had to postpone the departure until 5am, when the fog cleared and the northern winds calmed down.
Arjuna (6250 m); All or nothing, ED+ (M7+, Wi5+, A0), 1400 m (16.6.2017 – 18.6.2017), new route, 2nd ascent of the summit, 1st in alpine style
Mixed climbing and steep ice – we found good snow and ice conditions in the lower part so we climbed most of this section un-roped. On the first day we did another 6 pitches of mixed terrain where we had problems with some occasional avalanches of wet snow. We set up our first bivy site under what we believed would be the crux part of the route. The next morning it took us an entire eight hours to do three hard mixed pitches. We climbed one more steep ice pitch, followed by seven other snow pitches. The second bivy was set up late in the night about three pitches under the summit ridge. We reached the main summit of Arjuna the next day around noon (GPS device measured 6250 m) and rappelled via the route of our ascent the same day. Beside the lower part of the face, where rappelling looked more like a canyoning, rappelling went fine and we reached the ABC around midnight that day.
On June 19th around noon we packed up our ABC and returned to base camp with heavy backpacks. Half an hour after our departure from ABC it started to rain and it didn’t stop for the next three days. On June 24th we were leaving our base camp in Kijaj Nullah valley with huge smiles on our faces; rarely do you get all the dots to connect – conditions, weather and personal feelings that fit in so precisely as they did for us this year. Truth to be told, this year we could easily leave this valley without climbing or even trying our main objective and we could walk out with our “heads held high”.
The Kishtwar region offers some interesting climbing objectives. The Kijaj Nullah valley is not an exception. This whole area has exceptional playground for the modern style of climbing as well as in rock as in mixed and snovy-icy terrain. Therefore, we believe the area may get a lot more visits from the climbers in the future. We could also say that this valley characterizes as an upgrade of a very popular Pakistani Charakusa valley (in the sense of terrain complexity).
(Marko): ‘’This year’s expedition to the valley beneath Arjuna was very intensive from the adventurous point of view. Urban and I knew the ascent to base camp and the area itself, which represented some kind of relief and pressure at the same time. We knew there is no consolation objective on the West face of Arjuna. It’s steep and high face is showing one characteristic mixed line from the base to the whole top. The biggest difference between my two other expeditions to this area was, that we came to base camp with really defined expectations, which were not in favor to our wanted casualness. We were forced to wait for the climbing appropriate time until the very last hour, because of the poor weather conditions. In thirty years of my expeditions I have never witnessed such an accurate utilization of time. All the years of experience may have contributed to our success, but right these experiences show me, that we won a jackpot in a fairly uncertain game.’’
(Aleš): ‘’Only when we were walking back from base camp among blooming flowers and herbs in perfect sunny weather, we slowly started to realize just how lucky and rewarded we were for our persistence. There were only six days of precipitation free weather during our stay in and above base camp. First two of those days we spent climbing on P6013, where we acclimatized really well for our further climbing goals. In the next three days of precipitation free weather window we managed to climb a hard new route on the West face of Arjuna. An additional precipitation free day was a day before our return to the valley. We were able to dry out all of our soaking wet gear and clothes before packing it for departure. They say that luck favors the brave. I don’t know how brave we were, but I can definitely say that we had luck, lots of it.’’