Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Autumn 2014 | Season at its Peak, Updates from Makalu to Shishapangma

The post monsoon climbing season is at its peak, as summit-bids continue on Manaslu and Cho Oyu. Multiple summits have already been witnessed on both mountains, since last week. Meanwhile, the progress on Lhotse, Dhaulagiri and Makalu has been slow and steady. In a tragic incident, a Japanese climber died on Manaslu after suffering a fatal slide.

Firm Against Lhotse South Face

The last communication from Korean Lhotse South Face team has been about a week ago, when they were at BC after establishing C2 (6800m). Despite bad weather and frequent avalanches, the team has been advancing bit by bit. C2 was only reached after 12 hard days of setting up C1. However, as monsoon is over, the climbers expect an improvement in meteorological conditions.

Currently, it appears that the team has gone up the mountain again. They are hoping to establish C3 by the end of September and C4 in early days of October. The expedition is led by veteran explorer Sung Taek Hong, whereas the team consists of young and ambitious climbers.

Koreans heading up towards C2; Soure: Korean Expedition

Slovakians Face Difficulties on Dhaulagiri

The Slovak Dhaulagiri expedition has been facing difficult condition on the mountain. “Progression to Camp-1 is annoying, due to cracks. We have fixed 1200 m stretches. Tomorrow (on Sept 29th) we should finally begin to build the camp. The weather is pretty decent during the day, only to retract in the evening, and sometimes it rains,” wrote the team on 28th.

Makalu: Smooth Progress

British Tri-services team is making good progress on Makalu SE Ridge. The Sherpa have fixed the route till C2, whereas the members have returned to Base Camp after tagging C1. The weather has been favorable since Saturday; a sign of monsoon’s recede.

The second Makalu team, Madison Mountaineering Expedition, have also reached the BC. As per expedition leader Garrett Madison, they will spend a few days acclimatizing near BC before going up the route.

Garrett Madison also mentions that there is a small team of Slovenian climbers camped next to British team.

Sherpa (in middle of photo) heading to C1; Photo: Tim Taylor of British Exp

Cho Oyu Summits

Danish climber Bo Belvedere Christensen was first to reach Cho Oyu summit, this season. He launched the summit bid from C2 on 26th, and reached the top at around 4PM next day. Bo is now travelling to Shishapanmga for his attempt on second eight-thousander.

Another climber from Denmark, Ivan Braun, will also be heading to Shishapangma, soon.  Ivan summited Cho Oyu, yesterday (on 29th).

Several more summits have been reported from Cho Oyu, during past few days.

Three Italians Alice Cavallera, Alberto Pacellini and Nicola Bonaiti were successful on 28th. From Second Italian expedition, Luca Montanari and Bogdan Velev topped on 29th, whereas Luciano Dal Toè and Samuele Santagiuliana were expected to reach the summit today.

Polish climber Olek Ostrowski stood atop at 12 PM (Chinese time) on Sept 29th.

From larger commercial expeditions, Summit Climb team summited on 28th. The IMG Team’s summit equation says “2 IMG guides, 7 climbers, 6 sherpas = 15 summits”. Alpine Ascents exclaimed, “we all summited at 7am Nepal time the 29th of September!” Adventure Consultants were up there, today, “that's eight Sherpa, two AC guides and six team members.” Also Six members of Kobler Parter team reached the top on 29th.

Basque team (Oier Plazaola,  Xabier Urrate and Pedro García) was also on summit push, but further updates are awaited.

However, some teams - including Russian 7 Summit Club and Chris Burke’s team - being the “late comers” are still busy in acclimatization.

Cho Oyu; Source: Unkonwn

Death on Manaslu

As per reports from BC, Japanese climber Yoshimasa Sasaki (59) passed away on Manaslu near 7300m after suffering a fatal fall. He slid around 25-30m and died immediately. It appears that an operation is being launched to retrieve his body.

Manaslu Summit Bids 2

Altitude Junkies, HimEx and Arnold Coster Expeditions summited during first wave of summit-bids on Manaslu, whereas other teams - Amical Alpin, a Spanish team of seven climbers, Mountain Professionals led by explorer Ryan Waters, two members of Italian Expedition and four French climbers - are currently heading towards summit.

