14th August 2017 Unfinished Business Dhaulagiri

As many of you are aware just because there is no news doesn’t mean that APM  is relaxing and taking it easy. Perhaps the opposite! time flies and a timely reminder every day on my jobs to do list…. “Website News”  it’s now  August and well overdue.


Dhaulagiri 2017

Driving home on the eve of my departure to Nepal, Spike my partner and I stopped at the Commando Memorial to watch the sun set. The full vista of Aonach Mor, Carn Mor Dearg and Ben Nevis stood out proud; the winter snows hung in the gullies that I have climbed so often and tears of emotion welled in my eyes. I was sort of excited about returning to Nepal after three years and my last attempt on Dhaulagiri in 2014 but at this exact moment in time, I did not want to leave the man I loved and the place that inspired me every day. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dhaulagiri

Morning arrived and we took the journey south through Glencoe, across Rannoch Moor, along the banks of Loch Lomond to Glasgow Airport; Fearing the ever dangerous occupation of climbing these giant peaks I held my silence and questioned my sanity. Why! This trip was going to be different I convinced myself. A plan made with Pary my Iranian friend who I had met at Dhaulagiri base camp in 2014 and was our guide whilst climbing Damavand in Iran had come to fruition. My dream was to see myself and Pary united on the summit. Colin Burnett a dear friend was to join us as our base camp manager and Pary’s friends Sigmund and Dina were to trek in with us whilst Hadi an Iranian mountaineer was to climb unsupported but to use our base camp services.

After the usual manic preparations in Kathmandu, we set off on our way to trek into base camp. A trek I knew well and was as beautiful as ever. As we drew closer to base camp memories of my previous trip haunted me. The avalanches, the lack of Sherpa support despite their gainful employment and a breakdown in my climbing partnership with Ron. Dismissing these in my head we arrived at base camp and started to work making platforms for our tented homes for the next six weeks.

This year there were several other teams in residence with a few still to come. Instant news of a Sherpa accident from the Seven Summits team caused concern in camp as we tried to establish the progress that had been made on the mountain to date. Knowing I was heading off to Damphus peak with Colin and to be joined by Dina and Sigmund as they trekked out was a relief as it would allow for some personal acclimatisation and allow Colin to reach his third 6000m peak. Lhakpa my designated Sherpa insisted on joining us on Damphus Peak whilst Pary and Hadi set off for their first run to Camp 1 with Naru Pary’s Sherpa. We waved goodbye as they circled the Puja stone and soon the rest of us we were off trekking up into the beautiful Hidden Valley. Reaching the French pass it became evident that myself and the kitchen boy were the only ones that knew the way. As I identified Damphus peak in the distance it was obvious that Sham our over joyous extrovert trekking guide was nervous as we dropped over the pass to locate our camp. At 3 am after Sigmund had accidentally thrown his dregs of tea over  Colin we set off and crossed rivers of ice slipping and sliding and taking a few heavy bumps to Damphus pass. Following my nose and intuition, we headed up the slopes as the sun rose. By the time we reached the ridge it was easy to observe that Sham and Dina were a little out of their depth so Colin, Sigmund Lhakpa and I continued to the summit whilst Dina and Sham returned to the col to meet up with the kitchen boys. At 11.30am we topped out in a very chilly wind but with perfect blue skies. Emotions rose as Sigmund and Colin fulfilled their goal and we descended quickly to the others who were patiently waiting for us. Colin, Lhakpa and I said our goodbyes and returned on a torturous journey back to the Hidden Valley whilst the others headed to Martha. Lhakpa and I were forming a lovely trustful working relationship and the next day we shared the load ( Well Lakhpa 20kg Pennington about 15 kg) and hauled our huge sacks back over the French pass back to base camp. It looked like we had struck lucky with the weather as a carpet of snow now covered base camp and it continued snowing for the next couple of days.

