14th October – 12th November 2017
Expedition Leader: Di Gilbert
“The summit is just a bonus” John Utter
We are now all safely back at base camp, dismantling camp and packing up. On Tuesday 31st October, as intended Di, John, Jo, Debs and Jenga made their way back up to Camp 1 for the final time.
The following morning Debs finally had to admit defeat with The Cough and made the hard decision to return back to base camp with Jenga. Di, John and Jo started off to Camp 2 once again and were rapidly caught up by Lhakpa and Biri who joined us at the start of the fixed ropes. Jenga, not wanting to be defeated by the mountain, decided that he would also join us at Camp 2 once he had safely dropped Debs at base camp.
John and Di arrived strong at Camp 2 but Jo was starting to feel the hardship of load carrying and multiple days on the move and voiced his concern about the following day’s summit push. However, he was happy to see what the morning delivered and would give it his best effort.
The weather window for our summit push was perfect but it was forecasted to be cold. With a high of -23 and a low of -26 degrees, cold would be an understatement and that is without the wind chill. We had also been studying the mountain face for some time and with a set off time at midnight, the sun did not hit the face until 10am, so that’s a solid 10 hours in the shade. Although the sun hit the ridge slightly earlier, this was accompanied by the wind so not necessarily a good thing.
At midnight, Di, John, Jo, Lhakpa, Biri and Jenga set off for our summit bid. Biri and Di set out in front trying to figure out where the route actually went (the last few days of weather had either ablated the route and/or buried the fixed ropes so 2 head torches and 2 sets of eyes were better than one); Lhakpa and John stuck together and Jo and Jenga took up the rear of the pack.
Now, cold is a bit of an understatement. I have spent over 20 seasons working the Scottish winter and everybody knows that is nothing but a sufferfest when you have to stand still for hours on end on a belay ledge in a storm, I have been on numerous big expeditions to higher and more remote mountains and I have spent 5 seasons working in Antarctica. I know what cold is. In all my years I would say that Himlung Himal has been the coldest of them all.
Jo finally run out out steam at c.6500m and made the decision to return to Camp 2 with Jenga. No persuasion from Jenga could reverse this decision and if the tank is empty, the tank is empty.
I (Di) was absolutely gutted when John made the decision at c.7000m to turn back to camp also with Lhakpa due to the cold. John had been strong throughout the whole expedition but had to admit defeat when his super duper mitts just weren’t warm enough. There is a very fine line between having bitterly cold fingers and fingers that you no longer feel and frost bite sets in. Despite Lhakpa’s best effort to support John, losing fingers and/or toes is not an option so John and Lhaka also returned to Camp 2.
This just left Di and Biri to complete the job in hand for Team Adventure Peaks and some time in the morning the 2 crouched on the summit of Himlung. After the obligatory photos we bailed off the hill as fast as possible.
It was not until we cleared the fixed lines, that we finally started to feel the warmth in the sun and took a very leisurely stroll back to Camp 2 with lots of mini breaks to soak in the atmosphere. Once we got back to Camp 2, it was great to see both John and Jo tucked up in their sleeping bags with stories and adventures to share.
It would have been easy to remain at Camp 2 but we pushed down to Camp 1 later in the afternoon, to enjoy the thick, fat air and warmer temperatures.
All 6 team members enjoyed a solid 10 hours sleep and the following morning we slowly, very heavily ladden, made our way back to base camp and the reunion with Debs.
Today is the 4th November and our donkeys arrive tomorrow. Our plan now is to have a long day tomorrow trekking to Meta and then the following day to Koto. If everything goes to plan we will be back in Kathmandu late on the 8th November.
I think I can speak on behalf of the whole team when I say that this has truly been a magical expedition. From the trek to the mountain, it really has packed a punch and for a 30 day trip, it has to be one of the best I have done.
I will sign off now but will post some pictures as the team return back to the land of coke, beer, cider and wifi.
AP Himlung Himal Team
Summit success on Himlung Himal!
A few days ago the team made their way up the mountain to try for the summit. Unfortunately Debs was stopped at Camp 1 by a chest bug, however Jo and Jenga Sherpa made it to 6700m, Jon and Lhapka Sherpa made it to 7000m and Di and Biri Sherpa reached the summit yesterday before returning to Camp 1. Di says it is the coldest mountain she has ever been on so it was a great effort by all.
The whole team are safely back down at base camp now, everyone is happy and pleased with their endeavours. They plan to be back down in Kathmandu on 8th November.
It really is the mountain that keeps giving. All the team are safely back in base camp having successfully completed their rotational phase of the expedition.
