[Update: 9/12/2011: Steve Swenson emailed us to let us know that a more complete account was available on his blog. We've reposted parts of that report on our own blog, Inclined, for your reading pleasure. Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 , Day 4—The Summit, and The Descent. Or read the full report from Past President Mark Richey in .PDF format: Saser Kangri II 2011 expedition.pdf]
[Update: 9/2/2011: We received the following update from Janet Bergman. She, Kirsten Kremer, and Emilie Drinkwater were in the Karakoram this summer and met AAC President Steve Swenson, Past President Mark Richey, and Freddie Wilkinson (Bergman's husband) in Delhi in early July. The two expeditions shared travel, camps, and permits for much of their time in India. Please enjoy the following update.
—American Team Successfully Achieves First Ascents in the East Indian Karakoram—
Kirsten Kremer, Emilie Drinkwater and I—supported by a Polartec Challenge Grant—traveled to the Eastern Indian Karakoram in July and August of this year (2011). Our objective was an unclimbed 6,135 meter peak that alpinist Mark Richey had shared a photo of. The south facing aspect with several beautiful looking rock buttresses appealed to us for alpine rock climbing.
The three of us met in Delhi on July 3, along with Mark Richey, Steve Swenson and my husband Freddie Wilkinson, who were attempting a first ascent of nearby Saser Kangri II, and with whom we shared base camp and climbing permits. The six of us flew from Delhi to Leh, Ladakh, and drove over the Khardung La, the “highest motorable pass in the world”, to the Nubra Valley where we commenced the three day trek to base camp, a lovely grassy meadow at 5,000 meters. From there the two teams split up, with our advanced camps and objective peaks on separate glaciers.
Kirsten, Emilie and I made two attempts on Peak 6,135 (one with a chilly open bivy). The walls had good quality crack climbing, but the melted-out ledges and the entire summit ridgeline were constantly bombarding us with rock and ice from all directions whenever the sun was out. We made the decision that the conditions were too dangerous to attempt it again.
Fortunately, the area around Saser Kangri II where the guys had their advanced camp had several promising looking unclimbed peaks so, with the help our Indian Sherpa staff, we were able to clean out our advanced camp at ‘6135’ and move over to the Saser Kangri II camp for the remainder of our time.
As seems to often be the case, all of our activity happened in the final week of the trip. On August 5-6, Kirsten and Emilie (I was in the throes of a violent 24-hour stomach bug) climbed Pumo Kangri, PD/AD 6440 meters, a striking ice and snow peak just outside of camp, soloing all but the final pitches, and rappelling through the night with a single rope (they’d anticipated more snow than ice and got just the opposite!). Freddie and I high-fived with them on their final rappels the next morning as we climbed the same initial ice slope to approach Saser Linga, IV 5.9+ ~6,200 meters, a beautiful 7 pitch rock pinnacle. Finally, on August 8-9, the four of us plus Mark Richey skied across the glacier to a high bivy and simul-climbed Stegosaurus, PD/AD 6,640 meters, a dinosaur-esque peak with a 150 meter corniced ridge traverse to the summit.
Our most sincere thanks to the Polartec Challenge Grant program, as well as [AAC Partners] Mountain Hardwear, Outdoor Research, Sterling Rope Company, Petzl, and La Sportiva for their support of this expedition.
—AAC President Steve Swenson, Past President Mark Richey, and Freddie Wilkinson Make Successful First Ascent of Saser Kangri II—
8/27/2011: Steve Swenson, Mark Richey, and Freddie Wilkinson have made the first ascent of Saser Kangri II (24,665’), the world's second highest unclimbed peak, via its southwest face. They have been in India’s Kashmir Region since early July and climbed a number of other peaks while acclimatizing. During the descent, Swenson had some difficulty breathing.
After completing the descent to advanced base camp, a satellite phone allowed the team to contact AAC partner Global Rescue, as well as put the team in contact with Dr. Brownie Schoene. After a consultation with Schoene and Global Rescue, it was decided to evacuate Swenson.
Global Rescue worked through the night with the U.S. Embassy and the Indian Military to organize a helicopter rescue from advanced base camp at 5800 meters. On Friday, August 26, at approximately 3:45 a.m. MDT, The American Alpine Club received word that the operation was under way. Swenson was transported by helicopter to a hospital in Leh, India. Global Rescue arranged for doctors at Johns Hopkins Medical Center to consult with the doctors in Leh about Swenson's care. Swenson’s condition improved steadily.
He has been released and is resting comfortably in his hotel in Leh. Richey and Wilkinson remain in the mountains to clean camps. They will return to the United States within the week.