Friday, July 22, 2011

Summing up the summit

It appears to be typical for the life cycle of many adventures to have
a long run up to a climax which unravels rather rapidly. And so the
last days of the expedition which hold the summit highlight are told
rather quickly.

We shifted camp to ABC the day after our technical gear had been
ferried. Due to our long acclimatisation period the increased altitude
of 4800m was not a problem, though the camp on top of the glacier was
notably colder than base camp. The new dome tents presented us with a
yet unencountered problem: how to fit four people into one tent to
play a round of hearts. A rather cozy affaire...

The following morning saw an early shift to Camp 1. Of course we
carried all the supplies up ourselves ('we' excludes myself from most
of the heavy lugging). On our way up we saw the remnants from a plane
crash in the last century scattered along the valley. Camp was set up
in the snow with CB13A towering over us.

A round of Scrabble and a plate of maggi 2-minute noodles was the last
we managed before falling into an early slumber, ready to wake up
before the crack of dawn to start the ascent. A cup of tea, a bowl of
PVM instant maize meal and we were rearing to go. Placing good faith
in our abilities, Rinku allowed us to lead the route. We split into
two teams - in the front Matt and I were lead by Jon (who got guidance
from Rinku) for most of the way. Following closely and overtaking us
towards the end were Hannes and Tim lead by Brendan (and guided by

Under 'summit' one tends to expect a defined high point, a solid snow
platform on which one can sit for a while, a clear blue sky and a
far-stretching view over snow-capped mountains. Our summit was none of
the above. Half an hour before reaching the summit it started to snow.
Our view was obstructed by a mass of white and cloud. The summit
itself was very undefined and we had to huddle together closely to
make it onto the rocky outcrop at 6239m. Even so there wasn't really
space for everyone and for all we knew there could have been 300m of
rock above us. But that's how it goes, conditions aren't always
perfect and we spent the following seven hours edging down the
mountain little by little in snow and rain.

To the team: pat on the back. We succesfully completed our mission of
summiting a technical peak over 6000m. To Rinku, Bhagwan and Mohan,
thanks for your guidance, patience and instruction.

Some indirect summit quotes from the team (what they did and didn't
say and how I interpreted it):

Glover: "Maybe front pointing 900m of mountain was not the best idea"
(note that Jon lead most of those 900m!)

Tiger Perks: "It was chilled. Can we do it again? Especially the 7
hours of rapelling in the snow storm."

Davey Gra...wait, not allowed to call him that. Didn't say much,
suspect he was tired. Defnitely got his energy back when it came to
bumsliding the last 100m though: "Thank goodness I took my crampons
off before that bump sent me flying!"

Ha(r)nes(s): I didn't see or hear much of him, as he was mostly
speeding up the mountain behind Brendan. Seems like a dislocated
shoulder isn't really an obstacle after all...

Brendan the machine: was seriously lacking oil (ie food) so "let's do
CB14 this afternoon" turned into a hungry silence from which he only
recovered the following day.

me: for the entire summit ascent there was just one thought on my mind
- "walk like a reindeer in winter". Translated this means walk slow
enough to conserve maximum energy so that you can make it back to camp
without collapsing of fatigue (as reindeer may do if they expend too
much energy in winter)

Modest Mix: came to the conclusion that altitude and Indian food
aren't her thing, so she left us to discover Spiti instead.

The expedition may be over, but 10 days of Indian travel and one more
blog post remain. So stay tuned...

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Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How to shoot the moon: Notes on expedition training

Batal to elimentary base camp (just over 4000m):

  • Food is absolutely delicious. Moreover, there's enough that Matt & Brendan, who were initially scared about rations, can't finish it.
  • Hike today was pleasant - short, not very steep and quite slow (mostly due to my foot which is still weak and Hannes not feeling too great because of the altitude)
  • 12 mules are carrying our supplies for the time being. Very kind of them, leaves us with only our personal gear to carry.
  • It goes without saying that the mountains are incredible, the scenery is all in all breath-taking and that waking up in the morning feels like an absolute privilege.
Hearts for wizards (base camp, 4400m, gushing glacier river to the right, trickling icey streamlet to the left)