Having had a rest day, we initially did a carry to camp 1. As big mountain climbing goes, it really is a nice walk to camp 1. Initially, we drop down (never a good thing when the general trend wants to be uphill) and then have an hour of wandering through the glacier moraine until we come to what can best be described as a vertical tottering pile of sand where upward movement is assisted by a fixed rope. After we are out the moraine trench, we have a beautiful walk up tundra vegetation, past a small Lochan, along a ridge and then the final push up some rocks to take you to camp 1. Camp 1 is excellently situated providing amazing views across and down the valley.
The purpose of the carries to camps, is to move essential equipment up the hill, give our bodies the opportunity to get used to the thin air and to get fit. Only when we return to lower camps do we feel the benefit.
Another rest day followed but since there is much to do, it never really feels like a rest day.
On Thursday, it was finally time to spend some time on the mountain proper. Biri and Lhakpa (our 2 climbing sherpas) did their first carry direct to camp 2 and then returned to camp 1 to wait for the weak westerners to stagger into camp 1. In our own minds we are all honed athletes but when comparing ourselves to Sherpas, weak westerners is probably more realistic. Meantime Di, Jo, John, Debs and Jenga (Debs’ Sherpa) had another feast for a lunch – Rashan and Indra our cooks really don’t do ‘light lunch’ – and we spent the afternoon plodding up to camp 1.
This was the first time the team had slept at c.5400m so sleep is probably a bit optimistic, it’s more like 12 hours lying horizontal resting. None the less, we all survived the night, including the 5th unwanted member of the group previously mentioned aka The Cough.
The whole team departed the next day for camp 2 but unfortunately Debs had to return to base camp with Jenga due to The Cough. Being the main host for said unwanted guest, Debs has suffered more than the rest of the team and the climb to camp 2 was just too much. The rest of the team continued up rock, some more fixed rope and finally onto the snow. This was very short lived as we were back on rock for a final rock traverse before hitting the glacier proper.
Camp 2 situated just over 6000m, is exposed and pretty cold. I think we recorded -18 degrees during the night. Thankfully, the wind was light and there is no fresh snow to blow around. After another 18 hours of horizontal rest, it was time to return to base camp and rejoin Debs and Jenga.
We are now resting, eating, sleeping, catching up with admin and waiting for our summit weather window. Despite Debs’ return to camp early she is keen to give it another go and will return back up the hill with the rest of the team. We are scheduled to have 2 rest days but since we have extra days in hand we can be a bit flexible.
When on expeditions I always encourage breaking it down into manageable sections. First we are tourists, then we are trekkers, then we enter the rotational phase and finally we enter the summit phase. We have now completed the tourist and trekking phases.
The trek from Meta to Phu (pronounced Foo, not Poo) has to be one of the best approach treks there is to do. Initially up a deep sided valley which leads to a dramatic gorge, the trail finally pops out in an open area just below the village of Phu. Phu is at 4100m and looks like an old fortress build of bricks and mud. A summer only village, the locals head down the valley during the winter months where the temperatures aren’t so harsh.
We made the trek to base camp yesterday which is at c.4900m. A lovely place for a base camp situated in a meadow surrounded by snow capped mountains.
Today, has been another acclimitisation day when food was sorted, expedition equipment checked, the all important Puja ceremony and a refresher on fixed rope techniques. Today is also the first time that we have actually seen clouds in the sky – everyday until now, we have been blessed with radiant blue skies and a very large sun.
Tomorrow, we start the rotation phase with our first load carry up to camp one. We are all doing well, this includes the 5th unwanted team member that comes in the form of a hacking cough and sore throat. This 5th member has been making itself home in Debs, Di and John. It is only time before Jo plays host.(hopefully not)
Not so much as down at the farm but in the farm. If the squeaking mice, crickets, ducks, donkeys, chickens or dogs never got us, the cockerel did his job.
After a bone shaking 9 hours in the jeep yesterday we finally arrived at Koto. Koto is on the Annapurna Circuit trek so there is no shortage of coke stops and Wi-fi stops. This morning we thankfully leave the crowds and the jeeps and head north to Meta.
We will trek to Meta today and then do a long day to Phu. We will have an acclimatisation day here and then move up to base camp which will be our home for the next 3 weeks.
Teams from Adventure Peaks Himlung Himal, Mera/Baruntse, Island Peak/Ama Dablam were all out to dinner tonight before heading their separate ways tomorrow. The Himlung Himal team leave on the coach while the others head out to the airport to catch the always interesting flight to Lukla.
Today was a day for briefings, shopping and eating while leaders sorted last logistics, visited supermarkets and the ministry. Some people had a tour of the city visiting the main attractions. Heartening to hear repairs are coming along in areas affected by the earthquake. The main area of Thamel has quite a few new shops, and looks very smart!