Touched for the very first time by Chamonix – Part 2

So, our week of climbing continued. So far it had been three days of excellent climbing and there was more to come, though, the weather did look a bit iffy towards the end of the week.

Climbing Day 4

The next day we were picked up in the morning and we drove over (or under) to the Italian side. From there we took a lift to the Helbronner station or to Torino hut, which ever you prefer as they are right next to each other. The all the areas up there and on the way was one big construction yard. This is because they are building a new lift and a new station called Pointe Helbronner and which should be ready at sometime in the future. There will also be a tunnel which will give direct access from the station to the refugio, bit like something they have at Midi station.

But we weren’t there to just check up on the construction progress. Our goal was to do a new classic, a traverse of the Aiguille d’Entrèves. We did it from South-West to North-East and it is rated something between PD and AD-, but if you compare this to the Cosmiques Ridge which is also rated PD by the guidebook, this is definetly much easier. First we had about an hour of walking to the base of the ridge on a rolling glacier. Few crevasses here and there, but the path use well worn and easy to follow. Before heading up to the ridge we packed the crampons away as the ridge was totally bare from snow. For a change Lauri was taking the lead and I had a nice relaxing day of just following the rope. The difference in the mental and physical taxing between leading and following is quite huge. At least for me it was quite a relaxed day out.

Mont Blanc du Tacul from Aiguille d'Entrèves

Mont Blanc du Tacul seen from the Aiguille d’Entrèves. You can see the Midi station and the Cosmiques ridge in the far back.

The is mostly easy scrambling kind stuff, but there was few trickier places. There was one akward chimney you had to downclimb and near the summit there was the crux, a two move slip up a smooth face with a crack. That section had some aid in it, though, if you would need it. The few trickier bits, and the fact that there were quite a few groups on the route, made some queues. We did not mind the waiting as we could spend all that time learning a lot of small tricks on belays and between them. The Aiguille d’Entrèves has a double summit which are separated by a short ridge. After those the ridge descend quite steeply onto a flatter section which you follow all the way to the point where you descend to the glacier again. The last bits of downclimbing were quite tricky, especially with the crampons we had put on already. Following was actually a bit more scarier as you did not have the belay from above anymore. We did manage to get safely back down to the glacier. When there, we headed directly back towards the Helbronner and the lifts back down. On the way quite near the station we met two other Finnish guys who had been thinking of doing some ice routes on the Tacul, but the all of those were in quite bad condition. We wished them luck and took the lift down.

Traffic jam before the crux of the d'Entrèves traverse

Traffic jam before the crux of the d’Entrèves traverse

The mandatory summit shot

The mandatory summit shot. Tour Ronde and Mont Blanc du Tacul in the background and helmet tilted as usual.

We packed ourselves again into the van and drove back to the Chamonix. A dinner, some baguette and cheese and a lot of sleep.

Check the video of the traverse from though we did not have that much of snow on the route and neither we did arrive there with skis.

Climbing Day 5

For Wednesday the forecast had predicted a bit unstable weather starting from the afternoon. This stormy weather was supposed to last for few days which didn’t sound so nice in climbing wise. The morning though was shady, but ok in mid elevations and we aimed for a route starting from Plan du l’Aiguille. This time either we did not got for the actual Arêre des Papillons, but on a route on its flank. This was named in the same theme as Les Lepidoptères which translates to lepidopterans which is a common word for all butterflies, moths and such. There are two versions of this climb (I’ve heard): a bolted version and then the mostly trad original version. We took the original route which has a maximum grade of 5b, though, most of the route is just 4b/c. The crux section is a short overhang which you kind of swing over, otherwise it is slabby cracks and small ledges.

Aiguille du Peigne and the Arête des Papillons

Aiguille du Peigne and the Arête des Papillons. The Les Lepidoptères goes diagonically up the right edge of the lighter grey face area.

