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Home » Climbing Notes » SAF MINAL, NORTHWEST FACE


Ian Parnell on the first ascent of the northwest face of Saf Minal, Garhwal Himalaya, India. Parnell and partner John Varco climbed the 1700-meter route in seven days roundtrip, including a thirty-six hour period in their tent in a storm. [Photo] John Varco

In October, John Varco (US) and I made the first ascent of the northwest face of Saf Minal (6911m). Unlike its sister peaks, Kalanka and Changabang, with their 1700-meter, near-vertical faces of immaculate granite, Saf Minal’s two-kilometer sweep of black shale and loose mixed climbing offers a darker challenge.

We acclimatized on a small foothill to 5500 meters, then set about our ascent, taking the most striking line on the face in pure alpine style with no reconnaissance, fixed ropes or camps. We started up a distinct ridge. Sustained mixed climbing on dubious rock and snow-covered slabs led to a system of ice couloirs in the upper part of the face. Following three days of reasonable weather, conditions deteriorated, trapping us in our tent. After thirty-six hours of cramped torment, we opted to climb in the continuing storm. We reached the west ridge in the dark, only 200 meters below the summit. To our surprise, the following morning, October 5, brought perfect weather for our summit push, with cloudless views into China and the secretive Nanda Devi Sanctuary.

Poor rock and the traversing nature of the line took its toll on the descent. We staggered into base camp after two days of abseiling and tricky down climbing, out of food, with a cut rope, one nut and a couple of cams remaining on the rack. I lost more than twenty-five pounds on the climb–probably the most expensive but rewarding diet plan I’ve ever followed.

— Ian Parnell, Sheffield, England