Touchdown Kathmandu - 1st October 2013
Whooa.. a monster busy day as we ran around getting last minute items, visiting the Ministry of Tourism to be interviewed and obtain our expedition permit. A big day of travel tomorrow and hopefully as things relatively quieten down, I can update our dispatches in earnest.
Big day cruising the stores for last minute items and we reacquainted ourselves with the streets of Thamel. We had to get some last minute and important equipment like crampons, gloves and a handy sea to summit travel umbrella.
At 1:30pm, we had a hot date with Dawa ‘Benjamin Button’ Lama, so called as we think he looks younger every time we see him. Dawa took us to the Ministry of Tourism where we had to undergo an intensive interview about our proposed expedition. Dawa had ‘coached’ us on the required answers prior to our meeting and let’s just say for the record we have no cameras or satphones on this trip.
Pete: The meeting really became about drinking tea, rather than anything to do with mountains. When the tea was drunk the meeting was over.
Permits in hand and stoked to hear that no-one to date has summited our proposed objective, we headed back again to Thamel to get a few more last minute items. In hindsight, we were trapped in a perpetual circle of ‘just one more thing’, as the plethora and choice of stuff available in Thamel means it can be very easy to make sure we had items for every contingency. By almost 9pm in Kathmandu we had purchased an additional tripod with video head for our expedition without a camera.
Pete: My ‘one more thing’ did not extend to thin 70’s style business socks. For Brad it did.
Pujan that night had cooked us an amazing chicken curry and we slumped in seats and ate in quietness as the usual social scene of the Courtyard Hotel kicked into gear. We were just too trashed and yeah actually stressed out to enjoy the evening and both retired to our bedrooms for additional packing.
3rd October – Kathmandu to Babiyachaur
My phone’s alarm was set for 4:15. More packing ensued as I got all the electronics of charge and proceeded to take my duffle bags down to the foyer for collection. I knocked gently on Pete’s door at 4:45 and he was bright eyed and bushy tailed. Last night, Pete had not been feeling too well and I was worried that he might still be ill and sleeping but my concerns were not warranted.
Dawa had said we would depart at 5am but 5:30 kicked around and we were still tucking into breakfast and hydrating for the day and neither of us were too concerned. A constant drizzle had descended on Kathmandu during the night and we were in no rush to walk with our gear to the waiting bus. The Courtyard Hotel, as is much of Thamel, is situated on too narrow a street for large vehicles to pass.
Walking in the rain we thought the joke might be on us as we continued to walk for quite some time. Our bus though did appear in the mist and we piled in somewhat surprised at the large size of the bus.
[Pete:] We calculated that if in fact there was no bus it would take us about 2 weeks to get to the start of the trek. Good thing the bus turned up.
The reason for the large bus size soon became apparent as the porters for our trip poured in along with gear until every nook and cranny was filled.
Our expedition was finally on the way. Within an hour the front wheel of our bus was on the ground in pieces, being worked on by an eager team of Nepali ‘mechanics’. We were told that it was a brake problem. Fully endorsing the driver’s intention to fix the problem now and not later, Pete pulled out his non-camera and started playing with the settings and not taking any footage of the team of 5 year old looking kids in charge of bus brake repairs on the outskirts of Kathmandu.
Wheel back on and only occasionally weird burning smells later we were on the frog and toad. First stop was a lunch at a quite scenic and very unvisited restaurant on a slight crest overlooking the road. Lunch was all the major carbo groups rice, potato, noodles and pasta. Appetites sated, we hot the road again, and between fits of sleep and watching the view we made our way in fits and starts to Beni. A turned over tractor provided some more relief from our bums planted on seats before we hit Beni.
A mass open area of buses and cars led me to believe that we were changing vehicles and my suspicions were correct. As for why we had to change from one bus to another bus? I have no idea. In Beni, we bumped into Damien and Lars, also heading out to climb an unclimbed peak but quite a bit further west than our location.
Bags packed on the Beni bus, we once gain headed towards our jump off point. The roads become slightly more tortuous and passing oncoming traffic became more difficult as the day turned to night. At 7pm we hit Babichol and a flurry of activity from the expedition staff was the hint that this was the place we were spending the evening.
From all day sitting. Pete and I were keen to get horizontal. We laid down for a while. Pete requested some steaming water and a towel to help clear up his lungs while I listened to some tunes on my phone. Dinner was surprisingly delightful, a really yummy vegetable soup followed up by rice and chicken.