Also, American Alex Barber’s couldn’t succeed in his first summit attempt. However, he is back on the mountain, “On the 27th I dropped back down to Base camp and took a single day’s rest. Today, the 29th, I went from base camp to Camp 3 in a single 8 hour push.” Alex hopes to reach the summit on Oct 1st.

Worse Conditions on Shishapangma

Considering the persistent bad snow conditions and after the deadly avalanche last week, some climbers are returning home. Billi Bierling is on the way back to Kathmandu. Kobler Partner guides are retrieving material from C1 and C2, “they will not climb to summit, this fall. By heavy snow, the avalanche situation is too dangerous.”

Spaniard Carlos Soria, however, hasn’t given up, yet. He has completed the acclimatization to C2. Carlos intends to climb Iñaki variant instead of normal route.

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Autumn 2014 | Speed on Manaslu: Andrzej Bargiel Titles New Record

Yesterday, on September 25th, several mountaineers reached the summit of Manaslu. Polish ski-mountaineer Andrzej Bargiel was one of them. However, unlike others who had been on the mountain for three or four days, Bargiel left Base Camp merely 14 hours and 05 minutes ago. The descent took him almost half of ascension time. Andrzej Bargiel had surpassed the speed records set by German Benedikt Böhm, couple of years ago.

Call it coincidence or cruelty of nature; when Andrzej Bargiel was on speed ascent, Benedikt Böhm was in the process of accepting the catastrophe that had struck his team that morning. His friends Andrea Zambaldi and Sebastian Haag were gone in an avalanche.

On Manaslu in 2012, Benedikt Böhm and Sebastian Haag along with their fellow Constantin Pade battled the fierce wind and icy cold conditions on the night between September 29th & 30th. They considered the retreat option but eventually continued the ascent as a group. At 11AM next morning, Böhm reached the summit, while his two partners stopped 150m below. His ascent time was 15 hours and round trip 23.5 hours. It was a “bittersweet” record after the deadly avalanche on the mountain, that year.

Andrzej Bargiel skiing down during acclimatization; Photo: Marcin Kin

Andrzej Bargiel launched the summit at around 10 PM (on September 24th) with the intention to reach C3 directly, “I will go straight to the C3, which should take about five hours.” However, it was raining heavily when he left Base Camp and he had to stop at C1 to change the clothes. Nonetheless, by 2:30AM, four and a half hours after leaving BC (4800m), he was in C3 (6800m). His brother Grzegorz Bargiel and teammate Darek Załuski, who reached there previous day, awaited him at C3.

It’s reported that conditions up there were difficult - “blustery” and “a lot of snow”. Andrzej rested in Camp 3 for an hour (instead of two, as planned), and all three team members continued the ascent. It appears that Grzegorz and Załuski stopped short of summit. Andrzej Bargiel reached the top at around 12:00PM local time. “It took him 14 hours and 5 minutes to get to the top! thus breaking the record for climbing the mountain!” exclaimed the home-team of Polish climber.

Andrzej Bargiel; Photo: Marcin Kin

It was planned that the climber would ski-descent the whole length of mountain “without taking off skies”. However, dense fog on way down prevented him in doing so. Andrzej reached BC with a round trip time of 21 hours and 14 minutes.
- Other summits on Manaslu, yesterday, include 12 members (6 Sherpa, 6 clients) from Altitude Junkies, 20 from Himalayan Experience (9 members, 2 guides and 9 Sherpas) and some other climbers.
- Recently, there was some confusion about speed record of Europe’s highest mountain, Elbrus. However, the organizers have confirmed that the record is still held by Andrzej Bargiel, who did it in 3 hours, 23 min and 37 sec during 2010 International Elbrus Race.
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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Autumn 2014 | Shishapangma Avalanche: Two Climbers Disappear, One Survives Miraculously

Double 8 team - Andrea Zambaldi, Benedikt Böhm and Sebastian Haag - was on a mission to speed climb two eight-thousanders, Shishapangma and Cho Oyu, within a week. On their first mountain, Shishapangma, they had been battling difficult conditions since past few weeks. Yesterday, they were approaching the summit, when an avalanche hit the team. Andrea Zambaldi and Sebastian Haag were buried under the snow and are still missing.

