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French Climb Three New Peaks in the Hindu Raj

The south face of Chotar Zom (GPS 6058m) above the Chaintar Goh glacier at the head of the Das Bar Valley in the Hindu Raj, Pakistan. Didier Rognon and Florian Tolle climbed the ca. 1200-meter southeast spur (D: 5.4 70 degrees) as marked. Also on the French expedition were Eric Lantz and Arnaud Simard. Lantz and Rognon named a new 5200-meter peak Nashran after ascending its northeast ridge (70 degrees, 800m) and named a 4400-meter peak Pois Chish after climbing Lady Chatterley (5.10, 19 pitches, 700m), a new face route. [Photo] Courtesy of Lindsay Griffin

During the summer a young French team made a relatively rare visit to the central Hindu Raj in Pakistan, coming away with three new peaks. The Hindu Raj is the extensive chain of sub 7000-meter summits that roughly parallels the Hindu Kush and lies between it and the Western Karakoram. To the north is situated the, nowadays, very rarely visited eastern Hindu Kush, while to the south the drainage flows into the areas known as Swat and Kohistan. For a long time the more easily visible Buni Zom (6551m: see the December 14, 2007 NewsWire) at the western end of the range was considered the highest summit; it was not until the 1960s that the shapely Koyo Zom, hidden in the center, was found to be preeminent at 6889m. It was climbed by Austrians in 1968.

In was to the area immediately south of Koyo Zom that the French–Eric Lantz, Didier Rognon, Arnaud Simard and Florian Tolle–headed, first driving via Yasin to the village of Draskin in the Thui Gol and then trekking north up the Das Bar valley. With them was local guide Nowshad and two cooks, Kamran and Nabi. Base camp was established at 3600m on a flat, grassy meadow to the northwest of the impressive massif of Ghamobar Zom, a collection of four main summits, each over 6400m, the highest at 6518m (climbed by Italians in 1973). This group also is referred to as Dhuli Chish. Further north the main trail turns east around the northern side of Dhuli Chish and crosses the Ghamobar Pass to Darkot. However the northern head of the valley holds the Chaintar Goh glacier, flowing down from watershed peaks such as Dasbar Zom and Chaintar Chish, immediately south of the great Koyo Zom and the high plateau of the Chatiboi Glacier.

For three weeks the French explored the area and ascended three peaks, all probably virgin prior to their visit. Lantz and Rognon reached the summit of a 5200-meter peak above the main valley via the northeast ridge. The pair climbed mainly in an ice couloir with sections of 70 degrees, reaching the summit after 800 meters of ascent. The peak was named Nashran, a mix of all three names of their Pakistan helpers. Lantz and Rognon also reached the summit of a small rock peak of 4400m via a 700m face route of nineteen pitches up to 5.10. They called the peak Pois Chish and the route Lady Chatterley. But the main achievement was their first 6000m summit, climbed by Rognon and Tolle, and named Chotar Zom.

Lantz, Rognon and Tolle moved up the Chaintar Goh to a bivouac at 4800m. That night the first two suffered some acclimatization problems and the following day Lantz returned to base camp while Rognon and Tolle battled up to 5200m before realizing they were moving too slowly. They returned to the bivouac and set off at 2 a.m. the following morning, climbing the southeast spur of one of the smaller summits on the watershed ridge at the northern head of the valley. They climbed two successive couloirs through loose rock bands, with ice to 70 degrees and mixed rock at 5.4. This led to the upper snow slopes and a long tiring plod to the top, which they reached at 4.30 p.m. To the north rose Koyo Zom, and the upper plateau of the Chatiboi Glacier was not far below. As their summit was surrounded by higher peaks they named it Chotar Zom, which means “small mountain.” A GPS reading gave 6058m, and the ascent route was thought to be Alpine D. At the time of writing it is not clear on the exact location of this peak with reference to Dasbar Zom (6072m) and Chaintar Chish (6273m), both climbed in 1968 by an Austrian expedition led by Helmut Linzbichler. (A little later these two peaks were climbed again by a second Austrian expedition under Albert Stamm. This team also made the first ascent of Koyo Zom.)

Much of the descent took place during the night with the two French climbers eventually regaining their bivouac at 11 p.m., having been on the go for twenty-two hours. The next day they rose late and were just nibbling their remaining food, when who should appear over the horizon than their Pakistani friends, complete with a bag of goodies and a thermos flask of hot drink. A fitting end to a great outing.