October 4th – Babiyachaur to Bansbot
We were up at 5:30 with intentions of departing at 7 am but hey it was our first day on the trail and there was still a few bugs to work out in the system . Actually today was a fantastic fun filled day, far different than the low altitude subtropical trekking drudgery that I expected.
We were expecting 9 hours of walking today and yeah we left at 8am and got to our final destination at 5:30 pm but the day flew by as we stopped and filmed on the trail. Our first main stop was a little village called ‘Kari’ where a 10 year old girl absolutely astounded us with her command of the English language. She also loved being in photos and you may see 3,200 pics of her later as we took stills and videos of her skipping and playing with her friends. Her little village on the banks of the river and bordered by waterfalls was a dreamy relaxing place where we could have spent days rather than hours. The weather today was overcast and cool, and absolutely perfect for walking or talking or taking photos. Simply a superb day.
After our lengthy schmoozy lunch we continued to head up river and came across a unique fork in the river with a large sharks tooth slab cliff face and a volley ball court. This place also invited lots of photos and an impromptu volleyball game with the kids joining in. Pete filmed the action as I tried to play volleyball and we also staged some suspension bridge crossings for later ‘B’ roll. The walkie talkies I had picked up in Changi prior to the trip came in real handy as Pete directed me to cross and re-cross the bridge multiple times.
[Pete:] When the sun fell down we were invited to a local performance, which to our astonishment came right to our door and comprised most of the single women in the village. Our faces were smeared with red chalk before the singing and dancing started. There’s no such thing as an audience here so in a moment Brad and I were up there being shown how to move Nepali style. Very funny experience. I thought at one point Brad was being married off without him even knowing it. Maybe they like 70’s style business socks.
Saturday 5th October
[Pete:] After our festive night of dancing on the dirt and stones outside the teahouse (haven’t moved like that since the Blue Light Discos), it was time to bid our new friends goodbye – including any would-be wives. Still sporting the traditional Nepali red chalk on our faces, we trekked through meadows. We met a bunch of kids who offered us a beautiful local banana to refuel.
This was no day to be feeling lazy-boned. A full 9.5 hour day on the trail included trekking a path cut into the side of a 500m high sheer cliff, and switch-backs making awesome filming and photography.
The rain started, making foot placement critical. Our final camp delivered views to a massive tree-covered mountain range and a snow-covered peak in the distance. We enjoyed a lovely chicken soup for dinner and ate a few bugs along with it. Hard not to do when they are swarming around every light in the place. Brad told me later he had left the pineapple because a big moth had shaken itself of its powder all over it. Ignorance is bliss. I enjoyed every piece.
Sunday 6th October – Boghara – Dobhan Kharka (2,500m)
[Pete:] We awoke to clearing skies and the ‘day of the jungle’ – a trek through thick forest, crossing waterfalls and splatting through kilometers of mud. Hard not to take a fall from time to time. I think at last count it’s Brad 1, Pete 2. Dammit. Monkeys were playing in the trees. Funny-looking bushy faced things they were. They probably think we’re funny looking bushy-faced things as well. Just when we thought the mud would never end, we popped out into a clearing, a great spot for camp.
[Brad:] Yeah full on jungle trekking above 2,000 m. I must admit I’m not a huge fan of all the foliage. At one stage Pete asked me about a plant and my terse reply was “Its green and its getting in my way’. We thought we were doing a lot of down climbing today but the altimeter didn’t lie plus we are going up river, just seemed to be doing an awful lot of down walking today and not up. I guess we are impatient for the glimpses of snow and ice we can occasionally see when the clouds part.
..and just one more thing, if anyone is fan of waterfalls this is the place to be..a regular falls-fest, as we encounter waterfall after waterfall here in the Myagdi Khola river valley.
7th October – Dobhan Kharka to Italian Base Camp (3,660m)
[Brad:] Another day of jungle trekking loomed but this time it was all up and up as we said goodbye to the down climbing of the previous day. We continued to follow the Myagdi Khola river but the river has become more abrupt and steep rather than the languid river of previous days. I had got rid of my ‘cranky pants’ of yesterday as we really seemed to be making some altitude today and the path was a lot more interesting with glimpses of Dhaulaghiri in front and Tsaurabong to the West. At some places I was peering through lush forest/jungle and looking at corniced ridges and glaciers above me. I have never seen that before. We also crossed a glacier terminus exiting from thick forest to cross a glacier before once again retreating between the canopies of thick vegetation.
