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Nine friends climb the Friendship summit at 5289 m

In the last three years I was lucky enough to eather take part in or organize  mountain expeditions in the Indian Himalayas. Mostly there were traditional expeditions with load horses, kitchen team, loadferry and acclimatization days. Sometimes we climbed the summit in alpine style as a team of three or four and quickly reached our destination, whereby we carried everything (food and equipment) ourselves and were usually already well adapted to the altitude in advance.

Sometimes the peaks required climbing with equipment such as crampons, rope and ice pickle. Steep walls out of snow and ice had to be climbed here. Mountaineering experience was necessary. Other peaks, on the other hand, were walkable trekking peaks and without great technical requirements, although a trek at an altitude of 6000 meters you can’t call easy!

The 5289-metre-high Friendship summit at the end of the Kullu Valley in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh is neither particularly high nor does it require lot of technical knowledge of the climbers and is therefore perfect for a first experiences in mountaineering. Especially because it can be reached from the starting point Manali in just a few days of trekking and climbing, it is a popular peak.

Since the Friendship peak is located in the monsoon catchment area, an ascent is possible either in the pre-monsoon season in June, when a lot of snow still covers the summit and the compact snow cover makes an ascent relatively easy, or just in the post-monun period in September and October.

This time, six German students were to take the expedition at the beginning of September. it was a mixed group with different fitness and experience levels in the high mountain world.

The three girls and three boys between the ages of 19 and 25 took part in a multi-week trip to India and also wanted to experience the mountains of the Indian Himalayan region.

While the boys had great ambition and saw the Friendship summit as the starting point of their mountaineering career, the girls were still a little uncertain and somewhat intimidated by the physical and mental demands that would probably come to them during the seven-day expedition.

With the option to only take part in the trek to the summit camp and then to decide on the spot if they would dare to climb  the summit, we started on August 30th 2017 with the week-long expedition.

In advance, we spent four days in Manali, where we not only slowly adapted to the  altitude between 2000 and 3000 meters with smaller and larger hikes, but also tried out the technical equipment and spent the days with climbing, good Indian food and getting to know each other.

In addition to the six participants, the two mountain guides Ajay and Pinku, as well as a three-man cooking team, two horsemen with their seven load horses and I were also there as an accompaniment.

Day 1 Manali (2000 m)- Bakkartach (3200 m)

First we drove for almost an hour from Manali towards Solang Valley and further into the side valley to Dundi at 2700 meters. While the road continues to the future Rothang Tunnel, we were told to get out of the bus, distributed packed lunches, put the backpacks on the backs, sticks in our hands and off we went.

But we didn’t have time to get into a walking rythmn. After about 5 minutes of walking we quickly realized that the Beas River has risen to a raging river due to the heavy monsoon rain! There was no way to cross the river dry and so all shoes were taken of and pants rolled up. Ajay found a relatively wide and therefore not quite  deep point to cross the river. Alternately, boys and girls clung to each others backpacks and we formed a human chain.

While I feel very safe on snow and ice and do not fear any steep ascent or descent, river crossings are a great personal challenge for me. Whenever I look at running water I get dizzy, on wet stones I slipp and the violent force of the strong current almost tears me over, including my heavy luggage.

But in front of my guests I proved strength and hung on to the end of the chain between Flo and Pinku. Our  instructions were to take small side steps and not to look down into the water, but forward.  And then we started!

Very, very slowly we went through the violent current and the ice-cold water. But we were so focused on finding a safe stand on the uneven ground with the big stones below our feet, that we hardly noticed the ice cold water. The water actually reached up to the hips and Ajay led us very slowly but safely through the wet monster.

Very relieved and full of adrenaline, we climbed out of the Beas River one by one: What a start of the expedition!

The following river crossings now seemed harmless by comparison, the ascent was steady, but never steep. Unfortunately, a steady rain set in, which lasted almost until the first camp was reached. The  stage was marked by greenery, colourful flower meadows and the Beas River on the right side.

In the coming sun we built our tents, dried our rain gear and enjoyed the warm chai with biscuits.

While the boys were still on a little acclimatization walk, Miriam and I painted a little in front of the dining tent, while Franzi and Lena took a little nap.

Now we also got to know our lively and talkative horseman, who introduced himself to us as “Chachu”, i.e. uncle.

