Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Heading home

I bailed. The weather window held and we went back up for a second attempt on Link Sar, found a way through the glacier and onto the face and after one night on the route I did something I’ve never done before, I had to bail when everything was looking good.

We’d had a big day on the first day trying to beat the incoming weather, leaving base camp early morning, making the approach, and then climbed up to about 6000m on the north face where we managed to get a very small bivi ledge on top of a rock. I hadn’t felt amazing on the first day and Jon had done most of the leading as we moved together up the North Face.
Jon finding a way through the glacier to access the face

Jon on the lower part of the North Face

After a very slow start the next morning Jon headed off and as I followed I just knew straight away I was way more tired than I should have been. After taking over the lead I knew it was all over. I couldn’t even lead a full 70m pitch, having to stop and belay after 50m on ground we should have been moving together on. Not wanting to give in I set off again, but exactly the same thing happened, I just ran out of steam after 50m and had to stop. I’d never felt like this on a climb before, completely exhausted. My legs weren’t too tired, but it just felt like there was nothing in me to power them. I’ve never thought of myself as the most technical or fastest climber, but one thing I know I can do is push on when my body says it’s had enough. But not this time there just wasn’t anything there.

Jon heading up the North Face

Jon coming up to the ridge where we’d hoped to get the tent up

I’d been fighting a stomach bug for the last couple of weeks which had seen me struggling with psyche for a bit, but after a prescribed ‘bowl bomb’ from a doctor friend back home between our attempts I thought I’d sorted it and on the way back up the psyche was definitely back and I was super excited to get back on Link Sar. I guess in the end it had taken a hell of a lot more out of me than I thought and at altitude I just wasn’t recovering.

On the airy ridge 

Ignoring the massive disappointment I’d love to be able to say it was a difficult decision to make to go down, but with how I felt there was only one option for me. Then with how I felt on the descent and the walk back to base camp there was no doubt in my mind I had made the right decision, as difficult as it is to accept now. To say I’m gutted and disappointed is an understatement but more so for Jon, he has acclimatized well, as always is as fit as ever and the route was good to go. I really feel I’ve let him down massively, but Jon being Jon is being great about the whole thing even though he must be so disappointed. I’ve had expeditions fail in the past due to weather or conditions but to fail because of my body letting me down is something I’m finding hard to accept and very frustrating.

The ridge looked like we should be able to get a good bivi, but we soon realised it was going to take too long so lowered back down to start chopping an easier but smaller ledge on a rock 

Jon trying not to fall off the bivi ledge

I really don’t feel I’m recovering up here and don’t have confidence in getting fit enough for another go, so we start the journey back to Islamabad tomorrow.  It's always difficult going away empty handed from a trip, especially when you don’t know why you haven’t been able to give it your best effort.  But the Charakusa Valley has been an amazing place to visit and I feel very lucky to have been able to spend the time here that we have and I hope I can come back again one day and actually climb something here. 

Amazing view of K7 against the night sky from our bivi

Friday, 23 August 2013

Link Sar attempt… sort of

After countless days in the rain at base camp it looked like we eventually had a few days of good weather coming so had planned on going up Sulu Peak to sleep high, but at the last minute the weather changed and a week long weather window appeared.  We weren’t really acclimatized enough for Link Sar and hadn’t checked out the approach properly but the weather looked too good to miss, so we decided to go up to Link Sar and just see how we felt.  A quick repack of the bags lead to some stupidly heavy packs, about 19kg each including all the ropes, rack and food for seven days, but we knew there’d be no going fast and light with our lack of acclimatization.

A quick change of plans and sorting kit for Link Sar rather than Sulu Peak (Photo – Jon Griffith)

The first day didn’t see us at the bergschrund as we’d hoped. Getting caught by the sun and heat on the unfrozen glacier, we bivied at about 5,100m thinking it was only a couple of hours to the start of the route at around 5,500m. 4 hours after leaving our bivi spot we still hadn’t made it to the start of the route. The glacier was so broken, gnarly and scary. Where Jon and Will had simply walked up last year we were struggling to find our way around massive crevasses and ice towers. In the time we’d hoped to be a couple of hours up the route, we still hadn’t found a way to the start of it!

Jon heading through the first ice fall and onto the upper glacier

Threading our way through endless crevasses (Photo – Jon Griffith)

The safest place on the glacier we could find to stop once the sun got too intense (Photo – Jon Griffith)

It was fair to say I was knackered from the big pack and heat of the day before, it had really taken it out of me. Luckily Jon didn’t seem to have noticed the heavy pack and heat and he’d been happily breaking trail all the way up so far and was raring to go. We were really late and it was still going to take at least a couple more hours to work our way onto the face and on top of that I just didn’t feel comfortable starting up a massive route as tired as I felt already. Having figured out a way onto the face, we left a gear stash at our high point and headed back down to base camp to recoup for a couple of days. Fingers crossed this weather holds and we’ll head back up in a day or so.

