Gimmigela EastFrom The Field
Written by Alex Roddie // Photography: The North Face
On the 10th of November 2016, The North Face athletes Hansjörg Auer and Alex Blümell climbed the North Face of Gimmigela East (7,005m) from Nepal – the first team ever to do so, and the third known ascent of the mountain. Sidetracked got in touch with the climbers to find out a bit more about their ascent.
Tell us about your recent ascent of Gimmigela East’s North Face. What attracted you to this project, and how much research were you able to do beforehand?
Gimmigela East lies in the most remote region of the Himalayas, on the border between Nepal and India. It’s a sub peak of Gimmigela Chuli (7,350m) and also known as ‘Gimmigela’s Sister’.
After five days of trekking through the jungle along the Tamar River, and then following the plateaus of the Ghunsa Valley, we placed our base camp a little higher than the classic Pang Pema Base Camp.
What attracted me the most was the purity of the steep North Face, 1,200m high, and the mountain itself – plus the fact that nobody had attempted the mountain from the Nepalese side. I like projects off the beaten track with many open questions before going there.
How difficult was the climbing on the North Face? Were there any moments when a successful ascent was in doubt?
Not much research was possible, as very little was known about the Nepalese side of the mountain. Nobody had ever been there so there was no chance of reading notes from previous expeditions. We had to learn as we climbed. Before starting the expedition, we only had some pictures of the face, and what we’d been able to find out by looking at Google Earth.
We acclimatised for a few days on Dhromo’s South Ridge, spending three nights at 5,900m, then started to climb the North Face on the 8th of November. The monsoon had been wet, with high precipitation, so we found perfect climbing conditions on the face – plastered in snow and ice, with far less exposed rock than usual. However, there was a strong wind combined with low temperatures, which made things more challenging.
We reached the summit at 7.30am on the 10th of November: a cold, windy but clear morning, allowing us to see far into the great mountain range of Sikkim and to the unexplored East Face of Kangchenjunga. It was one of those expeditions where it all came together perfectly. A great project, an even greater friendship, a fast-and-light alpine-style first ascent, and a king line on a 7,000m peak in one of the most remote places in the Himalayas.
What equipment and skills do you rely on to cope with an exposed summit bivy on an alpine-style climb?
Our biggest problem on this climb was the lack of bivy spots. To avoid being forced to bivy in a bad location, we had to be fast and climb efficiently. In the end we had one bivouac on the face, and another on the final summit ridge – a tiny spot totally exposed to the strong winds.
To cope with a bivouac like this you need, first of all, the ability to suffer! The equipment has to be as light as possible – so there is always some compromise. A bivy on a high mountain is never like being in a Wellness Oasis, but to make it survivable you need a lightweight tent, down sleeping bag and insulated clothing, and a good mattress to prevent heat from escaping into the snow beneath you.
Can you tell us anything about your next project?
Actually I’m in Morocco right now, where I finished a nice 7c multipitch first ascent today. I have some smaller winter-climbing projects in the Alps in mind for the next few weeks, and I will definitely be back for another try on Annapurna III (7,555m) South-East Ridge this coming fall. Alaska is calling for spring or summer, and maybe another free-solo project in the Dolomites.