Thursday, October 16, 2014

Autumn 2014 | Two Slovaks and Three Nepalese Missing on Dhaulagiri

The severe weather stimulated by cyclone ‘Hudhud’ recedes in Nepal, leaving a catastrophe of great magnitude behind. Blizzard and avalanches killed several trekkers, climbers and natives in Western Region, whereas dozens are still missing. Rescue operation continues for retrieval of bodies and search and evacuation of missing persons.

An enormous avalanche hit Dhaulagiri BC on Tuesday, where the Slovak climbers was waiting for improvement in weather to resume the climb. They had already established C1 and C2 on the mountain. It’s reported that two Slovaks and three Nepalese have gone missing after the avalanche. Other stranded members of the expedition (07 Slovaks and 01 Czech) have been evacuated to Pokhara. Exact details of the accident are still vague.

Slovakian Expedition was only team on Dhaulagiri, this season. Image

Slovakian's website expedition.sk wrote on Wednesday night:

"We have new information directly from Sonam Sherpa, from the agency that provided services to our expedition in Nepal. Sonam unfortunately confirmed that Jan Matlák and Vladimir Švancár along with three Nepalese helpers remain missing after the avalanche. Other members of the expedition were flown to Pokhara by helicopter. Three local Sherpa unsuccessfully searched for them today (Wednesday). Tomorrow (Thursday), two members of expedition will also join them.”


Nepalese weather base camp
Photo from Base Camp. Source

Missing Nepalese have been identified as Bhoj Kumar Rai of Mauling VDC-5, Okhaldhunga; Dorje Sherpa of Juling VDC-2, and Gopal Rai of Gudin VDC-8, Solukhumbu district.

Last dispatch from Slovakians read, “Snowing, snowing, still snowing .... still waiting in BC for better weather :( We all believe that the weather will improve.

Ján Matlák (left) and Vladimír Švancár (right); File photo

Ján Matlák is a climbing and ski-mountaineering instructor. He led several expeditions to Tatra, Alps, Caucasus and Pamir. In Himalayas, he has attempted Shishapangma and Annapurna. Vladimír Švancár is also a seasoned mountaineering professional with multiple winter and summer ascents in Tatra, Alps and Pamir. 

Update:
Unfortunately, the hope of finding either of five missing persons (Jan Matlák, Vladimir Švancár, Bhoj Kumar Rai, Dorje Sherpa and Gopal Rai) alive didn't materialize. expedition.sk reports that the bodies of  Slovak climbers and the BC staff were found at Dhaulagiri BC, today. It appears that only Jan Matlák and Vladimir Švancár were inside their tent when avalanche came down. Other members of the expedition were in "social" tent which avalanche probably didn't hit with full force.

Heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of deceased men. Rest in peace.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Autumn 2014 | Bad Weather Halts the Progress

Cyclone ‘Hudhud’ hit the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh on Sunday. While the cyclone didn’t reach Nepal directly, its effect stimulated condensed clouds towards Nepalese sky, resulting in rainfall throughout the region. Department of Hydrology and Meteorology (DHM) anticipated the effect to recede by Thursday.

The post-monsoon climbing season has already concluded on Manaslu, Cho Oyu and Shishapangma. While the former two mountains were in good condition and fair weather allowed majority of climbers to reach the summit, Shishapangma remained unclimbed because of dangerous snow conditions.

However, few teams are still active on less busier eight-thousanders, like a Slovak team on Dhaulagiri, the Koreans on Lhotse South Face and some teams on Makalu. All the expeditions remained in Base Camps during past few days because of bad weather and snow.

Makalu SE Ridge Base Camp in bad weather; Source

Dhaulagiri

The Slovak team has established C1 and C2 on Dhaulagiri. However, bad weather forced them to retreat to BC on Oct 10th. “Snowing, snowing still snowing ...” the team wrote on 13th. They are well rested and ready to push towards C3, as conditions improve.

Lhotse

The Korean Lhotse South Face team has installed C3 at 7500m during latest foray up the mountain. The team is currently back at BC due to bad weather. They are planning to set up a final camp, C4, at 8200m before summit push. Koreans have been fighting difficult weather and frequent avalanches on challenging Lhotse South Face since early September, where the steepness of the wall averages around 65 - 70 degree.

Koreans heading up Lhotse South Face; Source

Makalu

Makalu teams also remained in Base Camps recently due to bad weather. Until now, the British tri-services team had spent a night C2 (6700m) for acclimatization. The Sherpa have fixed and provisioned C1 and C2 and would be working on route towards C3 in coming days.

While the Brits remain on SE Ridge, couple of weeks ago Garrett Madison, Vibeke Sefland and Lhakpa Sherpa decided to switch to Makalu normal route. During first rotation on normal route, they spent a night in C2 (6400m) before returning to Base Camp.

