Chomolhari – Out of the Steppe

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Chomolhari – image by Alfa-laser

Rising over 2700 m out of the Himalayan Steppe on the Bhutan and Tibet border lies the “Bride of Kangchenjunga”, Chomolhari (also spelled Jomolhari), an incredibly aesthetic mountain. The 7326 m peak is sacred to Tibetan Buddhists, as well as the destination for Bhutanese pilgrimages. Somewhat surprisingly though, is that it hasn’t become the source of western pilgrimage in the form of mountaineering yet. The mountain has only seen 6 ascents, the first in 1937. After the first ascent by Freddy Spencer Chapman and Sherpa Pasang Dawa Lama (the descent was described as “eventful”), it took thirty three years for another group to reach the summit.

One of the reasons for so few attempts of the ultra prominent summit, presumably, is that Bhutan does not allow any technical climbing. The Tibet/Chinese side is substantially more technical, while getting all the proper permits/authorization, let alone getting into Tibet, may well prove to be one of the most challenging parts of the expedition. However, once the paperwork is all sorted, a 2006 Slovenian trip had this to say about their summit day:

Day 5: three long mixed pitches gave way to more deep snow and the last hundred meters to the windy summit. On the descent, our old footsteps appeared like twenty-centimeter-high snow mushrooms. We bivied in our first spot and reached base camp the subsequent day. Overall, logistics and tactics may have played a more important role in our route (ED2: M6+ 70 degrees, ca. 1950m) than did technical difficulty.

—Marko Prezelj, Kamnik, Slovenia

Lastly, Chomolhari also caught my eye because of this glacier-lake feature here:

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Google Earth Imagery – nice glacier lake nestled in an over-deepened cirque.

 Since I’ve spent quite a bit of digital ink (and real ink) on the ‘life-cycle’ of a calving glacier, I thought it was worth sharing this example of a “post-calving phase” glacier. The glacier would have, at one time in its not too distant past, spilled down, right to the far end of the lake. As it retreated back across the lake towards its present day location, it would have cracked and discharged icebergs, thinned, and flowed faster. However, one it reached the shallow end of the lake, it would have no longer sent icebergs down the lake, and instead held steady at its current position (and potentially thickened) as it readjusted to its new geometry.

There is a whole heap of science we could do here, and maybe one of these days we’ll track down some satellite photos and have a closer look. But for now, lets just take in the beauty, and completely amazing formation of Chomolhari.

Chomolhari from Bhutan

Chomolhari from Phari, Tibet, 1938

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