THE SUMMER IS ALMOST OVER;
The summer is almost over and somewhere far from here, the monsoon is practically over as well. Which means that it is time to go back to the hills.
We are leaving on Thursday, September 16, 04. There are four of us. Four good
friends who know each other from many past trips and who are going to climb high
and live long. We are heading to South-West Face of Shisha Pangma, a big wall
on one of the 14 highest mountains on the world.
Why South - West Face, why British route and why alpine style?
Among four of us, we climbed to the summits of 12 -
8000 meter peaks.
Zdenek and Radek reached 4 of those each, Miska reached one and I
reached 3 peaks. All of these ascents have been made without use of
artificial oxygen, without high altitude porters and in small groups.
The last year, three of us managed to climb to the top of Broad Peak at
the same time. At this point, we think we are very compatible team and
naturally we want to try something harder.
South - West Face of Shisha Pangma has been the first big Himalayan wall climbed
in alpine style more than 20 years ago by British climbers Doug Scott, Alex MacIntyre
and Roger - Baxter Jones. I like Doug Scott, his climbing style, his books, his
way of life, his sence for elegant climbing routes. We would simply like to repeat
their climb. Climb the wall and return back safely and be happy for a short time
before heading back for another one, exactly like them.
The route has been climbed less than 10 times untill now and we do not expect
to share this entire wall with anyone else - at least we are not aware someone
else would be there, too.
We are looking for adventure and whatever comes our way...
You can follow our story and keep your fingers crossed for us. The beginning
is only a few days away.
- Martin Minarik (top of the page)
BASE CAMP UNDER SOUTH-WEST FACE OF SHISHA PANGMA;
We arrived to Kathmandu as planned late night on September 16, 04.
The following day we spent retrieving our cargo - those who know this
procedure know what I am talking about. It is truly procedure for the
entire day with lots of hassle involved, bribes to those involved and
We had to spent another day in Kathmandu because one of the bag did not come
till later. That was not a problem. Kathmandu has a very special atmopshere.
And we were not there for over 2 years!
Both evenings were spent traditionally
at Thamel Base Camp - the bar Tom & Jerry. This is the place where the expeditions
meet, drink beer, play pool, listen to sound track from Pulp Fiction and other
classics and of course - talk climbing.
We left Kathmandu on Sunday early morning.
Maoists lifted the road blockade and we saw no problems except occasional Nepali
Army check point. People in Nepal still smile even in these tough times they
are going through.
At the border we were met by fairly organized fellow from Lhasa who
helped us to get through, tried to get us descent meal in Nyalam and
helped with the yaks. He stayed in Nyalam, we were
heading up the valley with about 20 yaks and our couple Nepali cooks.
For two days, we were walking on the carpet of edelweiss and other
gorgeous flowers, but mostly in the rain and fog. Each day, we walked
for approx. 5 hours, gaining quite a bit of altitude. Yesterday
evening, we established Base Camp in anything between 5000 - 5200 m.
Here in Tibet, no maps exist and therefore we depend on our altimeters.
The mountain is here, we saw HER this morning for the first time.
There are also couple other small expeditions, one from Spain / Andorra
and the other from France. And this is one of the nicest BC and we are
glad we do not have to share it with too many others.
- Martin Minarik (top of the page)
On September 25, 04 we left for
our first acclimatization trip.
I already mentioned that this is a very nice Base Camp with sun from 8am till
the very late afternoon. And the mountains around us look very peaceful. There
no need to get us early because everything is handy.
One of the mountain is called Ice Tooth and reaches 6200m ( about). There are
no maps of Tibet and different sources show different altitude of every mountain
We climbed ice ridge under excellent conditions and spent the night
on the ridge a short distance from the col under the Ice Tooth. The night was
OK ( we all forgot pain killers against headache) and the view was just gorgeous.
Everest group was blocked by Ice Tooth but all the great ranges to the west
were like on our hands.
The next morning, we quickly reached the top of Ice Tooth. First surprised came
as we descended back to the col. Ravens ( whatever their local name is) got
into our packs and without any problem ate all eatable. More surprise came as
we descended to our Base Camp. They seriously damaged our tents, opened different
containers ( with medicine, warm bags, tooth paste). We started to call the
ravens-communists. They simply take anything they like.
We prescribed to us only one full day of rest before heading up again. This
time, our goal was the ridge (possibly summit) of Pungpa-Ri. Summit was not
the object, this was just another acclimatization climb. There is not need to
risk more than enough and trash ourselves on just a ordinary training climb.
Everything looks very close in thin air - and everything is very far in the
It took us good 6 hours, fully loaded to the camp called Castle Camp
which is at the very end of moraine ridge under the face of Shishapangma and
Pungpa-Ri. If this was a medieval castle, the residents would not survive one
single attack. There are couple spots for sleeping under the 30 meter rock which "roof" is
covered by free rocks. Nothing felt down the night we had to spend there.
