Kang Guru 2008 Expedition Dispatches
Dispatch #1 - October 17, 2008 - Kathmandu
Welcome to the expedition dispatches from the combined Project Himalaya-Altitude Junkies Kang Guru Expedition 2008. Our team members are now starting to assemble in bustling Kathmandu for our first visit to to the 7,010-meter Kang Guru. This unoffical height conclusion is according to some of our Sherpa friends who have climbed this peak before. This expedition serves two purposes as it is also our 8,000-meter preparation course for those climbers wishing to acquire the skills needed for climbing the world's highest peaks.
The Kang Guru expedition team is quite an international affair and consists of;
Phil Crampton (UK/USA)
Peter Adolfsson (Sweden)
Paula Castillo (Venezela)
Damien Francois (Belgium)
Anne-Mari Hyrylainen (Finland)
Rusty Schlessman (USA)
Robert Shaver (USA)
Beth Whelean (Canada)
Our staff will consist of climbing Sherpas Namgyl Sherpa, Tarkey Sherpa and Pasang Gombu Sherpa and we will have Phurbu Sarki Sherpa as our head cook with two of his finest kitchen assistants.
Tarkey Sherpa, Pasang Gombu Sherpa, Phurbu Sarki Sherpa and myself have just returned to Kathmandu from a successful Manaslu expedition and we are hoping that the fine weather we are experiencing in Nepal's capital at the moment continues for the duration of our expedition. Manaslu received quite a large amount of snow and we are looking forward to plenty of glorious sunshine.
We are scheduled to leave Kathmandu on October 19 and drive to Bhulebule for the start of the six day trek to Kang Guru base camp and we hope you will follow our progress on this site.
Dispatch #2 - October 22, 2008 - Koto Qupar
Our third day trekking on the Annapurna circuit has seen glorious beautiful weather every day, a not so busy trail which has been complimented by our great team of climbers with some very interesting humor.
The early bus ride from Kathmandu was longer than anticipated due to the not so good road conditions but we reached our intended destination late afternoon. Each evening before dinner we have group discussions about various high altitude topics including acclimatization, Nepal and Tibet health issues and the contents and use of the medical chests.
All the climbers are doing well health wise but we have had a couple of stomach bugs to treat on day one of the trek due to the climbers visiting a certain local momo restaurant in Kathmandu whose name shall remain anonymous. Everyone else has stayed healthy as they ate in the tourist restaurants in the Thamel area. I always recommend to first time visitors to Kathmandu to eat where they see large numbers of other tourists eating.
Tomorrow, we break off the Annapurna circuit trail and will trek to Meta, which lies at an elevation of 3,570 meters where we we plan to spend two nights for cautious acclimatization before arriving at base camp. From Koto onwards we are camping instead of using the local teahouses and our head cook Sarki is looking forward to making his own menu rather than just supervising the cleanliness of the kitchen staff in the teahouses.
Base camp will be located at a much lower elevation than the traditional base camp that suffered the infamous avalanche in 2005 that killed 7 french climbers, a Sherpa and 10 local porters. When the climbers are resting on their acclimatization day at Meta, the Sherpas and I will head up and decide on a suitable safe location to establish our permanent base camp. Above this we plan to establish three camps on the mountain, with the distances between camps hopefully simulating those found on some of the 8,000-meter peaks such as Cho Oyu, Shishapangma and Gasherbrum II.
Dispatch #3 - October 24, 2008 - Base Camp
Yesterday we arrived at the village of Meta which lies at an elevation of 3,570 meters which allows for great views of the route to the old traditional base camp. We have decided not to use the old base camp for obvious reasons and due to the steepness of the route and no other suitable flat safe area we have established our base camp at the edge of the Meta village. We had hoped to have a 3,000 meter climb but now we have a 3,500 meter climb from base camp.
We held our puja ceremony today as the local Lama informed our Sherpa Sirdar this morning that there was not going to be an auspicious day to hold a puja for several more days. Our staff quickly built the chorten and the kitchen prepared all the necessary food before starting the ceremony just before noon. For many of our climbers this was their first puja ceremony and they seemed quite surprised when I informed then that a two hour service is considered a short one.