The evening ended with an extensive and convivial dinner. Everyone was in the best mood and we were looking forward to the next day.

Day 2 Bakkartach- Lady Leg (3900 meters)

The day started with a sunny breakfast, then we set off on the short but crisp climb. For only about 2 hours a steep path led us to the next camp. Not a long day of terkking, but the height of 3900 meters forced us to build the next camp here. We reached the camp just in time, because already the next dark clouds brought a heavy shower. But our tents were all set up, so we instructed Ajay and Pinku in our German card games, sipping peas from their pods while drinking chai in our rain proof dining tent.

Unfortunately Felix didn’t feel well at all. Severe headaches and dizziness forced him to stay in the tent. We all feared that he was showing symptoms of altitude sickness.

After a delicious vegetable rice for lunch, we distributed the climbing equioment.

Then we went on a two-hour hike further up – with snowshoes and crampons, a first exercise with the equipment. In fact, the sky cleared up, and in the last daylight, the snow-covered top of our Friendship Peak lit up, as well as the top of the opposite side located 5932-metre-high Hanuman Tibba, the highest mountain in the Dhauladhar mountain range.

Day 3 Rest day

We woke up and were in the middle of a cloud! Persistent rain and Felix’s poor health forced us to rest in the camp. A late breakfast and a subsequent hike with our horseman to the summit camp and back again determined the day. Ajay climbed even higher in the increasingly heavy rain to explore the ice and snow conditions of the glacier towards the summit.

We all got pretty wet and the ensuing hot noodle soup was good for all of us. We spent a lot of time in the warm kitchen tent and were all happy when Felix came to us for dinner. He was a little better and we all hoped that we could go to the summit camp together tomorrow!

His severe diarrhea spoke more in favour of a nasty food poisoning! Where had he gotten it? The rest of us were all fine! The additional difficulties of a trip to India- Unfortunately!

Day 4 Lady Leg – Summit Day (4300 m)

The sun was shining, Felix was still weak, but he was much better off, so we packed our belongings and went to the summit camp on another two hours trek . Felix also made it to the top! This time we weren’t quite as good with the timing and had to build our tents in the heaviest rain! Puuhhh.

In the kitchen tent we tried  to dry the clothes and ourselves. That they would later smell of kerosene and food, we didn’t care about!

In fact, we all gathered in the warm kitchen tent, drank warm tea and waited for lunch. Outside, a blizzard raged.

Ajay and Pinku were merciless and actually forced us outside again, as weather cleared up!

Training in the snow was the order of the day! We couldn’t believe they were actually going through the plan. We all had little desire to get wet again. But we let ourselves be carried away by their enthusiasm, got into our shoes and climbing harnesses and found ourselves a little later on a nearby snowfield.

Ajay did his job well and did a great workout with us! Suddenly our mood brightened and we had really fun to practice the different gears and the handling of the equipment up and down through the snow. Especially the self arest during the slide we practiced diligently and dug our ice pick deep into the snow during the intentional falls to secure ourselves and the other participants in the rope team..

It started to dawn and the first stars flashed out as we returned to the camp with healthy skin color and full of drive, but also a little exhausted, looking forward to the hot soup and dinner.

Day 5 Traning Day in the Ice

The night was icy and since I had set up my tent in a hurry, I lay in an uncomfortable position. Nevertheless, I slept and Woke up at about 3 o’clock in the night with a full bubble. When I looked into the starry sky, I had a lot of respect for the next night, when we would be on our way to the summit around this time!

After training in the snow, a training session on the glacier ice was scheduled for today. The weather seemed to play along and we climbed up to an ice wall where the training continued. Felix was much better now and we were all happy that we were complete and healthy again as a team.

The training in the ice was similarly good and helpful. Today we also learned how to climb with the Jumar and did  abseiling, in case Ajay has to attach a rope on tomorrow’s ascent to the summit, because the way to the summit will lead us over thick glacial ice with many crevasses.

Today we had an early dinner, prepared our backpacks and quickly crawled into our sleeping bags, because already at 2 o’clock at night we wanted to make the long ascent to the summit!

Day 6 Summit day to Friendship summit 5932 m

I slept very badly, was a bit nervous and I was cold. I was relieved to hear the kitchen team at 1 am and slowly got ready for the summit day.

