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Kanchenjunga - route setting to Camp 3

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Me at crampon point Me at crampon point
As the jetstream winds are slowly dropping on and around the mountain, climbers are keen to move up on their rotations, and to move more gear and equipment higher up the mountain.

Tshering and Pema from our team led a team of around 4-5 other Sherpas (SST, Japanese / Korean teams) on route setting to Camp 3 yesterday (27th) – 1,000m up from (lower) Camp 2 - but the difficulties of the terrain meant they did not make Camp 3.  Though, they reached maybe just 100-150m below. 

From speaking to Tshering, the main difficulty they had was that they could not see the large crevasses from below, until they got right up to them because of how the lips of the crevasses are formed (easily visible from above, but not below).  So the route weaves left and right, up and down, more than they would like, due to trying to navigate the terrain. 

As a result, the Sherpas used up around 40 snow pickets on the route, so far – as many as they had with them.    It was an exhausting process for all Sherpas involved, and all descended for a rest on the morning of the 28th.  Of course, just as Tshering ascended a couple of days ago at world record speed, it seemed, so too did he descend today in the same way – it seems to be in the blood of this extended family that they perform at such levels – Tshering, his older brother Jangbu (also UIAGM / IFMGA qualified), and their uncle Lakpa (our Lakpa), are all world class performers in the mountains.

Today, 28th, Lakpa liaised with other Sherpas to organize a fresh, rested, team to head up to (new, higher) Camp 2 in a couple of days time to try to complete route to Camp 3 after sleeping at Camp 2, and assess whether they will go further than Camp 3 or wait for another rotation.  They also today (28th) set up 64 additional snow pickets that will go with them, sans a small number taken up by a few climbers today.   Lakpa is also co-ordinating to get some additional equipment from Kathmandu, otherwise everyone could be wasting their time.   Maybe 20 years ago, the drivers of success on these big mountains were foreign climbers, but in recent years, the Sherpas are generally highly skilled, well co-ordinated and are the masters of everyone’s success.  This fact is not as well recognised as it ought to be.

Many climbers who have been on K2 and Kanchenjunga differ in their views as to which mountain is harder.  The thing I liked about K2 is that although the Abruzzi route (first ascent, normal route) is consistently steep, it is a very direct route to the summit.  Kanchenjunga, as the 3rd highest mountain in the world, is only 25m lower than K2 (at 2nd highest), with technical challenge combined with long distances, crossing glacial terrain and with many big crevasses.  Our summit day also requires the traverse of a very long ridge before we get to the main summit.  From my research, I’m expecting a much longer summit day than on K2, and perhaps longer than I had on Mt Everest.  

Lakpa’s team members (that includes me!) plan to go up the mountain for some exercise and acclimatization over a next few days and once the route to Camp 3 is set then we will make a call on when we plan to go up to try and sleep at Camp 3 (7,200m).  We might have a bit of a waiting game ahead as we wait for the weather to stabilize, the route to be set – at least to Camp 3 (there is also a Camp 4), and for the mountain herself to say that we may proceed as safely as we might hope. 

There have been a few days on this expedition where I have wished I were not here.  Temperatures at BC have dropped in the last few days and I’ve had a couple of nights awake thinking how cold I am.  It is not unusual for this kind of thinking to present itself on the big mountains where one is facing so many extreme challenges all in one package: cold, more cold, heat, more heat, sunburn, altitude, exhaustion, inertia, people, personalities, inter-personal issues, food, crazy taste buds, lack of Haighs (!), medical issues, as well as missing friends, family and home.  If you have not got mental toughness it is easy to find yourself making a decision to call it quits at head home.  Luckily, the challenges I’ve faced on the big mountains before have put some tools in my toolkit, and I’m still here.  The good days are far more prevalent than the bad days and I realize how lucky I am to be having these experiences, and learning from them.  Also, with the sound leadership and well thought out strategy (and zen approach) that we have from Lakpa (and an endless supply of gingernuts!) everything seems to work out just as it needs to. 

So, not sure exactly when I’ll be able to post again but hopefully in 4-5 days

Best wishes, Chris

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