Heading up toward the start of the route with sunrise on K6 behind (Photo – Jon Griffith)

Jon at the point we got shut down, we tried a couple of different ways but couldn’t find a way through and definitely didn’t fancy the bridge of ice blocks on the right
Heading back down to base camp with the kit stashed and a better route found for our return in a few days

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Rainy Days in Base Camp

Time is dragging on very slowly at the moment. Since we got down from Drifika six days ago we have had heavy rain in base camp every day, all day. We needed some snow, but I dread to think how much it has put down in the last week up high. In the fleeting glimpses we get of K6 through the clouds it is plastered with snow and has taken on a very wintery look. But it's all good and hopefully when the weather settles the conditions will be much better.

Gone are the blue skies and sunshine – a wet and gloomy base camp

On these trips I don’t mind a few days of bad weather at first, especially after just getting down from a few days up high.  The forced rest days are good as it is hard to make yourself take them whilst the sun is shining. But after six days of it, as soothing as the sound of rain falling on the tent is, frustration does start to show! 

No matter what the weather Ali and Ali keeping producing a seemingly unlimited quantity of food

The daily routine of waking up to the sound of rain, breakfast, read, lunch, read, watch a movie, snooze, dinner, bed, is all very restful to start with and probably sounds like the perfect holiday to a lot of people, with no distractions of mobile phones, news and no internet apart from e-mails it is about as peaceful and restful as you can get. But that’s not what we’re here for and with a lot of time to think I often find myself questioning why I do these trips. The amount of unproductive and wasted time really gets to me, but then that’s all part of the game I guess. It is quite funny how the little things you do every day and think nothing of at home like shaving and washing clothes almost add excitement to the day!

K6 slowly emerges from the clouds for a brief spell

After a very brief sunny spell this morning the rain is falling as hard as ever, so it is back to my annual attempt to learn French and listen to a few hours of French lessons to try and make the most of the down time. I try on every expedition, but never seem to make it past the second CD… The weather is meant to improve in the next few days so hopefully we’ll be able to escape base camp again soon.

Jon eagerly checking the weather forecast for good news…

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Drifika Attempt

After our failed attempt on Sulu Peak because of a faulty stove we headed straight back up the next day but this time we got shut down by the heat. It is just so hot out here at the moment that all the couloirs on Sulu Peak were almost constant streams of rock fall 24 hours a day. We spent two nights below it, but it didn’t freeze enough at any point to make it safe enough to climb and after seeing one spectacularly large rock fall we turned tail and ran back down to the valley.

Less than 24 hours after getting down from sitting below Sulu Peak we were on our way up to Drifika, a beautiful and aesthetic pyramid peak sitting at 6447m. Perfect acclimatization height, but more importantly a snow ridge so there wouldn't be any rock fall problems in the heat. Leaving base camp with five days of food and lots of extra luxuries the packs felt very heavy, but we got through the two ice falls and set our little tent up on the Drifika Glacier around 5100m that afternoon just in time to escape a massive rain storm.

Heading up to the first ice fall

Climbing up the side of the first ice fall

We were awoken around 3am just before the alarm by more heavy rain, so got an extra couple of hours sleep before leaving. Unfortunately the rain and a lack of overnight freeze meant it was only about an hour after leaving the tent that we were back putting it up in the exact same spot. The glacier was just too dangerous to cross without a freeze.  The rain had saturated the surface so we didn’t know if we were just post holing through deep snow or falling through crevasses.

Heading back through big crevasses to wait for colder conditions the next day (Photo – Jon Griffith)

Take two… with a good freeze the next night we were off just after 4am and easily across the glacier and onto a small ridge that lead up to the col below the North Ridge. Even at 6.30am the heat in the sun was just so powerful and zapping of any energy. We settled in for a day on the col at c.5700m below the North Ridge, which looked as we’d hoped: straightforward snow climbing up to the summit. The views on the way up to and from the col were just amazing, a panorama of Karakoram giants, Masherbrum, K2, Broad Peak, Chongolisa, the Gasherbrums. It was amazing to see all these peaks for the first time.

