Why Climb a Trekking Peak?
Mountaineering in Nepal is neither open nor free. Of its countless summits, only 104 peaks are on the per¬mitted expedition list for which a large fee, increasing with the peak´s altitude, has to be paid. Fortunately, in 1978, under the control of the then newly formed Nepal Mountaineering As¬sociation (NMA), 18 mountains between 5,587 and 6,654 meters were opened to foreign cumbers without the financially restricting and administratively onerous regulation governing the "ex¬pedition peaks." This newly created list formed the so-called "trekking peaks," a term carrying the misleading implica¬tion that the peaks are a walk up and in some way similar to the well known trekkers´ ridge-top viewing-points of Kala Patthar, Gokyo Ri and Poon Hill. They are not; all are worthy moun¬taineering objectives involving a varying degree of technical expertise. Found throughout the Nepal Himal, with some notable exceptions (namely the Kanjiroba, Dhaulagiri, Makalu and Kangchenjunga regions), the list in¬cludes the following mountains grouped under then- administrative zone or geographical area:
Manang Himal: Chulu West -6419m; Chulu East – 6584m; Pisang -6091m. Annapurna Himal: Mardi Himal – 5587m; Hiunchuli – 6441m: Tharpu Chuli – 5663m (Tent Peak); Singu Chuli – 6504m (Fluted Peak). Ganesh Himal: Paldor – 5896m. Langtang Himal: Naya Kanga – 5844m (Ganja La Chuli). Rolwaling Himal: Ramdung – 5925m; Parchamo – 6187m. Khumbu Himal: Kusum Kanguru -6367m; Kwangde – 6011m; Lobuje East – 6119m; Kongma Tse – 5849m (Mehra Peak); Pokalde – 5806m; Imja Tse – 6183m (Island Peak); Mera -6654m.
It is possible to trek and climb in these areas with little more formality and cost than that of obtaining a "trekking peak permit," in the style similar to that enjoyed by Eric Shipton when in 1951, after exploring the Rolwaling, he wrote in The Times, "This form of mountaineering, the exploration of unknown peaks, glaciers and valleys, the finding and crossing of new passes to connect one area with another, is the most fascinating occupation I know. The variety of experience, the constandy changing scene, the gradual unfolding of the geography of the range are deeply satisfying, for they yield a very real understanding, almost a sense of personal possession, of the country explored."
What they also provide, yet to be fully realised, is the potential for end¬less exploration of new routes at al¬titudes allowing technical climbing more akin to alpinism than traditional Himalayan ascents. Whereas they were first climbed by the leading mountaineers of their day, they have, apart from a few notable exceptions, been neglected by today´s elite, so that the reality of the trekking peaks is that the majority of the ascents are of the standard route by "mail order moun¬taineers." The NMA records show that the majority of the peaks do not receive an annual ascent.
Take, for example, the Khumbu; where there is the greatest concentra¬tion of peaks and climbers. More than 90 percent of the permits granted are for Island Peak, for which two recorded routes exist. AH the NMA records show that the ascents of the original route were made via the South East Face and the North Ridge; yet its West Face is a stunning sweep of ice and snow. A day´s hike away, Kongma Tse and Pokalde rise on either side of Kongma La, perfectly placed for mul¬tiple ascents on rock and ice of ridge or face. How long win they have to wait?
WHAT´S IN A NAME?
Elsewhere in Nepal, there has been even less activity on the trekking peaks. In the Annapurna Range, Mardi Himal remains neglected and almost unnoticed beneath the omnipotent spire of Machapuchare. Across the river, standing as a bastion at the gateway of the Annapurna Sanctuary, is Hiunchuli. This complex peak has all but been neglected. Within the Sanctuary, Tharpu Chuli is popular with trekking agencies, but again it is rarely climbed, other than from its North West Ridge. On the other hand, its nearest neighbour, Singu Chuli (Fluted Peak), a much finer mountain, is sadly neglected.
Further north, in the rain-shadow of the Annapurnas, the Manang Himal contains a complicated plexus of mountains, the Chulu group, that have taken a lot of sorting out. The NMA recognises two Chulu Peaks, East and West. The available trekking map just about does the same. In reality, there are numerous peaks of which four main summits are readily defined. Of these, Chulu Far East, usually referred to as Chulu East by ill-informed trek-king agencies, is the one being climbed. What remains is a plethora of possibilities, of which the South Faces of Chulu West and Central are the most obvious.
Undoubtedly held back by a lack of reliable and available information, most parties first visiting the Himalaya have opted for the known rather than the adventurous, preferring the pos-sibility of success to the probability of failure (the latter being the cold reality of Himalayan statistics).
Also without doubt one of the major barriers to realising the full potential has been the term "trekking peaks," which conjures up a long, boring slog, if not up scree then up the next worst thing, sloppy snow. Easy treks they certainly are not. There was a move afoot to rename them "alpine peaks" but this is equally inappropriate as they are certainly not alpine. Per¬haps "lesser Himalayan peaks" is more descriptive, but equally likely to be un¬acceptable to the climber who might find the epithet "lesser" off-putting.