Lhotse 2015 Expedition Dispatches
Dispatch #20: Kathmandu, May 19, 2015
Apologies in the delayed final dispatch posting from our spring Everest and Lhotse season.
Our prayers and thoughts are with all those families and friends who suffered loss of life and property during the two earthquakes and the victims of the avalanche at Everest base camp.
Many climbers, Sherpas and local Nepali business owners were looking forward to the spring climbing season getting back to normal after the tragic events of April 18th, 2014. When I arrived in early March, Kathmandu seemed to have the same energy as it did before a season starts, just as it was when I first arrived here in the early 90’s. Even though the tourists, trekkers and climbers had yet to arrive, we all looked forward to a safe season for climbers and a busy season for the local business owners. All seemed to be going as we had hoped.
The Junkies team had a very tough start to the season when we received news on March 24th that one of our leaders, and a very close friend of mine, Samuli Mansikka had died on his descent from the summit of Annapurna along with Pemba Sherpa of Dreamers Destination.
There were many erroneous reports going around Kathmandu a few days later on what caused the accident. We will never know for sure what exactly happened but we do know that Sammy was climbing solo as usual and that Pemba Sherpa was guiding for Dreamers Destination and not climbing with Sammy. Sammy was very particular on his style of climbing the 8,000-meter peaks and who he roped up with and he preferred to climb the big ones on his own, with no Sherpa support and no oxygen.
With the help of New Zealand pilot Jason Laing and Captain Bibek Khadka, along with long-line specialist Chiring Dhunduk Bhote from Simrik Air, Dorjee Sherpa and myself went to Annapurna to try and locate and retrieve the bodies of Sammy and Pemba on March 28th. I thank the pilots and technician for their brave efforts to remove the bodies off the mountain. Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful due to the high elevation of the bodies. Even though the aircraft was pushed to its capabilities, the pilot aborted the mission for the safety of the rescuers. I thank them profusely for their efforts.
Dreamers Destination, the company that Sammy had engaged to provide base camp services were very helpful both at base camp and back in Kathmandu after their Annapurna expedition. I also thank them for all their help with Sammy.
We started the season proper with heavy hearts but were focused on our two Everest and Lhotse teams and we arrived at base camp on April 11th. We settled into base camp life and looked forward to our first rotation on the hill.
The icefall doctors had a lot of snow to contend with when they arrived at base camp earlier in the season and with their late arrival, the route to camp one took longer to establish than usual. All climbers observed a no climbing day on the 18th to pay respect to those fallen climbers from 2014, and on the 19th, the doctors completed placing the ropes and ladders to camp one. We elected not to go into the icefall on the 20th as we expected a lot of climbers to start their rotations and we were not wrong. We observed long lines of climbers and were happy that we only met a handful of climbers in the icefall on the 21st. We climbed to the ladders just below camp one so as not to cause any congestion with Sherpas from various teams who were carrying loads. We returned to base camp happy with our first foray up the hill.
We observed what a lot of the other groups were doing in regards to their schedules and decided to hold off on going to camp one and two to sleep until we had fully established our kitchen at camp two and when our Sherpas had all the necessary loads for camp three and four cached at camp two. We expected to make our climb to camp one again around the 26th of April.
The morning of the 25th saw our team members and Sherpas doing our regular thing at base camp. Breakfast, laundry, internet, acclimatization walks and socializing with each other were the usual activities of the day. This Saturday morning for some reason, all team members and Sherpas were in base camp together which was rare to say we were a large team and had 24 Sherpas alone. I was chatting with several of our team members and Anne, the doctor from Himex, in our dining room when the ground started to shake. One of the team members asked me if it was an avalanche and I replied no, it’s a small earthquake. After 30 seconds the small rumble had become a violent shake and we were now being thrown from our comfortable chairs in the dining room. Those 90 seconds, as we discovered later on that we experienced the earthquake, seemed to last forever. After the shaking stopped, we naturally walked outside to see if everyone was okay. Then we saw a huge avalanche, several stories high, approach us rapidly. I think both Dorjee Sherpa and myself shouted for everyone to get inside the dining tent to take cover. I saw a Sherpa from another team run past my camp and I grabbed him and threw him inside my tent with some of my other team members. We all hit the deck under the tables and covered our heads and mouths to protect us from the avalanche.
