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Kanchenjunga - first rotation done

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Lakpa chilling at lower Camp 2 Lakpa chilling at lower Camp 2
As at 26th April, our team is back at BC resting and preparing for our next rotation.  Meanwhile, Sherpas from 3 of the 4 teams here have moved up the mountain today to continue work on the route setting.

Sorry for delay on reporting on our first rotation but I’ve not had internet access until now as we reached our data usage limit and had to wait for recharge.  Oops.  I can now get back on the internet to check the weather forecasts!

Our team did a 3 day, 2 night, rotation on the mountain from 22-24th April, with 2 nights sleeping at Camp 1 (6,200m).  Whilst we rested after reaching Camp 1, Lakpa decided to descended back down the route to change and check the anchors, and then he descended further to bring up coils of rope stashed along the route.  On our second night sleeping at Camp 1, I reflected on what a surreal feeling it was to know we were the only people on the mountain, since the Italians had already descended.

With weather forecasts around camp indicating significant snowfall, we decided not to move camp to Camp 2.  It was a good call, but for a different reason.  We went to Camp 2 to ‘touch’ for acclimatization, and to move 800m of rope and a bundle of snow pickets further along the route.  Camp 2 turned out to be nothing more than a few metres higher than Camp 1 – we had hoped to ascend at least 200m for our efforts.  But, most was horizontal gain. 

Now that we have seen where Camp 2 sits, we are considering moving our team’s Camp 2 to another, higher, location, on the opposite side of the glacier and on a higher slope in order to reduce the vertical distance from Camp 2 and Camp 3.  If we leave our Camp 2 where it is then we have a vertical jump to Camp 3 of around 1,000m and, at this altitude, the jump will hurt and increase the risk of debilitating altitude symptoms, or a level of discomfort we want to try to avoid.   

For our first rotation, I was pretty keen to move up the mountain on 21st but I didn’t get any clear support for such a move from any in our team because of various weather forecasts around BC.  The weather forecasts were not positive but they were good enough for me, given what we were planning to do.  With talk late on 21st turning to the possibility of waiting out the forecast snowfall before ascending (possibly waiting another 2-3 days), I put my down bootie down with Lakpa and said I was going up early on 22nd, no matter what.  It’s a tough call to make when your own team is leaning more towards staying at BC a few more days, and other teams are staying put at BC anyway. 

However, I knew that when we needed to be on the move the weather would not be too bad and when we were staying put in our tents, it could snow however much it wanted, within reason.  I also knew we could manage our descent back to BC on terrain where the avalanche risk was low.  That was my thinking.  Our team did ascend on 22nd and we are now in a small group of climbers who have managed one (solid) rotation on the mountain – our team and the Italians.  Most climbers have stayed put at BC for many different reasons.  My thinking for going up stemmed from a strategy that Lakpa and I often adopt, and this time it worked again.  The actual snowfall that came was quite a bit less than forecast but was enough to be irritating at times – but if we can’t handle irritating, why are we here? 

The route from BC to Camp 1 is pretty straightforward in the lower half – relatively easy terrain: snow slopes of 30/40 degrees at worst.  After a traverse there is a steep rock and steeper ice section, which Lakpa, Tshering and Kami of our team fixed ropes on days prior.  Lakpa would have been like a kid in a candy shop on the steep ice.  On the steep rock, as I ascended, I decided to use my hands at one point, as I love being able to heave myself, touching the rock, rather than rely on a rope.  As a descending Sherpa approached he waved his arm to demonstrate to me to use my jumar, which would have been easier.  In this world of high altitude mountaineering, there was much irony in this encounter…

Since returning to BC, we have had the chance to clean ourselves up with a bucket of water, launder our clothes and watch a few movies.  I’m also nursing a case of patchy facial sunburn, the worst I’ve had in a while.  I have some sunburn inside my nostrils, too, due to the rays of the sun bouncing off the snow.  Hurts a little bit and a lot…  