Jon at sunrise on the Drifika Glacier

On the initial ridge leading up to the Col below the North Ridge (Photo – Jon Griffith)

Escaping the midday heat in the tent at the Col, K7 in the background

Sunset on K7 from the col (Photo – Jon Griffith)

Sunset with Masherbrum on the right

Expecting to be able to solo up and down, we had only brought one rope and four ice screws just in case there were any short tricky sections. We soon discovered the next morning that what had looked like nice névé was actually about a cm of white useless crud on top of hard black ice. With multiple swings for each ice axe placement, although not at all steep, it just feels very insecure, hard work and the sort of ground I hate so we soon had the rope out to move together. But with only four screws we couldn’t get very far before having to put belays in, which were actually a thankful rest for our screaming calfs from all the front pointing! In the end at about 6,100m we decided to pull the plug and head back down to the tent. It was taking too much out of us for acclimatization, not enjoyable and was going to take ages to get off with only one rope.
Jon heading up the North Ridge of Drifika
On the North Ridge with K2, Broad Peak and Chongolisa in the background (Photo – Jon Griffith)
It looked like névé, but no… climbing on the icy west flank of the North Ridge (Photo – Jon Griffith)
Jon on the North Ridge with the amazing backdrop of K2, Broad Peak and Chongolisa
Heading back to the col, K2 is the prominent pyramid peak in the centre

It was a shame not to have reached the summit but it did its job and got us some height to help with acclimatizing and was just nice to be high in the mountains again. We left the col under grey sky’s very early the next morning and coming back down the glacier and ice falls to base camp it was amazing how much they had changed in just the three days we’d been up there. It is just so hot out here at the moment. I never thought I’d be asking for bad weather on a trip but we really need some snow to bring the faces back into condition. 

Back at the col, a pretty spectacular campsite! (Photo – Jon Griffith)
Jon photographing the approaching weather which thankfully just missed us

Heading back down to the Drifika Glacier and base camp the next morning, just before the weather arrived (Photo – Jon Griffith)

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Trying and failing to acclimatize

We’ve spent the last few days trying but failing to get acclimatized around the Charakusa Valley.  It's quite frustrating that we’ve been in the valley for nearly a week now and the highest we’ve been is only 4900m.

After our wander around the Charakusa Glacier, the next day we scrambled up the lower slopes of Fati Brakk to get some height and have a proper look at the NW face of K6 West. Now the big news from the Charakusa this year is that our Canadian friends Raphael Slawinski and Ian Welstad have made an awesome ascent of the NW face of K6 West to the summit. I checked with them they were alright with me mentioning this but I’m not going to give any details as that is their story to tell.  Needless to say it is a very impressive ascent from two really nice guys and it’s great to have their company in base camp for a few days before they leave.

Scrambling up the lower slopes of Fati Brakk with K6, K6 West and Kapura Peak in the back ground (photo – Jon Griffith)

K6 West had been one of our objectives but the two lines we had in mind are, on closer inspection just too threatened from seracs this year for either Jon or myself to consider them. The only relatively safe line up the face is the line the Canadians took so we are going to concentrate on getting acclimatized for Link Sar, but you never know things can change in the mountains quite fast…
Looking across at Link Sar, 7,041m. The actual summit is the big thumb of granite under the arrow, a long way back.

After a forced rest day, a shame to waste a sunny day but our bodies felt like they needed it, to continue our acclimatization we headed up to the base of Sulu Peak to bivi then climb it and spend two nights on the summit to help acclimatize. Unfortunately it couldn’t have gone anymore not to plan! We arrived at the base to discover we couldn’t get the stove to work, after an hour of trying everything and dismantling the stove we found the one gas canister we had brought was dodgy, so that was that.  Muesli for dinner and head back down to the valley in the morning just in time for a big breakfast courtesy of Ali and Ali. Through the night it pissed it down (heavy rain at 4,750m???), didn’t freeze up high which lead to loads of rock fall so I think we’d have been coming down anyway. So we spent yesterday hanging out in base camp watching movies and listening to the heavy rain outside.
Sulu Peak, 5,950m

Setting up camp below Sulu Peak (Photo – Jon Griffith)

It does seem to be raining quite high, something that is very different to my experiences in Nepal where it always snows if you get any precipitation even at base camp.  It does mean rest days are nice and warm though. Unfortunately the high snow line isn’t ideal and is stripping a lot of the faces lower down, Raphael is pretty sure some of the pitches they climbed as ice have disappeared on K6 already.  Not the end of the world, but not ideal.
An evening storm clears of K6 West

The weather is meant to be clearing so hopefully we’ll head back up to Sulu peak later this afternoon and start to get better acclimatized.