Informative

HIGHLIGHTS OF MOUNT NUN

Neeti Singhal

Last updated: 02-12-2021

As the highest peak in the Zanskar Valley of Ladakh, Mount Nun is 7,135 meters of sheer energy. You can feel its strength from the very moment you lay your eyes on it. It continues to silently exude its authority by the way of its daunting structure, unnerving slopes, unannounced blizzards and the peculiar way that it holds you, sometimes gently but on others, decidedly not. This handsome mountain is part of the Nun Kun massif and shares its space with its shorter twin Mt. Kun (7, 077 M); separated from each other by a 4 km long snow plateau. The massif is located in Suru valley of the Kargil district about 250 km east of Srinagar.

 

HIGHLIGHTS OF MOUNT NUN

 

Himalayas are an inexhaustible treasure house to which devotees of mountaineering have come for years to quench their thirst for exciting challenges. Amongst the many discovered and countless undiscovered peaks, stands Mt. Nun which draws climbers from across countries. A stepping stone for some and for some a challenge in and of itself, the mountain is a thing of beauty and does its share in lending you a dream. First scaled way back in 1953, it is a technical climb which requires navigating difficult terrain in extreme cold with throes of violent winds being a bully - pushing you around in all directions.

We are very excited about having experienced this massive pile of rock, snow, and wonder. But we are even more eager to condense our experiences to their major highlights so we can share the essence of this bursting force called Mt. Nun, with you.  



Highlight 1: Pre-Expedition Ecstasy:

One of the many characteristics that make high-altitude expeditions different is there is a warm-up period for your body and for forming associations. The fun begins much before the climb. Which is to say that the first few days of expeditions, especially the ones rated 7-8 on the BRS, usually involve some pre-climb climbing. This serves a two-fold purpose – one is obviously that of acclimatizing the body to better prepare it for what’s coming. The second benefit is a little subtler and may be indirect. Since mountaineering is such a team sport, the strength and cohesiveness of the team is a major determinant of the overall success of the expedition. You are constantly uncomfortable at high altitude- struggling to accomplish the simplest of tasks without getting breathless. Sometimes, it gets hard to keep your spirits high and your tolerance levels in check. Since high-altitude climbs are high stakes, this is when groups need to be tight, and it helps to have gotten to know each member of the team before the climb actually begins. And take it from us when we say, it is also a LOT of fun!!!

 

HIGHLIGHTS OF MOUNT NUN

 

Highlight 2: Drive to Tangol

You drive down from Kargil to get to the head trail of Mt. Nun, a small village by the Suru river, called Tangol. The drive is all of two hours. But in that short period, it has the capacity to cleanse your soul. You lose your cellular networks as soon as you head out of Kargil and can concentrate fully on what the landscape outside the window of your car has to offer. Narrow roads, lush green villages, people carrying stacks of firewood on their backs, the greens against the barren brown mountains, and a special scent in the air. As you drive up the mountain, towards a higher altitude, you chance upon a bird’s eye view of mountain life on the lower flanks of the mountain. Farming, small kitchen gardens behind every stone structured house - you start to realize how self-sustained the ecosystem of mountain life actually is. People bowed down with sickles, working their land mirroring the humility of high-altitude living. Notice how the houses have high ceilings but low doors which need you to bend down in order for you to enter without banging your head – there is humility in every aspect of mountain culture. Is it a mystery then, what version of yourself you are expected to bring to the mountain face when you come here for a climb?

 

HIGHLIGHTS OF MOUNT NUN

 

Half an hour into the drive, the valley opens up, and as if experiencing a sudden growth spurt, the river grows much wider. The mountains get smoother and greener; streams of clean water cascading down from all sides enter and join the river on its quest. 

Fifteen more minutes and you get your first glimpse of snowy peaks which is a welcome change in the color palette of the landscape. You leave behind the assortment of earthen colors from the previous days. The white peaks that were peeping from behind are now bang in front of you, like you will drive straight into them.  

A little further into your drive, you go from smooth roads to kachcha trails and get to the brown landscape of rocky mountains. The greens have now bowed their way out of the show. An assortment of big boulders in what looks like areas where the rocks tetris-ed into each other could come undone at any point, now welcomes you. The rows and rows and rows of apricot trees along with the smooth gray of the roads with the bright yellow line stretched out for as far as you can see, all add to the beauty and colour of the overall landscape.

 

HIGHLIGHTS OF MOUNT NUN

 

Further evidence of a harmonized existence are the mud brown houses with wooden windows painted green mimicking the two predominant colours of the mountains that host this culture of living. Entire villages on pinnacles in the middle of the valley as you ride alongside the muddy and forceful Suru river is a sight to behold. It makes you wonder, do all villages dream of becoming towns, really?

 

Highlight 3: The Many Glorious Faces of Mt. Nun

It is an absolute wonder how the same peak can make you feel so many different ways solely based on the time of day and the distance from which you look at it. 

As elusive as it is and as shy, the first offering the mountain makes to you is a glimpse of itself days into the expedition. 