A week ago, excessive snow forced the three climbers to retreat from 7700m. However, on September 23rd, they launched their second (and final) summit-bid on the mountain. This time, they were also joined by Swiss Ueli Steck  and German Martin Maier.

As per information from Base Camp, Benedikt Boehm and Ueli Steck started the “speed ascent” from ABC (5600m) at 04:30PM (Nepalese time) on September 23rd. They reached C1 (6300m) at around 08:00PM and as planned, Sebastian Haag joined them from there.

While the three climbers continued their ascent from C1, two more members Martin Maier and Andrea Zambaldi who were in C2 at that time, also started climbing up. The two groups met each other just below C3 at around 01:00 AM (September 24th). They all arrived at C3 (7100m) at 2:00AM. At 06:50AM, it’s said that the team was merely 100m below summit and were hoping to be at the top by 08:00AM.

Double 8 Team during acclimatization; Source

The climbers have been communicating about difficult and dangerous conditions on the mountain throughout the ascent. Benedikt Boehm’s message from 7700m read, “the deep, windblown snow is killing us,” and from 7850m he said, “fighting, fighting, fighting. Heaps of snow and high risk of avalanche … Frustrating!!”

Unfortunately, the danger materialized in disaster when the climbers were at 7900m. An avalanche swept Zambaldi, Haag and Maier 600m down, 'over steep glaciers, into another section of the mountain'. Steck and Boehm immediately asked for help from BC and headed down to avalanche zone for a possible search and rescue operation. It’s reported that despite trying for four hours, they couldn’t reach there, “there was no access to the avalanche zone.”

Benedikt Bohm, Sebastian Haag and Andrea Zambaldi in Kathmandu; Source
However, Martin Maier somehow survived the avalanche, spent the night in open and appeared at C3, this morning (September 25th). Sherpa are assisting him on descent to BC. Details of his survival are not known, yet.

Andrea Zambaldi and Sebastian Haag are unfortunately still missing.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Autumn 2014 | First Summit Attempt on Manaslu and Proteins Kidnapped

It’s the fourth week of fall climbing season and some climbers/teams have now attained the required level of acclimatization for summit attempts. Last week, a summit push on Shishapangma was thwarted because of excessive snow above C3. Andrea Zambaldi, Benedikt Böhm and Sebastian Haag - the Double 8 team - were forced to retreat from 7700m. On descent, they passed on the news of bad conditions to Nicole and Ueli Steck, who were also aiming for the top. Both teams will be heading up again, for second summit push, starting tomorrow. (update: It appears that climbers left Base Camp, today)

The colors of Manaslu BC; Photo: Marcin Kin of Andrzej Bargiel Ski Expedition

Geographically, Shishapangma is located in a large wind gap region, which results in short and few good weather periods. Contrarily, some other eight-thousanders like Manaslu and Cho Oyu offer multiple day summit windows in fall season. One such opportunity is available now, as first group of climbers is on Manaslu summit-bid. British-American explorer Vanessa O'Brien tweeted yesterday evening, “Summit bid underway. Just reached Camp 2.” Vanessa is part of HimEx team.

Sherpa from Altitude Junkies and Himalyan Experience have been fixing the route on Manaslu this season. They even fixed ladders on some crevasses between C1 and C3. Some people think that this may serve as a good practice ground for clients who are planning to climb Everest, in future. The route had previously been fixed to “within 500m (of rope) and 100m (vertical) from C4 at 7,440m.” It appears that Sherpa will be leading the rope-fixing ahead of summit-push team.

A climber heading towards C2. A fixed ladder can also be seen; Source

Manaslu is known for ice avalanches between C2 and C3. Russell Brice, HimEx expedition leader, wrote from BC on September 21st, “Speaking of avalanches, 4 nights ago the ice cliffs that triggered the major avalanche in 2012 released again, causing an avalanche almost as big as the one in 2012, coming right down the upper slopes and passed about 100 meters away from C2.”

