Saser Kangri II—The Full Story
Last week we posted some snippets from Steve Swenson’s blog posts on the first ascent of Saser Kangri II. The team consisted of Swenson (the current AAC President), past club President Mark Richey, and renowned alpine climber Freddie Wilkinson. Mark recently provided the AAC a full write-up, complete with pictures! The team, which also included Emilie Drinkwater, Kirstin Kramer, and Janet Bergman, managed to complete four other first ascents during their stay on the South Shupka Kunchang glacier, a region previously unexplored by climbers. The full report from Mr. Richey is downloadable below, the following is a summary of that report.
After arriving in early July, the team, with the help of many Indian Sherpas and climbers, took some time to establish their base camp. Shortly thereafter, they moved onto the glacier and established an advanced base camp. From here, the first ascents began in earnest. On July 31, Richey, Swenson, and Wilkinson topped out Tsok Kangri, a 6,585 meter peak. Four days later, Drinkwater and Kremer knocked off Pumo Kangri (6,250 meters). The next day, Bergman and Wilkinson completed an 8 pitch, 5.9+ on Saser Ling (6,100 meters). And finally, the whole team minus Swenson (who was striving to get healthy for the push on SKII), summited Stegasaurus (6,660 meters). But all of these climbs, each proud first ascents in their own right, were leading toward the main goal: Saser Kangri II, which at 7,518 meters was the second highest unclimbed mountain in the world.
The four-day ascent of SKII began on August 21, after Swenson had regained his strength. Day one brought them to Camp 1, dubbed “The Launchpad.” After this point (6,000m), no ledges sizeable enough for the tent were available, so for the subsequent two camps, “Ice Hammocks” were employed to shore up ice and snow, thereby creating a platform barely big enough for their tent. Camp 2 was established on the ramp system right of the Great Couloir at 6,700 meters and Camp 3 was just below the summit, at 7,000 meters. Their 1,700 meter route, named “The Old Breed,” brought difficulties up to WI4 and M3. By August 25, they were back at advanced base camp. Says Wilkinson: “Saser Kangri II is a real hidden jewel of the Himalaya. There aren’t many unclimbed 7,000 meter plus peaks left anymore, and to SKII’s first ascent, climbing unsupported in alpine-style, is a once-in-a-career opportunity.”
Unfortunately, after the successful summit bid and descent, Swenson’s minor sinus infection, which had hampered his climbing earlier in the month, suddenly worsened into a life-threatening situation. His condition steadily worsened, and once his airway began to be routinely blocked by “large, glue-like clumps of phlegm,” a rescue was called initiated with Global Rescue, the American Alpine Club’s rescue service. Late in the day, a helicopter made it the glacier and Swenson was evacuated to a hospital in Leh where he recovered quickly with the help of heavy antibiotics and bed rest. Luckily many parties, including the AAC and Global Rescue, were able to quickly act and avoid a potentially deadly situation.
The entire team reconnected a few days later, and after some recuperation time, flew back home to the States. Congratulations to all the members of this highly successful expedition!
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