So, we started by getting a téléférique up to the Aiguille du Plan station. From there it was about 45min to 1 hour approach first trough some rocky grass fields and later through bouldery path and up a easy chimney to a higher ledge where the route actually starts. You might want to use a rope for the chimney part. We had taken the big big boots and axes for the descent if there would have been some snow on the way, but it was all bare. We dumped all the excess gear at the bottom of the route and started climbing. The route starts first with crack next to a pillar and continues on a slab and then again on some cracks with odd ledge here and there. The first three pitches follows this same line until it reaches a moves on ten or so meters to the right through some bouldes onto belay ledge. So far I had been focusing on speed, which is essential in alpine climbs, and that meant very few gear placed. I believe the fewest I had was just two pieces on almost a full rope length pitch. Easy ground yes, but still there would have been quite big drops if one would have slipped.

The first pitch of the Les Lepidoptères

The first pitch of the Les Lepidoptères

From there started the crux pitch. First there was a bit trickier crack and then the overhang crux. This far Al, our guide, had been soloing all the way :), but now he tied into the rope. The crux moves we could protect with a piton and a threaded sling. Getting over the overhang wasn’t actually kind of an overhang at all as you basically first inched your feet as high as possible while having them on spread wide on either side. Then you just kind of rolled over the spiky bulge that was there until you reached a good jug and pulled yourself up. From there the rest of the pitch and the final pitch up to the ridge above was quite low angle and easy going. Lauri lead the final pitch and got do his first trad leads of his life.

At the top of the Les Lepidoptères

At the top of the Les Lepidoptères

That was the end of the actual route, but we continued up the two final pitches of the Arêre des Papillons up to the face of the Aiguille du Peigne. The first pitch first a traverse on the side of the ridge and then a bit scary move or two up a quite thin crack back to the ridge. The finger jam I managed to do there was quite painful and it didn’t help that I had very gear placed before the move. Then the ridge was easier again filled with large flakes and spikes. At the end we abseiled down the Papillons gully and the Voie Normale of Peigne, but climbed a again an easy pitch back to the ridge and the top of the Les Lepidoptères. Once there we remembered to take the mandatory summit pictures, though we were not on any summit, and started the abseil back down the route. The weather started to looked worse by every minute and we had not too much time to loose. It took first four abseils to get back to our stashed gear and then another one to the path below. This last abseil saved us the scramble and downclimb of the approach chimney and detour. We didn’t actually have in the end any slack on the walk back as it started to rain more and wind took up the closer we got the lift station. As we got there, the personnel was calling everybody to hurry up as the storm was fast approaching and the lifts might not run much longer. You can’t run them in high winds.

Al and Lauri preparing to do the last abseil

Al and Lauri preparing to do the last abseil

Despite the detoriating weather we got nicely back to the valley. We stayed in the valley for a pizza dinner, shopped some late evening snacks and wine and took the bus back to Les Bossons. On the way back, though, we took the bus just to the Les Bossons village itself and thought of walking from there. The bus that ran next to our lodge didn’t go that often in the evening. Otherwise it would have been just fine, but it was pouring with rain and on top of that we managed to first get ourselves a bit lost and had to back-track our steps and just follow the main road. We were wet and the baguette was wet, but still edible. Shower, clothes drying up and some wine and cheese. It wasn’t so bad after all in the end.

Super-diet pizza in Chamonix style

Super-diet pizza in Chamonix style. This place was by far the best pizza place in the town.

Check the video of Les Lepidoptères from

Climbing Day 6

Al had told us that he would send a text in the morning what we’ll after he had got the latest forecast. The start was postponed first until nine and though he did arrive, we still had to skip the morning as it was still raining all over the place as we spoke. He said he would come back an noon and we would then do something. One idea was an ice cave somewhere nearby, but it had to be seen. We took a lift to the center for a morning stroll. We tried to find just a café where they would serve croissants, but we actually ended up eating a second breakfast in true hobbit style. This 6,90e French breakfast included some tea, baguette, croissant, juice, butter and jam. Not sure whether there was also something else, but it was way better deal than just having the croissant and tea for 5,50e. Rest of the morning we spent in various gear shops they had there and even bought a few postcards to be sent back home.

Prussikin on a tree branch

Prussikin on a tree branch. Some of the hardest move we did on the whole trip 🙂

At noon we were back again waiting with our packs as Al curved into the yard. We would not go to the ice cave as it could be too dangerous in heavy rain, but would go to local crag to do some crevasse rescue simulation. We ended up prussikin in various ways up a rope setup on tree branch and later on doing some rescuing on the actual wall. It was good stuff eventhough we did not get to climb much more than that tree branch. After the late start the training took pretty much the rest of the day and it was time for early dinner in the town and back to the lodge to relax the rest of the evening.