Tomorrow the Sherpas will go and place camp one in a protected area about half an hours climb above the old base camp. This campsite is too small to erect a kitchen and dining tent but is large enough for about four Mountain Hardwear Trango 3.1 tents. While the Sherpas are busy the climbers will take an acclimatization hike to around the 4,000 to 4,500 meter mark before heading back to base camp.
We make our first load carry to camp one in a few days and we are all in agreement that we prefer having such a nice low base camp with fantastic views of the Annapurna Himal. The trail to camp one, although somewhat steep is not on snow and reminds me of the trail to Pumori camp one (now called ABC) although this seems much steeper.
The weather has been glorious in the mornings but we have noticed a pattern developing early afternoon with clouds and wind so we will be making some early starts over the next couple of weeks.
Dispatch #4 - October 26, 2008 - Base Camp
The acclimatization hike to the old base camp yesterday went well with all members reaching the old 4,200 meter campsite in 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Some of the members decided to continue to our camp one which lies at an elevation 4,500 meters. Our Sherpas did an excellent job of building the tent platforms and our site sits on a nice protected safe area. The route to camp one is pretty straight forward except for some rock scrambling just before the campsite.
The site of the old base camp was quite a surreal sight. Our sherpas pointed out the direction of the 2005 avalanche and we could see it's path of destruction as it had left the slope void of the vegetation that once grew there. The tent platforms and puja chorten still remain in place although the prayer flags are somewhat weathered and we believe that we are the first expedition in three years to visit the mountain.
Upon returning to base camp, after lunch, we practiced fixed rope travel and rapelling on fixed lines. This exercise was to familiarize everyone with the techniques that we will be using and practicing higher on the mountain in about a weeks time. For many climbers the ropes we set up at base camp are just making them more keen to get higher and practice in a true alpine environment.
Today we carried heavy loads to deposit at camp one before returning to base camp for lunch, while the Sherpas carried loads again to camp one before continuing to camp two and establishing the camp at 5,200 meters. The Sherpas decided that camp two be placed lower than originally planned as the campsite they chose is in a good safe location on rock. The snowline is at a higher elevation than we expected this season due to the absence of heavy snowfall on Kang Guru during the monsoon and we expect another one hour trek on rock and scree above camp two before reaching the snowline. Hopefully we will establish our camp three somewhere around the 6,200 meter mark making an 800 meter ascent on summit day.
We all plan to take a rest day tomorrow and the members will go over such topics as high altitude food and stoves, using the portable altitude chamber, supplementary climbing oxygen and cold weather camping skills.
Dispatch #5 - October 28, 2008 - Camp One
We finally get to sleep higher today at camp one at 4,500 meters. It's great having such a low base camp but it only lies at 3,570 meters so tomorrow we will climb to camp two at 5,200 meters and spend the night there also.
We will return to base camp on the 30th for a few days rest while the Sherpas establish camp three which will be our high camp which will be around 6,000 to 6,200 meters depending on the campsite conditions. Today the Sherpas fixed rope on the exposed sections above camp two and tomorrow will continue to fix ropes where necessary above camp three.
The weather is still co-operating with us although we continue to get high winds and low clouds in the afternoon. We plan to keep making the early morning starts to maximize our chances on Kang Guru but each day we can feel the temperatures at base camp getting progressively colder.
Dispatch #6 - October 29, 2008 - Camp Two
We are all doing well at camp two at 5,200 meters which allows for fantastic views of the Annapurna Massif. We keep focusing on the 7,000 meter peak, Lamjung Himal, which lets us know that we still have a lot more elevation gain to reach camp three and the summit.
The route to camp two was interesting with some more rock scrambling and a scree slope that makes the climb to camp one on Cho Oyu look simple. The team members wore their Millet Everest boots for the first time on Kang Guru today and for some it was their first time wearing these high altitude climbing boots and they took some getting used to.
The Sherpas have established camp three at 6,100 meters and worked all day fixing rope below and above high camp to 6,500 meters. After a few days rest the Sherpas will return and fix ropes to the summit as well as fixing a 60 degree rock gully which is located just above camp two.
Kang Guru is truly living up to its translation as "The Teaching Mountain" as we will encounter rock scrambling, scree, ice and snow this season on this peak and that's what the team members signed up for.
