JOURNAL - MARTIN'S ATTEMPT OF SHISHA PANGMA
This part of our website features "as-it-happens" diaries from our most exciting trips. These diaries will recount some of the more challenging personal trips of the owners (for example, Martin's summit attempt of K2 or Shisha Pangma), as well as selected company trips with our clients. Our experiences will be posted, and we hope to share with you a sense of our wonder as we explore the territory among the islands of the Adriatic Sea, on "the other side" of Italy.SHISHA PANGMA 2004;
The summer is almost over and somewhere far from here, the monsoon is practically over as well. Which means that it is time to go back to the hills.
We are leaving on Thursday, September 16, 04. There are four of us. Four good friends who know each other from many past trips and who are going to climb high and live long. We are heading to South-West Face of Shisha Pangma, a big wall on one of the 14 highest mountains on the world.
Why South - West Face, why British route and why alpine style?
Among four of us, we climbed to the summits of 12 - 8000 meter peaks. Zdenek and Radek reached 4 of those each, Miska reached one and I reached 3 peaks. All of these ascents have been made without use of artificial oxygen, without high altitude porters and in small groups. The last year, three of us managed to climb to the top of Broad Peak at the same time. At this point, we think we are very compatible team and naturally we want to try something harder.
South - West Face of Shisha Pangma has been the first big Himalayan wall climbed in alpine style more than 20 years ago by British climbers Doug Scott, Alex MacIntyre and Roger - Baxter Jones. I like Doug Scott, his climbing style, his books, his way of life, his sence for elegant climbing routes. We would simply like to repeat their climb. Climb the wall and return back safely and be happy for a short time before heading back for another one, exactly like them. The route has been climbed less than 10 times untill now and we do not expect to share this entire wall with anyone else - at least we are not aware someone else would be there, too. We are looking for adventure and whatever comes our way...
You can follow our story and keep your fingers crossed for us. The beginning is only a few days away.
- Martin Minarik (top of the page)
BASE CAMP UNDER SOUTH-WEST FACE OF SHISHA PANGMA;
We arrived to Kathmandu as planned late night on September 16, 04. The following day we spent retrieving our cargo - those who know this procedure know what I am talking about. It is truly procedure for the entire day with lots of hassle involved, bribes to those involved and uncounted fees.
We had to spent another day in Kathmandu because one of the bag did not come till later. That was not a problem. Kathmandu has a very special atmopshere. And we were not there for over 2 years!
Both evenings were spent traditionally at Thamel Base Camp - the bar Tom & Jerry. This is the place where the expeditions meet, drink beer, play pool, listen to sound track from Pulp Fiction and other classics and of course - talk climbing.
We left Kathmandu on Sunday early morning. Maoists lifted the road blockade and we saw no problems except occasional Nepali Army check point. People in Nepal still smile even in these tough times they are going through.
At the border we were met by fairly organized fellow from Lhasa who helped us to get through, tried to get us descent meal in Nyalam and helped with the yaks. He stayed in Nyalam, we were heading up the valley with about 20 yaks and our couple Nepali cooks.
For two days, we were walking on the carpet of edelweiss and other gorgeous flowers, but mostly in the rain and fog. Each day, we walked for approx. 5 hours, gaining quite a bit of altitude. Yesterday evening, we established Base Camp in anything between 5000 - 5200 m. Here in Tibet, no maps exist and therefore we depend on our altimeters.
The mountain is here, we saw HER this morning for the first time. There are also couple other small expeditions, one from Spain / Andorra and the other from France. And this is one of the nicest BC and we are glad we do not have to share it with too many others.
- Martin Minarik (top of the page)
On September 25, 04 we left for our first acclimatization trip. I already mentioned that this is a very nice Base Camp with sun from 8am till the very late afternoon. And the mountains around us look very peaceful. There is no need to get us early because everything is handy.
One of the mountain is called Ice Tooth and reaches 6200m ( about). There are no maps of Tibet and different sources show different altitude of every mountain over here.
We climbed ice ridge under excellent conditions and spent the night on the ridge a short distance from the col under the Ice Tooth. The night was OK ( we all forgot pain killers against headache) and the view was just gorgeous. Everest group was blocked by Ice Tooth but all the great ranges to the west were like on our hands.
The next morning, we quickly reached the top of Ice Tooth. First surprised came as we descended back to the col. Ravens ( whatever their local name is) got into our packs and without any problem ate all eatable. More surprise came as we descended to our Base Camp. They seriously damaged our tents, opened different containers ( with medicine, warm bags, tooth paste). We started to call the ravens-communists. They simply take anything they like.
We prescribed to us only one full day of rest before heading up again. This time, our goal was the ridge (possibly summit) of Pungpa-Ri. Summit was not necessary the object, this was just another acclimatization climb. There is not need to risk more than enough and trash ourselves on just a ordinary training climb. Everything looks very close in thin air - and everything is very far in the thin air.
It took us good 6 hours, fully loaded to the camp called Castle Camp which is at the very end of moraine ridge under the face of Shishapangma and Pungpa-Ri. If this was a medieval castle, the residents would not survive one single attack. There are couple spots for sleeping under the 30 meter rock which "roof" is covered by free rocks. Nothing felt down the night we had to spend there.
