Wednesday, December 12, 2007

200 lbs of Clothes 20,300 feet of Mountain - Part 2

Part 2 of Connie Garretts climb of Kyajo Ri in Nepal. As part of her trip she delivered over 200 lbs of gear to the Sherpa Climbing School that she rounded up from blog readers and locals in Bozeman.

...continued from part 1

Within a few days of leaving Namche we arrived in Gokyo, stopping along the way in Machherma where we got our first view of Kyajo Ri. Gokyo is a lake-side village pretty much at the end of this branch of the Khumbu highway. Continuing north, the trail becomes very faint and ultimately ends at the Gyazumba Glacier and Cho Oyu. The Ngozumba Glacier, the longest glacier in Nepal, separates Gokyo from anything but view to the west. Gokyo has some of the most breathtaking views of this region. Cho Oyu is north, the Everest stream of mountains is the to the west, including Pumori, Lhotse, and Lhotse Shar and to the east is Gokyo Ri and Renjo La (pass). Our team crossed Renjo La and continued south back towards Namche on a trail less traveled. In Thame, a 2-day trek from Gokyo, we headed toward Mende and back north again into the 14,800-foot valley that would be our base camp for Kyajo Ri.

Kyajo Ri stands 20,300 feet and is considered a trekking peak in Nepal. Trekking peaks are defined by height, not by technical difficulty. Climbing Kyajo Ri from Mende is the least technical route with about 10-12 pitches of snow and ice for the last 1000 feet. From base camp there are two steep boulder ascents. The first boulder ascent brings climbers to a lake valley before the second boulder ascent. Each boulder ascent is about 1500 feet. Camp 1 was established at the top of the second boulder ascent at 17,300 feet. From Camp 1, our team established a high camp at 18,500 feet. Kyajo Ri can be climbed from Camp 1 in a long 15-20 hour push. The climb from Camp 1 to High Camp crosses the Kyajo Glacier and ascends another boulder field. Our team set up fixed ropes, which are completely unnecessary. At approximately 18,700 feet a col is reached. From there teams may elect to rope up for safety. Accomplished climbers can easily simu-climb from the col until at least 19,700 feet. Our team elected to belay from this point. Approximately 10-12 pitches from the col will bring climbers to the narrow snow-covered summit.

Plagued with head colds, tonsillitis, and an assortment of ailments, our team waited an extra two days in base camp. This was just long enough for the weather to change from t-shirts and knickers to long underwear and down suits. We found ourselves grossly unprepared for sub-zero temperatures in every way possible. The snow was too hard for pickets and too soft for ice screws. On summit day we treaded forward in the wee hours of the morning, waiting for the sunrise in hopes of warming the ambient air temperature. Pitch after pitch demanded intense anchor placement and each anchor became more and more difficult to build as the snow hardened with the westerly bitter cold wind. At 19,700-ft we found our feet frozen and our enthusiasm dwindling. With the summit just 600-ft above and completely within view it tears at something deep inside your core to turn around; a bitter defeat as the mountain wins again.

Even defeat on a mountain can be success overall through the lessons learned, experiences gained, or charity provided. In Nepal technical climbing gear is a much needed commodity as the porters only make about $10 per day and are not able to work year-round. One gore-tex jacket will cost a month’s salary for a Nepali. Those interested in continuing to donate technical clothing should contact one of the organizations above.

As for this mountaineer, it’s time to start planning for the next climb—Denali, spring 2008.

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