Monday, July 25, 2016

Summer Solstice Alpinism - Kang Yatze 2016

We're just back to Leh from a nice June climb in the Kang Yatze massif.  The Markha valley is generally a trekking trip, where trekkers take their time to make the 45 kilometer trek over a 5000 meter pass in about 11 days. For us, this trip was focused on climbing, so we covered that ground in two days whereas most do it in six.  Eric, the climber on the trip, was ready and excited for this. Below, you'll find some spare notes while on the trip, along with photos that give you a visual of the region. We are now building treks and climbs for 2017 in the region. Do get in touch if you're keen to join us.

6:01 PM | 19 June 2016 | Chumik | 3590m

The cooling of the day, we walked about 5 hours and 15 km today. Camped next to a fresh water spring in the grass, we've set camp and will rest here for the night. The team is Eric McPherson, Kunsang Thackchod, Phuntsok Dorje, Gurmet Stok and myself. We'll make this trek of 4 days in two, and climb up to 5200 meters the day after tomorrow.
     The Solstice, longest day of the year, is tomorrow. We saw three other trekking groups today, most of them Israeli, heading to a home stay in the next village of Markha. Fair weather cumulus clouds dotted the sky as we walked today, giving fair moments of shade to an other wise hot sunny day. We could see the snow-covered peaks of Alchi down valley today, and I noticed that the ice routes of the Baralacha and Taglung la north faces still were in two days ago. These are both good signs for good conditions for climbing in the Kang Yatze massif.

Eric trekking up the trail in Markha. We spotted a lot of Himalayan Chukar in this section.
The night before summer Solstice, our camp next to a spring under a full moon.
A horseman works his team up the trail to the village of Sara.
A wilderness camp in the Markha valley.
The horseman arriving in camp, where the loads are removed and they are set free to graze for the night, the days work done.
On the trail, the horsemen working with their teams.

 1835 | Kang Yatze base camp | 22 June 2016 | 5045m

Clouds came through this afternoon, enveloping the peak in a dark gray cloud, graupel tapping on the tent fly and buckles of the dining tent clanging against its aluminum pole frame as the wind gusted in fits and starts.

The dining tent we utilize for our small groups, with rugs, camp chairs, tea and coffee, and snacks always available.

A horned lark in base camp. The most common bird in the Changtang.

Climbing gear lain out for planning the traverse from Kang Yatze 2 to 1.

A local headed up the trail to visit a friend.

Locals in the village of Markha doing the annual white-washing of the chortens.

In the village of Hangkar there are verdant fields, white chortens, and views of the Kang Yatze range. Timeless.

Our first view of the Kang Yatze massif before the village of Hangkar.

Locals in the village of Hangkar.

A lone villager out looking for her yaks near the village of Sara.

Eric crossing the icy river near Sumdo.

Trekking out of the Markha valley and into the plains of Nyimaling.

Goats and sheep in the village of Markha.

On the trail in the Markha valley.

Marmot battle (!)
We spent the morning paring down and organizing equipment for the climb tomorrow night. Let's see what the weather looks like in the morning.  We arrived to base camp yesterday afternoon, hiking up from the summer grazing hamlet of Tujungtse. We both had mild headaches, a symptom of a rapid ascent from 3700 meters to 5045 meters in three days. Most groups that are trekking the Markha valley do so in four to five days, with an acclimatization stop at 4000 meters in Hangkar. The ends to the means of a Markha valley trek is the valley itself, hence the slow trek. We were utilizing the valley for access, the approach to 6400 meter Kang Yatze 1.  Eric is strong, and has altitude experience with a previous ascent of Ama Dablam in Nepal. Today he reports that he "feels like a million bucks". We will be fine with the altitude. It was a good day of rest and preparation.
Ice climbing on the Kang Yatze glacier

Climbing high on a pillar in the serac field of the Kang Yatze glacier.

A local resident in Nyimaling.

A two person tent, each member had their own while on treks and climb with us. The red toilet tent in the background.

Morning light on the glacier from the summit of Kang Yatze 2.

The Shang Sumdo gorge after crossing the Gongmaru La.

Big sky country with trekkers (bottom left).

Sunset in Nyimaling

A local out for a search for her yaks.

Distant peaks in the Kang Yatze massif.

Distant peaks in the Kang Yatze massif.

On the Kang Yatze glacier after descent.

Trailside flowers on retreat.

A young of the year donkey in Nyimaling.

A local takes his animals out to pasture.


Our original goal was to climb the northwest ridge in alpine style, establishing a high camp in the rocks on Kang Yatze 2 and then continuing on to complete the ridge early the following morning. In our discussions on the trail and in the dining tent on approach, I brought up weight. Carrying planned buy gear would add kilos to our packs, which were already heavy from a small stove, a light alpine rack, and alpine double ropes.
On the summit of Kang Yatze 2, pondering our next move.
I added that we could bring an alpine bivy tarp and and a single foam mattress, using it for emergencies and saving about several kilos each.  This plan stuck and we set to planning on it, a single push alpine style ascent.  Arriving in base camp, we had the usual slightly elevated heart rate and even a mild headache for a brief period that can accompany moving to 5000 meters. We waited for our bodies to adjust to that altitude, laid out our gear for the climb, and then set off at 10 pm for the climb. Reaching Kang Yatze 2 summit at 6 am, with about an hour total of breaks enroute, we watched the clouds roll in and out on the ridge, not exactly the most inspiring weather.  I began melting snow in the Jetboil, refilling our water bottles and watching to see if the weather would change in our favor. 
Spectacular views on our descent to Kang Yartze base camp.
    We discussed the climb at this point. I mentioned that we had 980 meters of distance to climb on technical and semi-technical terrain with a vertical gain of roughly 200 vertical meters. We talked about the commitment on the ridge. Once we started, we would need to commit and climb on to the summit, or return the way we had come. There was no option for bailing in the middle of the ridge.  Both of us felt fine. The night had been calm, and we had moved slowly and deliberately at a pace that we could maintain for the duration of the traverse.  I knew we could just go for it. The ridge doesn’t present any climbing that is overly difficult. Perhaps a few exposed moves on rock at a “step” near the summit, but overall fairly steady climbing at an altitude (Denali elevation here) above the summit of Denali. I didn’t see it.  I was not keen to expose the guest with me to such a risk. “You are guiding” kept ringing through my mind, and I decided we should be content with a 6250 meter summit, and head back down to base camp. Could we have completed the climb? Possibly. It did not feel right. I’ve trusted my instincts while climbing in the Himalayas for the past 15 years, and never had to call a helicopter or had a rescue. My primary goal is to keep that record intact, bringing guests home safe is the most important parameter of successful mountain guiding. We came back safely with an excellent trek and 6000 meter summit, and all in two weeks (!).