Dispatch #7 - October 30, 2008 - Base Camp
All the team members and Sherpas are now safely back at base camp after their final acclimatization climb. We will rest for a couple of days at base camp before making our last climb up the mountain for the summit push. The team members will climb directly to camp two for the evening from base camp, skipping camp one, and the climb to camp three is going to be long day as we have a long linear distance to cover as well as 900 vertical meters to ascend to reach the campsite. Summit day will also be a 900 vertical meter day so we have three big days of climbing ahead and one long day descending from high camp back to base camp.
The technical description of the route we are climbing on Kang Guru is the Southwest Face to the West Ridge. Camp one and camp two are located on the Southwest Face whereas camp three is located on the West Ridge. According to our friend, Miss Elizabeth Hawley, who compiles data on all the Nepal mountaineering expeditions, if our expedition is successful in reaching the summit we will have the first climbers from the following nations to summit Kang Guru; Britain, Canada, Finland, Sweden, United States and Venezuela.
Our Sherpa crew under the leadership of our Sirdar, Namgyl Sherpa, have done a fantastic job establishing the campsites and have already fixed 900 meters of rope above camp two. They estimate that we still have another 200 to 400 meters of rope to fix to the summit which they will complete the day before the team members summit. Namgyl Sherpa is used to reaching the summit when fixing ropes as he was part of the group of Sherpas who fixed rope to the summit of Everest this spring from the Nepal side and continued to the summit becoming the first person to summit on May 20th.
Life is good at our low 3,600 meter base camp and showering here is a much more pleasant experience than taking one at Everest base camp on the Tibet side with the constant strong wind. The weather continues to be great on Kang Guru although the afternoon winds have now increased in their intensity since we were last at base camp, hopefully they stay at the lower elevations.
Dispatch #8 - November 1, 2008 - Base Camp
Beth and Anne-Mari went to camp one today with Pasang Sherpa and will join the rest of the group tomorrow at camp two, as the other team members plan to climb directly to camp two, skipping camp one and thus avoiding an extra night sleeping on the mountain.
We celebrated V yesterday with carved pumpkins and ghost stories, this was complimented just before we retired for bed with Pasang Gombu Sherpa telling us he spotted an animal above camp three when fixing ropes that he did not recognize. The Naar Phu Valley is well known for having a snow leopard population and we expect Pasang Gombu Sherpa saw one of these seldom seen animals but slightly exaggerated its size to fit in with the theme of our Halloween evening. Needless to say he freaked out most of the expedition members before they went to bed in their own individual sleeping tents at base camp.
We are enjoying our second full rest day at base camp and our group are busy sorting gear, reading, drinking coffee and generally relaxing before our summit push begins.
On a more sombre note today there were four trekkers who came to visit the site of the 2005 French disaster. Through our scope we watched them climb to the old traditional base camp with a local guide and place some flowers on the puja chorten that still remains at the site. We were told by the locals of Meta that they were friends with some of the French climbers who perished this month three years ago.
Dispatch #9 - November 2, 2008 - Camp Two
Today was a long day as we skipped camp one on route to camp two and tomorrow we expect to have an even longer day as camp three is some distance away. The team is all in good health and high spirits and looking forward to reaching our final high camp on the mountain.
Three of our Sherpas, Namgyl, Pasang Gombu and Sonam Tsering will complete fixing the ropes to, and along the final summit ridge tomorrow and will join our team members at camp three and then we all leave for the summit together in the early hours of the morning.
Dispatch #10 - November 3, 2008 - Camp Three
Today was a little harder than the previous days climb and we are all tired and now resting and drinking plenty of fluids at camp three at 6,000 meters. The climb started with a 60 degree gully with loose rock that made for a frustrating ascent but purposely our Sherpas had placed fixed ropes on this section. Soon after we arrived at the snowline and were happy to don our crampons and use our ice axes and we traveled on firm snow until reaching the site of camp three which is located on mixed rock and snow terrain. Just below camp three was a 70 degree ice and snow gully which made for an interesting climb at the end of a long day.
From high camp we can see the summit ridge and the somewhat steep climb to reach the final ridge. We will avoid climbing through the seracs and crevasses and traverse to the far left of the long summit ridge making a longer but much safer summit day.
