Ramsden and Miller scoop Piolet d’Or with Jugal Spire ascent

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The Phantom Line route, pic courtesy Paul Ramsden

Veteran British mountaineer Paul Ramsden and his young climbing partner Tim Miller are to be honoured at this year’s Piolets d’Or ceremony for their new route the Jugal Spire, as one of three first ascents chosen by the event’s judging panel. The pair made the first ascent of Jugal Spire (6563m), Jugal Himal, via The Phantom Line (1300m, ED) on the north face, from April 25-29. Unbelievably this is Ramsden’s fifth Piolets d’Or, and although merely the first for his young protegee Miller, surely he will be one to watch in the years to come.

The Jugal Himal area contains the closet high mountains to Kathmandu but is infrequently visited. Desperate to climb after being curtailed by COVID-19 for two years, Tim Miller and Paul Ramsden arrived in Nepal in early spring. During their expedition it would rain, hail, or snow for at least part of every day. After a four-day approach to base camp, an acclimatisation outing on the west ridge of Dorje Lhakpa allowed them to see for the first time the north face of Peak 6563m (later named Jugal Spire), a huge sweep of very steep granite. Although seemingly the preserve of big wall climbers, careful inspection showed a steep ice line cutting diagonally through the face from bottom right. While most of this line had a suggestion of ice, there was a rock wall at around one-third height that appeared steep and blank.

After the initial day, which involved sections of unprotected and delicate mixed climbing leading to a comfortable bivouac, they reached the steep rock wall. Surprised, they found a series of chimneys hidden behind a line of flakes that gave intense Scottish-style climbing. The following night spindrift avalanches ripped the tent and part of their time was spent standing in the dark until spindrift eventually subsided. The third night was more pleasant, though by now the tent was no longer usable as such, and the two just hid inside the fabric. The fourth bivouac, close to the top of the strenuous bullet-proof ice of the summit slopes, was inside a natural rock cave. Next day, after 37 pitches from the bottom of the face, they crossed the summit, rappelled from Abalakovs to the south, then dropped west down a broad gully to make their last bivouac where it met the glacier. They named the route The Phantom Line due to the ephemeral nature of the ice, and the way the route appeared and disappeared under different light conditions when viewed from a distance. Ramsden said afterwards that he felt it was one of the best routes he’d climbed.

The other ascents chosen by this year’s Piolets d’Or judges were the first ascent of the south-southeast spur of Jirishanca, Cordillera Huayhuash by Canadians Alik Berg and Quentin Roberts, and the first ascent of Pumari Chhish East, Hispar Muztagh by a French team consisting of Jérôme Sullivan, Victor Saucède and Christophe Ogier. This year’s Lifetime Achievement Award goes to the American, George Lowe.

For full details of this year’s nominees and recipients, go to: www.pioletsdor.net

Watch a short film of their trip at the Mountain Equipment YouTube page HERE


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