Wednesday, 24 September 2008


Over the last few days we have been to hell and back – both emotionally and physically – as we have battled with iced-up ropes, -25C températures, altitude sickness and frozen feet. It hasn’t been pretty, especially the physical effect on the team, but I am really happy to report that not only are we back down in one piece, with the same number of fingers and toes as when we left BC, but morale is still High. And it needs to be because already we have another challenge to overcome ; following the terrorist attack on the Marriott Hotel in Islamambad on 22 September, British Airways have cancelled all flights into and out of the capital – INDEFINITELY ! A BA spokesman told me yesterday this could be for as long as until the end of 2008 ! So just getting home is now a real adventure.
So what happened on Trango ? Gaz and David left at midnight on 20th September to fix 3 pitches above Sun Terrace, our previous high point. The rest of the team followed 4 hours later. Our sole aim was to establish a camp on Sun Terrace.
In brief Gaz and David struggled just getting to Sun Terrace as all fixed ropes were frozen in place, some even burried deep within the ice.

Ice on rope

Jumaring was both exhausting and dangerous – jumar clamps dont work well on ice ! As the couple ascended, the risk of sliding the full length of the roped sections – distances of 60 meters in places – was ever present.

An erect rope!

They persevered but once on the headwall above Sun Terrace Gaz only managed to lead one pitch bécause the cracks were full of ice and temps were down to -20C with wind chill. The second half of the pitch was climbed in a horizontal hailstone Storm. At the belay Gaz and David were fully shivering.

Meanwhile the rest of us were having an épic just trying to get the haul bags to Sun Terrace. At one point Pierre was hauling a bag in the most exposed point on the shoulder below the Terrace – with windchill it was at least -25C and even though he was wearing an himalayan down jacket and working physically very hard he became almost hypothermic. Eliza above him was in worse shape. Her down jacket and full gore-tex suit were simply not enough protection. She became physically exhausted. We only just managed to avoid her getting hypothermia and frostbite by getting her into a tent on the shoulder fast. It took Pierre a good hour of massage to get the feeling back into her toes and that night she was close to vomiting because of the altitude.
Denis and I battled away below to get the rest of the kit up to Sun Terrace and we were both feeling the effects as well. Extreme cold and exhaustion are a deadly combination and I was fast realising the remaining 20 pitches to the summit were becoming an impossible objective.

By the time both tents were pitched, David and Gaz had descended from the wall. We had two TNF Moutain 25 Tents designed for 2 people and we were 3 people which would keep us warmer but maybe less relaxed. Even at sea level such tight conditions would not have been fun. At just below 6,000m., in sub zéro temps I knew it was not going to be a fun night.
I simply did not realise how knackered Gaz was. He seemed okay when he reached us. I made a hot brew of noodles for Denis, Gaz and myself. He took two spoonfuls and retreated inside his sleeping bag. It was around 4pm. That was the last either Denis or I heard from him that night.
David led the mixed and difficult pitches on the headwall that joined to the start of the first hard hand cracks on the route proper. David is perhaps the strongest member of our team, and definitely one of the most motivated. Yet even he said by the time he reached his tent he was close to collapse. That night it snowed again and the temps dropped to around -30C.

21st September

Sun Terrace

We all passed a bad night each coping with their individual problems. In my case it was trying to keep my insulin from freezing and my glucometer (blood sugar tester) warm enough so I could regularly test during the night to ensure my sugar levels did not drop too low – a night time hypo in thèse conditions would have been disastrous.
We were all up and out of our ice tents by 7am and as the sun came up I started to get feedback from the rest of the team. The consensus was not good. Whether it was altitude sickness, insufficient winter clothing and equipment or simply that it was just too damn cold, we were all feeling very weak and lacking sufficient motivation to continue.
I thought back to previous trips like Baffin Island in 1999, when I spent 18 days on a Big Wall in -20C temps, or a new route on Shishapangma (8,013m.) with Steve Venables in ’88, or a new route in the Bugaboos when after 4 days alpine style on the biggst alpine wall in the Rockies my partner Warren and I were fully paralysed from a lightning strike. But all I could say was that whatever had been my expériences prior to Trango, right now I was simply not physically or mentally prepared for this.
I knew this tower had been climbed in a day (and by an old climbing partner of mine – Silvo Karo), and everyone had said after two 2 weeks at Trango Base Camp you will have achieved all of your objectives ! But the botom line was that we were banging our heads against an ice wall and the best and safest option was for us all to descend.

Jerry thawing the tent poles.

We felt we were aproaching the zone where we would begin to make dangerous mistakes, the face was covered in a thin layer of powder snow from last night and even though this morning was clear and the sun was fully on the face the snow and definitely the ice in the cracks were not melting. The face was simply not in condition and we had neither the energy, time or equipment for a winter seige.

Frozen Wall.

The slow descent was greatly speeded up when we reached the base of the slabs leading to Sun Terrace. From a little pinacle we had an uninteriuppted view straight down to the access gully below. I said to Pierre and Gaz we had to toss the haul bags. I had done this before on other Big Walls and I knew the bags would survive if loaded and packed carefully. This was achieved and then Gaz balanced on this lofty perch as we prepared the cameras.

The haul bags plummeted down over 300 meters, and after hitting snow the next bounce took each of the bags at least another 10 to 15 meters horizontally. All three eventually came to rest half way down the gully – all contents intact. Result !
We reached BC around 7pm. The team was fully wasted but we were all in one pièce.


Philip said...

Glad to know you are all safe.

Boyan said...

I am sure that you did your best to continue the climb...but there were too many factors to turn you back without the summit! However I think you took the right decision!

The clear sunny days in the autumn of Karakorum are unfortunately too cold to allow fast climbing on rocks!

next time more luck ;-)


info said...

Missed you soooo much. Glad your down. Now just get out of there Bro

Anonymous said...

Down is good, out will be best.
Hoping you all have a safe return home.
Doug B - IDEA2000.

Der Freischϋtz said...

And what an exiting trip it has been...!!!(No matter the outcome).

Have a safe journey back home guys and keep your dream alive till next time!!!

Der Freischutz
Athens - Greece