Saturday, November 14, 2015

2015 Yaphu Ri Expedition

Views of the Chamlang massif from the Khongma Danda.

We completed the Yaphu Ri expedition for 2015 early.  On the 19th of October, we flew into Tumlingtar, and swiftly trekked into base camp in 5 days, arriving on the 24th in the afternoon to 5300m and the base of Yaphu Ri. 
Unclimbed granite towers in Makalu.

Base camp puja.

Warming up with a coffee and a hot fire after retreating from base camp.
Views from camp 1 on Saldim Ri.
This was our first time in this base camp, and it is truly an extraordinary. I think it is common news now that the peak remains unclimbed, and we simply didn’t get the weather we needed. We were getting clear skies from 11 pm to 10 am each day until the 29th of October, with each day bringing in cloud cover and moderate snow fall.

The hamlet of Khongma Danda in afternoon light.

Yaphu base camp.
Looking out from camp 1.

In the cloud forests between Tashi Gaon and Khongma Danda.
We could have worked with these windows and gotten the summit, but it started to snow on the 29th, and continued until 1st of
Lots of untapped potential alpine climbing in Makalu (!).
November. We could get small hour long clearing spells and we could see that the peak wasn’t
Looking up at the Chamlang Himal from Yangle Kharka.
getting a ton of snow, but certainly
Dawa is now This tall. It's great to see the kids growing higher and higher each year.
enough to give us pause. Winds whipped during these clearing spells, and there was significant
A spectacular apple pie in base camp.
snow loading on the upper slopes of our route, and spindrift avalanche pouring down all aspects.
The cloud forests of Makalu.
            We considered the weather, and upon getting the forecast on the 1st of November, decided to call the expedition. We could have sat in base camp in the clouds for another week, but was that enjoyable?
Looking out of the tent at our route with a new snow load.
There was ice climbing and rock to climb around base camp, but it was serac ice and the rock was wet from the snow. I knew we weren’t going to get our window that we needed, and so Brian and I decided to call it and head out before the snow piled high on the passes that led us out of the region. We will be back, and of course it was a great trek in and out, and a really nice time in the wilderness. -Luke Smithwick (luke@himalaya-alpine).com

2015 Menthosa Expedition

The 2015 Menthosa expedition started out in Manali, we drove North into Lahaul, and then set our first camp in the village of Urgus, and began to acclimatize. It rained for three days straight without stopping, bringing a huge snow load onto our objective. I decided to pack up the expedition, and move the entire thing North into Ladakh and fairer weather. Over the following weeks, we successfully climbed two aesthetic 6000 meter peaks. Brief below. -Luke

Drying out camp in Urgus after the storm.
Enroute to the Changtang, we stopped briefly in Pang.

30 Sept 2015 | 4600m | Korzok Phu | 0758

The team is feeling well, and today we will walk up to high camp for 6250m Mentok Kangri 1.  Tonight, we will rise in the early morning hours, put on our double boots, and begin climbing to the summit.
There is not a single cloud in the sky,
Camp beneath the Mentoks.
and it is harvest season for the pashm goats around us.  There are about 5000 goats and sheep in this valley, with the landscape dotted with yak hair tents
Base camp in the Mentoks.
of their Changpa owners, and the smoke of dung fires keeping their families warm, and fed by a cooking fire.  The quiet is nice, and the
The 17 year experienced cook, Phuntsok Dorje, styles out a pizza on the base camp stove.
cold air brings the sound of children off in a distant meadow, playing and watching their livestock.  The moon is full, and one can see forever, to Tibet, to distant mountains to the North, and there is only time to think, and breathe, and reflect amongst the silence.  The climbing is only the icing on the cake, being here is truly  as good as it gets.

4 October 2015 | 5450m | Mentok Kangri BC | 0830

A trailside mani stone.

mentok kangri 1
Press play. Lars Andersson on the summit of Mentok 1.
We trekked to base camp several days ago, had a day of rest the following day, and climbed Mentok Kangri yesterday.  We took a steeper route this time, climbing directly up the glacier headwall to the ridgeline, then to climb to the summit ridge in three pitches.  During past ascents, we did not rope up for this section, however this time we found ice and snow where there is normally dry rock. Reaching the 6005m summit that demarcates the top of the ridgeline, we continued to the summit of Mentok Kangri 1 in blustery
Climbing up the Mentok headwall in alpine style.
conditions, reaching base camp at 2000 that night, for a 17 hour day that normally takes 8 hours (!).

Everyone crashed in their tents, and the following morning, we packed up and headed for

lower altitudes and some good rest next to Lake Tsomoriri in the shepherd camp of Peldo, where we are now.