Suru Valley - A Far-Off Sighting: 

You can feel the mighty presence of the highest peak in the Zanskar Valley of Ladakh region, as soon as you set off on the road to Tangol. On its first appearance, this massive peak of 7135M makes its presence known to you, not very subtly. The way it elegantly stands in its milk-white robe against the barren landscape of Suru valley- Mt Nun certainly knows how to stand out and own the view. On your entry into the valley, the first sight of the mountain is so captivating that you’d be hooked! The peak still looks inaccessible, however, – like a distant goal. The magnanimity of your task ahead does not still hit you as you admire it from the warm, flower-scented valley. The warmth of the sun and the bursting colors of the flora of Suru Valley absorb the presuppositions for the 15 days of cold mess that you are driving towards.

 

HIGHLIGHTS OF MOUNT NUN

 

Camp 1- Up-Close: 

The Base camp which lies at the head of the 14km long Shafat glacier, offers you no views of the magical peak. Camp 1 is when you get your first real view of the peak- where you feel the sheer energy of the mountain towering above you.

Mount Nun is shier than you’d think and has a very strong alliance with the clouds that do their best to hide it from plain view and almost always succeed. But because it is so hard to make an acquaintance with, the first glimpse of the peak is mesmerizing. You can’t help but see Mt. Nun as a living, breathing entity. A thing of life looking down towards you. The sheer scale of the mountain as you stand as tiny as a snowflake looking up at it, surrounded by massive peaks in this cold monochromatic winter-land is an experience like no other. To find your tiny footsteps leading you bang into the middle of this massive snowfield (the size of a 40 football fields) is an experience like no other. Mt. Nun, Mt. Kun and Pinnacle stand here, shoulder to shoulder, rising up high against the deep blue of the sky. It is a feeling not worthy of words. Camp 1 is when you know the expedition has begun and that you are, now, at the mercy of the mountain. It would be a mere delusion to believe anything else. That place, where you could imagine the presence of an unlimited reality is what you bring back from the mountain.

 

HIGHLIGHTS OF MOUNT NUN

 

Camp 2 - The Halo: 

There is much to be said about Camp 2, but more on that later. Now a little bit closer to the peak, you only see the dome of Mt. Nun. With the rest of the world hidden beneath the clouds and a tiny crack in the sky adding a tinge of orange to the otherwise white landscape is nothing less than magical. The sunlight on Mt. Nun from Camp 2, gives it a God-like halo further affirming its reverential status. Camp 2 is at an altitude of 6,100 M and very windy for being stationed on a pinnacle, making it hard to step out of your tent. But we would still urge you to garner the courage just so you can see this magic unfold in real-time.

 

HIGHLIGHTS OF MOUNT NUN

 

Highlight 4: Exquisite Campsites 

The trail of Mt. Nun has something refreshing to offer to you every step of the way in the form of its beauty or in the form of challenge - so much so that by the end you forget to distinguish between the two. To add to that, each of the campsites on Mt. Nun have a distinct personality of their own.  

Tangol to Basecamp (4,600M): 

The route to basecamp takes you through small villages rich with lush green fields bordered with pink flowers and locals running up and down the steep slopes like it were an Olympic field. Cattle scattered around the landscape, you soon leave the geometric greens behind at the foothills of the mountain and enter the world of browns. Narrow shepherd trails now lead the way. Strewn with rocks, boulders and mud – the soil here is extremely dry but rich in flowers of all colors growing out in tufts from the cracks in between. After a steep ascend, you descend down into a much chillier valley – a bit more rustic than the one you left behind. On crossing miles of moraine and glaciers, you will make it to the bottom of the waterfalls. This last leg of the climb is steep and slippery made of loose rocks and scree. The basecamp rests waiting for us at the top of the waterfall. The base camp for Mt. Nun, as of any other mountain, is thick with colour from the prayer flags.

 

HIGHLIGHTS OF MOUNT NUN

 

Base Camp to Camp 1(5,500M): 

Camp 1 is at an altitude of 5500M which is a 900M vertical height gain from Base Camp. The first stretch of this trail includes crossing a river followed by a two hour steep climb up a rocky slope. The two-hour climb takes you up the mountain ridge and down to the other side which requires walking on massive boulders – a stretch to be cautious on till you make it to something called a ‘Crampon Point’. Consider it the green room for your trek – this is where you put all your gear on and get ready for the actual climb. 

The most difficult section between Base Camp and Camp 1 is the 300M tall, 75 degree gradient of an ice wall. It introduces you to your first set of crevasses which you have to traverse on a near vertical wall. There is something beautiful about the fear this evokes and a great sense of achievement when you learn that you are capable of getting to the other side of it. 

After the first wall, there is an additional patch of steep ice which needs to be navigated. Once you cross the ice wall and its annex, the slopes get a bit gentler and the snow gets a little softer. You then turn to the right, jump over a few crevasses and reach the point where the slope is now close to a 30 degrees. This is the end of the fixed rope section and the start of the land of hidden crevasses. Camp 1 is bang in the middle of a 4kms wide snowfield. Walking the long flat land after a while starts to feel like walking into nothingness.