He continued, “I had already noted that this was still active earlier this year before we had arrived at BC. Like in 2012 our C2 was situated on a small rise in the local terrain and with 2 large crevasses between us and the normal slide path. As we were the only people on the mountain at the time, this latest avalanche went largely unnoticed by most, as opposed to when teams were camped right in the slide path in 2012.”

Climbers have climbed till C3 for acclimatization; Source

The one-man team, Alex Barber, is also heading for the summit. He was expected to leave Base Camp today and make it to the top on 26th. “I do not plan to stop at camp 2 on purpose because the entire area around camp 2 is unstable and dangerous,” says the American climber.

About weather forecast, he writes that “there is a general trend … starting Thursday the 25th to Sunday the 28th looks like it might be a decent window for my summit day. The 25th being the worst day with 30+mph winds at the peak. Saturday, the 27th, is forecast to have 5 to 10mph winds but possibly precipitation.”

French climbers Franck Candelier, Purna bahadur Tamang and Jean-François Durazzo reached C1 yesterday and are ascending to C2, today. Depending upon conditions, they may also try to reach the summit in current weather window.

Finally, there hasn't been any update from Altitude Junkies team recently, but they may also be heading for summit, now.

Proteins kidnapped

Not uncommon on “commercial” eight-thousanders these days, Italian and French climbers are reporting food-gone-missing from their tents on the mountain. Four-man Italian team called the theft of dried yak meet and cheese from C1 tents as, “proteins kidnapped!”

A bag of food that certainly can't be open, emptied (and closed again) by crows; Source

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Autumn 2014 | Avalanche on Lhotse, Shishapangma Summit Push and Progress on Other Mountains

Post monsoon climbing season strides forward, as some teams get ready for summit pushes. Contrarily, some climbers are still trekking to the mountains. Snow and weather conditions also vary significantly, mountain to mountain.

Lhotse: Avalanche and Route to C2

The Korean climbers were almost hit by an avalanche, this week; something which isn't uncommon on notorious Lhotse South Face. However, they were lucky to escape the catastrophe unharmed. The incident took place at around 6200m, when the team was working on the route to C2 (which they intend to pitch at 6800m).

Going up Lhotse South Face in difficult conditions; Source: Korean Exp 2014

As of now, the route has been opened till 6400m. For safety, they have fixed approximately 1 km of rope between BC and C1. C1 was set up at 5800m, last week. The weather has generally been bad since their arrival, here. It has snowed consistently and they are forced to climb in bad conditions.

The aftermath of avalanche at 6200m; Source: Korean Exp 2014

Shishapangma: Excessive Snow and First Summit Push

Shishapangma isn’t known for good snow conditions and this year is no different. “Lots of snow and drifting snow,” says Billi Bierling. Yesterday, Billi and her team mates left ABC for their second rotation up the mountain. After spending the night in C1, they are hoping to reach C2 today.

However, the excessive snow was a major setback for Double 8 climbers Andrea Zambaldi, Benedikt Böhm and Sebastian Haag, who were on the summit push. The team left ABC on September 17th at 1400hrs and by next morning, they had reached 7700m. But the snow and avalanche risk forced them to retreat. The climbers are now resting and recovering at ABC for another attempt.

Meanwhile, Spaniard Carlos Soria continues acclimatization on hills near ABC.

Carlos Soria acclimatizing near ABC; Source

Dhaulagiri and Makalu: Base Camps

Slovakian team made it to Dhaulagiri Base Camp as per schedule. Having reached there yesterday, they are currently busy in establishing and organizing the BC.

British team continues its march towards Makalu. Having started their trek on September 14th, they will soon be reaching the BC. But the Brits will not be alone on the mountain, this season. American guide, Garrett Madison is also leading a commercial expedition to SE Ridge, and was expected to fly out of Kathmandu, yesterday.

