The Bandarpunch Freeheel Expedition to the Himalaya,
Story and Photos by Luca Gasparini, Expedition Leader
Editors Note: This spring, a team of freeheelers at the top
of their sport, participated in a world-class expedition to climb
and ski 6,316 meter Bandarpunch (Bawndar-pootch) Peak in the
Indian Himalayas. Lead by Luca Gasparini and including team members
Georgio Daidola, Thomas Soldarini, Leonardo Bizzaro, John Falkiner,
Alessio Benzoni, Renato Lorenzi and our old friend Bob Mazarei,
the intrepid group completed a very successful trip of high adventure
and first descents. Recipients of a Polartech Challenge grant
from Malden Mills, the team also had a number of other sponsors,
making it a truly ground breaking expedition in the world of
freeheel and telemark skiing. Undoubtedly you will be hearing
more about their accomplishments elsewhere and indeed Luca has
promised to try to send us some more pictures, but you don't
have to wait, here now on telemarktips.com is Luca Gasparini's
6,316 meter Bandarpunch Peak, Garwahl, India
The Indian Himalaya is not as famous as the
nearby Nepalise or Kashmir Himalaya but it still holds some wonderful
mountains, perfect for climbing and skiing. Of course you cannot
just decide to go there and have a look. What you need is a photo,
or a friend that tells you about a place he has seen that looks
interesting. In our particular case it was a photo found by Giorgio.
He is Italian as were most of the team members that went to Bandarpunch.
Additionally, lending an international flavor for our and their
pleasure, we had Bob Mazarei from California and John Falkiner
an Australian. Although the expedition may have been an international
one from the standpoint of country of origin, I can tell you
that from a cooking and eating point of view it was typically
Italian. We had Parmesan cheese, ham, spaghetti, enough bread
for more than one expedition, and a lot more food, but you know
we Italian's like to eat.
Bandarpunch in Indian means the Monkey Tail
but we went there because the western name is White Peak. A name
that had a promising sound and the promise was completely fulfilled.
We had to cross a giant glacier for about 15 kilometers, with
huge packs (have you ever heard of climbers in the Himalaya with
small packs?) to get to the base of the mountain. It was a tough
approach but once it was in front of our eyes, what a place it
Climbing to 4,200 meters, we finally were
able to put the skis on and after a steep climb on skins we reached
an enormous bowl.
On the left the highest peak of the group
Kalanag (nobody has skied it yet, just in case one of you out
there might be looking for that kind of motivation) on some maps
it is named Bandarpunch I.On the right two peaks totally white
with snow, were the "Twins" and there in the center
lay Bandarpunch II, our peak. By then we were up to 4,900 meters
and ahead we still had 400 meters to go before reaching the next
camp. The photo we had was from 1982 and it showed one big glacier
with some crevasses where the Twins and a small (5,300 meter!!)
ridge of rocks and snow tried to join up. The crevasses were
now a high band of seracs which had split the flowing glacier
in two. The lower one was no longer fed from the main one and
this gave us a chance to pitch a camp safely away from the seracs,
between old rounded crevasses.
The memory of the dark skyline of the
seracs just above us and higher up, the reddish top of Bandarpunch
as the sun was setting, was the main thing that convinced us
to wake up early the next morning but there was an even more
important reason: John managed that morning to convince all 4
of the stoves to work unattended. Unbelievable!!
The God of good weather was on our side, the
sun was up for the 10th day in a row, and the stove demons were
at rest. Life was good!
We spent one full hour looking for a safe
route between the seracs and the crevasses then reached a sort
of paradise: eight hundred meters of vertical in a bowl 3 kilometers
wide. The dark shape of the crevasses crossed the bowl. It was
a paradise of lines: nature showing hers while our skis happily
inscribed their own.