A bowl of muesli, lots of hot water and then we started. Our headlamps first led us over rubble and through the glittering snow. First for an hour to the ice training area. Here we strapped on our crampons, gaiters and straps.

In fact, it took us almost 45 minutes. But in the end it we all made it. Franzi led us up the relatively flat ice field at a calm but steady pace behind the guides. Lena enjoyed this “snow walk”. Again and again we bypassed smaller crevasses, drank a sip, took a break. The bright moon disappeared at some point – now we only had the light of our lamps. After 1 1/2 hours we reached the Col, a small pass at the crest of the mountain. We were in time. It was 5:45 am and the sun slowly rose over the white mountain horizon. We had a wonderful view ofthe other side of the valley with a play of colours in the aqurell tones blue, pink and orange. We switched off our lamps and enjoyed the Panorma for a few minutes.

Here was the last possible reversal point back to the camp. Those who would climb further up the Col would have to endure until the summit, or the whole team would be forced to descend.

We were at 4800 meters. The air was thin and it was still almost 500 meters of altitude to cope with.

In fact, despite exhaustion and cold, everyone chose ascension.

We had two rope teams now: a group of five that Ajay led and a group of four with Pinku and me.

First we went over a very rocky section with a lot of loose debris. No easy ascent with crampons and attached on the rope!

But after about half an hour we had mastered the difficult passage, a short walk over a snowfield and the next difficulty arose: a cluster of open crevasses.

Ajay climbed up, found a way over the cravace and fixed a rope over a rock, where we would pull ourselves up one after the other. The whole thing lasted over an hour and being on the glacier for so longand not yet in the glow of the sun we got quite cold!

The Hanuman Tibba shone all the more beautifully in the sunlight and we got a little nervous as we watched our front men torment the rock face on the rope! It was incredibly exhausting to develop enough arm strength at this height. But we also mastered this difficulty and were all above the obstacle. It quickly went on. Now with sunglasses to protect us from the reflective sun.

It got steeper with more and more fresh snow. A few steps, then a little pause. Shortly before the summit we took a longer breather, ate e a bar, drank a sip of water.

Now it was only half an hour to the summit. The well-known clouds of the previous days slowly rose, diving us and the summit again and again in fog, but then, finally: We had made it and stood on top of the beautiful summit of the 5289 m high Friendship. In fact, it even cleared up a bit and we could look down on the villages in the Lahaul Valley and the glacier mountains behind us!

I brought out a colorful Buddhist prayer flag, which we solemnly attached to the summit. Lots of photos, some tears, joyful faces! After almost eight hours of ascent we had made it; at 9:45 am we were at the top.

But a summit ascent also includes a descent and it is just as slow and no less tedious and requires high concentration. The soft snow repeatedly stuck to the crampons and led to one or the other fall and not a few “self-arrest” inserts, in which the team anchored themselves with their ice picks in the snow. How good that we had practiced the backup so extensively. But the descent lasted.

We made the steep passage, sifted over the rock, mastered the loose rubble and finally reached the Col. We were tired, exhausted! Some had headaches, which is not uncharacteristic during the descent. We all just wanted to go to the camp. Finally we were able to detach ourselves from the rope  and followed the tracks down on our own. First down to the training area and then without crampons down to the camp. By 3 pm, everyone was safely down again. Happy, but tired!

Something to eat and then just off to the tent.

Day 7 Return to Manali

The next morning I still felt like I was being wheeled, but after the hearty breakfast I felt a little better and strengthened for the return. In fact, it only took us four hours to get back.

It was nice to be able to experience the whole route again – the camps where we had stayed, the spots where we had paused, the streams that had to be crossed again. We enjoyed the fresh greenery and the scent of flowers, and wood. The blight was that in the last few days a small wooden bridge was actually built over the Beas River! What a relief and good end for this eventful expedition.

We finished the evening with a small party in a restaurant with pizza, curry, tandoori chicken and ice cream!

Thanksto the whole team for this succesful expedition. Without our great kitchen team and our two guides, this tour would not have been possible. And hat off to the young students. Rarely have I experienced so much team spirit, togetherness and support  during a mountain tour. The fact that all the participants were able to stand at the summit was above all a joint achievement of the group! And even though this group knew each other for only a few days, it can be said that  nine friends reached the Friendship Summit together.