I already mentioned that we are not "early morning birds". After the previous
day haul, we took long breakfast and left no earlier than at noon. We were one
hour late to reach the ridge since in the fog we climbed directly up versus to
the left. We were awarded. 4 hours of chopping in 55% ice slope and the night
spent on the ledge barely enough to put the sleeping bag on. Radek and Miska
managed to make the ledge little bit bigger so they could erect the Bibler tent.
not have to deal with details of such a night. Those who know - they know and
those who do not know - they would not understand either. The most difficult
part to get from such a nest is the morning. Everything ( including our bodies)
has to be tight to couple ice screws and anything what falls down is GONE.
Fortunately for us, the night was calm and we were truly awarded by fantastic
view of Jugal Himal, Ganesh Himal, Manaslu and Annapurna group. Manaslu reminded
personally of my very first Himalayan adventure. Both sunset and sunrise were
great, sunrise much nicer since we knew the night is over :)
In the morning, we were not sure "should we stay or should we go". The weather
was changing and huge clouds were forming over the south side of Himalaya along
the whole range. We decided to go down. It was not without effort, it is a very
slow job to climb down on such a slope. Protection would make things even slower
and the safest is if each man takes good care of himself. Not less and not more.
As MacIntyre says in his book - a charity ends up with 5000m.
We reached Castle Camp around noon, packed the huge loads and moved stuff closer
to the South Face of Shishapangma. This time, the place for camp surprised us
nicely. Pretty glacier lake, sandy beach with the million dollars view, a very
inviting place for lovers. We had little time to sort the gear and cover everything
by the rocks against our "communists friends" the ravens. if we did good job,
we will see in the few days.
It took us a bit more then three ours to return to our Base Camp to good hands
of our cooks - Sherpa friends Temba and Phurba. We came just before dark and
crashed another round of Pilsner Urquell.
Are we ready yet or not? Who knows. But the fresh memorial for Alex Lowe and
others clearly says that we are not under control of absolutely everything.
- Martin Minarik (top of the page)
Upon return from Pungpa Ri, we
called our acclimatization good enough
to shoot for the top of Shisha Pangma.
We were planning to leave Base Camp on October 4 but due to
unstable weather, we postponed what would most likely be our only try
by two days.
October 6, started as cold but sunny day. Instead of 8am, we
waited till the sun reached our spot and left two hours later. Our
packs were not extremely heavy. On our return from the previous trip,
we left most of our gear at the very nice spot by small glacier lake
well covered by rocks to protect it against the ravens.
It took us little more than 3 hours to reach our depot. We repacked and
- this time - well loaded with all necessary gear and gas and food for
about 5 days, we started to walk on rocky morraine towards Shisha
Suddenly we were much slower and instead of reaching "Bivouac Scott" on
the rocky rib in the lower part of the route, we only reached the
glacier where we set up the camp.
On the next morning, we started to cook around 5am but unsure about the weather.
Unlike the previous day, heavy clouds covered the sky and it started to snow.
Our supplies did not count with more than one extra day and we were afraid we
might have to go back to Base Camp before we even started to climb!
Fortunately for us, the sun burned the clouds and we left for the Face.
Alpine style in Himalayan Range means that the packs are very heavy. If
you follow the unwritten rules, you are not supposed to climb on your
route before, you are not supposed to fix any ropes. Then you can
figure out what your load will look like and you can imagine what you
will look like under such a load.
The glacier looked OK, fallen seracs covered all possible crevasses so we were
only looking up if anything else might be coming down. We started to climb on
the right side of the rocky rib. We found right away.... The slope is steep and
covered by ice. And the packs are more than heavy.
We tried to keep as close to the rib as possible in case something falls. And
things were falling indeed! Rocks as well as pieces of ice of all sizes. Things
got much worse on the top of the first rocky section. We followed the advise
of Spanish climbers and traversed to the left side of the rib. I do not think
it was smart. Now we have lost at least vague protection near the rocks and we
were completely opened to anything falling from above (on the way down, we were
rappelling on the right side all the way).
Each of us got hit several times not counting the missiles smaller than five
centimeters in diameter. Our only protection was helmet, heavy pack and the angels.
Each of us climbed this 55-60% ice slope by himself, the rope would only slow
The first possible camp was high and we did not want to repeat our experience
from Pungpa Ri where we had to chop the ledges for the night. Such a situation
would most likely force us to abandon the climb.
After many hours of continuous climbing without a chance to stop and take off
the pack, we reached the narrow ridge behind the second rocky tower. I would
call it off for the day but the rest of the team decided to climb higher and
find descent platform for the night. Zdenek took the shovel, I followed everyone
in my own slow pace and joined them in the hole which was supposed to be the
best place for the camp.
The place was nice - nice to look at the picture in the book but for the night?
It was a hole under the serac but not under the vertical cliff, the "ceiling" of
the serac was almost horizontal, regular roof. And in the middle of it was, guess
what. Huge boulder. And our tent was directly under it, there was no other option.
I guess we were too tired to think about it. My only concern was that I did not
want to have my head directly under it as it would matter. If the boulder was
supposed to fall and destroy my feet, there is no way anyone would rescue me
from there. Zdenek opted for "fast death" in case.....and slept with his head
This is another "thing" about alpine style - any small health problem or injury
turns into major complication with uncertain outcome.
