West Face, Z1, Zanskar, India

In July, Taylor Maavara and I will attempt the West Face of Z1 (6125m) in the Zanskar, India, in alpine style. Our August 2016 attempt was thwarted by poor weather.

Alpine style climbing remains in its infancy in the Indian Himalaya. Altitude, lack of reliable weather forecasts, remote access, and bureaucracy all favour siege style expeditions.

Z1 has been climbed once before, in 1980, by Mandip Singh Soin and the Tokyo Mountain Club, via the northwest ridge. It has never been climbed by a woman.

Climate change and the Zanskar

Glaciers in the Zanskar lost about 20% of their area between 2000 and 2010. Villages in the Zanskar rely on meltwater from glacier for drinking water and agricultural irrigation.  While some villages have experienced an increase in water availability, others have been forced to relocate due to dwindling water supply.

The construction of "artificial glaciers" has served as a viable means of temporarily maintaining local water supplies. By damming glacial streams and taking advantage of freeze-thaw cycles, villages are able to store a large volume of water in the form of ice.

It is estimated that by 2060, key Zanskar glaciers will disappear and villages will be abandoned. For many, relocation will be impossible. 


Our goal

The Zanskar is on the front lines of climate change.  As environmental scientists and alpinists, we will use this expedition as an opportunity to document the changes the local environment and villagers are experiencing. Karn and I will meet with village elders to discuss the sustainability of agriculture in the region. We will meet with younger villagers, male and female, to learn the differences in generational attitudes towards climate change and water insecurity.

An important first step in the scientific method is identifying knowledge gaps. Our goal is to identify scientific research questions that remain unaddressed so scientific research can proceed in the area. The upstream changes to nutrient and carbon cycles trickle downstream to larger populations. Between 200 and 400 million people rely on glacial melt for drinking water worldwide. Little is known about the changes to the amount of nutrients and carbon delivered to major rivers downstream due to accelerated glacial melt. Local responses like the construction of small dams and artificial glaciers may also affect downstream nutrient loads. Taylor's expertise studying large-scale human-driven changes along entire river systems from the headwaters to coastal zones will help us identify questions that have wide-ranging implications to local and downstream communities.