Again in the pizza place, but now for pasta

Again in the pizza place, but now for pasta. For future reference… don’t eat pasta in a pizza place. It is crap. The wine was ok, though, and cheap.

Climbing Day 7

When we looked out of the window in the Friday morning it didn’t look too good. We did have some hopes for a climb still, though, as Al had sent a text message in the morning about an 9am pickup. When he showed up, he said that the weather is as bad as it looks, but surprisingly down the valley on the Italian side it looks just fine. So, we drove again through the Mont Blanc tunnel and continued then about an hour down the valley past Aosta and down to the castle of Bard where we turned to hillside and to a small village or Albarda. Here were some nice multipitch routes tucked in between the chestnut trees. Nearby there are some “bigger” crags, but many of the routes in those are quite hard. Our chose route was called Dr. Jimmy and had 9 bolted pitches of maximum of 5b+ in grade. It would continue for another two pitches with a short crux of 6a, but Al told that it is missing some bolts now and it is not that great climbing anyways and you would need to abseil down those same to pitches to the descend path. The last kilometer or so of driving was on some small and steep roads and if someone goes there for the first time, enough time should be spared for the drive in and also for the approach walk which was also had a quite discreet start.

Al had climbed it earlier had knew way, which was quite helpful for finding it. We devided the leading so that I lead most of the pitches and Lauri did three of the easier ones. The first pitch had a steeper start and then a easy ledge hopping to the belay. Lauri led the next one, which nice and easy slabby and a bit grassy pitch. The third was again mine and it started with an 15m traverse to the left and then some tricky moves up the face and then followed some cracks and holes up to a belay. The pitch was easier near the end, but it still quite a hard work as there was a horrendous rope drag because of the initial traverse. Furthermore, just about 5 meters short of the anchor they yelled from below that the rope is running out. We had the full 50m of rope in the system and still 5 meters to go. Well.. they asked if I’m good for a few minutes and they took of the belay and moved few meters closer. After this shuffling I got to the anchor just fine. We should have had a 60m rope or better yet, we should have done a short traverse pitch first and then start directly up the rest of it.

Team pose at the last belay of the Dr. Jimmy

Team pose at the last belay of the Dr. Jimmy. From left to right: Lauri, Al and Me.

After the rope-issue pitch it was Lauris turn again to lead. It was again mostly easy, but had a quite a few tricky moves in between. That was perhaps the hardest pitch he had ever lead. The next was again for me as it was dubbed as one of the harder ones in the route. Otherwise it was pretty straightforward going except the small roof you had to climb over, or actually hop onto from the side, and the steeper section right after it. Then there was a short walking section and again a harder pitch. This was by grade the crux pitch, though, Al had said that the last pitch was also quite hard despite the easier grade. The hardest part was the couple of first moves as you had to pull yourself onto a ledge up a vertical wall, but there was a good jug to help you out. The rest was cracks and flakes with lot of good holds, altough it was quite steep. At this point the wind started to really pickup and it was quite hard to communicate from the top to the bottom. Again we had a small walk and the Lauri did a short traverse pitch to the acrossa the bottom of the final face. I took again the lead for the last two pitches. The first was good going up a big crack and then a traverse to a big bowl and the anchor. We took the usual summit pictures there and we all three cramped into a pose up there in the middle of the face. Then the final pitch. I lead this one too and Al was not wrong saying it is quite hard. First it was few moves up a crack and some flakes, but then it shifted into a crimpy and steep and I could barely keep off laughing when I saw that monopocket there in the middle of it all. The ever increasing wind did not help in this quiten delicate section and Lauri told me that they had been laughing about my trousers flapping in the wind while I tried to hold my balance during the gusts. We did get to the top, though, and did not waste much time before wrapping thing up and heading back to the car. The sky around us looked like it would start pouring in any monent.