I already mentioned that we are not "early morning birds". After the previous day haul, we took long breakfast and left no earlier than at noon. We were one hour late to reach the ridge since in the fog we climbed directly up versus to the left. We were awarded. 4 hours of chopping in 55% ice slope and the night spent on the ledge barely enough to put the sleeping bag on. Radek and Miska managed to make the ledge little bit bigger so they could erect the Bibler tent. I do not have to deal with details of such a night. Those who know - they know and those who do not know - they would not understand either. The most difficult part to get from such a nest is the morning. Everything ( including our bodies) has to be tight to couple ice screws and anything what falls down is GONE. Fortunately for us, the night was calm and we were truly awarded by fantastic view of Jugal Himal, Ganesh Himal, Manaslu and Annapurna group. Manaslu reminded personally of my very first Himalayan adventure. Both sunset and sunrise were great, sunrise much nicer since we knew the night is over :)
In the morning, we were not sure "should we stay or should we go". The weather was changing and huge clouds were forming over the south side of Himalaya along the whole range. We decided to go down. It was not without effort, it is a very slow job to climb down on such a slope. Protection would make things even slower and the safest is if each man takes good care of himself. Not less and not more. As MacIntyre says in his book - a charity ends up with 5000m.
We reached Castle Camp around noon, packed the huge loads and moved stuff closer to the South Face of Shishapangma. This time, the place for camp surprised us nicely. Pretty glacier lake, sandy beach with the million dollars view, a very inviting place for lovers. We had little time to sort the gear and cover everything by the rocks against our "communists friends" the ravens. if we did good job, we will see in the few days.
It took us a bit more then three ours to return to our Base Camp to good hands of our cooks - Sherpa friends Temba and Phurba. We came just before dark and crashed another round of Pilsner Urquell.
Are we ready yet or not? Who knows. But the fresh memorial for Alex Lowe and others clearly says that we are not under control of absolutely everything.
- Martin Minarik (top of the page)
Upon return from Pungpa Ri, we called our acclimatization good enough to shoot for the top of Shisha Pangma. We were planning to leave Base Camp on October 4 but due to unstable weather, we postponed what would most likely be our only try by two days.
October 6, started as cold but sunny day. Instead of 8am, we waited till the sun reached our spot and left two hours later. Our packs were not extremely heavy. On our return from the previous trip, we left most of our gear at the very nice spot by small glacier lake well covered by rocks to protect it against the ravens. It took us little more than 3 hours to reach our depot. We repacked and - this time - well loaded with all necessary gear and gas and food for about 5 days, we started to walk on rocky morraine towards Shisha Pangma. Suddenly we were much slower and instead of reaching "Bivouac Scott" on the rocky rib in the lower part of the route, we only reached the glacier where we set up the camp.
On the next morning, we started to cook around 5am but unsure about the weather. Unlike the previous day, heavy clouds covered the sky and it started to snow. Our supplies did not count with more than one extra day and we were afraid we might have to go back to Base Camp before we even started to climb! Fortunately for us, the sun burned the clouds and we left for the Face.
Alpine style in Himalayan Range means that the packs are very heavy. If you follow the unwritten rules, you are not supposed to climb on your route before, you are not supposed to fix any ropes. Then you can figure out what your load will look like and you can imagine what you will look like under such a load.
The glacier looked OK, fallen seracs covered all possible crevasses so we were only looking up if anything else might be coming down. We started to climb on the right side of the rocky rib. We found right away.... The slope is steep and covered by ice. And the packs are more than heavy. We tried to keep as close to the rib as possible in case something falls. And things were falling indeed! Rocks as well as pieces of ice of all sizes. Things got much worse on the top of the first rocky section. We followed the advise of Spanish climbers and traversed to the left side of the rib. I do not think it was smart. Now we have lost at least vague protection near the rocks and we were completely opened to anything falling from above (on the way down, we were rappelling on the right side all the way). Each of us got hit several times not counting the missiles smaller than five centimeters in diameter. Our only protection was helmet, heavy pack and the angels. Each of us climbed this 55-60% ice slope by himself, the rope would only slow things down.
The first possible camp was high and we did not want to repeat our experience from Pungpa Ri where we had to chop the ledges for the night. Such a situation would most likely force us to abandon the climb. After many hours of continuous climbing without a chance to stop and take off the pack, we reached the narrow ridge behind the second rocky tower. I would call it off for the day but the rest of the team decided to climb higher and find descent platform for the night. Zdenek took the shovel, I followed everyone in my own slow pace and joined them in the hole which was supposed to be the best place for the camp. The place was nice - nice to look at the picture in the book but for the night? It was a hole under the serac but not under the vertical cliff, the "ceiling" of the serac was almost horizontal, regular roof. And in the middle of it was, guess what. Huge boulder. And our tent was directly under it, there was no other option. I guess we were too tired to think about it. My only concern was that I did not want to have my head directly under it as it would matter. If the boulder was supposed to fall and destroy my feet, there is no way anyone would rescue me from there. Zdenek opted for "fast death" in case.....and slept with his head directly under. This is another "thing" about alpine style - any small health problem or injury turns into major complication with uncertain outcome.