Andrzej Bargiel skiing down Manaslu; Photo: Marcin Kin

Manaslu and Cho Oyu: Ready for Summit

Ropes have been fixed until just below C4 on Manaslu. Sherpa from Altitude Junkies and Himalayan Experience concluded the job on September 18th. Both teams are now awaiting good weather for summit push.

On Cho Oyu, route is fixed till C2 (7100m) and multiple teams are concluding their acclimatization.

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Autumn 2014 | Arrivals at BCs and Acclimatization Continue

Climbers on Manaslu are getting ready for first summit push by next week. Cho Oyu and Shishapangma teams have reached C1. Makalu and Dhaulagiri climbers are still trekking towards BCs, whereas Koreans have kicked off the climb on Lhotse.

Lhotse

After remaining stuck at BC for several days, it appears that the Koreans had the first opportunity to go up the mountain, last week. They worked on the route to C1, before returning to Base Camp. The team is attempting an ascent of Lhotse via challenging South Face.

Korean Climbers heading to C1

Towards Makalu and Dhaulagiri BCs

Apparently, there will be one team each on Makalu and Dhaulagiri, this season. The Slovakian Dhaulagiri climbers left Kathmandu on September 12th and are scheduled to reach the BC on 18th.

British Tri-Service Makalu team has also left for the mountain. The trek to the Base Camp started on September 14th, when they left Num. The team was expected to reach Tashi Gaon, today.

Shishapangma

A couple of months ago, we heard that Ueli Steck along with his wife was in Peru, working out for an attempt on Shishapangma. In an interesting incident, the climber aka Swiss Machine’s entry to Huascaran National Park was denied when he forgot his Alpine Club membership card at hotel in Huaraz. He had to send someone back to hotel to get his card.

Ueli Steck stunned the mountaineering world with a historic climb on Annapurna’s South Face, last autumn. The updates from the climber were few and far between throughout that expedition. However, we may be hearing more about him this year as he joins several other climbers at Shishapangma ABC.

“I am back in Tibet. We (are) having a great time. The plan is to climb Shishapangma together with my wife Nicole,” is the message from Ueli Steck, who has already climbed the mountain in a record time of 10.5hrs in Spring 2011.

Majority of other climbers have also reached Shishapangma ABC, now. The Italian-German Double 8 team (Andrea Zambaldi, Benedikt Böhm and Sebastian Haag) reached ABC on 12th. Spaniard Carlos Soria arrived on 14th. Danish climber Bo Belvedere Christensen arrived in Kathmandu on September 9th and was expecting to leave for BC on 11th.

The Kobler-Partner team is in C1, tonight. “Spending night at shisha c1. Ascent was fun but very cold and windy. Everyone feels good and settling in for a clear but cold night.” Billi Bierling ‏tweeted this evening.

C1 on Cho Oyu; Source

Manaslu

Weather on Manaslu has been a bit intermittent in past few days. However, the climbers continue their acclimatization on the mountain. Commercial expeditions Himex and Altitude Junkies are leading the rope fixing process. It’s reported that the route is fixed until just before C3. In next attempt the Sherpa will fix the route to C4. Interestingly, they have also fixed ladders over some large crevasses between C1 and C3.

Phil Crampton, leader of AJ team wrote today, “With our second rotation complete on the mountain we are now resting at base camp in anticipation of our summit push. We hope if all goes well to summit within the next 10 days.”

Several other climbers/teams are still acclimatizing before their attempt to go all the way to summit.

Cho Oyu

On Cho Oyu, multiple teams have completed their first rotation to C1. Summit Climb team is now heading towards C2. Expedition Leader Dan Mazur tweeted this morning, “SummitClimb Cho Oyu expedition (is) at Camp1 (6400m/21,000ft). No teams above us. We open route to C2. Breaking trail; very deep snow.”

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Friday, September 12, 2014

From Summer 2014 | First Ascent of G-V, Unattempt on G-IV

At the beginning of summer season, we mentioned about a couple of teams that were heading towards less climbed peaks in Gasherbrum massif. Kyle Dempster and Urban Novak’s plan was to craft a new route on Shining Wall of Gasherbrum IV in alpine style. An Chi Young was leading a three member Korean team to G-V; a 7000er with no recorded ascent. However, we heard nothing about them until a few days ago.