Around midday we stopped and the travelling troupe prepared us another in a long line of delightful meals. Pete and I felt so decadent as a thin forma mattress was laid out adjacent to the river and we layback soaking up the sun’s rays as the team prepared meals. The rush of the nearby water and the perfect temperature made us what we like to call in the mountaineering world very snoozy and eye-lids became heavy indeed.
Lunch was a wonderful curry noodle soup followed by cheese, meat surprise (as I call it) and sweetened bread, which I dipped in orange marmalade. Appetites sated, we once again became quite snoozy especially accompanied by the white noise of the river.
But we had to keep going higher and at about 1pm, we set off, as nimble and spritely as beached whales as we tried to shake off our respective food comas. Within a couple of hours we found our way to a grassy meadow which many camps use as an acclimatization stop. We wanted to gain a little more altitude, so we pushed on to Italian Base Camp; foolishly thinking it was only 2 hours away.
Immediately and dramatically from Chaur Bag Khola camp we stepped on to glacial terminus and on to a glacier/moraine apocalypse moonscape. Even more interesting further up the glacier was scenes of utter devastation.
Initially, Pete and I could not figure out what had happened. For kilometres around us, trees had been snapped in half like twigs but with tress standing beside them. We then slowly figured out that the area we were crossing had been hit by a massive avalanche and that the burst of air preceding the avalanche had snapped the tress to either side of the snow ice onslaught. We tried to capture the devastation but not sure if pictures or video will capture the scale of what had happened.
We spent a bit of time filming here as the afternoon clouds drifted in and it all started to get a bit misty.
Now at this point, I would like to say that Pete and I never got lost, let’s just say we got a bit confused about where we were going. Once we had finished filming, we climbed a steep moraine above one side of the snapped trees and then just lost the path. It was 5pm at this stage and visibility was intermittent. In a crisis, what does Pete do but stick true to form and decides to do some more shooting. I, on the other hand was thinking of constructing shelters and how we were going to camp out overnight.
So what happened? Well, as soon as Pete has finished shooting, he used his gut instinct and found the trail. For the record my gut instinct was way-off. In my measly defence I think the massive avalanche has changed the trail. (That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.)
We ended up getting to Italian base camp at almost 7pm in darkness. Much to our disappointment, and I think some false advertising at play, but at IBC, there is not a Pizza, Spag Bowl or Peroni to be found. IBC is some stepped terraces with some very rustic huts at the very base of Dhaluaghiri.
Walking since 8am and shooting and not getting lost left us pretty trashed and we went to sleep in beautiful starlight stillness. Headaches had already kicked in by the time we went to sleep and the night was restless.
At 2:30 am, our restless slumber was broken completely. My tent started shaking madly and a wind and rain? was belting my tent. It really took me 10 seconds to realise what was happening. It was a f^&*in avalanche. Once I realised what was happening, I got out of my sleeping bag. I didn’t want to be mummified and trapped. Once out of my bag, the wind and shaking subsided. I just couldn’t believe we had been hit. One tent was knocked over by the blast and snow was already turning to slush in the above zero temperatures.
That avalanche seemed to have awakened the wind gods as the rest of the night, we were buffeted by gusting winds seemingly coming directly from the face of Dhaulaghiri.
8th October – Italian Base Camp – (3,660m)
[Pete] Spent the day lapping up our rest day, charging equipment with our solar panels and taking in some striking views of Dhaulaghiri, which looks so close you could literally walk an hour and be on it. It rises dramatically and towers above us, all 8,000m+ of it (world’s 7th highest mountain). The avalanche the night before was topic of the morning. I was actually awake when it hit, as I spent most of the night with a headache and aching legs from the last few days trekking. The avalanche blasted the tent like nothing I have experienced; shaking it for about 20 seconds with what sounded like extremely heavy rain, but actually was high velocity ice crystals. Then it subsided, and all was quiet. I was concerned for the porters who we knew were leaving very early to head back to the starting point for another job. If you were anywhere near an edge of anything when it hit you wouldn’t have stood a chance. Thankfully, everyone is ok.
9th October – Italian Base Camp to Japanese Base Camp (3,900m or 4,200m)
[Brad:] Konichiwa from Japanese Base Camp
Last night, guess what?.. IBC, lived true to its name and we had pizza, cooked up by Nogwa Sherpa and Galge Sherpa. It was absolutely delicious and when we thought we couldn’t eat any more, out came a whole apple pie. We were ready to explode.