 

HIGHLIGHTS OF MOUNT NUN

 

Camp 1 is exquisite for its first view of the massif. It introduces you to all the mountain features – scree, moraine, crevasses, glacier wall, technical patches, high speed winds, blizzards, whiteouts - early on in the expedition. It is like a test run for what’s to come. 

Camp 2 (6,100M): 

Getting from Camp 1 to Camp 2 is very challenging, it could in fact be labelled the most difficult section of the entire expedition. But, once you see the camp site, it all seems worth the trouble. Of the three campsites of Mt. Nun, Camp 2 is our absolute favorite. It gives you the drama of a 007 film while creating the humor of a Black Jack movie. Resting precariously on a sloped and narrow ridge of a high pinnacle, tents on Camp 2 are literally dangling in the air. With an impossible slope on one side and a direct 800M drop on the other, you have to anchor yourself to the rope even to answer nature's call. However, whoever dares to look up could vouch for the fact that the campsite gave them some of the best morning and evening views they have ever witnessed. With the rest of the world hidden below clouds and a crack in the sky that added the orange to the otherwise white landscape is nothing short of magical. The sunlight on Mt. Nun from Camp 2, gives it a God-like halo captivating you further. If you are a proponent of dangerous love, everything about Camp 2 screams romance!

 

HIGHLIGHTS OF MOUNT NUN

 

Camp 2 gives you such spectacular sights that the drama and thrill might just be bigger than the summit itself. The cloud show is amazing, sitting at that height with an unobstructed view of the snowfield below. The dance of shadows of the clouds on the massive snow field is one you definitely want front row seats to!

Camp 3 (6,400M): 

Camp 3 (Summit Camp), much like Camp 1, is stationed bang in the middle of a massive snowfield.  After the exhaustion from the 9 hours of continuous ascend to get to Camp 2, there could be no sight more pleasing than that of a section of flat land. The top of the mountain looks closer than it ever did – the sight is enough to lend you a fair night’s sleep at that altitude. 

 

Highlight 5: Climbing (Mt. Nun) does not change you

It, in fact, brings out the best version of you.  

We love expeditions because they make transparent every climber's character - the difficulty of the task introduces you to a different version of yourself and how you handle that is the true test you put yourself through. Getting to the summit is only a part of the challenge - to measure your own self in the face of something extreme is the actual challenge the mountain throws at you!

 

HIGHLIGHTS OF MOUNT NUN

 

It takes immense strength of character to navigate the cold mess that is Mt. Nun (7135M). The peak has high altitude camps at 5500M, 6100M, and 6400M. You get acquainted with new challenges and newer versions of yourself at each of these heights, the changes in personality becoming more evident with each new altitude you hit on the mountain. You leave the land and the sight of land behind at Basecamp - existing only in snow from thereon. Sleeping in snow, drinking snow by melting it, walking in snow - white is the only colour you will see for the rest of the expedition and cold is the only feeling you will experience. Under such conditions, patience to wait out the bad weather, increased tolerance for differences, adapting to changing situations with a calm head and learning the magic of team work are some of the gifts the mountain gives to you in addition to the technical skills you gain in the process of the climb, of course.

 

Highlight 6: Sense of Accomplishment and Bragging Rights

If you are on this page, reading this article, we don’t need to tell you that Mt. Nun is one of the 7000ers! That is HUGE. It is one of the most popular peaks to start your journey into the league of the 7000s and is very often looked to by climbers who want to enter the zone of the 8000s. 

To climb any 7000M peak is a mammoth task. To climb Mt. Nun is even more of a Herculean undertaking meant not for the faint hearted. The nature of the mountain, it's crevasse- riddled surface, it's very unnerving habit of changing face every hour thereby changing routes, elaborate glacial formations, high gradient ice walls, technical patches, knife-edge ridges, capricious weather, high altitude and strong winds make it a much tougher peak to climb than some other 7000M peaks. While it is welcoming, the mountain only welcomes a person with true grit and a heart of a team player.

 

HIGHLIGHTS OF MOUNT NUN

 

Yielding all physical comfort and pushing your mental and emotional selves to this level of extreme, by the end of it, is extremely gratifying and automatically brings with it some major bragging rights!

 

Highlight 7: The Summit Picks its Rewards Well

For those with an unquenchable thirst who want more than the joy of reaching the Summit, the highest point of Mt. Nun also gives you an expansive view of the Karakoram range with all its major peaks. The one to really look out for is K2 far in the distance, provided it is a clear day (which rarely happens, but we are creatures of hope). Since the chances are low, getting one look at the second highest mountain- the top most on the list of most technical hence making it to every climber’s dream- has got to be the ultimate reward. K2 is as beautiful as they come, even from such a distance.

Neeti Singhal

A psychologist, a developmental researcher, and a constant seeker of stories, Neeti is usually found Read more

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