In an article to alpinist.com, Kyle Dempster wrote that in third week of July, he and Urban Novak were in Skardu when they heard about disappearance of two Slovenian climbers Ales Holc and Peter Meznar on a 6000er peak in Shaksgam valley. Urban was worried, "Ales is a close friend; he was my climbing mentor when I first started." As the search for missing climbers continued without success, it became obvious that G-IV expedition wasn’t likely anymore. “Urban made plans to go home so he could be with the Slovenian climbing community, offer his support and think about his own relationship with climbing and the death of his two friends, his first experience with the dark side of the sport.”

At the time, when Urban was devastated by the loss of his friends and Dempster was saddened to witness a “lofty dream” falling apart, the Koreans were approaching the virgin summit - 7147m high - right next to G-IV. On July 25th, Seong Nakjong and An Chi Young reportedly stood atop Gasherbrum V, after climbing Southeast wall in alpine style, in three days.

(A detailed report from the team appeared in Korean climbing magazine "mountain" and is available online here.)

Seong Nakjong and An Chi Young on the summit of G V (July 25th, 2014)

Until 2010, as per AAJ, there had been six 7000er first ascents by Koreans - almost all done in capsule or expedition style. However, in 2009, Kim Hyung-il opened a new route on northwest face of Spantik in alpine style. Next year, Kim led a four man team to attempt ‘untouched’ west face of G-V. During a four day alpine style summit push, they reached around 6550m, when their stove malfunctioned and the team was forced to retreat.

G-V has three sub-peaks East I (7120m), East II (7050m) and East III (7006m). In 1978, three Japanese climbers K. Mukaide, M. Sakaguchi and T. Sato made it to East III before turning back. Following day, second summit attempt was abandoned when expedition leader Ryuichi Babaguchi, who went ahead of other climbers, was found dead in a crevasse near the top. Multiple climbers had tried and failed on G-V since then.

Seong Nakjong climbing a mixed section

2014 Gasherbrum V Team left Korea on June 13th. The plan was to climb the mountain via Northeast face. However, upon their arrival, they discovered that the face was in dangerous condition with frequent avalanches. The team’s climb up the wall ended at 6400m due to deteriorating weather, recurring avalanches and difficult climbing conditions.

Knowing that Northeast face wasn't climbable, they now decided to switch to South side of the mountain. It was around mid-July; the team was exhausted by unsuccessful summit push and shifting Base Camp was a difficult task in itself. “After returning to Base Camp, I was worried,” says the expedition leader. However, they didn't have any other opportunity. On July 20th, they migrated to new BC, at the bottom of valley leading to G V from Southwest.

Weather forecast showed a good weather window starting from 20th. The Koreans knew they couldn’t let this opportunity go away. Amidst the hassle of setting up new BC and organizing gear, the climbers had very little time to rest and recover.

The route

On July 23rd, Seong Nakjong and An Chi Young left Base Camp (4700m) at around 5am. The foot of Southeast wall was, however, still 3km away, separated by a maze of complex and towering seracs in upper half of glacier. The two Koreans reached the top of glacier at 09:40am. They roped together and started climbing the face. In the afternoon, avalanches roared down the face. It was already mid night, when the climbers decided to bivouac at around 6600m. They had climbed for 20 hours, gaining an altitude of approximately 1900 meters.

Next morning, on July 24th, the fatigue and exhaustion from previous day’s climb didn't let them go up. They spent the day resting, recovering, eating, energizing and discussing the plans.

On 25th, they woke up early and were out of bivouac at 3am. They were now on mixed terrain, with frequent rock falls. It was late in the afternoon when they reached the summit ridge. Despite exhaustion and bad conditions, the two climbers continue and were on the summit at 07:20PM.

It was getting dark and within ten minutes, they started the gruelling descent. After fighting the hurdles of down climbing in dark, a night without sleep and avalanches during the day, the two summiteers made it back to BC twenty four hours later.

Climbers and BC staff

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