Well, after warning newcomers of the extreme wind at IBC during the early morning, you know what happened. Yep. The night was deadly still. We got up around 7am and had breakfast of a fried egg and porridge. There was a lot more activity around this morning as the Spanish team had arrived the day prior and the whole camp-site was bustling. After packing up, we left camp around 8:15 am and immediately found ourselves on the precipice of a massive glacier. We dropped down a very steep scree slope and worked our way to the other side of the moraine. Up the other side was also incredibly steep and as we reached the other side, the sun once again burst from the shoulder of Dhaulagiri.
With the instant warmth, I stripped of my thermal bottoms, being extra cautious on the narrow ridge …with lets say an interesting drop below me if I was to fall.
Cooled down, we continued our walk to JBC. We followed a river bed that looked like it was where the glacier had undergone some massive retreat. Unlike some of the other glaciers we had passed previously and was wondering if they had advanced, this particular glacier was in a spectacular retreat.
We took the opportunity on the river-bed to do some filming with the river, cloudscape, waterfalls and cliff faces providing another stunning backdrop.
Filming finished we continued our inexorable climb upwards and on to the glacier itself. Patches of ice shone through but this glacier was as I call it ‘a very dirty glacier’ and there was no need for crampons or to rope up. Today’s little walk was supposed to take 4 hours but we ended taking 6 as we are still super cautious about acclimatizing and stopping to take many photos and video. Also Pete is still a bit under the weather to be honest and last night we whipped open the ‘Medicine for Mountaineering’ e-book and diagnosed bronchitis. Pete is coughing intermittently and often fatigued, so we are once again being super cautious as we gain altitude.
On the plus side, Pete’s slight sickness means we do get to pass the occasional waterfall without filming the crap out of it. I must admit, I’m a bit water-falled out and looking forward to some more mountain vistas. Ooh you know, I am just kidding, it is spectacular here
10th -11th October –Japanese Base Camp to Dhaulaghiri Base Camp (4,760m)
[Brad:] Hey Guys, We are having an acclimatization/rest day here at Dhaulagiri Base camp. We are in front of an icefall very similar to the Khumbu Icefall and like icefalls everywhere the seracs crash randomly through the day sounding like distant thunder.
We had about 15cm snow overnight and snowmen are being built and we are really enjoying the day off.
Yesterday started with us leaving Japanese Base camp around 8am. We were thinking that tracking the glacier up to DBC would be a bland affair but were instantly proved wrong.
The ‘trail’ meandered between glacier and moraine and we were treated with stunning geological displays as the glacier carved out its course down the valley. We stopped and filmed at multiple locations. Furi our team sirdar hung out with us for about 2 hours but even his infinite patience wore thin and he carried on without us as we were stopping every half an hour to shoot some new stunning vantage point. We spent considerable time at a massive rockfall, were we just had some plain fun bouldering on the rocks and hamming it up for the camera.
Pete is feeling healthier and we pushed on to almost the height of Mt Blanc. The last half of the day was full on glacier. Dry open crevasses were everywhere and usually easily negotiable. The exceptions were some thin ice bridges, which we jumped with some trepidation. That afternoon the clouds rolled in and it started to get quite chilly. The absolutely lovely Kaji Sherpa came down to greet us with some Tang and for his troubles we interviewed him smack bang on the glacier about his trip so far. He was great on camera.
We rolled into DBC and I must confess, Pete and I both weren’t feeling the best at the new altitude and our usual banter cut short as we retired to our tents quite early.
The next morning, yeah there were some sore heads, like we had a big night at the pub, but walking around soon saw us fairly headache free and ready for a big day resting at DBC
12th -13th October –Dhaulaghiri Base Camp to Hidden Valley (5,140m)
Greetings from the HiddenValley. Our target is in sight and we have settled into our final camp before attempting Tsartse.
[Brad]: Just to backtrack though to yesterday. We woke up to a bitterly cold morning at Dhaulaghiri Base Camp. Sleeping on a glacier is always a fairly chilly experience, but even more so once we reluctantly left the warm embrace of our S2S sleeping bags. As we were packing up, we had an ‘al fresco’ breakfast experience and whoa. . even laden with down clothing it was a very cold breakfast.
[Pete] Eating brekky in the shadow of the world’s 7th highest mountain, with rockfalls happening within view and weird cloud formations around nearby peaks was an experience and a half. I found even through my down jacket, which is like wearing a bed, I shivered as I drank some icy tea.
[Brad]: We initially thought that we would wait for the sun to hit our somewhat frigid bodies before starting the day but the towering face of the lower flanks of Tukuche West was blocking sunlight.
