Storms, Yakemn and Plan Changes

19 Oct

An adventure is an activity with an unknown outcome …… If this definition is true then we’ve been having a HUGE adventure.

By now you may have heard that the central himalaya’s bore the brunt of another tropical storm and that larghe number of people were killed or are missing in the Annapurna and Dolpo region. If you have friends trekking there and have not heard from them as yet do not be immediatley alarmed as many groups will not have access to sat phones / comms

We rode out the storm at Pangi Camp – 4500m. On the day the storm arrived we were climbing up from Karkot with a rapidly changing sky. The sky looked very similar to the storm that I sat through in Khare last year when 3 m of snow fell in two days. Pangi camp is situated in a broad bowl with potentially hazardous slopes above. Seeing the storm brewing and getting a forecast suggesting that over 1m of snow may fall we shifted camp to the ridgeline boardering Pangi camp and the precipitous yak route below. It was not a very comfortable camp but it was safe from avalanche hazard. The yakmen did not believe that there would be any serious snowfall and did not take heed when I suggested that they descend immediately ….

The storm came in with little wind and a fairly high precip rate, overnight 30cm of snow fell and continued to do so throughout the day. The yakmen again did not take heed of advice to now sit out the storm and wait for the avalanche cycle to pass – they set off in the midst of the storm, crossing underneath multiple avo pathways and debris with 25 yaks and 12 men. As the storm began to abate and visibility improved the temperature also began to rise. We coud see the yakmen and their beasts struggling up the steep slopes to the safety of the ridgeline that would lead them back down to Karkot. About 100m below the ridgeline and under a series of rockbands the yak train was hit by a large loose dry avalanche, I could see a number of yaks being taken downslope but given their size and strength and the fact that the snow was still very lit and dry they were not taken very far – maybe 15m. The results for a human being caught in the same slide would not have been so favorable, with a long steep slope ending in cliffs below and a very nasty terrain trap.

During this the expedition members were holed up in their tents – staying dry and warm – out kitchen tent had re-shifted to sit on some a platform made out of hard packed snow and the thin ridge. At this stage we still held hopes that we would be able to continue up towards basecamp in the next ferw days.

The following day the storm had cleared completely revealing a very different landscape – the snow line as about 600m below us and about 65 – 70cm of snow had fallen over the main campsite of Pangi. There had also been a number of slides close to the original camp but not actually through it. Later that afternoon myself and 3 of our Sherpa staff pushed a safe line the ridge crest that would lead onto the track to Basecamp. The snow at this point was knee to waist deep, lite and dry – great skiing but not so good for yaks porters or for forward movement towards basecamp. On the other side of the ridge the snow was shallower but still hard going.

The next day (16th) the expediton team went for an acclimatisation trek towards basecamp – breaking trail through mid shin deep snow for a number of kilometers before returning to our ridgeline camop and Pangi. We started to get news about what was happening in the rest of the region – major avalanches in the Annapurna’s and Dolpo region, trekkers, porters and guides all missing – from what we understand from the little news we have receieved it is one of the largest natural disaters to ever effect the Nepal Himalaya.

By now (17th) the snow had settled enough to move back down top the flatter ground of Pangi camp and we arranged for the Yak teams to try and reach us to make an attempt to get to Basecamp – this would be the make or break point for the Putha Hiuchuli trip. On the 18th, with numerous helicopters flying past us into the upper Dolpo on rescue missions, the yak team was only able to make it to within a few hundered meters vertically and 1 km horizontally before deep avalanche debris blocked their route. We we were all very grateful for the yakmen to even make this attempt.

Putha Hiunchuli 2014 is noelw finished however aqs a backup plan the team members and sherpa’s will now start to do load carries up the mountain and ridgeline to a place labeled German camp which is again safe from avalanche hazard and with potential access to a glacier.

Over the next 6 days I will be running a high altitude technical mountaineering course whilst we wait for the snow to settle / melt which will allow the local villagers to come up and act as porters to return out nearly 2000kg of equipment to the valley floor.

An adventure is an activity with an unknown outcome – the adventure continues.

MAL

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