The band is back together... Some 30 years after their last joint climb, legendary British mountaineering duo Mick Fowler and Victor Saunders have combined to make a first ascent of a hard new route in the Indian Himalaya.
The pair reached the previously unclimbed summit of Sersank (circa 6,050m) at 12:30pm on 3 October, by the unclimbed 1,100m north face of the mountain. The expedition was supported by Berghaus and was the first time that the two men have climbed as a team since their acclaimed first ascent of the Golden Pillar of Spantik (Pakistan) in 1987.
Fowler and Saunders left the UK in mid-September and flew to Delhi. From there, they had a three day drive to the road-head, followed by a two-day walk-in to establish base camp. After acclimatisation, the climb itself took five days, during an eight day round trip from base camp.
To put things in perspective, until this expedition, the highest point climbed on Sersank was by a Japanese team with fixed ropes and high altitude porters in 2008, who reached the base of the summit buttress from the west side.
It's all very much in keeping with Fowler's personal philosophy of fitting his high-level, lightweight, mountaineering trips around his family life and long-standing career as a high-ranking In land Revenue professional. Saunders, meanwhile, works as a professional mountain guide.
Sersank, The Climb: Mick Fowler describe how things played out
“We decided that the easiest access would be to trek across the difficult and rarely used 5,000m pass of the Sersank La and descend the far side to the foot of the face. Fresh powder covering the rocks made this exhausting but after overcoming the usual array of Himalayan hurdles (including an unfortunate mix-up of pee and drinking bottles!) we set off up the face on 28 September.
'Heavy snowfall on dry cold rock made for challenging conditions. For two days we swept away snow and inched up the disturbingly blank rock below'
“Heavy snowfall on dry cold rock made for challenging conditions. For two days we swept away snow and inched up the disturbingly blank rock below. By the end of the second day a lower buttress and sharp crest had been overcome and we were firmly established on the cold confines of the north face proper.
"Here the conditions were better but it became clear that Victor's body was unable to process our dehydrated food, but such minor problems are nothing to a man of Victor's stature.
“Day four was the crux day - fantastic white ice climbing with several pitches just within our limits. Even with numerous unplanned halts, superlatives abounded as we ended the day lying on separate small ledges cut in the ice.
"Actually, Victor appeared to be more suspended in a web of rope than supported by a ledge, but such inconveniences are minor in the grand scheme of a Himalayan experience."
“At 6.30pm on our fifth day on the face it fell to me to aid and cut through the cornice to emerge onto the south side. After another cold bivouac on narrow ice ledges, the previously unclimbed 150m summit block was dispatched and it was time to head down the complex glacier systems of the south and west face.
"Two days later we had abseiled through a never-ending icefall, stumbled down disturbingly steep loose rock and met with our cook and liaison officer, who brought us tea and biscuits."
“The climb ticked just about all of the boxes for us - interesting area, great company, unclimbed face, unclimbed summit, a striking line that was visible from afar and led straight to the summit, a challenging climb, and one with an aesthetically pleasing and different descent route. And it all gave us old men so much pleasure that we are already thinking about plans for next year."
Testing, Testing, Testing...
During their expedition to Sersank, Mick Fowler and Vic Saunders were equipped with the latest products from Berghaus’ all new Extrem range that is available now, along with prototypes for 2017 that have been developed by the MtnHaus® innovation team. A full account of the trip, along with photos, will be posted on www.berghaus.com in the near future.