Climbing expeditions to K-2 normally approach the peak from Islamabad, travelling up the Karakoram Highway to Baltistan and to the base of the mountain. In April this year, however, an Anglo-American team used a different route. Going roundabout, the climbers arrived in Kathmandu, took China the South West Airline flight northeast to Lhasa, thence further east Chengdu, then all the way west to Urumqi, and finally to Kashghar, from where they used camels to the base camp. Expedition equipment and provisions were carried by road from Kathmandu via the Kodari border post.
This unique approach to K-2 served to highlighta new facet of mountaineering that Himal-watchers have tended to ignore — the north faces of border peaks. Like K-2, which lies on the border between disputed Kashmir and Tibet/China, there arenumerous peaks along the Himalayan rimland that sit astride frontiers. This happens almost by definition, because the high ridges provide the defining element for cartographic delineation of borders between the countries of South Asia and Tibet/China.
While it is true that Chomolongma/ Sagarmatha/Everest has been climbed by non-Chinese expeditions since the late 1970s, Cho Oyu and K-2 were the only other border peaks open for climbing from the north.
In l992,the Chinese Mountaineering Association (CMA) opened 23 mountains for climbing in Tibet, including several border peaks — Langtang Ri, Lhotse, Namochuli, Melungtse West, Pumori, Makalu and Gauri Shankar (Tashi Tseringma). For various reasons, including lack of information and high climbing fees, these newly availabl e north faces have yet to see high demand from climbers. This si tuation is likely to change,however, with lowered fees, more informationandaone-window policy that has streamlined paperwork.
For the moment, all of the newly opened border peaks are those along the Nepal-Tibet border, and peaks astride India and Bhutan are not likely to be opened from the north for some time, given unsettled border questions. Lhotse, Makalu, Pumori, Gauri Shankar — none have been dimbed from the northern side.
As more teams attempt jointly-held peaks from the Tibetan side, unique administrative problems arelikely to arise, particularly when routes high on the mountain traverse the political boundary. Cho Oyu´s example, which is likely to be repeated in the future other mountains, is a case of point.
When Herbert Tichy, the Austrian, scaled the peak in 1954 with permission from the Nepali Government, his climb took him over the Nangpa La and into Tibetan territory. Since then, teams starting their climbs from Nepal have used Tichy´s West Ridge route as the normal Hnetothetop.TheChinesestarted issuing permits for Cho Oyu from the Tibetan side only in 1985.
Last year, climbers from the north complained to the Chinese that the mountain was overcrowded with climbers from the south. Two armed soldiers are saidtohavetumedupandgivenaGerman team and a Spanish team a choice: cough upU$5,00Oandbeescorted back to Nepal, or pay U$ 15,000 and continue the climb. A combined ´fee´ of U$ 5,000 eventually got both teams to the summit.
TheChinesegovernment has not yet lodged complaints with Kathmandu regarding the incursions on Cho Oyu and neither are the officials in the Nepali Ministry of Tourism spending sleepless hours contemplating legal complexities, but clearly with more teams climbing along the border some coordination between the mountaineering czars of the two countri eswillbe required beforelong.
There must be many more attempts on transboundary peaks than reported. Last autumn, a Dutch climber who had been trekking north of Chomolongma (with permission) claimed that he had climbed Pumori (without permission). Technically a possible feat, since the mountain is an easy trudge from its north side, but in the Chinese record books Pumori remains virgin.
Even as climbing picks up north of the border, Kathmandu will remain the staging point, due both to its road connections and the Lhasa air link. Taking this into account, the CMA this year appointed a Kathmandu-based trekking agency as its agent in Nepal. There is no need for climbers to go to Lhasa to file applications; the permits are brought right up to Kodari.
It takes but two days for expeditions from Kathmandu to make it over jeepable tracks to the northern base camps in the Chomolongma area. It takes at least a week to get to the base camps of Khumbu peaks from Kathmandu, but the climbers gain in acclimatisation what they lose in time.
Mountaineering in the central Himalaya has come a full circle. In the first half of the century, it was Nepal which was closed (under the Ranas) and Tibet that was open, with the Dalai Lama allowing expeditions to enter the Chomolongma area via Shigatse and Tingri. Subsequently, with the arrival of the Chinese, Tibet was closed while Nepal allowed free access. Now, at fag end of the century, you can climb selected peaks along the frontier every which way you want.