We reluctantly headed off in shadow and slowly began to warm up. The trail was over glacier and moraine before we hit a ridgeline heading towards French pass. We used the dramatic backdrop of the ridgeline overlooking Dhaulaghiri to do some filming and the 7th highest mountain rewarded us with an extremely large lenticular cap crowning its summit.
[Pete]: Pinch yourself views. I stared in amazement at these cloud formations. Lenticular is the word of the day. I also want to say there is no better pick-me-up in the mountains than a little slab of cheese. Random I know but there it is.
Was fairly windy on the ridgeline and we had to layer up to continue the ascent up to the almost 5,400 m of French Pass. The top of which was brutally windy but the views were outstanding of Tukuche, Dhaulaghiri and Sita Chuchura. Ominously on the pass there were quite a few monuments to fallen climbers on Dhaulaghiri – above that we had already seen at Italian Base Camp. I guess Dhaulaghiri is perhaps one of the lesser known 8,000er mountains but she has certainly extracted her toll on the mountaineering community.
On the less side of French Pass all was calm and serene, it was absolutely fantastic. We also had our first views of Tashi Kang and Tsartse. No word of a lie. Pete and I were ecstatic. We shot some more film and looked lovingly at the beautiful gradual and incredibly scenic descent to Hidden Valley camp. We had hit the descent in the late afternoon and the warm glow of the afternoon sun coupled with another fantastic cloudscape was making everything look incredibly majestic and serene.
14th -15th October –Hidden Valley (5,140m)
[Brad:] Well the second day of weather that I would describe as a particularly unpleasant Scottish winters day at altitude. We are being pelted with snow with occasional glimpses of blue sky that just tease us that the weather will get better.
Yesterday was basically a day of inaction. We were getting used to sucking the air at 5,140 m and listened to music, chatted and collectively willed the weather to get better. Alas our collective wills were of little use in changing the weather. Apparently we are getting the tail end of a cyclone hitting eastern India.
The big news to report was that a donkey train and Ngima Nhuru came to camp. We didn’t recognize Ngima at first. We welcomed him to camp and then after a while I was wondering about his whereabouts. He was in a tent sucking oxygen ay 1.5l/minute. Ngima was feeling dizzy and unsteady. After monitoring for an hour, the decision was made for Ngima to descend and we hope to hear from him soon as we have heard he is safe in Marpha.
Today was a bit more productive. After a lovely breakfast of curry noodle soup, apple pancake and a boiled egg, we flew into action. Well, that’s not totally correct. We lazed about a bit and then decided to sort some gear.
Climbing equipment, tent and 3 days worth of backcountry food was laid out and divided amongst Pete and my backpacks. At 2pm we headed down the valley to find a cache site for our gear. Between snow showers and cloud we spotted some tents in the distance and made a beeline. After 2 hours walking with full packs we came across a disenchanted Lithuanian team. They had come up the fast but dangerous way and had hit the bad weather that we were waiting out. Their aim was Tashi Kang but they were departing the next day after a 4 day wait. They gave us some hot soup and we chatted about our mutual friend Ernestas Marksaitis who was murdered this year on Nanga Parbat.
Pete and I cached our gear in a handy Sea to Summit duffle bag and ..oh my god. We so hope our gear is there when we return. We headed back to camp in deteriorating weather and snow and sleet was sticking to our pants and jackets. We had been super cautious on the way down to take compass bearings and identify landmarks that we were able to navigate back with ease in 1.5 hours.
16th October –Hidden Valley (5,140m)
This will be our last dispatch for a couple of days. Pete and I are heading of to our new base camp at the base of Tashi Kang tomorrow after breakfast. Yesterday we cached 3 days worth of food and will spend from 17-19th trying to climb Tashi Kang and Tsartse.
The skies have cleared up today and just now managed to snap the moon rising over Dhampus peak. We are hoping this is a good omen for our trip. As another gesture to keep the mountaineering gods happy, we gave 3 cans of gas to the Lithuanian team whom we met yesterday. They have camped next to us today after an unsuccessful attempt of Tashi Kang. We all hope that we have seen the last of our unseasonal weather.
The plan is to make a camp at the base of the mountain tomorrow and start scoping out the route. The next day we will establish a high camp at around 5,500 – 5,800 m lumbering up all our camera gear and then hopefully a summit the following day. We have asked to be resupplied on the 20th if unsuccessful to that date, so no worries if you don’t hear from us till at least the 22nd.