One of the challenges of altitude is that your taste buds and body become very particular about what will or will not be eaten.  One of my favourite types of chocolate at sea level (red box, you know the one) has suffered the fate of altitude and low oxygen – I can’t face eating it.  I tried and I can’t do it.  I know, hard to believe.  How could I possibly have forgotten to bring Haighs, a sure bet, with me this time?  Oh woe…

In the daytime at BC, we get to see and experience many avalanches on surrounding mountains, including coming off the mighty Jannu.  This really is a spectacular BC – worth every penny for any trekker thinking of coming here for the experience of a lifetime.  So far, no material avalanche movement to be seen on Kanchenjunga, though we cannot see activity below Camp 3 from our telescope at BC.  Each night, before I go to sleep at BC, I am sure to look up before entering the sleeping tent and I see the most amazing stars in the sky, and Jupiter to boot.  A-m-a-z-i-n-g!

As a team, we are already discussing our strategy to move up again, this time to Camp 3 hopefully.  On 25th, Lakpa organized a meeting with Sherpas from most teams to co-ordinate the work on the mountain.  All is looking good for those heading up today to help out.

Tshering from our team, Lakpa’s nephew and a UIAGM/IFMGA guide, just ascended to Camp 1 in 1 hour 40 minutes.  Astonishing time and he would have done it faster without his heavy backpack.  Through the telescope we were cheering him on.  He passed others like he was on a race track.

Weather permitting, our team will move up in a few days or so for our second rotation, and we will try to ‘touch’ or sleep at Camp 3 (7,200m).  A few climbers in another team are planning only one rotation on the mountain before their summit push, but our strategy is to manage two rotations and be as well acclimatized as possible pre-summit push.   To us, this is a lower risk strategy as it means we should be more acclimatized and less reliant on the use of supplementary O2 on our ascent on summit day, and better able to manage whatever that day may throw at us.  Those considering one rotation may be pre-acclimatised or have different thoughts on how to approach this mountain.

Chris W and Matt move faster than me on the mountain so I’m thinking that if the weather and health permits, I will spend one extra day high on our next rotation just to get a bit more time in the thinner air. 

There are essentially 4 teams here at BC: our team, the Japanese / Korean team, Seven Summits (SST) and the Italians.  The 3 first-mentioned teams are providing proportionate Sherpa numbers (as against a foreigner climber ratio) to ascend the mountain on 26th in an attempt to set a route from (current) Camp 2 to Camp 3.  I’m not sure of the Italian’s plans, except that they had a helicopter fly up high on the mountain on 25th, likely to survey or they doing something promotional – I can’t see outside media so don’t know more, sorry.

A publisher needs to get a hold of Chris W so that he can write a book on the Monty Python-esque side of high altitude mountaineering – his stories are too funny and, well, too real.  This is the first time Chris W, Lakpa and I have met since the extreme challenge we experienced trying to rescue a climber on Makalu in the northern spring of 2014.  I think I have mentioned before that Chris W co-ordinated the mission involving 21-22 climbers and we sadly were not successful with that mission, despite many hours of trying to bring the stricken climber down the mountain.  I’ve spent some time reflecting (can’t think of a better word to say publicly) to unpack some of what we experienced on that day in 2014.

Matt is his usual zen self at all times.  I think I have said before I need to take a few leaves (or trees) out of his book.  As we continue preparing to advance up this mountain, my legal risk analysis pushes its way forth as I try to balance a desire for summit success against identifying, eliminating and managing residual risk.

Our team is well, healthy and looking forward to the next stage of this mission.  For those Sherpas moving up toward Camp 3 to set a route (including Tshering and Pema from our team) we wish them luck and a safe climb.  They are the first to move into this part of the mountain for nearly 2 years, I think, so we will be sending them a great deal of positivity as they take on this huge and dangerous task.

That is all for now.  Thanks for following!  Will write again following our second rotation.

Last modified onWednesday, 26 April 2017 08:16

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