In our absence base camp had become a lively town with the 13 strong Adventure consultants team arriving with as many if not more Sherpas and support staff. I knew Lydia, Dean and Guy their leaders from past expeditions and it was comforting to know they were on the mountain. Pary and Hadi had their own tales from Camp 1 and were pleased with their progress.

On the 29th April at 5 am Hadi, Pary and I accompanied by Naru and Lhakpa set off to camp 1. My heart was not there, I was not sure if it was the nerves of being avalanched under the Little Eiger or the anticipation of the enormous effort it would take to drag myself and heavy sack up to camp. Hadi and Pary were soon well ahead as their fitness and permanently acclimatised bodies, a fact of spending their time at altitude in Iran was apparent. Lhakpa and I stayed close both fearful of being avalanched and dutifully caring for each other. Once through the danger zone, I beckoned Lhakpa to go ahead as I plodded through deep snow sweating in the sun and wondering why the hell I was here. The weather turned at mid day and I continued with driving snow in my face but at least the temperature was more comfortable and I gained altitude steadily. Through the murk I saw Lhakpa coming towards me; knowing he was concerned about my late arrival he beckoned me to give him my rucksack.  I did not protest as we walked the last 20 minutes into camp. Pary and Naro were settled in their tent with Hadi on his own. Hot tea and a warm sleeping bag revived me after my 11 hour day to 5700m. As Lhakpa snored I nursed my headache with paracetamol and made the decision I would not go to sleep at  Camp 2 with the others the following day. We had plenty of time on this expedition and knowing far too well that good slow acclimatisation was the key to success for me anyway!

As the morning dawned Pary Hadi and Naru headed for camp 2. Lakhpa had offered to carry a load but his services were not required so we busied our day placing flags on the route to Camp 2. Enjoying the views I watched the others ahead and felt no remorse of my decision. Suddenly my body started to tingle and it was if a swarm of electric darts were shooting down from my neck. My sunhat became alive and then it dawned on me I was surrounded by an atmospheric electric charge. Dropping my ski poles I moved slowly down the hill and crouched down shouting at Lhakpa to return to camp.  Not being able to explain the phenomena in Nepalese we returned to the comfort of the tent before the afternoon storm arrived. Hoping the others had reached Camp 2 safely I was surprised when Hadi, Pary and Naru bundled back into camp. Pariywas frustrated and did not hide her annoyance as Naru released himself from the rope.  As Pary explained that Naru had gone mad with the altitude, I hurried him into our tent. In tears, Naro tried to describe what had happened but I already knew he had been subjected to the static air and by the sounds of it had a close shave. Comforting him whilst Lhakpa attended to the stove he sobbed quietly as he buried himself down into his sleeping bag. The snow fell heavily outside and silence fell on camp. Memories of 2014 flooded back, knowing the descent to base camp was treacherous in deep snow I was restless, wondering what our next move would be.  With over 2 feet of snow overnight, my first reaction was to stay put; the Seven Summits Sherpas gathered to descend with the rest of our team wanting to join them. Rather than be left in Camp 1 alone I joined the majority. Insistent that we roped together in the white out; we descended in one large group. I was terrified as the boom of avalanches surrounded us. The Sherpas out in front waded through the ever deepening snow breaking trail in the white out for the rest of us. With most of the directional flags buried we made slow progress. As we moved under the Little Eiger teams ran back and forth avoiding the continual torrents of snow pouring over the cliff. Controlling my fear I ran as fast as I could, my unacclimatised body heaving for air despite the lower altitude. For several hours we ran and rested between islands of safety before abseiling down the final rock step. Relieved to be down safe I held back the tears as we were welcomed back to base camp and were instantly provided tea by the on watching teams. I swore to myself that I would never do that again! On returning to camp Colin was also suffering from an ongoing tooth ache and tensions were mounting between Lhakpa and Pary regarding Nero and his suitability. Yes, Naru was young and perhaps Tshring should not have sent him on this expedition but I was adamant that he had not suffered from altitude illness but rather had been subject to the same static electricity I had been.That afternoon Luis Soriano a photographer working with Carlos Soria a 78-year-old Spanish climber who has claimed 12 of the 14 8000m peaks since he was 60 visited our camp. Perhaps one of the most gentle characters I have ever met, his presence calmed our camp as we all chatted for the afternoon and drank some Beer kindly produced by Santa our superb cook. The following few days were a roller coaster of emotions. Poor Colin with his tooth; bad weather, oxygen cylinders only half full, a broken oxygen mask and bad weather that had buried the fixed ropes to camp 3  did not help the already difficult atmosphere at base camp. With a weather window opening up other teams were getting excited about the prospect of a summit push.  Pary was anxious that our Oxygen and spare tent were taken up the mountain and put in place. The game of chess we were playing with Dhaulagiri was going too fast and furious for my liking and decisions were being premeditated. Lhakpa had organised a replacement Sherpa for Pary who was walking in from Dobang a little too late for her intentions of a possible summit push in the next week. Having not slept at camp 2 and in no way acclimatised despite my ascent of Damphus peak I knew that even with the use of extra oxygen I was not ready for a summit push.  Lhakpa and Naro had taken supplies as requested to Camp 1 on the 3rd May. The issues of Sherpas and their suitability rose again and I spoke my mind making myself unpopular within the ranks of our team. I retired to bed early and rang home. Blubbering through the call, Spike calmed me down; I knew if I threw my towel in now I would never forgive myself. It would, however, eleviate the Sherpa issue or would it? Realising that Pary and I were not playing the same game or were even on the same page of the book was so upsetting as one of the reasons I was here was to fulfil the dream of us standing on the summit together.

