In 2017, I stumbled upon a short expedition report from an American team who had very nearly made the first ascent of the East Ridge of Chiling II. The pictures showed blue skies, crisp snow, and a soaring granite ridgeline that rose over 1000 m out of an elevated glacial bowl to Chiling II’s 6253m summit. Deep umber with patches of paper-white neve, the ridge fell away steeply on either side. The precipitous granite walls of the southeast face defined the ridges left edge, but to the ridge’s right lay an even richer jewel: an austere, untouched north wall whose lower slopes fell away even further than the bottom of East Ridge, to the floor of Chiling glacier. And then, in June 2018, Matt Harle and I checked our four duffel bags into the hold and boarded our plane to India. Just five days later we arrived at the head of the Lalung valley, a stone’s throw from Chiling II.
Over the next ten days, Matt and I tried our best to ignore the consistently poor weather patterns, and established an advanced basecamp at 4800m, some 10km further up the glacier. We made a reconnaissance trip up to 5300 m on the glacial col between the Lalung and Chiling valleys, and a further acclimatisation climb to 5600 m on Lalung II’s easterly slopes. After the weather deteriorated yet again, we descended to base camp to rest before an attempt on Chiling II’s north face. The weather on Chiling II continued to remain poor, with a few hours of clear skies before the clouds scudded in and the snows began.
Matt and I planned for a slow, heavy ascent of the face, which we anticipated would take us three and a half days. Our planned descent of the east ridge we hoped to complete in a day and a half. We packed five days’ worth of food and gas and assembled as substantial a rack as we could bear, concerned about the difficulties that the steep mixed terrain on the headwall might pose.
Accessing the north face from ABC proved to be no easy task. With the temperatures being too high to refreeze the snowpack overnight, even at 5300 m, we postholed through knee-deep slush for hours and then wove a labyrinthine trail through the gaping crevasses to the north of the Chiling icefall. At times, the only way forward was to down climb into a crevasse, across to a groaning snow bridge and then out the other side.
In the darkness, early next morning, we crossed the bergschrund and established ourselves in the system of icy goulottes low on the north face. To our right, a vivid orange wall of rock, overhanging across its 200 m width, hissed softly as spindrift from the previous day’s snow gathered momentum. Low down, the neve was surprisingly good quality and made for straightforward climbing. But as we reached a steeper section, the sun came up on the face, we found out why: it had been compacted by a daily deluge of spindrift, which was now trying to drown us.
Descending to a sheltered belay, we regrouped and swiftly decided that upwards progress was foolish in conditions like these. A handful of rappels later we were back on the snow cone below the north face, where we deliberated about trying again the next day. Earlier this time. Common sense prevailed though, and, having depleted our food and gas, we opted to run away.
The north face of Chiling II is a stunning objective and promises steep, challenging mixed climbing (and challenging conditions!) all the way to the top. I, for one, plan to return soon.
- Alexander Mathie