12th – 13th October. Things start to stack up.
It’s amazing just how quickly things can go pear shaped. At C4 we had made a plan for Ben and Phemba to descend to C2 and Sidi Mama and I would remain at C3 where we would pack up the gear and then I’d try to make a flight off the mountain from near 7000m
The wind had been blowing hard down the mountain all night and spindrift had been blasting the tent ever since midnight … this was actually the least of my problems.
The afternoon before Ben and I were standing at C3, just under a set of seracs. Ben was keen to keep going down and I was keen to get a tent set up and to crawl into my sleeping bag. Ben set off into the late afternoon light but Phemba and Sidi were nowhere to be seen – which was a bit perplexing but I just thought that they were packing up their gear at the tent that they had been borrowing from some of Phemba’s friends the night before.
An hour later I was still wondering where they were.
Sidi finally dropped down to me to tell me the news that Phemba had changed his mind about descending and would instead go down lower tomoro … hmmmm Not such good news. Sidi told me that there was another stove in our tents at C2 so Ben should be able melt water and get some fluid and food into him – we just weren’t sure if he had anyway to light the stove!
I turned on the radio to try and call Ben to see where he was – I stil hadn’t seen him walking into C2 yet but I could have missed him. It was getting dark and I was already exhausted – Ben had been walking on for a while after me and would be even more tired …
"Ben – you there? copy Ben?"
"Hi Mal – when is Phemba coming down? I’m a bit off the track and in some pretty deep snow …"
"Um …. it appears that Phemba is not coming down tonight bro … Can you manage your way back to the track and come back up?"
"%^**($%^^% – I’ll try …."
After that I didn’t have any radio contact with Ben. I had horrible visions of him wandering into a deep crevasse – or simply being too tired to make it back up to C3. Sidi and I had a chat for a while and we made the choice to send him down to look for Ben and continue on down to C2.
for about the next hour I had no radio contact with either Ben or Sidi and I could only see 1 headlamp, slowly making it’s way to the area of C2. I was starting to get quite worried and got geared up again to drop down into the dark to possibly help Sidi when the radio finally crackled into life.
"Mal Dai this is Sidi – Ben Dai and I are now are C2"
Ben and Sidi were to share a pretty cold night under 1 sleeping bag and sharing two mattresses in one of our tents at C2. I could finally crawl into my bag for the evening and hope for a lessening of the winds in the morning.
8am – 13th October
I was outside the tent, gearing up to try and make a speedriding descent down the mountain. My pack was pretty heavy – the heaviest I’d ever carried when trying to make a flight.
The wind was reduced but still blowing down the mountain.
Phemba was still somewhere above me and I could see Sidi Mama making his way back up towards C3 – very very very slowly. Sophie had left Basecamp at 4:30 am and was now at the bottom of the mountain waiting to film my landing. Both Ben and Sophie were reporting that the air was still at both 5300m and 6400m.
Where I was it was definitely down the hill … I was exhausted, tired and very very nervous. What would normally take about 5-10 minutes to get ready now took me about an hour. I had to climb back up above my C3 to find a good site for launching that gave me a good ski run with a good run out. I had to carry my wing and ski’s up in one go – dig out a platform for the wing to rest on and then sit my ski’s. Then I had to go back down to get my pack and then come back up.
As I came back up to my chosen launch site Phemba came into view. He was wondering where everybody was and why Sidi hadn’t come back up. I was wondering why he’d changed plans. As my Nepali was not very good and his English wasn’t very good it wasn’t a very fruitful discussion.
I pointed down to Sidi slowly coming back up and to my wing laid out on the snow, Phemba seemed to finally get the idea that I was going try and fly. He kept on going down and eventually got to Sidi Mama, they split the loads and continued on down the mountain. I was sitting waiting for the wind to drop …
Eventually the wind seemed to ease, I was all hooked in and ready to go. I gave a call down to both Ben and Sophie that I was going to launch. Took a deep breath, pointed my ski’s downhill and gave it a go.
The first 2 seconds felt fine. I felt the canopy start to inflate, grab the air and then start to rush up over my head – then nothing, no pressure on my lines, no pressure on my brakes. I could see the shadow of my canopy, looking all mangled above and slight behind me to my right.
The snow wasn’t nice soft powder but variable hard crusts that then gave way to deep powder below. There was also a crevasse below C3 that I didn’t really want to ski into. I got my ski’s sideways underneath me and in a flurry of snow I eventually came to a stop. My wing slammed down in front me fully inflated and with a strong wind blowing hard on the back of my neck.
Just as I’d launched a strong gust must have come rolling down over the col and caught my wing. I was breathing hard, a bit caught up in my lines but happy to have stopped. I called down to Sophie and Ben that I’d had to abort but that I was going to try again.
The next 1.5 hours were spent breaking a trail back to near C3 and carrying all my gear back up to the launch site. By the time I’d got there the wind was slightly stronger down the hill, I was even more exhausted, I was the last person on the mountain above C2, the day was getting older and I was even more nervous ….
Time to call it quits – I simply couldn’t risk having another go. I loaded up all my gear, put my ski’s on my pack (too heavy a pack and too tired to ski down to C2 in the variable snow etc) and started down to C2.
The boys and Ben had packed C2 and after putting more gear onto our back we began our last trip down through the icefall and back to C1. The route was getting pretty bad with crevasses that had been mere step overs the week before now almost 1.5 – 2m wide. We crossed the ladder above the hourglass and looked back at it – it was now almost free from the lower side of the crevasse it was spanning by about 1m. Russell Brice had asked if we (being the last group on the mountain) could take the ladder out behind us. Neither Phemba or Sidi looked all that keen to try and take it out – the ropes were as taut as guitar strings. We were also standing on a very precarious serac, it almost looked like the ladder and ropes here might be holding the whole thing up … Phemba and I had a chat for a bit but he indicated that he thought it was too dangerous to remove and I couldn’t really insist …
From C1 we packed up a series of loads that could be dragged lower and retrieved the next day. I managed to lighten my load enough to get a final ski in from C1 to within 15 minutes walk of basecamp.
Ben, Sidi, Phemba and Norbu (our kitchen boy who’d come up to C1 to help with loads) were about 40 minutes behind. Walking back into Basecamp was pretty emotional – It was great to be able to give Sophie a huge hug, Deb was on hand with hot lemon tea and it was awesome to take off my boots and, for the last time a drop my pack …
Ben wasn’t far behind and got the same lemon tea treatment as did the rest of the boys.
We were all off the mountain – 14 days after stepping onto it for the first time. Over the next few days we got BC packed up and stashed away into barrels.
The weather wasn’t quite finished with us though – we’d arrived in a snow storm and on our final day we woke to 10cm of new snow and wind – we were leaving in a snowstorm!