On the 5th May at 5.30am we left base camp again. Not sure what was going to happen I packed enough food and equipment to stay high for long enough to acclimatise and go for summit if the opportunity arose. By the number of climbers on the route it was apparent that others had made a similar decision. Reaching camp 1 was a little easier this time but I had no desire to continue to camp 2 with Pary and Hadi. Lhakpa and Naro again had carried massive loads and were exhausted on reaching Camp 1 after their efforts of the previous days. A radio call from Pary and Hadi informed us that Hadi’s tent at C2 had been badly damaged and they were staying in Carlos’s tent. Insisting that the Sherpas carry tents and Oxygen to C2 by 11 am the following morning was not unreasonable but annoyed me!

The following morning Naru and Lhakpa left early with some other teams. I held back and waited for the wind to ease. After a couple of hours, Carlos and Lewis who had left camp 1 just before me were returning to C1 reporting that the promise made by the other Sherpas to dig out the fixed ropes had been abandoned due to windy weather. Realising that this would not be anybody’s summit push I turned my attention to acclimatising at and above camp 2 (6300m). The weather turned and by the time I reached 6100m  where Adventure Consultants had established an intermediate camp I was very cold. Sheltering in the lee of their tents I struggled into my down suit and rewarmed my body. Pary then appeared from C2 announcing that she was returning to Camp 1 with Carlos and Lewis. I was in no mood to ask further questions and spoke to Lhakpa and Naru who were dumping their loads at Camp 2 and coming down to the intermediate camp where they had previously stashed a load. Feeling better and warm I spent several hours digging a platform and flying a tent in the wind ( not a job for one) On the Sherpas return they laughed at my predicament as I lay on top of the tent trying to control it in the gale. Setting too we re-dug a platform and were soon brewing up. I was happy for them to giggle as they mimicked me in my desperation of pole dilemma, and a flying tent. It was comforting to be with them laughing and sharing tea and sherpa stew. From intermediate camp, it took just a couple of hours to reach Camp 2 at 6450m the next morning.  Feeling good we set to digging another large platform for two tents. Nero prepared noodle soup but after lunch, the altitude took its effect but perhaps this was due to my over eager digging on our arrival. Feeling a little queasy in the morning I was relieved to be heading back down. The views were stunning over the Annapurna range and the solitude on this mighty mountain was perfect. The return to base camp was non-eventful thank goodness and it was a great to see Colin feeling better as his antibiotics were working on the infection under his tooth. We were also greeted by Pary’s new Sherpa who was full of enthusiasm about his new job. Lhakpa tried to compensate for the Sherpa problems that had arisen and decided that all three of them would assist on the mountain. As this temporarily resolved one issue there were further problems with the organisation of a new fixing team. After paying $333 dollars per person it was agreed that seven Sherpas from different teams would go ahead and fix to the summit. For the past few days I had felt very tired but slowly I could feel my fire and determination push through. Colin and I went for daily walks to the helicopter landing site and further to see the site of the devastating avalanche that killed several people in 2008. Sarah the Adventure consultants doctor joined us for walks when her team were on the mountain. Customary cups of Masala tea were offered by the Indian teams on our return. As the days passed and the fact we had missed the window on the on the 13.14th May when the Chech team summited everyone became more anxious that the Sherpas paid to fix the ropes were not being entirely honest. After several meetings with the Sherpas and taking advantage of the team spirit now developing at base camp myself and Sarah studied the Meteotest Forecast. This was a forecast I was used to interpreting as I had used it on most of my other 8000m peak exceptions. I spotted a weather window for the night of the 18th May. There was much conflict over this report with various weather forecasters reporting a variety of conditions. Pary’s forecaster also was interpreting the weather systems differently. Thanks to Sarah and Adventure consultants I tracked the forecast daily and formulated a plan. Pary and Hadi although listening to me suggested they would go for the summit a couple of days earlier.  This was right for them and as both were intending to climb without oxygen I decided that Lhakpa and I would plan for ourselves. Yes, I was disappointed but now needed to be focused on the task ahead.

On the 14th May, Pary, Hadi myself, Lhakpa, Nero and Pary’s new Sherpa headed back up to Camp1. It was busy on the route with many other climbers obviously having the same thoughts of a possible summit push. This time I felt strong and pushed out in front with Lhakpa to reach Camp 1 in good form despite an upside down moment in a crevasse!Pary and Hadi had overtaken us and we’re pushing through to Camp 2. Resting at Camp 1 Pary’s new Sherpa rolled in late finding his load exhausting. We tucked down for the night and prepared for an early start. Moving to camp 2 in the morning was easier with a trail being blazed by an Indian Army team. On our arrival, we sorted out gear to be moved up the mountain and discussed a plan. Pary and Hadi had decided to stay put at Camp 2 and reports that the Sherpas were digging out the ropes above gave me hope that this was a possible summit push. Nero returned to base camp and me Lhakpa snuggled down. Life in a tent at 6450m is not too glamorous, lying awake listening to Lhakpas snoring and feeling slightly nauseous I tried to relax and empty my mind of thoughts of home. It was now time to focus on the task and give this mountain every ounce of energy I had.