We spent relatively comfortable night and started fairly early in the morning into what would be nice and warm day. Even at this altitude of about 6800m, it gets very warm and the climbing can be quite pleasant. The slope was as steep as the day before and we were shooting for altitude of about 7000m where ledge for good camp has been advertised. It took us only about 3 hours of climbing and at least another 3 hours of shovelling the narrow ledge on steep, snowy ridge which divides lower and upper couloirs. And least it was not hard ice like on Punga Ri. Miska fixed our only rope into the traverse, the help which was appreciated by all of us in the middle of night when we started to climb for the summit as well as on our return.
Evening was calm and the sky with no high clouds was very promising. We spotted however narrow couloir in the middle of "our" upper couloir filled with "moving" powder snow. We thought it is caused by afternoon warmth and that it will stop after dark.
- Martin Minarik (top of the page)
We started to get ready around midnight and left into windy night shortly after 2am. We went by the "Chinese time" by which the sunrise is around 8am. Therefore we knew that we will be climbing for 6 hours in the dark. Moon did not show up this night and so we were completely dependent on our head lamps. Fortunately for us, they lasted!
Soon after the started, we were facing gusty wind which blew the snow around in all directions. Not only snow, small rocks and pieces of ice, too. Again, at the certain whistle, we had to cover up and hope the "missiles" will just go by us. It was more difficult than in previous two days, this time we did not see what is coming and from where.
We also found that the "stream of snow" coming down the couloir did not stop with the dark. We had to cross this "small river of fast moving snow" several times. It was very scary and quite dangerous. Like during the previous days, we were climbing unroped in order to be fast. Looking back, we might have returned but the descend in the dark couloir while being constantly bombarded by ice and rock with hauling wind and powder snow everywhere, we just kept going. We knew that the sun will reach the ridge first and all we wanted was its little warmth the sun offers in such a altitude. We were wishing for dawn like the guys who are trapped on Dracula Castle with dancing vampires all around.
Oh man, it was really awful. But unlike in horror movies, the sun showed up. We were just finishing the narrow part of the couloir when we suddenly felt the sun rays on our beaten bodies. The wind was still blowing hard but the sun made the difference. We were happy. It was time to get a bite and drink some water. And to take off the packs because only short ridge was left to be climbed to the main summit of this mountain ( majority of climbers reach only "lower" central summit from the north side). The day was clear and the view was our summit award.
Shisha Pangma is centrally located in Himalayan Range - like the "best hotel in town" and everything is close. Annapurna and Manaslu on the west, Jugal and Langtang Himal on the south, Cho Oju, Everest and Makalu on the east and vast Tibetan plateau with Mt. Kailas - the holy mountain for Tibetans - directly to the north. It was magnificent and unforgettable. Watches counted sometimes around the noon. We did not stay long, summit is only half way!
Originally, we were planning to follow the ridge and descend via the same route like the British team. After the talks with different teams, we changed our mind and opted for the way down via our climbing route. It is trade off. We did not have to carry the heavy packs over the mountain, on the other side, it was slow way and we were again exposed to all the rock and ice fall. It took us about 5 hours to return to our camp on narrow snow ridge 7000m high. We found the tents but did not find the food. Ravens knew we will not be back until later afternoon and they surely took their time. Only tea and one pack of soup was left in badly damaged tent. And, I forgot to mention earlier, before we left in the middle of the night, I destroyed one gas canister out of two with my crampon. Of course the one which was full, not the one which was almost empty already. We had to be very carefull with amount of malting water for drinks, we had to leave something for the next morning, too.
In the camp, we were joined by two climbers from Andorra (for some reason, I called them Spanish before) and couple climbers from Ecuador. They were on the way up and left the following night, reached the summit and got safely down so we could all celebrate at Tom&Jerry in Kathmandu a few days later.
On October 10, 2004, we did not leave till noon. The morning was cold and it was hard to get started. We were mostly down climbing into the camp-cave-hanging serac, facing the slope, from there we started to rappel. It takes lots of time to four climbers with one rope. One rope length after another, we were slowly loosing the altitude covering when rocks were falling and meter by meter reaching the safety. By the time we reached the first rocky tower, we fixed the rope, descending on it and leaving it for the fellows for the next day.
At 9pm, we hugged each other on the glacier far enough from falling seracs. A huge chunk of ice felt from the face at the same time - as a reminder who is the boss on this land. The rest is the history. On following day, we made it to Base Camp, finished the brandy, met the yaks, returned to Nyalam, drove to Kathmandu where for several days we were again helping Nepal beer industry and improved our pool skills at Tom&Jerry. This might have been our best climbing hour, the Face is much steeper than on the pictures with no ledges for rest and only couple spots for the safe bivouacs. Great climb Mr. Scott, thank you !
Written in the middle of sunny Adriatic on the board of yacht Jannu on October 24, 2004.
- Martin Minarik (top of the page)
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