Between the Trisuli and the Sun Kosi, north of Kathmandu, lies a cluster of peaks which has been divided into two himals, Lang tang and Jugal. These two ranges actually share a common ridge: unlike other himals of Nepal, which are characteristically separated by rivers, no river cuts through these two ranges. So it seems quite difficult to justify their division into two separate ranges, and yet they have always been presented as such.
Even with the division, some authorities like to include Shisha Pangma and Phola Gangchen, which jut out north into Tibet from the main ridge of Langtang Himal, in the Jugal. Others maintain that Jugal is the half-arc that starts in the west from Tilman’s Pass, and culminates in the easterly peak of Phurbi Chyachu (6637m). Perhaps this last grouping is more comet. All the glaciers descending from the southern spurs of this half-arc empty into one river, the Balephi Khola, and this certainly adds weight to the suggestion.
Jugal Himal is the range that is closest to Kathmandu Valley, and its peaks are seen clearly and conspicuously from Patan, and even more so from Bhaktapur. But nobody, Nepali or expatriate, feels attached to this impressive collection of assorted mountains. While climbers are probably disinterested because Jugal provides no sponsorship-grabbing ‘eight thousanders’, the reason for the apathy of Nepalis — and especially the Valley dwellers— to Jugal is unclear. Since ancient times, the Newar traders of Kathmandu have been travelling astride this range on their way to Lhasa and back, but they do not even have a name for Jugal, let alone for the individual peaks in this range.
Jugal derives its name, meaning “The Twins” in Nepali, from the prominent twin peaks of Dorje Lakpa. Dorje Lakpa I (6989m), the higher of the twins, is an almost perfect pyramid, and Dorje Lakpa II (6517m), which stands south of the main ridge of Jugal, is a fierce ice-hung tooth. From Dorje Lakpa’s southwest side descends the Lingshing Glacier, and from its eastern side, the Doric Lakpa Glacier. Both are about seven kilometres long.
Interesting parallax can be observed in the position of the two peaks of Dorje Lakpa. From Kathmandu, the higher of the two peaks appears to the left of the smaller peak. But flying east of Kathmandu at low altitude, the two peaks are seen to switch their positions, so that the smaller peak is now seen on the left of its larger twin.
Although the twins of Dorje Lakpa are the most prominent peaks in Jugal, the highest mountain in this range is Loengpo Gang (7083m), also called the Big White Peak. This is one peak that deserves its English name. It has a long saddle-ridge that culminates in two end-summits as seen from the Dorje Lakpa Glacier, but from Kathmandu much of this peak is perfectly blocked from view by Dorje Lakpa. This mass of white mountain emerges dramatically from behind Dorje Lakpa when Kathmandu mountain watchers go up to, say, the Kakani lookout.
The other peaks in Jugal Himal are Bhairab Takura (Madiya Peak, 6799m), Gyaltzen Peak (6151m) and Gumba Chuli (Ladies Peak, 6256m). Although these and the main peaks of Jugal are relatively smaller than the others himals of Nepal, mountaineers who have attempted the peaks know that there are sheer rock faces and much steep ice-climbing in these peaks.
Although the other ranges near Jugal were extensively explored by the veteran Himalayan climber Bill Tillman in 1949, the first expedition to Jug al itself was by a Scottish women’s expedition in 1955. This was also the first women’s expedition in Nepal. The team of Monica Jackson, Betty Stark and others explored the southern flanks of Jugal and also made the first ascent of Gyaltzen Peak.
Loengpo Gang claimed the lives of three members of a 1957 British expedition before it was bagged by a Japanese team in the Spring of 1962. The most recent expedition was mounted by a joint South Korean-Nepali team in the autumn of 1987, and they made the fifth successful ascent of the peak.
Dorje Lakpa was first climbed as late as 1981 by a Japanese-Nepali expedition. The reason for the long gap between the first attempt (in 1964) and the first successful ascent is that the peak was closed to foreigners in 1966 and only reopened in 1979. A joint American-British team made the most recent ascent of Dorje Lakpa in the Spring of 1992.
Phurbi Chyachu, with its rolling crest, was first climbed by a Japanese-Nepali expedition in Spring, 1982. This mountain has not been attempted since.
All the peaks in Jugal, except Gumba Chuli, are open to Nepali expeditions, or foreign expeditions with Nepali members. Experts reckon that there have been many unauthorised expeditions in the mountains of Jugal, as the range is close to Kathmandu, and relatively easy to get to.
This will be my last contribution to Himal. The past one year of writing “Know Your Himal” has been tremendously fulfilling, and I wish to thank Miss Elizabeth Hawley far her assistance. Interested individuals are invited to contribute mountain-related articles to this page, so as to spread the excitement for the mountains among the people of the Himalaya.