We will be leaving camp three for the summit around midnight and we are a total of twelve climbers, six members, five Sherpas and myself. Hopefully I will be able to send an email from the summit of Kang Guru notifying everyone of our success using the General Dynamics GoBook MR-1 connected to a Thuraya satellite phone as we did from the summit of Everest this past spring.
Dispatch #11 - November 3, 2008 - Camp Three
Since posting our last dispatch at 4 pm Nepal time there has been a lot of developments with our summit plan. We are experiencing extreme high winds at camp three for a second successive night which don't subside until mid morning. We had hoped that last nights gale force winds were just a one off occasion but it looks as if the weather forecast we received regarding the strong jet stream that Nepal was going to be experiencing, just at the start of our expedition, has stayed true. We have been noticing the large plumes that have been coming off the other 7000-meter peaks in the vicinity of Kang Guru the last few days.
Our camp three is somewhat sheltered but already three of our four tents have suffered damage and we are not sure if they will survive another night of these extreme conditions.
We have obviously aborted our midnight departure for our summit attempt as the risk of frostbite and other injuries is too high for both the members and the Sherpas. The plan is to sit tight and see what our options are tomorrow. The Sherpas still need to fix another 400 meters of rope to the summit in addition to the 1,400 meters they have already fixed. The weather conditions today on the summit ridge made it impossible for them to continue fixing rope safely.
On the opposite end of the present weather conditions is the fact that we have had no snowfall on the mountain since our expedition started. At the time of this dispatch the tent I am occupying has the walls pushed into my face while I am inside a sleeping bag inside my down suit. These are very cold conditions we are experiencing for this elevation.
I would like to say that all the team members are safe and in agreement that we should sit tight and let the weather decide for us what our next move is.
Dispatch #12 - November 4, 2008 - Base Camp
Kang Guru seems not to want any climbers on her summit at this present moment going on the gale force winds we received last night, all night long and this morning. Two of our tents were damaged beyond use, so we broke the others down this morning to save them from being destroyed and cached them under rocks at camp three.
We descended this morning in such strong winds that it took all ones concentration and balance not to be blown over at camp three. All members and Sherpas are now safely back at base camp waiting out the weather and we are hoping to launch a summit attempt in several days if the weather cooperates. We have had nothing but glorious weather until last night and today we descended in light snowfall, the first of our expedition.
The route from camp two to camp three was interesting starting with a rock gully, ice and snow slopes to 60 degrees and finally an excellent snow and ice couloir to 70 degrees. The alpine environment we encountered up higher towards camp three was a truly remarkable sight and from high camp the view of the summit and the summit ridge reminds us that we still have a long way to go to reach the top.
The team members are disappointed that we had to descend from high camp and not make a summit attempt because of the weather but we still have time to summit if Kang Guru changes her mood and the winds subside.
We incorrectly stated on an earlier dispatch that camp three was on the West Ridge when in fact camp one, two and three are all located on the Southwest Face.
Dispatch #13 - November 6, 2008 - Base Camp
Yesterday as well as today has seen more strong winds on Kang Guru and the surrounding peaks. Some of our team members walked to the local monastery today as they wanted some exercise after yesterdays well deserved rest day. From this location they noticed a larger than the recent usual plume coming from the central summit of Kang Guru. The Lama in residence also noticed this and he and his young assistant asked the climbers about our progress on the peak as he had performed our puja ceremony a few weeks earlier.
The team met yesterday to decide on what is our best plan of action and we consulted the Sherpas who have been fixing the ropes. They told us that the present soft snow conditions on the summit ridge are too risky for climbers to climb together roped up above the fixed ropes. We still have another 400 meters to fix on the last 300 meters of the route but the high winds and soft snow conditions on the ridge are hindering the sherpas progress. The last time the sherpas continued fixing ropes a lot of the previous rope laid had been frozen under ice due to the strong winds and this took several hours to chip out so they could continue up the route.
Our departure date is fast approaching and we are scheduled to pack up base camp when our mules arrive on the 10th for the start of our three day trek out to Bhulebhule the following day. With this in mind and the continued strong winds above camp three the weather has decided for us that camp three will be the high point this expedition for most of the members.