The next morning I loaded an oxygen bottle in my rucksack as well as all my kit required for the next camp. There was then some confusion as Pary’s Sherpa had told Pary and Hadi I was staying in Camp2. I felt exasperated and frustrated that it seemed as if I was being bullied into abandoning my summit push to allow the others to carry smaller loads to C3 and to alleviate the issue of tent space. With stubborn determination, I held my own and wriggled into my down suite remembering that the journey to camp3 was torturous. In 2014 I had reached camp 3 and sat out the weather for a couple of days before running away. This time the route felt steeper and the wind scoured ridge was very icy. The weather turned and I could just see the others 50m ahead of me in the driving snow. Hard work is an understatement and just before camp I was showered with blocks of ice as Lhakpa was frantically digging a platform. Screaming up to alert them I was below had little effect so with head down, Oxygen on I scrambled up the last 100m as quickly as I could. Conditions were grim as I joined in with the digging. Eventually, we established a platform for two tents perched on the 40-degree slope. The driving winds and snow made it nearly impossible to brew up but by nightfall we had all replaced some fluids and eaten a few calories to replace those lost by the days effort. Lying between oxygen bottles I realised that Lhakpa was without a sleeping bag, which it transpired had been stolen at Camp 2 . Unzipping mine I wrapped it over us, he had not complained once but as we shared body heat his tuneful snore returned. Woken by the sound of climbers leaving and returning to camp we stirred but did not investigate further. I lay wondering if Pary and Hadi had left for their summit day but the silence from their tent suggested they had stayed put. An image of the weather forecast chart was firmly fixed in my mind and hoping the winds would die down the next day I snuggled closer to Lhakpa to share the warmth of another human. As the morning dawned we regained some organisation and managed to brew up. Pary and Hadi has had an equally as disrupted night, with the rope fixing Sherpas scurrying back to their tent after abandoning their rope fixing duties. The day passed improving our tent platforms and trying to contact base camp. At 6 pm we got through and although the forecast had changed indicating higher winds I knew it was our last chance. Slowly I got ready, checking oxygen cylinders and ensuring Lhakpa and I had a plan. 10 pm came round and we squirmed out of the tent. Stars filled the sky and the night was relatively calm. Pary was ready so I beckoned her forward on the ropes knowing she would be moving more slowly without Oxygen. We set off closely followed by Lhakpa and Pary’s new Sherpa. Hadi who always seemed to leave late maintained his consistency. Ascending the ridge into new territory was stunning. My Oxygen cylinder pulsed away at 1ml/min and I found myself warm and comfortable enjoying the sunrise. Passing tents at the higher camp3 Hadi disappeared to warm his feet and we continued. A rope fixing team ahead slowed our progress as we waited for their instructions. Moving to the front I picked the route through the rocks and stuck close to the assortment of old fixed rope. Finally, Pary submitted to turning on her oxygen together with our Sherpas joining too. At 7900m just before the exposed traverse the fixing team decided they had had enough, the Indian team were still forcing their way but some were in difficulty with their Oxygen supplies. Trying to offer assistance to one member I could not fix his oxygen supply and advised he turned around.

