Ice Climbing in the Rolwaling Himal
by Nick Frazee
Overall our trip was fantastic, splitter weather most days, great temps, wonderful ice conditions, and the serenity and beauty of a nearly empty Himalayan valley. We spent 5 weeks climbing all that we could in an area that may take closer to 5 years to fully explore, and along with a first ascent of a 500’ flow, we topped out plenty of enormous, seldom climbed lines up to 1200’ in length. Every climb we got on was a classic by our standards here in Bozeman, but in my eyes, the true gem of the trip was an unfathomable formation we could see from where we stayed.
We had been staring at it for weeks, all the while talking about possible lines up it, what we might encounter, wondering if it would even go. 450’ of ice, equally strange, funky, and strait up ugly, it loomed across the river from our camp. Huge overhanging mushrooms stretched out horizontally, flanking steep ice up the lower section, a massive overhanging bulge riddled with mushrooms and jellyfish guarded the center,
and then there was the top, a massive black tube about 20 meters high rolled over the lip to more solid looking, easier ground. The funk down low we knew would be interesting, thoughtful climbing though manageable, but the black tube on top terrified us. We often speculated as to what was actually going on up there, would it be a thin window pane? Would it have open running water? Would it even support body weight? Could we sneak around it on the thin dry white ice on either side?
We decided to give it time. Perhaps with warmer or colder weather, the resulting changes in the formation, would give us a better idea as to what we were getting into. A few weeks passed, nothing changed, the black tube remained constant, unwilling to grow, unwilling to build up fat blue ice that we hoped would eventually form. Eventually, however, our curiosity got the best of us. We got sick of waiting and wondering, packed up and decided to go have a closer look.
Bud Martin approaches our first ascent.
Bud Martin following the first pitch of our first ascent
The “black tube” at the top of the funky flow
The funky flow from the approach
Bud Martin getting awkward in the mushrooms and jellyfish
Bud Martin leads towards the tube
The clear tube on top
With plenty of stops on the approach to eye up the route, and pick possible lines through the baffling features, we geared up and cautiously moved up the first pitch to a belay cave to where the really interesting climbing began. I moved out onto a steep, featureless curtain, topped by enormous mushrooms and jellyfish, awkwardly moved over, around, and between the large overhangs and set up a hanging belay in the only place I could, directly below the last pitch. I cowered beneath my pack sneaking peeks of Bud as ice rained down from the dry white features he was negotiating. By the time he made it to the black tube he was out of sight, he moved slowly, cautiously and all I could do was imagine what he was encountering up there, wondering if we would have to bail. Suddenly he began moving smoothly again, and as i paid out rope I realized he had made it work, he was topping it out. The ropes came tight and I headed up, when I
got to the tube I was shocked to find Bud’s path straight up it. We had expected to have to sneak around it on the thin white ice on the side but as i followed his delicate pick marks i realized what he had found 15 min before, the tube was absolutely bomber, almost two feet thick the whole way... but formed of crystal clear ice. I began to laugh, not believing what we were climbing, every crack and fracture from every tool
placement was perfectly visible. You could see each tooth of your pick and how it sat inside the ice, the water flowing and swirling on the backside, and even the rock beneath the flowing water. As I topped out still on perfectly clear ice, Bud stood with a smile on his face that said “I cant believe we got away with that.” We both began to hoot and holler, laughing and giggling like little girls the whole way down.