  • rope work & knot techniques - nifty, been meaning to put my mind to learning these for ages
  • acclimatisation walk to 4800m...up and down and down and up over rocky moraine until we eventually reached what will be the ABC (Advanced Base Camp). Glacier magic like I haven't experienced it before. Turqouise trickles developing into rushing torrents.First sneak preview of CB13a. A beauty!
  • snow craft training...getting seriously fit from the steep 1hr hike to the training ground and the numerous uphill runs on the snow slope to practice walking techniques. So out of breath. Will be machines once back in CT.
  • plunge into the dark as we launch ourselves head-first down the slope, gaining momentum to then practice self-arrest techniques using the ice axe. We've turned the slope into one enormous slide and have given our gear a thorough waterproof test. Some stuf stood the test, others failed. Review to follow.
  • to put their manliness and engineering skills to a test, the guys decide to build a dam in the lower reaches of the icey streamlet on the left. Think I understand a good number of things in life, but the pleasure that can be drawn from building a rock wall in absolutely freezing water for hours surpasses me. Anyways, shot for a great dam, guys (and Mix, who joined in topless to add two boulders to the wall...).
  • before tea, after tea, stretching to dinner and until bed time countless hours are spent playing various games. The favourite is Hearts, closely followed by Wizards.

Ice craft...
  • cramponing on slopes, using ice axes to ascend and descend glacier walls, fixing lines, crevasse rescue...these are some of the skills we've learned in the past three days. Initially cramponing on slopes freaked me out like few things I've done before, maybe because I still need to regain confidence in my foot. Got over it eventually and found the same pleasure as the rest of the team in conquering walls of black, cold ice.
  • drama strikes as Hannes dislocates his shoulder. Luckily Matt and Jon know the drill and pop it back in no time.
  • energy levels hit a slump, as we've been training on snow and ice for the last six days. Fortunately PVM bars and gels (which have a somewhat disfavourable taste) save the day time and time again as they provide the much needed boost before lunch.
After nine days in the wild, the time has come to move to ABC. The guys will ferry most of the supplies up tomorrow, while Mix and I take a rest day in base camp. Lame, but I have decided to let sensibility win and rest my foot one last time before the summit attempt begins.
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Saturday, July 2, 2011

The start of a modest expedition to immodest mountains

Ah, what joy to meet up with the guys! Thanks to Tim's SA flag
boardshorts recognising them was easy enough (as I have learned since,
this is only one of seven SA fan items that Tim has packed). Hugs,
greeting, laughter, meeting, mix into Manali morning air. Two days to
make final preparations and explore India's adventure capital. We head
to Kaushal's home to select our technical gear from his store room.
Proudly equipped with mountaineering boots, ice axes, crampons, etc we
set off to discover what else the town has on offer.

On top of the gushing river, splendid mountain views and lush forest
slopes, Manali holds its own surprises and secrets. The hot spring we
find inside a temple is one of them and we grab the opportunity to
take a bath. The abundance of wildly growing ghanja plants that we
pass on our way to the spring is another. On closer investigation we
find that the whole of Manali is covered in weedy Weed. I won't
mention names, but certain team members struggle to conceal their

The biggest adjustment Mix and I had to make in joining the rest of
the crew is that where we sometimes used to share meals because it was
too much food, the guys order double because they can't eat enough.
And so, at the end of a typical 'so-long-yet-so-short' day, we
conclude the events with a drawn out dinner and open-ended endless
discussion on modesty.

A sunny new day greets us to an early start. Mix and Jon have decided
to rent a motor bike for the day, while Brendan, Matt, Hannes and Tim
join Kaushal for a hike in the forrest. My foot is feeling a lot
better, but Brendan's stern reprimand reminds me that I should still
rest it. So I opt for a lady's day instead and spend the morning in a
beauty salon - waxing my legs, getting a massage and enduring the pain
of eyebrow threading. Following this is shopping in Old Manali, but it
comes to a end when I run into the guys and am swept away to join them
on a river rafting adventure.

We jump on a bus heading to Kullu, with the intention of getting off
at the rafting camp. As the journey gets longer and longer, we start
to suspect that more than one way lead to Kullu and that we caught he
wrong bus. A friendly bus conductor, a river crossing and a hitched
ride later, we eventually find ourselves at the camp. Life jackets on
and off we are to indulge in a short but blissful trip down glacier
river rapids.

The rest is told quickly. A bus ride back, packing madness, midnight
supper and too early a morning. We find ourselves back on Rothang
Pass, stuck in the same muddy traffic jam. On the other side base camp
and no reception await.

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