We spent relatively comfortable night and started fairly early in
the morning into what would be nice and warm day. Even at this altitude
of about 6800m, it gets very warm and the climbing can be quite
The slope was as steep as the day before and we were shooting for
altitude of about 7000m where ledge for good camp has been advertised.
It took us only about 3 hours of climbing and at least another 3 hours
of shovelling the narrow ledge on steep, snowy ridge which divides
lower and upper couloirs. And least it was not hard ice like on Punga
Miska fixed our only rope into the traverse, the help which was
appreciated by all of us in the middle of night when we started to
climb for the summit as well as on our return.
Evening was calm and the sky with no high clouds was very
promising. We spotted however narrow couloir in the middle of "our"
upper couloir filled with "moving" powder snow. We thought it is caused
by afternoon warmth and that it will stop after dark.
- Martin Minarik (top of the page)
We started to get ready around
midnight and left into windy night shortly
We went by the "Chinese time" by which the sunrise is around 8am. Therefore
we knew that we will be climbing for 6 hours in the dark. Moon did not show
up this night and so we were completely dependent on our head lamps. Fortunately
for us, they lasted!
Soon after the started, we were facing gusty wind which blew the snow around
in all directions. Not only snow, small rocks and pieces of ice, too. Again,
the certain whistle, we had to cover up and hope the "missiles" will just go
by us. It was more difficult than in previous two days, this time we did not
see what is coming and from where.
We also found that the "stream of snow" coming
down the couloir did not stop with the dark. We had to cross this "small river
of fast moving snow" several times. It was very scary and quite dangerous. Like
during the previous days, we were climbing unroped in order to be fast.
Looking back, we might have returned but the descend in the dark couloir while
being constantly bombarded by ice and rock with hauling wind and powder snow
everywhere, we just kept going. We knew that the sun will reach the ridge first
and all we wanted was its little warmth the sun offers in such a altitude. We
were wishing for dawn like the guys
who are trapped on Dracula Castle with dancing vampires all around.
Oh man, it
was really awful.
But unlike in horror movies, the sun showed up. We were just finishing the narrow
part of the couloir when we suddenly felt the sun rays on our beaten bodies.
The wind was still blowing hard but the sun made the difference. We were happy.
It was time to get a bite and drink some water. And to take off the packs because
only short ridge was left to be climbed to the main summit of this mountain (
majority of climbers reach only "lower" central summit from the north side).
The day was clear and the view was our summit award.
Shisha Pangma is centrally
located in Himalayan Range - like the "best hotel in town" and everything is
close. Annapurna and Manaslu on the west, Jugal and Langtang Himal on the south,
Cho Oju, Everest and Makalu on the east and vast Tibetan plateau with Mt. Kailas
- the holy mountain for Tibetans - directly to the north. It was magnificent
and unforgettable. Watches counted sometimes around the noon.
We did not stay long, summit is only half way!
Originally, we were planning
to follow the ridge and descend via the same route like the British team. After
the talks with different teams, we changed our mind and opted for the way down
via our climbing route. It is trade off. We did not have to carry the heavy packs
over the mountain, on the other side, it was slow way and we were again exposed
to all the rock and ice fall.
It took us about 5 hours to return to our camp on narrow snow ridge 7000m high.
We found the tents but did not find the food. Ravens knew we will not be back
until later afternoon and they surely took their time. Only tea and one pack
of soup was left in badly damaged tent. And, I forgot to mention earlier, before
we left in the middle of the night, I destroyed one gas canister
out of two with my crampon. Of course the one which was full, not the one which
was almost empty already. We had to be very carefull with amount of malting water
for drinks, we
had to leave something for the next morning, too.
In the camp, we were joined by two climbers from Andorra (for some reason, I
called them Spanish before) and couple climbers from Ecuador. They were on the
way up and left the following night, reached the summit and got safely down so
we could all celebrate at Tom&Jerry in Kathmandu a few days later.
On October 10, 2004, we did not leave till noon. The morning was cold and it
was hard to get started. We were mostly down climbing into the camp-cave-hanging
serac, facing the slope, from there we started to rappel. It takes lots of time
to four climbers with one rope. One rope length after another, we were slowly
loosing the altitude covering when rocks were falling and meter by meter reaching
the safety. By the time we reached the first rocky tower, we fixed the rope,
descending on it and leaving it for the fellows for the next day.
At 9pm, we
hugged each other on the glacier far enough from falling seracs. A huge chunk
of ice felt from the face at the same time - as a reminder who is the boss on
The rest is the history. On following day, we made it to Base Camp, finished
the brandy, met the yaks, returned to Nyalam, drove to Kathmandu where for several
days we were again helping Nepal beer industry and improved our pool skills at
This might have been our best climbing hour, the Face is much steeper than on
the pictures with no ledges for rest and only couple spots for the safe bivouacs.
Great climb Mr. Scott, thank you !
Written in the middle of sunny Adriatic
on the board of yacht Jannu on October 24, 2004.
- Martin Minarik
(top of the page)
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