Gharwal Success for Parnell & Varco

Ian Parnell (UK) and John Varco (US) made the first ascent of the North West face of Saf Minal (6911m) in the Indian Garwhal reaching the summit on the 5th October. Unlike its sister peaks Kalanka and Changabang with their 1700m near vertical faces of immaculate granite Saf Minal is the twisted relative with its near 2000m sweep of black shale and loose mixed climbing offering a darker challenge. After acclimatising on a small foothill to 5500m the pair set about their ascent in pure alpine style with no reconnaisance, fixed ropes or camps. Parnell and Varco took the most striking line on the face, starting up a distinctive ridge before sustained mixed climbing on rock of dubious quality and over snow covered slabs led to a system of ice couloirs in the upper part of the face. Following 3 days of reasonable weather conditions deteriorated trapping the pair in their partially erected tent. After 36 hours of cramped torment they opted to climb in the continuing storm reaching the west ridge in the dark only 200m below the summit. To their surprise the following morning brought perfect weather for their successful summit push, with cloudless views into China and the secretive Nanda Devi Sanctuary.Having climbed in lightweight alpine style things became even more interesting on their descent when the poor rock and traversing nature of the line took its toll. The pair staggered into base camp after 2 days of abseiling and down tricky climbing, a cut rope, out of food and with only 1 stopper and a couple of cams remaining of their rack. Parnell, who lost over 25 pounds on the ascent said “This climb was probably the most expensive but rewarding diet plan we´ve ever followed.”