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Kanchenjunga – summit push is on, tracker & drone!

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Kanchenjunga – summit push is on, tracker & drone!
Well, it is here.  Time for our push to the summit!  All our preparation leads to this… 

One of the challenges with a summit push on this kind of mountain is that getting a good weather forecast is just a small (but crucial) aspect of a good strategy for a successful summit.  For me, I also have to be well and rested (mentally and physically – easier said than done), Lakpa and all our other team members need to be well and rested, our gear and equipment needs to be where we want it to be on the mountain, including emergency supplies if things go wrong.  We have a number of members with high altitude & first aid knowledge.  We know who has first aid kits and where the altitude medicine is, but hope we don’t need to know.  We load our packs with hand and toe warmers and we charge all our batteries.  As a team, we take our own extra ropes and other technical gear is put on our harnesses to do alpine style rope work if we need to, or to fix and re-fix anchors.  We try to anticipate what other climbers may or may not do so that we have a Plan B that gives us the best chance of getting up, but most importantly: getting down.  Then, we have to hope that the mountain is ready and willing to let us pass.

So, here, we have a good deal of extra rope that will be in our backpacks as we anticipate using it on the couloir up to the summit ridge, with some alpine style rope work.  We hope with the mountain’s good grace that all will go well, and that we have planned appropriately.

Here is our plan for the summit push (Nepal time):

14th - Day 1 – BC to C2

15th - Day 2 – C2 to C3 (6,900m)

16th - Day 3 – C3 to C4 (7,300m), rest, leave for summit approximately 7pm

17th - Day 4 – Summit - hopefully!  (reach summit sometime on Day 4 & descend to C3 or C2).

18th - Day 5 – Descend to BC.

Climbers from other teams are leaving today, 13th, with a view to reaching the summit on the 16th, a day before our team.  If the weather is not as they expect, they plan to have 17th as back up.  The 17th is less attractive to them as there are high winds forecast for the pm – we are hoping to be on our way down before those winds arrive.

We wanted to stay in BC one extra day for final preparation, and rely on our weather forecast.  It has been a good opportunity to re-balance mentally too and prepare for the tough days ahead.  Thanks to Matt especially in this regard.  On 2 occasions on this expedition words from him at the right time have helped me re-balance and work on that zen side of me… reduced oxygen can be challenging day after day after day…

It is a time now for us to hold our nerve and trust that our decision to delay a day behind other climbers is the right one and that we don’t maybe miss a magical opportunity. 

The weather forecasts do not show us a ‘window’ in the sense that we have a pretty good idea of what the weather will bring.  There is some forecast instability in weather in the Bay of Bengal resulting in differing weather forecasts across teams and so we are going to take each day as it comes.  If we get high and have to retreat for safety, that is what we plan to do.  If the winds are too high, the risk of frostbite escalates hugely and I’m keen to come back down with all fingers and toes intact.  If this push is not successful, we are hoping to be healthy enough and have enough resources to return to BC, rest, and then make a second push before the end of May.  Though, at the same time, we know we have been at a high altitude for a long time and many bodies are starting to feel it. 

We are hopeful that it will take us about 12 hours to reach the summit from Camp 4, and then maybe 4-6 hours to descend to either Camp 3 or Camp 2 – Chris W and Matt are faster than me so we have flexibility to land at whichever camp best suits our speed.  We know there is deep snow at the bottom of the couloir before the summit ridge so we are not exactly sure what it will take to get through that.

For those who are interested in statistics, according to my possibly aged version of the Himalayan Database, 2 NZers have previously reached the summit of Kanchenjunga – Norman Hardie (1955) and Marty Schmidt (2001), and 4 Australians - John Coulton (1987), Michael Groom (1987), Andrew Locke (2006) and Blair Falahey (2011).  12 from the USA have reached the summit previously.  Fingers crossed we can add our team to the successful summit statistics!

Matt’s tracker

Matt plans to have his tracker on for the summit push.  For any day other than summit day it will likely only show once we reach a camp.  When we leave Camp 4 for the summit, he will set it to ‘ping’ every 20-30 mins.  The risk is that if it is not facing the satellite from time to time it may not ‘ping’ correctly, but he will do his best.

Matt is also test-driving a small drone here at BC so be sure to check his blog after the expedition as he intends to upload some film footage – from the amount I have seen, it is pretty i-n-c-r-e-d-i-b-l-e.   Matt has kindly said I can show some at the NZ Mountain Film Festival in Wanaka (NZ) in early July so if anybody reading this is there, get ready to see some awesome footage!

Please wish everyone on Kanchenjunga – our team, the SST team, the Japanese/ Korean team and the Italian team successful summit pushes, but most importantly safe climbs up and down the mountain.  Our greatest success will be if everyone here comes down safely.

I won’t post again until back down at BC. 

Best wishes, Chris

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