It has been rumoured that the further you get away from bouldering competitions the less it has to do with climbing. After returning from my most recent trip to India I can indeed confirm this to be true.
The plan was for me to first work a trip out there for Moran Mountain (writeup here, the clue is in the name), before meeting John Crook for a personal attempt on the huge North East Ridge of Nanda Devi East (NDE), 7434m. The work trip although with a great bunch of clients was essentially shut down due to a very snowy seventy two hour period when it snowed an estimated one meter plus at Base Camp (4000m) and a likely two meters or more above 5000m. After this event however hard we may try the trail breaking and any travel (particularly above 4500m) was torturous.
The plus side of this trip however was all the clients were fantastic so myself and Mark Chadwick (fellow Guide and trip leader) along with all the clients still had a good time and got to enjoy being in the mountains. In circumstances such as these a sense of humour and positive outlook on life pays dividends. We did manage to make one first ascent as a team however, ‘Frejas Peak’ (5271m) was climbed by all members of the team from Advance Base Camp out and back in a day. This was just before the snowy conditions arrived and was done without crampons. The peak gave magnificent views across into the Miyar Valley and beyond. We could see ‘James Peak’ and ‘Marakula Killa’- the peaks myself and John and Martin Moran with Ian Dring made first ascents of from the Miyar Valley two years ago. I have fond memories from that trip and it was great to see those peaks in such great detail and from such a rare angle. A rare treat indeed and one that was enjoyed by all team members.
The getting out of the Pangi Valley and back to civilisation proved much more hard work than getting into the mountains. The snowy weekend we had endured up high had been stormy lower down and caused many landslides and power outages on the north side of the Rohtang Pass. This made for a lot of logistical problems but eventually the team made it back to Delhi in time for flights home.
Nanda Devi East
A while ago someone asked me why I write these things down and like to keep a (sometimes irregular) blog. I enjoy writing about my experiences in retrospect, and the ability to re-live them again afterwards. I also find the process quite cathartic in sorting out what’s in my head and digging deep into how I really feel about a certain something. The fact that some folk read it (and enjoy it they tell me) is an added bonus.
Our trip up the Lawan Valley for Nanda Devi East (NDE) was of a similar ilk. Due to logistic / beurocratic reasons (a constant in trips to the Indian Himalaya), both myself and John were a week late arriving at NDE Base Camp. We attempted a first traverse of Changuch (6322m) and Nanda Kot (6844m) as part of our continued acclimatisation and preparation for NDE. Again we found terrible, energy-sapping snow conditions and after a few days of toil and added acclimatisation decided it wise to bail and focus our efforts on NDE.
On the 16th October me and John left BC for a self-supported, alpine style attempt on NDE NE Ridge. We reached a camp at c.5350m at the foot of the ridge on the 16th and climbed to 6150m the following day via the lower ice arête. Here we stayed for one night to aid acclimatisation with a plan to continue the next day. We had a forecast of only snow showers for the next few days however it proved to be much more than that and although only light to moderate snowfall, proceeded to put down between one and three feet of snow each day in organised showers. Later we found out it was mostly clear at BC and below 5000m but remained clagged in above this. We spent three nights camped at 6150m with snow accumulating. Average pre-dawn morning temperatures were -20 to -25ºC.
On the 19th after another night at our camp with the frequent sound of avalanches we probed upwards in marginal conditions to our high point at 6300m. Here we found terrible, time-consuming and difficult to protect snow conditions and after returning for another night at our high camp retreated in very snowy conditions to arrive back in BC on 20th October.
I could wax lyrical about the views along with our intent, drive and perseverance but in all honestly all it came down to was an ambitious plan, bad snow conditions and lots of suffering manifested in this case through trail breaking, wading and digging through snow. One thing I am now sure of is that I am excellent at carrying large loads in poor snow conditions and also that I don’t want to do any more of it anytime soon.
When these trips are a success I return home on cloud nine, literally walking on air and the highest of the high. After such a long time away there is undoubtedly a heap of life admin to sort upon my return (typically bills, emails and more bills), but after a great trip I return ‘full from the experience’ and none of it can touch me. Daily dealings with Origin Broadband (I can mention them, this isn’t the BBC) and all those other hassles dissapear like water off a ducks back, or Teflon Dave in my case. René Daumal sums it up perfectly:
“You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.”
After a successful trip and having ‘seen’ above I carry it back to normality and use it well. After a while however it fades and I need to repeat. When the opposite happens and the trip is ultimately unsuccessful I return home with more questions than answers, unfulfilled and hollow, unable to validate myself through the endless hours of training leading up to a trip and ultimate success. All those 3am offshore night shift gym sessions. Not enough? Too much? Who knows. That is however the game and ultimately you wouldn’t get one without the other. A plus point is that I have undoubtedly learnt more lessons from these last two expeditions than possibly all the others put together. Great knowledge for future attempts of similar objectives.
Right now I’m looking forward to taking some time over the next month or so to relax and do all the things I’ve missed out on in recent times; see friends and family, sleep in my bed and not be constantly on the go. I have been enjoying wood fires, showers and eating a little bit too much since my return. I know I will be back on the expedition train at some point but as to how and where yet I’m not sure. Mark Thomas has already expressed am interest in returning for NDE in a couple of years if the line still stands, it is however too early for me to even think about seriously yet.
After that I will be moving to Chamonix and beginning my new life as a Guide with just a little bit of offshore work thrown in for good measure. My offshore trips are getting less and less and it is something I plan to leave soon, however having the option of a second income with a main profession such as guiding is always nice as a back up. You stay classy Nanda Devi East, maybe we’ll meet again someday….
Have fun out there!