The next 4 hours climbing to the top were
the usual fight between: Is this fun or is this only pure
masochism? But the summit of Bandarpunch is perfect for
skiing, steep but not too steep, the thought of this kept us
going and all eight team members reached the top on a sunny and
The snow was like velvet. John and Bob were
caressing it with the grace only freeheel skiers that are used
to the very steep can attain when they get to ski easier slopes
such as this. Yes, Bandarpunch offers easy skiing. Maybe this
will disappoint some of you but we were at a very high altitude
and we were there for fun....we Italians live for fun... so we
chose the easier skiing in the bowl. It may have been a bit less
elegant, but given our fun loving nature, it was the obvious
But dont worry, if you want steep and
radical terrain there are always the "Twins". Sorry,
but if that is where you choose to ski it will not be a first
descent. We already did them.
Once back in camp, it was easy for me to convince
the party to extend our research of skiing possibilities to the
Our new camp at 4,900 meters was not only
a good place where we could rest for a day but a perfect place
to look for the best line up as well.
Early the next morning - with the stove demons
still asleep- Giorgio and Renato skinned up the highest of the
"Twins", while John, Bob and myself climbed the North
ridge of the lower Twin. Both higher than 5,800 meters, it was
an emotional high point of the trip to climb the nose up the
final steep section of our peak and see our friends already on
the way down from their summit.
John Falkiner and Bob Mazarei love the steeps,
that is the reason they live in Verbier, Switzerland. Back in
Italy, I live in a less radical valley but I love to spend my
time with good skiers. Thats the best way to learn and
improve. I say this because they made the top part of our run,
look easy. The slope was about 40 degrees with an open face at
the top that turned into concave terrain lower down. I remember
that day as the best one of the expedition.
Having been to the Himalaya several
times for both skiing and climbing I know now that the reason
I keep coming back is due to the thrill of constantly living
life in the unknown. When we begin an expedition we are never
quite sure what will be around the corner. On this trip, the
only information we had was a photo, and every step held a discovery.
Climbing and skiing the "Twins" was the icing on top
of the cake.
That night we were back at base camp and Bob
celebrated the fantastic experience of that day by playing his
traveling guitar. Even the Indian porters, cook and sirdar were
there listening and enjoying the fine music.
I can be piggish and I wanted to try the Kalanag
too, but perhaps the other team members had had enough by that
time. Or maybe they know me too well and they wanted to save
their energy for the last days. In any case, I had arranged to
dismiss the porters and try to go back to the road through a
5,000 meter pass, known as the Bali pass.
At this point our packs became even bigger
and we became even more foolish, immediately choosing the wrong
side of the valley for our exit. It was moraine and thick woods
instead of an easy path. I thought they were all going to kill
me. A bit of rain, a good place to camp and, even better, a cave
where we could cook, saved me!
The following day it was John that saved the
team from taking the wrong valley after we had reached the pass.
Twelve hours of hard going down a valley with no maps, at one
point enveloped by fog at the top of a precipice, we finally
ended up in a kind of Dantes Inferno. Thats the way
civilization at Yamnotri looked to all us as we met up with the
pilgrims on their way to the hot springs of the sacred river
here. After 3 weeks of loneliness, the thousands of people brought
with them an explosion of colours, smells and sounds.
The next day we rolled down the valley, we
rolled into a too small jeep, we rolled in something else but
I forget what, and we were back to Delhi.
So this was our free heel expedition to
Bandarpunch, a very happy and successful one. The ingredients
of the success being a group of friends all in love with the
mountains and free heel skiing, some Gods asleep, a better Devil
than the local ones, Italian food, 20 days of sunshine, a nice
guitar and a good player, and the thrill of moving around in
terrain of which we knew just a little. I feel that this last
point is what can make climbing and skiing in the Himalaya an
adventure, even in this modern era. Perhaps this is the reason
why we were chosen by the Polartech Challenge board to receive
a grant that helped make this great expedition a reality. Finally,
let me say that all of these points make me very proud to have
been to this fantastic and magical place with such good friends.
We want to thank Rani and Sashank, our Indian friends who run
Ruck Sack Travel, the agency we used for the organisation
of the approach, the porters and all the rest we needed there.
They have a wonderful relationship with the IMF and this is very
important to get permission. If you would like to visit the Garwahl
region of India, where Bandarpunch is located, we highly recommend
you contact them. Here is their email, I think it is all you
need in these times: firstname.lastname@example.org