We were the lucky ones. The only injury my team members and Sherpas suffered was a loss of some front teeth when a member was blown over from the blast as they were unable to reach the safety of a tent in time. Not 60-meters from our tent there were fatalities from the avalanche.
Immediately our team members and Sherpas sprang into action and assisted those injured climbers. Whether they were stretcher-bearers, carried medical supplies or offered their medical skills, all the Junkies were amazing in this crisis hour. Special thanks have to go to Charmaine who worked relentlessly for hours in the triage rooms looking after the injured. I also need to thank the two Polish climbers, whose name I forget, and Gnarly (not real name) from Himex who along with myself looked for and retrieved several bodies from the avalanche debris.
Our climbers and Sherpas, although still very frightened, stayed tough and assisted with the evacuation of the injured climbers from the helipad the next day. All helicopters were being used for evacuation of the injured and the many victims of the earthquake all over Nepal so we knew it would take several days to get back to Kathmandu. We had food and water at base camp and we knew there were much more important things on the agenda than us getting to the relative safety of Kathmandu.
Om May 1st at 6.30 pm all our team members were back in Kathmandu whereas the Sherpas and I were still at base camp packing up gear and cleaning base camp. All our team members have now left Kathmandu and I am very pleased that all our Sherpas and their families are safe and back home, that is the ones who still have a homes left in the Khumbu.
We have been asked by many friends, family and previous and regular Junkies climbers on how we can help the people of Nepal in their hour of need. We have purposely delayed in recommending any particular charity as there are so many good charities already in existence in Nepal, and fortunately not all of them have their donations directed through the Prime Minister’s bank account.
Several climbers have asked how they can help our Sherpas directly, as many know our Sherpas very well. I can report that even though we have suffered no loss of life, damage to several properties is extensive and presently we have many Sherpa and their families sleeping in tents, kindly donated by various charities. Our plan is to help these Sherpa families rebuild their homes for their future safety. For those who know our boys well, Kami Neru “Mad Dog” Sherpa, Pasang Nima “Pocket Rocket” Sherpa and Lakpa Dorjee “Shaky” Sherpa have all lost their homes completely. Our Sirdar, Dorjee Sherpa, has suffered major damage to his house in Phakding and all these guys and their families are now sleeping in tents.
We are willing to accept any donations on behalf of these boys and will pass on any funds directly to them after assessing their needs.
I would like to thank all the international organizations and volunteers as well as the local Nepalese people who have given their time to help others in Nepal’s hour of need.
Phil Crampton - Kathmandu
Dispatch #19- May 2, 2015 - Kathmandu
Last night, at around 6:30 PM, all team members returned to Kathmandu. They are now awaiting flights back to their respective home countries.
Dorjee Sherpa is remaining in Lukla to monitor gear coming from base camp. Phil and the rest of the Sherpas are still in base camp packing and moving gear to either our storage area in Pangboche or back to Kathmandu.
We think some of our Sherpas have lost all or portions of their homes in the Khumbu. We are hoping to help them rebuild or restore their homes.
Dispatch #18- April 30, 2015 - Kathmandu
Tomorrow morning at 5 AM, the team will trek to Pheriche accompanied by Dorjee Sherpa. From there, they will fly to Lukla by helicopter. From Lukla, they will fly either direct to Kathmandu, or will fly to Biratnagar and then on to Kathmandu.
We are monitoring the airport, and all international flights are moving. Domestic flights however have quite a back up and are not in the priority cue for landing. So we will use the best method to get everyone back to Kathmandu as quickly and as safely as possible.
This morning, it was raining heavily so all helicopter traffic was suspended. So again, this plan will be heavily dependent on weather.
Dispatch #17- April 28, 2015 - Kathmandu
The entire Altitude Junkies team members and Sherpas are all doing fine at base camp. As most of you know by now, there was a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, which hit Nepal at 11:56 AM on Saturday March 25. The epicenter of the quake was Lamjung, which is 48 kilometers NW of Kathmandu and approximately 100 kilometers west of Everest base camp. This earthquake triggered an avalanche, which swept into Everest base camp.
