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Nepali Style

 

Freddie takes the lead

Freddie takes the lead

Gilmore getting it done!

Gilmore getting it done!

Freddie and Kevin on summit ridge

Freddie and Kevin on summit ridge

 

 


Kevin entering the mixed upper headwall.
Kevin entering the mixed upper headwall.

 

Summit!

Summit!

 

 

 

The New Hampshire Route

The New Hampshire Route

I have been home now for less than two days and I must admit they have been spent simply hanging out with my family.  Getting up at 4am with Eliza, our one year old, is a treat that I do not take for granted.  Making coffee and blueberry pancakes in the morning with Annika and Eliza has always been fun but after being gone for five weeks it is a gift.  To watch Annika crush the eggs into the batter and spill flour everywhere as she tells Eliza how to make pancakes is priceless.

 

The single hardest aspect of expeditions is being away from my family.  In a country like Nepal it would be easy to lose yourself in the uniqueness of their culture and wander in amazment that people can live so simply and devote to their religion and heritage.  Of course there are the sell outs to making a quick buck but in general people are authentic.

Our expedition to climb the North face of Kangtega started October 5th at 9pm at the Funky Buddha bar in Katmandu with two rounds of Everest beers.  Freddie, Ben and I spent the next days tying up loose ends and sitting around the Ministry of Tourism waiting for a signature and a hand shake.  The morning of Oct. 7th we flew to Lukla.  After lunch at the Sherpa Coffee Shop we started our 6 day trek to base camp.  The monsoon was still lingering so each afternoon we would be in the clouds and light rain.  The trek to base camp took us over the Zetra La Pass and into the Hinku Valley.  This was our first real introduction to Nepali style.  Nelali style is their way of life that infiltrates everything.  It is about hard work with a smile.  They are also very shrewd businessmen. 

“Bed tea” was brought to us each morning at 6am. As soon as we were out of our tents the porters would siege them, in their flip flops, packing up the frost covered tents to complete their loads for the day. Then they were off.  Many of them were carrying loads of 70-90 pounds.  I admire their devotion to the task at hand with no hesitation. 

By the sixth afternoon we were at our basecamp and settled in.  The following day we were ready to sleep in and spend the day exploring the monster boulders around basecamp. However, we really wanted to take advantage of the six porters willing to help us establish advanced basecamp.  We set off in the morning to get our loads as high up the glacial moraine as possible.  After only an hour and a half we established a cache.  The moraine was freshly exposed and very active.  If we wanted to put ourselves in harms way for the climb that was one thing, but we couldn’t ask the porters to follow us just for a few more dollars, even though they would have.  The next week was spent resting and ferrying loads to advanced base camp. After a cycle of route finding through the ice fall to access the North face and acclimatizing we rested again at base camp.

The night of Oct. 24 found us camped below the North face ready to climb.  We had neighbors at this point.   The Japanese duo of Jumbo and Yaki had moved in to attempt the face as well.  They are members of the Jiri Jiri boys who have been climbing everything and putting up new routes in Alaska.  Rather than the potential competitive atmosphere, one of enthusiasm settled in.  It was great to have them there, since we were gunning for separate lines we would not interfere with one another and we were eight miles of rugged terrain from basecamp so we could watch each others back.  By 5am the next morning we were both crossing the bergshrud on our respective lines and we would not see or hear one another until we crossed the bergshrud again at the end of our climb. 

The North face rears up 1000 meters from the glacier and offers very little oppurtunity for rest.  Our plan was to try to reach the Northeast ridge in one long day then bivy there.  From below the ridge it appeared to have multiple options to dig in or find a platform.  This meant the first day would require 2,300 feet of climbing.   We guessed that it would be 12-14 pitches to gain the ridge.  So the leads would be split into three block 4-5 pitches each.  Ben started out and drifted cooly over the steepening neve.   Protection was hard to find and real anchors were scarce so each of his leads ended in another 50 meters of simul-climbing.  After his marathon block of 4 pitches we figured we were at least 6-7 pitches up the face.  Freddie took over and pushed us another three pitches higher.  During Freddie’s block the angle had steepened to near vertical and the available ice was thin.  The leads were taking about half as long as the anchors took to establish.  The temps were cold, maybe 10 degrees and dropping.  It appeared that we would have 3-4 pitches to go to gain the ridge and now it was my duty to get us there. 

The climbing so far had been primarily sticky neve with the major challenge being the digging for gear.  Now the face was vertical and more rock was exposed and the neve and ice was delaminted.  When I started my block I was optimistic that the exposed rock would offer better gear options, I hadn’t thought that all it would offer is just loose rock options.  The climbing was still pretty good, not terribly difficult but often insecure.  Ben later told me that he could hear the ice resignate down to the anchor when I got good sticks, I think that meant the ice was separated from the rock the whole way.