As we traversed the terrain felt daunting and I kicked through the wind slab realising that one slide would be fatal. Now a 100m in front,  I waited for Lhakpa and Pary to discuss the situation. 150m of fixed rope dropped by a Sherpa in front lay at my feet. In no way did I wish to put Lhakpa in danger. Pary wished to continue as did Lhakpa and with the settled weather and 150m of fixed rope at our disposal we continued. Dragging the rope behind me I was transfixed as we saw a climber slide on the slope but luckily he managed to stop. Reaching a very icy section I side stepped across and managed to fix the rope with the help of another Sherpa at this treaters point. The final couloir was now in sight and a surge of adrenalin ensured I climbed with full attention without using the damaged fixed rope whose sheath was damaged to leave only thin strands of nylon. As the angle steepened it was comforting to find 25m of climbing rope dangling over the edge. Clipping on I puffed my way up and belly flopped over the col…Wandering around I caught sight of the deceased body as Lhakpa and Pary popped over the top! Another Sherpa also joined us. Pary and I walked over the final wind scoured rocks to the top. A celebratory hug was snatched as well as some photos of Ted and Messner our individual soft toy companions. It was 3.45pm far too late to be so high and I was anxious to return. Looking down the couloir Hadi was ascending very slowly, still determined to climb without Oxygen. As soon as he arrived and with numb cold hands, I signalled to Lhakpa to descend. Hadi wanted pictures and to fly his flag but I was in no mood to hang around. Grumpily taking a couple of snaps I descended followed by Pary. Aware that our return journey would be more treacherous and dangerous I took care with each step making sure each foot was stable before I moved forward. Progress was painfully slow and the solo Sherpa seemed to be having difficulties. Lhakpa and I discussed the situation. Pary’s Sherpa had turned back early on during our ascent, Hadi was a long way behind us and Pary was with us. Lhakpa fulfilling his duties wanted to have a watchful eye over Pary and his Sherpa friend but did not want to abandon me. Knowing I was still strong I agreed to descend at my own pace and ensured Lhakpa had enough Oxygen to see him through a long evening and spare to hand out. Picking up an empty cylinder I wandered down as the sun set. Not wanting to get off the route I carefully retraced my steps from the morning; remembering specific rock features and areas of previous climbers high bivis I abseiled into camp around 8 pm 22 hours after setting off. Mary’s Sherpa was there but unfortunately suffering from snow blindness. I made us both a brew and set a task of heating water for the others return. Exhausted and cold as the dampness seeped through my suite I must have dozed off. Awoken by the shouts of Pary around 9 pm as her tent had been moved next to ours on a very uneven platform and the roar of the wind I told Pary to squeeze in with us for warmth and food. Ignoring the invitation she resided in her own tent. The ferocious wind increased with Lhakpa and I desperately holding the tent from bringing squashed on top of us. Suddenly there was a boom; snow sliding down the slope above encased the side of the tent. Lhakpa and I instantly dived out shovel in hand. Small spindrift avalanche s were releasing above and ice kicked from descending climbers smacked the tent. Relieved that the avalanches were just snow redistributing itself we returned to our pit and lay awake listening for the next boom. Ice blocks started to the hit the tent at around 11 pm as Hadi crawled back into camp. That was our team all back safe at camp3 but we were still very high on the mountain! and as we all know it’s not over until your back at base camp.