Our team members are cool and collected as they patiently await the next steps. All of your messages of support and concern are very appreciated. Currently all available helicopters are being coordinated by the government and the most severely injured are trying to be helped first from areas all over Nepal.
We send out our most heartfelt condolences to the families and friends not only to those affected at base camp, but to all those in Nepal, our second home. The earthquake lasted approximately 90 seconds, but in that time hundreds of thousands of lives have been ended, destroyed and forever changed.
Dispatch #16 - April 25, 2015 - 14:00:00 (GMT)
All the Altitude Junkies team members and all Sherpas are fine. The support team in Kathmandu has reported in and is ok.
More details to follow as they become available.
- Relayed via NYC team.
Dispatch #15 - April 25, 2014 - Base Camp
We are presently experiencing a snow storm that started yesterday and has continued as I write this at 10 am. We had planned on the Sherpas taking two full rest days at base camp but we are being informed of a possible large storm on the 28th. With this in mind, the Sherpas may change their schedule and do the final carry to camp two tomorrow if the weather allows. We plan to have all staff and team members at base camp on the 28th in case the pending storms happens.
Our team members are being as patient as ever and they are all very keen to spend a night at camp one and several nights at camp two to help their acclimatization on their next rotation.
No one likes to have their schedule dictated to by the weather but in the mountains, the weather always rules and we just have to sit and wait paitently for her next move.
Dispatch #14 – April 24, 2014 – Base Camp
Yesterday, eight of our Sherpas made a carry to camp two and returned to base camp and today another six Sherpas did the same carry. The camp two cooks will return to base camp tomorrow morning, meaning the team is complete at base camp for the first time since the Puja.
The remaining team members who had yet to complete their first rotation through the icefall have now completed it, and all the members are now looking forward to the camp one and camp two rotations in a few days time.
The weather has been fantastic for the most part but this afternoon we are experiencing a snow flurry, the first in many days.
Dispatch #13 - April 21, 2014 - Base Camp
Our team members and their personal Sherpas made their first climb on the mountain this morning with a climb through the icefall to just below camp one. This rotation was to get them familiar with their Sherpas and to iron out any problems with any new gear. The team did fantastic with the first member reaching the large five ladder section in just over 2.5 hours. All of the team members went at their own pace and all reached the set high point well before the turn around time.
Eight of our Sherpas have established our camp two and have been busy recovering gear cached there from last season. They plan to return to base camp on the morning of the 22nd.
We are still to hear from the Ministry of Tourism in regards to being allowed to longline the rope fixing supplies by helicopter to camp two to avoid 70 Sherpa loads having to be carried through the icefall. As always with the government of Nepal, things take a very long time to be decided on. All the expedition Sirdars, team leaders and several Liaison Officers have signed a petition to ask for the helicopter help with the loads.
Even on a rest day after a climb to nearly camp one, our team members refuse to sit around idle and have continued with their walks to Gorak Shep and to Pumori base camp.
Dispatch #12 - April 20, 2014 - Base Camp
16 of our Sherpas went through the icefall today. 8 of them droped loads at camp one and returned to base camp and the other 8 went on to establish camp two. The camp two Sherpas roped up because of the crevasses that were hidden by fresh snow, and they joined forces with Sherpas from Himex to break the trail. They will spend the evening at camp two and tomorrow will pick up the loads deposited at camp one, returning to camp two for the evening.
The team members and their personal Sherpas will make their first forray into the icefall proper tomorrow. We plan to depart early in the morning for a climb to around the halfway mark to camp one. We will leave later than the Sherpas from other groups carrying loads so as not to cause any delays for them at the bottleneck sections.
Dispatch #11 – April 19, 2014 – Base Camp
Hopefully the Icefall Doctors get the parallel ladders and additional rappel ropes placed today, allowing the multiple Sherpas from the various groups to get camp one and camp two, established in the next few days.
Even though the progress on the hill has been somewhat delayed by the weather this year, some of the operators are now getting onboard with safety measures for their staff and clients. Himex were the first to introduce avalanche transceivers (or beacons as they are more commonly known) for their satff and clients several years ago. The Junkies have made it compulsory for all of our team members and staff to wear avalanche beacons on all our expeditions since 2012. Now we are hearing that some of the other teams are following suit, so this is huge progress for the safety of our climbers in my honest opinion. Common sense still prevails when traveling in avalanche terrain but beacons do help with the safety of the rescuers if an accident occurs.
