We were wading through sugary snow. It wasn’t so bad when it was boot or shin depth; knee deep however felt like the living end. After 50 particularly bad metres I threw my dolls out of the pram and complained loudly that it was futile. After a quick but firm dressing down from Becky, we continued uphill again.
Big trips have started to become a biennial thing for us. We are mere mortals, unlike the hardcore few pioneering first ascents in the greater ranges each season, but one thing is for sure, we are keen for the adventure. In 2014 we went to Tajikistan to attempt some unclimbed peaks and then 2016 found us thinking about somewhere we’ve been lots and absolutely love, Nepal.
Working as expedition leaders means that rarely half a year goes by without a trip somewhere up high, but what we value most is the time we get to go and explore for ourselves. Researching objectives can be difficult. You usually need someone to give up some hard-won knowledge, a glance of a peak map or a photo. Thankfully we had got some good beta for this trip.
First ascents are not easy things to plan, there is lots to think about. Permits, flights, insurance, logistics, food, finances, kit, the list goes on. Luckily we have lots of experience doing this now, but it still ends up being a mad, last-minute rush to get everything in place. It’s worth it though and the experience of trekking into a new area is usually my favourite part of a trip. After this it really becomes hard work!
We arrived in Kathmandu to the usual chaos. I love the chaos. Quickly getting the last few provisions before our two internal flights to the Far West. The second plane wasn’t exactly big; just one propeller and a handful of seats but, as usual, the discomfort was mitigated by some spectacular views. The trek in to our objective was nice and simple, 3 days up a big valley then turn up and off for a further day. Getting our first views of the intended peak was an exceptional moment; I found my pace quickening as we rounded the corner; racing to see the line.
Our stay in the valley had its moments but more than anything else, my memories are sure to be of the suffering. Sadly our basecamp received no more than 6 hours of sun a day, the river running alongside was frequently frozen and on a ‘warm night’ we measured -8ºC! In fact, substitute cold for suffering. A night at the North Col at 5300m was -30 if not colder. I wore all my clothes, including down gloves on my feet and still, I was cold.
Our initial plan had been an attempt on the North Ridge of the mountain but the ridge had a ridiculously hard looking rock band which would be possible to bypass in good snow but not in its current condition. Turning back, we headed down to basecamp with the plan to switch attentions to the East Ridge.
And after all this, the cold and the failed attempt, we achieved something remarkable. We explored a new area and we summited. Not by our intended route, but the intended route is rarely a sure thing.
Summit day was tough. Probably one of the toughest summit days I have ever done. Oddly though, it got easier as we got higher. The initial 3 hours, mainly in the cold and dark, at times wading thigh-deep between complex crevasses, wasn’t exactly high thrill mountaineering. This portion of the day would later prove ‘type 2 fun’ and in retrospect, it almost seems satisfying. The ridge then took a further 7 hours... false summit after false summit, serious traverses on a knife edge crest with oblivion below, all interspersed with a few fun pitches past crevasses or bergschrunds until, finally, we were there! The relief was palpable and the descent mercifully simple.
By far the most stressful moment however came shortly before leaving basecamp. We’d been visited early on by a friendly but pyromaniacly-inclined shepherd. After this encounter we had deliberately hidden our basecamp in some rocks to, hopefully, avoid his fiery tendencies. Waiting for our mules to arrive we moved our kit back across the river. Would our mule man arrive? We waited. Maybe he wasn’t coming… Eventually it transpired that he had already walked past and, with our camp concealed amongst the boulders, completely failed to see us! After finally managing to find him, we were soon on our way out, successful in the main as my partner commented by surviving 12 days with just each other for company!