Lauri looking the clouds coming in and Al does not look too happy about the weather either

Lauri looking the clouds coming in and Al does not look too happy about the weather either

Lookin down from the top of the Dr. Jimmy

Lookin down from the top of the Dr. Jimmy. There are some hard routes on that big wall on the right.

Check a video of the Dr. Jimmy from Youtube.

With all the climbs now in our bag, we drove back to the Chamonix and our lodge, though it took a good while longer in this direction as there was the normal Friday evening traffic jam in the tunnel. At the lodge it was time for the celebration beers and in the meanwhile Al gave us some tips what to do next. It was all great though I’m not sure how much I still remember of it all as there was much of possible things he suggested we could try next. We shook hands, farewelled each other off and after a refreshing shower we headed to the nearby restaurant for dinner. We had already decided that we would eat fondue on the last evening and that we did. Big bowl of melted cheese was just what our bodies needed after a week of climbing. Stomach full we retired back to the lodge we had some wine stashed and celebrated all the accomplisments we had done during the week.

Happily munching the fondue

Happily munching the fondue. Om-nom-nom…

The next morning I had a transfer back to Geneve where I took a train to Paris where I would meet my wife, but that is another story. Lauri spent another night in Chamonix before heading home. In the end I can only say that the trip was very succesful and we got to climb loads of stuff, more than we had hoped for. As it was the first time in the Chamonix, the mecca of climbing, it did not at least diminsh the thirst to go there again. I already have, actually, the next climbing trip booked, but not any alpine stuff this time, but just a lot of sport climbing. So, I’ll go with another friend for few into Spain and somewher in the Montserrat, Siurana, Terradets zone, but haven’t decided which one yet. So, there will be some more climbing to be done!

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Touched for the very first time by Chamonix – Part 1

I have lost my virginity. For Chamonix. For the other things… maybe someday 😀

I spent the last week of August in Chamonix to do some climbing. We had booked a course from Alpine Guides with my friend Lauri, but had also some time for climbing to do on our own. My trip did not start there, however, as I first visited my friend Markus in Basel. I flew in on Thurday morning and I spent a nice day and a half there with him and his extended family. I also got to experience a real Basel activity: floating on the river Rhine. Basically, you take a special waterproof bag sold (or rented) for that purpose called a “fish”, strip your clothes, stash them into the bag and jump into the water. The river has quite a strong current and you do not need to swim much at all. The area where you can float safely is not very long and when you’re finished you climb off the water. Floating was a very fun thing to do and I would recommend it for anyone going there.

On top of the Basel Minster with Markus

On top of Basel Minster with Markus

Snack lunch at the train

Snack lunch at the train. Mmmm… Swiss cheese 🙂

On Friday afternoon I took a train to Gevena airport where I met Lauri. We had booked a shuttle bus to take us to our bed & breakfast in Chamonix. We didn’t arrive there until 10 pm when there wasn’t much else for us to do than find a place to eat. A restaurant down the street had just closed the kitchen, but we managed to get some food from a camping site restaurant nearby. Cheesy pasta and a beer was all we needed for that evening. After we got nourished it was soon sleepy-sleepy time, as we would have an early start the next morning to do some climbing.

Lauri enjoying the first cold bite

Lauri enjoying the first cold bite

Climbing day 1

Early morning wake up was followed with a limited, but sufficient breakfast. The breakfast consisted of different kinds of cereal and müsli, juice, milk, tea and coffee, ham and cheese, toast and, the best of all, fresh baguette. It is unreal how good a freshly baked real french baguette can taste. Well nourished we packed our packs with rock gear and headed off to Chamonix center. We stopped quickly at the tourist office to check the weather forecast and it looked all good for the day. Confident about the good weather we took a bus to the Flégère téléphérique.

Over there we bought a multipass for a week as we figured it would be the best option if we would use the lifts even a few times. Then we took the next lift up and continued with a chairlift all the way to Index station. From there it was only a 5 minute walk to the base of our chosen climb: Voie Brunat-Perroux on the Aiguille L’Index. It is a seven pitch climb with grades ranging from 4c to 5b if you do not do the last short 6a variation at the end.

Aiguille L'Index South Face

Aiguille L’Index South Face. The Voie Brunat-Perroux route starts at the very bottom unlike other routes (they start at the ledge in the middle) and goes pretty much straight up the center of the face.