Four of us climbed to camp two today to check the status of our camps. Camp one has a sole tent which was unaffected but two of our three tents at camp two have received some damage by the strong winds. Anne-Mari and Peter decided to spend the night at camp two and will climb to camp three tomorrow to see if anything is left there. They will be met at camp two in the morning by two sherpas and the four of them will travel together and if the weather cooperates they will spend the night at camp three. Rusty and myself reached camp two and brought down heavy packs of gear to ease the loads to be carried by the sherpas over the next few days when clearing the mountain.
Both the team members and the sherpas are dissapointed that the summit is unobtainable for them this season but the strong winds and snow conditions are an important factor for the climbers to avoid any injuries. Our sherpas have worked extremely hard throughout the expedition fixing 1,400 meters of rope and establishing some great new campsites. We have reviewed nearly all of the climbing techniques and topics we planned to discuss but the lack of snow lower on the mountain, and the hard ice at the snowline up high made this hard for practicing self arrest techniques.
Anne-Mari and Peter may be able to get above camp three but it seems as if the wind and snow conditions will hinder their progress in getting high on the mountain.
Dispatch #14 - November 8, 2008 - Base Camp
Anne-Mari, Peter, Namgyl and Pasang Sherpa all spent last night at camp three and went higher today as the strong winds above camp three have dropped in strength just for a short while and just when they needed them to, although camp two and below are still experiencing strong winds. They reached around 6,700 meters where the fixed ropes end but the snow conditions were still not suitable for the sherpas to continue to fix the remaining 400 meters of rope to the summit. They reported that the snow remained too soft to hold snow pickets and flukes to establish strong anchors for the fixed ropes and they again decided that roping up above the fixed rope would be too dangerous on the descent from the summit. They are now all down safely at camp two and will return to base camp later this afternoon.
The mountain has now been cleared of all the equipment, fixed ropes and trash and we hope to start our trek to Bhulebhule on the 10th with our mules and arrive in Kathmandu on the 13th.
The rest of the team escorted by Pasang Gombu Sherpa departed base camp today for the three day trek out. They will stay in Koto Qupar this evening and will spend nights in both Tal and Bhulebhule before driving to Kathmandu on the 11th.
We had especially hoped to reach the summit of Kang Guru as there has been very few expeditions to this mountain in the past and we are the first one in three years since the French disaster. The research and information we gathered on the mountain before we arrived, its route and conditions, have changed significantly we believe, going on the photos and descriptions from the expeditions who were here five years ago.
Weather has been a key factor this expedition and we had extremely strong winds at the worst possible time as we were all in position to go for the summit from the high camp. We have received glorious sunshine throughout the expedition but we actually could have done with some snowfall up higher to consolidate on the west ridge to make the final section of the climb safer.
Dispatch #15 - November 10, 2008 - Base Camp
The members and sherpas that reached 6,700 meters are now well rested and happy with their climb to the end of the fixed ropes. They reported that the tent we left at camp three with all the other gear inside was destroyed by the wind when they arrived at the campsite so they had to erect the tents that we had cached. The summit was painfully close, they estimate only one to two more hours of climbing to go with the seven hours they had already climbed from camp three but the sherpas thought the snow conditions of the ridge were still questionable even though the weather was perfect, so it was a wise decision not to continue to the summit.
Base camp has been totally cleared and there is not a sign of our presence residing here for the past two and half weeks. Kang Guru is a very pristine and unlittered mountain and we wanted to leave it the way we found it for future expeditions. Anne-Mari, Peter and myself will trek out with our staff, Namgyl, Tarkey, Sonam Tsering, Pasang, Serku and Sarki Sherpa today heading for Bhulebhule.
Dispatch #16 - November 13, 2008 - Kathmandu
We are now back in Kathmandu. Soft beds, restaurants with varied menus and cold beer. Some of the team members have returned to their own respective countries while some others are staying in Nepal and doing some more trekking and working on various projects.
Damien is working on a flim in association with the French gear company, Millet, who make the excellent Everest high altitude boots, about Nima Gombu Sherpa and his six Sherpas brothers who have about 50 ascents of Everest between them, with Nima Gombu having 13 ascents alone. Check out the website www.thechooyuproject.net.
I have personally enjoyed the experience of Kang Guru and although we are all dissapointed about not reacing the summit I think we have had quite an unique expedition by having such a seldom climbed mountain all to ourselves. Hopefully the team members learned some skills that will help them succeed if they decide to climb an 8000-meter peak in the future.
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