7 October 2015 | 5456m | Changtang Peaks camp | 0735

Looking out on Lake Tsomoriri.
Yesterday, we climbed a peak we named "Changtang Kailas" for its round shape. Topping out at just over 6000 meters,
The group on the summit of Changtang Kailas.
it made for a great summit for the whole group. From the top, we had great views of high Lungser and Chamsser Kangri, along with many remote 6000m peaks along the Tibetan border.
Resting and relaxing in the dining tent.
It's windy and cold in October on the Changtang plateau, and I'm looking forward to getting to Nepal in a few days. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

2015 Nun Expedition

The team on the summit of 7153m Mount Nun.
Nun notes

22 Aug | 1659 | 4895m | Stok Kangri BC

A light snow is falling, graupel actually. We've just returned from an acclimatization round on a nearby glacier, with practice in rock to snow transitions, fixed rope travel, rappelling on a fixed rope. The glacier itself, a remnant of a former glacier, is a stationary ice body with black ice underneath a thin veneer of snow. Black ice is dense, and challenging to place ice screws in.
One team member, Peter, woke up with a headache. He stayed here in camp to rest, while we slowly ascended to the ice and our practice day. This morning over breakfast, we spotted a flock of bharal (blue sheep) grazing on an adjacent hillside. There are 5 or 6 other teams here in base camp, all with plans to climb Stok Kangri in the coming days.
Peter is feeling better now, and plans to climb Golep Kangri with us tomorrow. This being our 7th day of the trip after 3 nights of acclimatizing in Leh at 3600m, we are doing quite well to be acclimatizing and the group all feeling strong.

26 Aug 2015 | Stok Kangri BC | 4895m | 1123

The weather changed yesterday, and the skies have been clear for the past 30 hours. We made successful ascents of 5965m Golep Kangri and 6135m Stok Kangri over the past three days, with a rest day between the two. We are now resting in base camp, and will walk down to Leh early tomorrow morning. There is a mild respirtatory illness moving through the team, and I along with two others are taking an antibiotic to clear it up. Descending down to 3600m tomorrow will help.
We had an experience on Golep Kangri, with the team having a tough day on their first altitude climb of the trip, and an electrified storm cloud passing as we descended. As I set the anchor for the rappel down the steepest portion of the climb, I heard a trekking pole from another climbers pack starting to buzz, we were within the electric field. I instructed everyone to drop their metal axes and poles, and to squat low while each person rappelled the route. A nervous few moments, and the first near lightning experience I'd had in the Himalaya. I was glad the cloud passed after a few moments, but not before one lightning strike followed by thunder on an adjacent peak.
One climber mentioned he felt "recharged" after the experience, partially joking.. Not something we ever want to repeat, but certainly part of climbing in the mountains.
The team nearing the summit of 6153m Stok Kangri.

Yesterday's ascent of Stok Kangri went smoothly, without near lightning strikes or cloudy skies. We could see Nun & Kun on our descent, and the team is primed and ready for our climb higher.

6/9/2015 | Nun ABC | 4800m | 0812

We climbed to the summit of Nun via the west buttress two days ago, but not before weathering whiteout conditions on approach to camp 3, some cold toes, and nausea with some members of the group. The idea of candy coating climbing above 7000m is a farce. It is cold, hard, and tough.
We are all safely back in base camp, resting and planning to walk down to the village of Tangol, a catch a jeep to Kargil by tomorrow night. Since the last dispatch, we've walked down to Leh, spent the night there, driven to Kargil for a night, driven on to Tangol village and spent the night. The expedition supply truck went too far ahead, and we waited for them to come back in Tangol, after they'd gone on to Parkachik. An honest mistake, it gave several members time to recover from the cough they'd developed in the Stok range.
Dawn in the Stok range.

The following morning, the 30th August, we walked up to Nun advanced base camp. With 1000 kilos of expedition equipment (!). This was not an alpine style attempt on Nun.
Reaching ABC, we prepared the following day, and following the forecast for the next five days, we launched on our summit bid the next morning, the 1st of September. The ascent flowed like clockwork, climbing to camp 1, then camp 2, then camp 3, and then the summit, descending to ABC yesterday, the 5th of September.
It is worth mentioning the whiteout we endured while climbing to camp 3 from camp 2. We were truly lost, and only by luck did we find the next willow wand, and then the next, and then the next, before finally hearing the call of Gomba Sherpa in camp 3. We crawled into the tents, exhausted and five hours overdue.
Looking across the Himalayas from the flanks of Mount Nun.

Our ascent was only possible because Gomba Sherpa, Tsewang Namgyal, Mingma Sherpa, and Thukpa Tsering Sherpa fixed ropes to the summit, and also carried the expedition tents to camp 1, camp 2, and camp 3. If anyone deserves credit for our ascent, it is solely them. This was a classic Himalayan fixed rope style mountaineering expedition, and was not alpinism in the least, but still a true mountain adventure. We held a good puja (prayer ceremony) in base camp, and I am thankful to the gods for allowing our safe ascent. I am not a religious person, but I do believe in reverence. Many of the greats have been lost due to a loss of reverence for the mountains. My seniors have taught me to always take this seriously.
The view looking east towards Zanskar.

One last note, at 6000m yesterday, as a snow squall rolled across the west ridge and we lowered our head and stumbled on downwards, a mountain weasel jumped out and ran across the ridge.
A friend of mine, Tom Choate, whom has climbed Denali every decade for the past 6, called the wolverine the true mountaineer. After hearing this, I would see their tracks in the wildest, most off-the-beaten track areas of the Alaska wild. Along the same lines, the mountain weasel is the true mountaineer of the Himalaya, with tracks in very much the same places. In places where we are barely surviving and require the best mountain equipment available, they are simply thriving.