We had to look for the start of the route for a few minutes, but from there it was pretty straightforward. The first two pitches got us to the ledge and from there the route continued a few meters to the side. It was pretty easy to follow still and the difficult bits were quite short. There was just a few trickier moves on the first and third pitches from the ledge. But the last pitch to the ridge was another thing. I climbed here and there and could not really see where the route goes and eventually ended up traversing quite a bit and then having a huge runout until I reached the belay I thought was the correct one. From there it was just a few easy moves and we were at the top. Hooray!

At the top of the Aiguille L'Index

At the top of the Aiguille L’Index

We took the mandatory summit shots and started the traverse on the summit ridge to the abseil point. There were quite a few anchors to choose from and we chose the biggest one. For a while few pondered on which side we should abseil as the route description did not clearly say that. We chose the northern side as it looked a bit more appealing. Once we got happily down and started pulling the ropes down we saw that something was wrong. The ropes were stuck. For a few moments we tried to tug and pull them in different directions, but with no luck. Eventually I ended up half climbing, half prussiking all the way back to the anchor and moved the knots nearer to the cliff edge. I abseiled down again and just then realized how futile my efforts had been as the ropes did not budge at all. There was just too much friction on the ropes. Luckily there was a guide with a client who reached the top after us and they released our ropes. We had used the wrong anchor to abseil on that side. What an embarassing moment, but we were sure we weren’t the first ones to make the mistake. When we finally had our ropes with us, we headed quickly back down to the lifts and down to the valley. If nothing else, at least I got one of the most scariest experience I’ve ever had when I was hanging 30 meters in the air held by just two tiny cords 🙂 I tried, I learned and do not want do that again if I can avoid it.

Dinner with local food

A real local food: wine, potatoes, mushrooms, and loads of cheese topped with an egg. Yummy, yummy.

Because of these little incidents we had, the trip took a little longer than expected and we just quickly had pints of celebration beers for the succesful ascent and headed back to the B&B. A quick dinner at the nearby restaurant and off to sleep.

Climbing day 2

For Sunday we had big plans. We woke up early and had a brief breakfast before hitting the bus to the city center. We then walk to the Aiguille di Midi lift, where there were some 20-30 people queing in. We got the second lift up and quite soon we were gearing up at almost at 3800m high. As soon as we were ready we headed off from the “alpinist exit” and on to the narrow snowy ridge that leads to the Vallee Blance. Our goal for the day was a super classic Arête des Cosmiques that starts from the northern edge of the valley and continues all the way to the Aiguille du Midi lift station. The approach along the ridge was a bit scary, but the rest of it was just walking on the glacier.

On the Cosmiques Ridge

One hour into the Cosmiques Ridge. Vallee Blanche down there with a few tiny tents, Aiguille du Dru is the pointy thing at the left, Italy on the background and Aiguille d’Entrèves on the far right. We did a traverse there later during the week.

On the ridge towards Mont Blanc

And the other side. Mont Blanc du Tacul with the clouds, Mont Maudit just behind my helmet and Mont Blanc is the snow top in the far distance. One hour in on the ridge and three and a half to go 🙂

With no delay at the bottom of the route, we started up at the same speed. The first part of the route was relatively easy with a few more physical moves here and there. After a bit more than an hour we reached the abseil points. So far we had basically only seen one guide with a client who passed us and some other people further up the route. So, we were basically all on ourselfs there. We absailed down the fifty odd meters there was. Right around the corner we encountered one more difficult spot, a chimney where you were supposed to step over the corner to the right. It was not difficult, but having that 400m of air beneath you, it does make things a bit more interesting. After that there was a slippery couloir up, then some rocky downclimbing and finally we walked the snowy section to the crux. We had to wait a bit for the previous party to clear the spot, and were delayed a bit more as Lauri managed to drop one of his gloves into between the rocks. It took a good ten minutes and some hooking with the ice axe (the only spot we really used those) to get the glove back. Finally he managed to grab it and I was able to continue to the crux. I started up the crack and used pretty much everything there was, the newly chopped crampon pockets too. I was feeling pretty tired here, but managed to pull it through. The elevation must have taken some toll as we had come up almost three kilometers from the valley.

