Top 10 Expeditions of 2019: #6: Bhagirathi IV

No clear way up. Photo: Mateo della Bordella

Over the last 12 months, ExplorersWeb has documented incredible adventures in climbing, cycling, running, walking, skiing and anything involving force of will and dedication to a dream in the outdoors. As this year comes to a close, we present our countdown of the Top 10 Expeditions of 2019.

The feat took seven attempts to achieve, before Ragni di Lecco and his legendary Italian mountain club went for it. They were defeated on their first attempt back in 2015, but Matteo Della Bordella, Luca Schiera and Matteo De Zaiacomo returned this year to the mighty granite west wall of Bhagirathi IV. This time they succeeded, but not before a tough fight.

Approaching Bhagirathi. Frame from the expedition video

The 6,193m Bhagirathi IV, located in India’s Garhwal Himalaya, is best known for the sheer size of its west face, but also for its objective difficulties — especially the overhanging final 500m and the loose rock slabs that threaten to fall on the climbers.

These rocks proved the main threat when the Italians launched their second attempt this past September. Before they even began, two huge rockfalls swept down their proposed route. “Blocks the size of cars bounced precisely down the line we’d intended on climbing the next day,” Matteo della Bordella reported on PlanetMountain. “They shattered into a thousand pieces and then continued tumbling downhill, covering the entire face with debris.”

Chastened, they elected to try a more direct line. However, the new route proved too difficult, and the team was forced to return to Base Camp on the third day, ready to admit defeat.

Bhagirhati IV route. Photo: Matteo Della Bordella

“That night, an idea, possibly insane, started to creep into my mind,” Della Bordella recalled. “It kept me awake, as I thought of every minute detail, every possible scenario that we might face, what gear would be fundamental and what would be superfluous.”

As he saw it, the choice was either to give up or to radically change their strategy: Forget about portaledges, non-essential bivouac gear, supplies… and climb that monster wall in the day. So, why not?  “It seemed impossible, but we might as well give it a try,” they decided.

The climbers set off at midnight on September 15 from their advanced camp at 5,000m, taking turns leading the pitches. The climbing proved much more difficult than in 2015, a sequence of vertical and overhanging 6c/7a cracks “covered and clogged up in dust and debris from the rockfall”.

Conditions improved as they scaled the area of the rockslide, but the fragile rock and verticality that had pushed them back four years ago were still there. The first pitch was aided by a vein of granite and the last glimmers of daylight. The second had to be completed in the dark. Nearing the summit, they found some final pitches covered in snow, and Della Bordella strapped on the only pair of crampons they had taken up and led the climb. His mates then jumared up.

Joyously, they reached the summit of Bhagirathi IV in the dark. Photo: Matteo Della Bordella

At 11pm, after 20 non-stop hours, they reached the summit and rested for a couple of hours before descending the moderate east side of the mountain. They gave the 800m-long route (7b, 2 pitches A0) the poetic name of Cavalli bardati che fanno tremare la terra (Translation: harnessed horses that make the earth tremble).

You can watch it all for yourself on the expedition video:

The dramatic scenery of the Garhwal’s Gangotri glacier and spires, the iron will of these never-surrendering climbers and the classical beauty of this diretissima were all embodied in this wonderfully bold expedition. It seems almost a throwback to the golden age of mountaineering.

About the Author

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides

Sport journalist, published author and communication consultant. Feeling back home at ExplorersWeb after five years exploring distant professional ranges. From Dec19 to Feb20, I'll be also working as press manager for Alex Txikon's expeditions to Antarctica, winter Ama Dablam and winter Everest.

Leave a Reply

1 Comment on "Top 10 Expeditions of 2019: #6: Bhagirathi IV"

avatar
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Rishi
Guest

This is commendable and marvelous Kudos to the whole team