Gathering up as much equipment as I could physically carry I was pleased to be leaving camp3 with Lhakpa and the others. The sun started to dry and warm me through but with my fuel tank low, I rested at most rope junctions envying climbers below and greeting those passing by on their way up to camp 3. Finally, I reached top camp 2 and slumped down to accept water from Dean and Lydia. Giving them a run down on the rope situation above and wishing them well, I was delighted to see Naru who had come to camp 2 to assist. Noodles and some sherpa tea helped rejuvenate me but knowing I needed sleep I was happy to stay put. Lhakpa helped Pary’s now snow blind Sherpa down and we bathed his eyes to relieve the pain. Having suffered myself with the same condition I could feel his pain but could only offer empathy and painkillers. That night Pary and I were reunited in a tent and scoffed all our left over treats. Sleeping like babies we regained our strength for the descent to base camp the next day. Wandering across the glacier back to base camp I was numb from emotion as other climbers congratulated us on our success. Strong Woman, we were told from the Indian Army Leader… Strong or stupid I wondered! Colin on his way to find more antibiotics for his returning toothache embraced us and with tear filled eyes and I could see the worry he had been through. Sitting in the luxury of base camp we drank beer, ate Pringles and tucked into whatever Santa our wonderful cook put in front of us. Retiring to my tent for a wet wipe wash and to rid myself of stinky clothes I text home. ” Done it… All Back safe at Base camp” Eight words to describe the last eight days.

It was time to go home and the team split as Pary and Hadi headed over the French pass and Colin and I with all the kit, sherpas and porters retraced our walk in. In three days we were sat in Dobang watching the torrential rain and waiting for a taxi to take us to  Pokerha. Finally, we arrived in Kathmandu and Colin’s generous treat of two nights for us all in Dwarikas was a wonderful gesture. With little enthusiasm to partake in the usual merry go round of 8000m peak climbers returning from their conquests Colin and I met Simon Lowe, Managing Director of Jagged Globe and talked about everything else rather than mountains!

My sincerest gratitude goes to Spike, Lhakpa Sherpa and Colin for without them I would not have climbed this mountain. Physical, mental and emotional support helped me through the toughest days and although each individual on this expedition had their own agenda we all came back alive!

Will I climb another 8000m peak? Never say never but at the moment I am very happy to be bobbing around my local hills and the lower elevations of the Pyrenees and the Altai mountains of Mongolia for which there is a trip report on the News of the Jagged Globe Web site. http://www.jagged-globe.co.uk

After a trip to Swanage next weekend to celebrate family members 100th Birthday it will be back to Skye and Lochaber and I will promise to keep up with my APM News