Sherpa fixing route to C2 on Makalu SE Ridge. Source

Update:
The severe weather in Nepal resulted in a large scale catastrophe. Around two dozen trekkers, mountaineers, mountain guides and locals have lost their lives, whereas several others are still out of communication. Many groups have been evacuated to safe locations. Search and rescue is underway and the exact magnitude of disaster will be clear only in coming days.

Amongst the tragic updates from Nepal, there are reports about a tragedy on Dhaulagiri. It's reported that two members of Slovak expedition and three of their local helpers (BC staff) have been missing since Tuesday night. However, no further details are available as of now.

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Friday, October 3, 2014

Autumn 2014 | Success on Manaslu and Cho Oyu, Bad Season on Shishapangma

It is another successful season on Manaslu and Cho Oyu, where majority of teams made it to the summit in a period of around 8 days. Contrarily, the conditions have been fatal on Shishapangma. All, but one fresh inbound team, have already left the mountain.

Shishapangma Arrivals

It has been a difficult season on Shishapangma. Double 8 team made two unsuccessful summit bids and during final push, an avalanche killed two members of the team. Kobler Partner team abandoned their expedition earlier this week. Ueli Steck was also on the way back to Kathmandu. Now, Carlos Soria has also decided to retreat due to dangerous conditions.

However, while all these teams have withdrawn from Shishapangma, few climbers are just reaching the mountain. The arriving climbers are coming after Cho Oyu, where they reached the summit last week. Danish Bo Belvedere Christensen wrote from ABC, “surprised to see that we are the only ones in the camp (ABC). Now I am going to rest a few more days; Cho Oyu is still in the body.”

Facilitated by Snow Horizon Expeditions, the team consists of Nadav Ben Yeduda, Gilian Kit Wai Lee, Alice Cavallera, Alberto Pacellini, Nicola Bonaiti, Ivan Broun and Bo Belvedere Christensen.

No success for Carlos Soria on Shishapangma, yet again; Source

Manaslu Summits

The good weather on Manaslu has been holding as several climbers reached the summit in past few days. Spaniards Antonio Jesús Vélez, Carlos Carvajal, Fernando Fernández-Vivancos and Pepe Saldaña reached the top on September 30th. Two members of Amical Alpin team, Martina und Stefan, also summited the same day, along with their Sherpa team.

Mountain Professionals reported that, “the entire Mountain Professionals Manaslu 2014 Expedition reached the summit at 8:20 in the morning October 1st.”

American climber Alex Barber stood atop Manaslu, a couple of hours after MTN Professionals, “the pace was pretty grueling: Base to Camp 2 in 8 hours, Camp 3 to Camp 4 in 3 hours and 45 minutes, and Camp 4 to summit in just over 4 hours. I have the summit almost entirely to myself. Just one other climber up here.”

On the summit Alex was joined by Italian Samuele Sentieri, who reached there at 11:09 AM on October 1st.

French climbers Franck Candelier and Purna bahadur Tamang were also alone at the peak. They summited at 11:04AM on Oct 2nd. Third member of the team Jean-François Durazzo had to retreat before reaching C4.

Manaslu; Source

Summit Push on Cho Oyu

Several climbers summited Cho Oyu last week, as detailed in our previous update. Mexicans Laura González and Yuri Contreras were also amongst those who reached the top.

Another wave of summit pushes is currently underway. Chris Burke wrote on Oct 1st, “many summits have occurred in the last 48 hours. The Iranians left ABC today with a 2nd October summit in mind. Our team will leave today (1st) and Lakpa and I may consider a summit push from C2 if everything comes together, which would mean a 3rd Oct summit. Margaret and Bill want to push from C3 which means a 4th Oct summit day.”

Lastly, Andrzej Bargiel who recently climbed Manaslu in record time, wanted to attempt Cho Oyu. However, China Government didn’t issue him visa and the Polish climber had to fly back home.

AC Team members Da Jangbu and Danny on Cho Oyu Summit; Source

Makalu: Change in Route

British team continues acclimatization on Makalu SE Ridge, where the Sherpa have fixed the route to C2. However, the Madison Mountaineering team has decided to switch to normal wrote due to unknown reasons.

“We have decided to change our climbing route to the Northwest side of the mountain or what is the normal route via the Makalu La. This means we will move our base camp tomorrow up the Barun Glacier about 2500′ higher than our current camp, to approximately 18,500′ (5639m). We are looking forward to exploring this side of the mountain as we have not yet seen it from this angle. It’s great that our climbing permit allows us to climb on both sides.”

Madison Mountaineering team consists of Garrett Madison (as expedition leader), Vibeke Sefland and Lhakpa Sherpa.

Makalu BC at night; Photo: Madison Mountaineering
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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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