Tagging the Col – 24th April
Prior to our chosen Summit day we made the choice to go back up to the COL properly as the weather forecast was good for visibilty and would give us a good chance to look at the Technical Rockband, see IF the fixed lines were actually in place and get a better estimate of how long it would take to gain the Col itself. Travel was easy in the previoulsy plugged steps and it took an easy 3 hours to reach the col with some amazing views of the surrounding Peaks as well as our chosen route – the fixed lines were in place and apart from some lingering doubts about the quality of the lines themselves everything seemed in place for a good summit window early on the 25th. My friends Lhakpa and Soren had charged ahead and Lhakpa had climbed a hundred meters or so through the rockband – anchors were passable – there was plenty of snow which was a a change from previous years and would make the rockband easier to pass.
Heather and I got back to our camp around 11 am and settled in for an afternoon of rest / reading books / eating / drinking and prepping for a 2 am departure.
Summit Day – 2 am
I wake up 15 minutes before my alarm … sigh … it’s that ‘normal’ feeling of nervous energy, trepidation for what we are about to go do and excitement about what we are about to go do! 12 am … Or O’Dark Hundred. Well better get the stove on.
Water simmers away and more ice gets dropped into the MSR reactor. Tea / Coffee / Porridge with plenty of raisins, milk powder and water. Where is my kit for the day? Jam it in my pack – boots on – clothing sorted – out the tent door.
Its cold, cripsy, a good solid freeze on the snow and our headlamps illuminate a small circle of snow in front of us …. Time to go. Its easy to walk in the cold morning air – no suffocating heat or unsuprising / suprising postholing in the snowpack as we cross around the lake back towards the gulley to the leading to the Col. This will be the last time we have to walk this way and both Heather and I are happy for this to be so.
Time to try and Summit Kyajo Ri.
Lhakpa and Soren are up a bit later than us – however they quickly catch and overtake us – Heather and I are not rushing, Heather has a chest infection and we’ll take the day slowly – the forecast is good … mostly.
We reach the top of the Col as the the eastern skyline begins to glow – its amazing to be here and strangely not too cold. I love this time of the morning – its quiet and peaceful – slow easy steps with the sound of crampons crunching in the snow – utterly amazing to realize where we are and what we are doing
Conditions and other factors prompted us to change our summit bid style – we moved from Alpine style to using the the fixed lines. Heather had brought a jumar with her – I’m using a Petzal mini traction to move on the fixed lines – not the most ideal tool which means I’m really only using it as a point of contact and safety rather than as a aid to climb.
The rockband passes quickly – with banked out snow its easy to move through this section although some rockslabs prove a bit ‘scratchy’. From here its a shock to see how much abalation has occurred in recent years. Both of us are moving steadily but I’ve got a small problem – I cant feel my feet. I froze my feet in 1997 in Canada and have been paranoid about frostbite since then – basically if I cant get feeling back into my feet I am going to have to go down.
I think I’ve over tightened my crampin straps over the top of my foot – a quick adjustment and a check of where the rising sun is now putting its warmth on the peak and I keep going. I occasionally need to stop and swing my feet to get feeling back into them.
Heather indicates to me that she’s lost her ability to talk – her cough has taken its toll on her throat but she indicates she’s good to go on.
Up we go – into the sun – I position my feet to catch the maximum amount of sun on my boots – bliss as I feel my feet coming back properly – they are no longer blocks of frozen wood in Synthetic boots ….
Sometimes the hills give you a suprise – no exception today. Abot 1/2 way up the route I got a bit of a shcok – an ENORMOUS Bergshrund was cutting the route in half and it looked like we were crossing it on a fairly thin bridge – Personally I didn’t go near the edge of it – however SOREN LEDET did and this is the shot he got. It could be that in the near future this feature will make Kyajo Ri even harder to climb. I moved as far right of this as I could and gingerly moved over it – a brief thought about the descent and weaker snowbridging ….
We move around the next section of steep snow and over a smaller rock band and gain some respite from the angle – a good place to catch our breathe and relax. Soren and Lhakpa are on their way down now. Soren stops by me – gives me a steely eyed glance and says
” Mal – the ropes above are not good … Not good at all – take care / check everything and clip everything “
There is a MASS of old rope – not uncommon in Nepal but Id not seen this much of a mess for a while. It’s one of the reasons I prefer to bring mhy own ropes and climb a bit differently – however we’v not choice except to back off and we may as well give it a bit more a go …
The actual climbing isn’t too hard until a short steep rock section that requires a few wide moves and even the use of a hand / arm jam to gain a corner before clipping into EVERYTHING that seems safe and doing a small tension traverse out and around a corner to gain the final slope and our first view of the summit proper.
The sky was beginning to boil and the snow had all but vanished – a thin layer of snow was sitting over solid blue ice that was almost concrete. Crampons were barely pentrating and it felt sketchy. To make matter worse …. the ropes were really really really bad. The last 10m were going to be very dangerous and unpleasant.
I had a rather scary moment. Each different rope here went to a separate anchor. Nothing was very secure. As is cautiously tested a section with weight it ‘zippered’ out of the ice. The protection failed and the reality was that nothing here could really be trusted. Heather and I had a chat an made a choice – the last 10m was just not worth the risk / reward. We would start to descend from here. Looking around it was the right choice as well time wise – clouds were building – towards the Lower valley they were towering – a storm was coming.
When you are at the top its still only 1/2 way and as we made our way down the clouds bgan to increase – thunder could be heard in the sky and the wind was slowly rising.
Before we could reach the col we were overtaken by the storm. It wasnt too bad but it added to our time and exhaustion. Driving snow into your face doesnt make it much fun and with thunder rolling it was a but uncertain how long the storm would last or how intense it would become. All we knew was that by going down as fast and as safely as we could we’d be in a better situation. A bit of food – water an keep moving.
The last 2 km back to the tent after descending the col was hard – the snow was now soft and breakable – the lake again proved to be a hurdle with legs going down in deep snow almost to hip depth at times ….
The last 200m to the tent took a while …
Tea – food – paracetamol – throat lozenges – Sleep …… Tomorrow we’d pack up and walk out …
Did I mention sleep ?