The first two pitches of my block were slow and very run out.  The long day and psychological climbing was taking its toll.  It seemed like one more 60 meter pitch would deliver us to the ridge and an easy bivy site (ha! optimizism is a nessesary character trait for any alpinist.)  It was getting dark so I pulled out my head lamp strapped it on my Tracer helmet and latched onto my Cobras and started up the last pitch of the day.    Between the altitude, cold and fatique I would only climb five to ten meters before having to swing my hands for warmth and catch my breath.  I would put gear in whenever it presented itself but I would not waste time searching for it by head lamp.  I cleared a few rock bulges with gear so far below I could not see it by headlamp. 

By this point I was all too aware of the situation; Ben and Freddie were strapped to three meager ice screws and I had a few pitons and a C3 placed in bad rock.  Falling was not an option!  My girls back in NH would pop into my mind and I struggled to identify why I was there.  As much as I wanted to be back in NH pushing my girls in their stroller I was in Nepal by choice.  This is exactly why alpine climbing appeals to me, it forces you to bury everything that is not in the present and embrace the task at hand.  

The rest of the pitch passed by like sleep walking as I staggered vertically through the tunnel vision of my head lamp.  Once the anchor was installed I started Ben and Freddie on their way.  With every inch of the rope that eased through the ATC Guide my temperature dropped.  By the time the boys had joined me the fatigue and cold had taken its toll and I was properly done.  While I shivered and Ben made sure I didn’t slip further into hypothermia, Freddie searched for a proper bivy.  Two hours passed before the word came that he had us a ledge.  The knowledge of  the tent being set up momentarily warmed my bones.

Our bivy system was simple and light, one BD First Light tent and two Mountain Hardwear 0 degree Banshee sleeping bags zipped together.  Once we settled into the mini tent and brewed our ramen and water we squeezed into our two bag system.  The squeeze sack had been tested at base camp and for two minutes it seemed fine.  In reality it was plenty warm but uncomfortable and difficult to move in.  The night was slow but warm.  By morning we were eager to get out of the bags but slow to get going.  After another meal of ramen and water we left our tent and squeeze sack behind and headed out by 10am.  

Gilmore took the first block and brilliantly navigated horizontally from the North face to the East face runnels that would take us to the summit.  His line took us over snow mushrooms, around rock bulges, through a tunnel finished off with a short down climb.  It turned out to be the only line that did not require rappelling.  One more pitch of vertical “snice” climbing with no gear ended Gilmore’s block.

Freddie took over and dragged us up three stellar pitches while Ben and I sorted out the rappel anchors. My block started with a straight forward pitch that ended at a rock overlap capped in a snow mushroom. The next pitch found me with shovel in hand digging our second tunnel of the day.  Our little rat hole deposited us onto a neve highway to the summit ridge.  

The summit seemed only an hour away however it would take over two hours and a lot of heart.  Gilmore broke trail the whole way driving us hard to catch sunset on the summit of Kangtega.  Anyone who discounts the value of going to the summit after the “technical difficulties” are over has the values of a used car salesman (they will say anything to sell you the crap they are selling!).

After down climbing the summit ridge, six rappels, and some belayed down climbing  we were back at our bivy ledge.  After another meal of ramen and water I passed on the squeeze sack and let Freddie and Ben each have a sleeping  bag.  My plan was simple I would zip up my two MH Compressor jackets and my Compressor pants and lay down between them and sleep like a baby.  There are benefits to being a MOG.

The following day the high pressure that had blessed us for two weeks was done.  As snow started to fall we started our 13 rappels then down climbed around the bergshrund.   Back on the glacier we watched the Giri Giri Boys pull their ropes.  We had started and finished within an hour of each other.  The only difference was the boys did not quite make the summit.  Their super proud direct line had ended less than two hundred meters from the top.  Dead ended by bad snow, extreme cold, and a stove that did not work.

Our line The New Hampshire Route AI5+ R/X 1000M  with a little mixed, climbed the North face to the upper East face to the summit of Kangtega 6,779M (22,241ft).  The name came from the sustained cold nature of the face and “interesting conditions” that we experienced, both of which seem common on New Hampshire winter adventures.

I would like to thank the Mugs Stump Award and Mountain Hardwear for directly funding the expedition!  I would also like to thank the following companies for their support with gear; Black Diamond, Vasque, Julbo, Sterling Rope, Clif Bar, and Darn Tuff.

2 Responses to “Nepali Style”

  1. dave larsen
    November 15, 2008 at 10:28 pm #

    Kevin awesome job. Makes me even more impressed to have climbed with you in the Daks. Are you going to IME ice fest this year? Your name wasn’t on the bulletine. Let me know my buds will hook up with you if you are.
    Thanks
    Dave Larsen

  2. Franco Turrinelli
    December 19, 2008 at 6:22 pm #

    Kevin, Ben, Freddie:

    Awesome line — congratulations! Look forward to catching up in Jackson this summer or hopefully before then somewhere fun (and warmer than Kangtega!)

    Franco

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