This spring, based at camp from May 8-22, three Brits and one American climbed two notable first ascents in the western Sikkim region of India, both in alpine style. First they climbed the virgin west face of Lama Lamani North (5650m), likely the peak’s second overall ascent. Then they made the first ascent of an unknown peak before attempting nearby Jopuno (5936m).
British climbers Geoff Cohen, Steve Kennedy and Bob Hamilton, along with American Paul Swienton, found solid snow with occasional rock moves and belays on the west face of Lama Lamani North. Twice over the course of the climb–once near the base and once near the summit–the team split into two parties, with Kennedy and Hamilton climbing slightly more technical mixed terrain “just for the fun of it,” Cohen said in an email.
Reunited at the top, the four descended via the northwest face–the mountain’s first ascent route taken in 2005–which required a mixture of downclimbing and rappelling.
The unnamed peak they climbed is located near a col formed by Lama Lamani and Jopuno. The latter peak was the expedition’s original objective, but unsuitable approach conditions deferred their interest to Lama Lamani North.
Despite the large number of trekkers who come to the region, there is still potential for first ascents there, said Roger Payne, who along with Julie-Ann Clyma, Kunzang Bhutia and Sagar Rai made Lama Lamani North’s first ascent in 2005. Payne, who has traveled to the region three times, believes that the south summits of Lama Lamani and Jopuno remain unclimbed.
In 2008, Americans Jason Halladay and Josh Smith climbed the West Ridge of Jopuno at AD+, negotiating rotten black shale and a difficult final snow slope to what they believed was the summit. After examining photos and route topos, Halladay, Smith and Payne determined that the team reached one of two high points on the ridge, though it remains unknown which is the true summit of the mountain. A 2001 climb, undertaken by Bhutia and Rai, may also have reached that same west summit.
It is clear that western Sikkim contains a wealth of unclimbed lines, including Jopuno’s south ridge. “There is great potential for alpine-style first ascents to be made on many other peaks of around 5500m at grades of PD to D, and harder on some of the rock walls,” Payne said.
Payne noted the opening of several Sikkim peaks to climbers in a September 7, 2008 Readers’ Blog.