If all goes well, the government of Nepal will give us permission to fly the fixed rope supplies for above camp two by helicopter to camp one in the next few days. If the weather cooperates, I am hoping to report the ropes are fixed to camp three and camp four respectively as soon as possible.
Dispatch #10 - April 18, 2014 - Base Camp
Meetings and more meetings are about as much progress as we are making at the moment. The large amount of snowfall that the Khumbu region received before the season started, meant that the Icefall Doctors were delayed in getting started on the route through the icefall. The continued snow we are receiving at base camp also meant that the route still has to be finished to camp one, with additional parallel ladders and rappel lines. The Junkies Sherpas say that the route is much quicker and direct than last year.
Today is a no climbing day to respect those fallen Sherpas from April 18th, 2014. All teams have respected this anniversary and tomorrow, the Icefall Doctors will hopefully complete the task of placing ropes and ladders to camp one.
If all goes to plan, the Junkies will send 6 Sherpas to camp one and another 10 Sherpas to camp two on the 20th.
At the first meeting of the season, where only a handful of the western operators were present, it was decided to present the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation in Kathmandu a petition signed by both the expedition leaders and expedition sirdars. The petition is asking that we be allowed to make five, roughly one hour's worth of helicopter flight time to drop the rope fixing rope and hardware at camp one. This will alleviate about 70 Sherpa rope fixing loads going through the icefall. Even though the icefall has been re-routed from 2014, it's still a place we don't want our Sherpas to travel through unnecessarily.
The Junkies team members have been great with the delay in getting onto the mountain proper and have kept busy with daily walks around the region.
Dispatch #9 – April 17, 2014 – Base Camp
This morning, 6 of our Sherpas, out of a total of 24 working for the Junkies this spring season, departed base camp at 3:30 AM for a load carry to camp one. Unfortunately, halfway up the icefall there was reportedly some collapsed ladders. It seems as if the route needs to be re-routed to avoid a bottleneck at this section as many Sherpas reported that no ladders had collapsed, but the trail of 80 Sherpas came to a standstill. With this in mind, Dorjee Sherpa and myself instructed our Sherpas to descend immediately and drop their loads at crampon point. The icefall is definitely not a place to stand around and wait for ladders to be fixed. The Sherpas retunred to base camp with large smiles and even larger appetites.
Tomorrow there will be a large Puja to honor the fallen Sherpa from 2014. All climbers will honor their memories by not not climbing on this day. I expect the 19th to be a very busy day indeed in the icefall.
Dispatch #8 – April 16, 2014 – Base Camp
The weather dictated that the Sherpas were unable to go to camp two this morning. Constant snowfall left visibility pretty bad and safety was the factor. If the weather allows, the Sherpas may go tomorrow.
Yesterday, the nice folks from Everest Link internet came and fixed our relay station so our base camp now has a fast connection just for our team members.
The weather is still unfavorable on the hill and at base camp, but our forecasts predict an end to the snow this weekend.
Dispatch #7 – April 15, 2014 – Base Camp
We decided to make an early start on the glacier this morning, practicing on horizontal and vertical ladders as well as steep fixed ropes. Most of our climbers are old hats at these techniques as nearly all of our members have a lot of 8,000-meter experience. The day's activities were more to get us out of base camp for a few hours to stretch the legs.
The weather has not been great and as I write this dispatch early afternoon the snow is still falling consistently, as it has done for the past few days in the afternoon. Yesterday, around 4pm the sun came out for the nicest afternoon at base camp to date.
The collective Sherpas decided not to go to camp two today and will go tomorrow if the weather allows. There is no rush to get gear to camp two as we still plan to spend many more nights at base camp before sleeping at camp one and two respectively.
Dispatch #6 – April 14, 2014 – Base Camp
Junkies Puja's are legendary and yesterday's ceremony and festivities were as usual, over the top. The cermrony was conducted by three lamas and we had to convert the dining room for the service due to the large amount of snowfall we received during the night and early hours of the morning. Several of the team members were moving slower than usual this morning and we were glad today is a rest day.
Several teams had collectively decided to each send a small team of Sherpas to go together to camp two to check on the status of the cached gear from 2014. The weather changed that plan and we think they may all go tomorrow if the weather allows.
The weather has not been great for the past couple of days and if tomorrow is nice, the team memebers may go onto the glacier and practice with some ladders and fixed ropes. All of our team members are very experienced climbers but sometimes it is nice to freshen up on skills needed for the climb.
Dispatch #5 – April 11, 2014 – Base Camp
The team are now all at base camp and enjoying the food produced by head cook Da Pasang Sherpa and his kitchen assistants.
We plan to hold our Puja ceremony on the morning of the 13th and then we will start the business of getting ready for our first climb through the ice fall and spending nights at camp one and two respectively.
Dispatch #4 – April 6, 2014 – Deboche
We made it to Deboche before 11 AM even after taking some liquid libations at the Tengboche Bakery. The weather has been amazing today which allowed for outstanding views of Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam.
The plan for tomorrow is to walk for a couple of hours to Dingboche where we will spend two nights to aid our acclimatization process. Some of our team members are looking forward to taking a stroll up the hill behind Dingboche for the views of Cholatse, which they successfully climbed in the fall of last year.
We are hearing reports of less western climbers on Everest this season than there were last year which is great news for us, but not such great news for the lodge owners who realiy heavily on passing expeditions. Not to fear, there are still plenty of trekkers on the trail keep the lodges full and doing brisk business.
Our internet connection may be sketchy until we reach base camp so we may be quiet for a while.
Dispatch #3 – April 4, 2014 – Namche Bazar
The team are now all in Namche Bazar enjoying the teahouse we are staying at, as well as the local bakeries on the main drag. Last night the group were in Phakding and I believe there was quite some party.
I unexpectedly finished my business early in Kathmandu, so this morning I was able to jump on a rescue helicopter flight and get myself dropped off in Namche to meet the team.
We will spend another evening here in Namche before heading to Deboche on the 6th. The weather was beautiful this morning for the trek and flight but now we are experiencing some clouds and it's trying to snow here in Namche.
Dispatch #2: Kathmandu, April 3, 2015
Our Everest and Lhotse teams are now in Lukla and starting the trek to base camp. This morning the guys and girls took several private helicopters to Lukla and will spend this evening in Dorjee’s Buddha Lodge in Phakding. Tomorrow they will be in Namche Bazar where they will spend two evenings for cautious acclimatization.
The last few days in Kathmandu have seen the teams busy with last minute gear shopping as well as catching up with old friends from previous expeditions. It has been nice to recollect about past expeditions as several of the team are repeat Junkies.
I will be joining the team in a few days and will chopper up the Khumbu and meet them in Dingboche as I have some business to attend to with the Finnish Embassy here in Kathmandu for the late Samuli Mansikka.
Dispatch #1: Kathmandu, March 30, 2015
Welcome to the expedition dispatches from the Junkies annual Everest and Lhotse expeditions. As usual, we will be posting both expedition updates on the same page until the teams start to climb on their different schedules around late April.
I have to say a special thank you to Dambar Parajuli, President of the EOA (Expedition Operators Association) and Nabin Trital, Director of Expedition Himalalaya, for all their hard work in petitioning the relevant government departments, here in Nepal, in regards to getting the Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse permits from 2014 extended on an individual basis for another four years. Their relentless pressure has finally paid off, and the government of Nepal has finally seen sense, albeit very late indeed. I would also like to thank the local Nepal operators for their cooperation with each other for the upcoming season.
Hopefully politics will be left out of this spring climbing season and that all the expeditions present have a safe and successful season on their relevant peaks.
The Junkies are very pleased to have our regular crew of hardworking climbing and kitchen Sherpa working under the directorship of the one and only Dorjee Sherpa. For those who know the Khumbu well will know that Dorjee is a legend around these parts and we are extremely happy to be working with him and his boys once again on Everest and Lhotse this season.
Our team members will start to arrive in Kathmandu at the end of the month and then early April we will take private helicopters up the Khumbu for the start of the trek to base camp.
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