After the crux belay, we had thought it would be just an easy walk up to the top, but we were a bit surprised to find quite a few tricky spots still. Being tired and on the most exposed section of the route the going was slow and we used a lot more ad hoc belays from rock spikes. At the very end there were a couple of quite physical moves and then we were at the top of the ridge. An easy walk to the viewing platform and we were done. At the viewing platform there were dozens of tourists taking pictures of the views and also of us. We took a few summit shots and then had the mandatory top beer before we took the lift back down.

Back again at the Midi station

Back at the Midi station. Tired, but happy. The last bits of the ridge can be seen below and most of the Tres Monts (Tacul, Maudit, Blanc) route at the back.

Cosmique ridge from the Midi viewing platform

Cosmique ridge from the Midi viewing platform. The large rock block in the is the Grande Gendarme which has one of the highest 8a climbs on it. The route goes around that from behind, comes to the ridge just to dip down again behind the ridge to the crux. After the crux the route comes to this side of the ridge on that small ledge down the steep edge and follows some ledges and chimneys to the top of the ridge. The Midi station and its viewing platform is just outside the picture to the left.

You can see about the whole route being climbed in these Youtube videos. A total of nine of them.

When we got back down to the valley we were tired, hungry and burned in the sun as neither of us hadn’t remembered to apply sunscreen for the day. We had asked for a dinner in the lodge so we headed straight back to the B&B. In the evening we also met our guide, Al Powell, who told us about the week’s program.

 Climbing day 3

Monday was our first day with a guide. Our plan was to climb Chapelle de la Glière, a longer climb on the Aiguille Rouge near the L’Index we had climbed earlier. Wake up was about the same time as previous days and after breakfast at 8am Al came to pick us up for the day’s work. We drove to the Index lifts and headed straight up. From the top it was about a half an hour walk to the base of the climb. We saw a couple of groups on the route, some on the right track and some wandering a bit off the route.

Chappelle de la Glière ridge

Chappelle de la Glière ridge. The route goes up to the ridge on that one shadowy corner and then basically follows it all the way to the church-like rock formation higher up.

The first pitch of the route was surprisingly difficult. It was graded 5a, but was quite a physical half-layback corner with pretty polished rock. I would not have been too comfortable with leading that, and luckily I didn’t have to 🙂 The second pitch was a bit easier, on the same corner up to the ridge above. On the ridge there was an easy section, though sparsely protected, to a belay. Next was a tricky corner again in two shortish pitches on to a ridge. We simul-walked the easy ridge and then climbed again an easy short pitch to a belay. Next was the apparently famous razor-edge, though I did not see why the fuzz about it. It was more complicated to do those couple of tricky moves first up the smooth slabby crack and then onto the razor-ridge itself.

The slabby cracks just under the razor edge

The slabby cracks just under the razor edge and Al climbing

Then it was one easy pitch to a large terrace and then more walking or scrambling to the bottom of the chapel itself. The pitch over the chappel started with a few airy moves, but there were good holds if you looked around a bit. A couple of moves more and a traverse on the roof of the chappel to the bottom of the bell tower or Clocher. There are two ways to the top and we chose the easier one. This, too had a few balancy moves until a peg and then crimpy stuff to the edge and over. The more difficult one would have taken a more direct line apparently with some thin moves. Now we were on the top of the Chappelle and we took some summit pictures and abseiled off to the back side on to a good picnic spot.

Al leading the pitch to the top of the chappel

Al leading the pitch to the top of the chappel. Good holds and just an odd more or two, but very, very airy.

On top of the chappel bell tower

On top of the chappel bell tower

A few groups had had a snack break here, but we just shuffled our gear up and darted towards the lifts. The path was a relatively easy one to follow, but there were a few bits of down scrambling here and there. Mostly, it was walking ground, though, and us being roped up was a bit unnecessary until the path went down into the Col D’Index, the same loose gully we had descended earlier. We downclimbed into the gully and continued directly to the lifts and back to the valley. Our first guided day was now at its end. After a late pizza lunch we headed back to our B&B to get ready for the next day’s adventures.

Check out the video of the Chappelle de la Glière climb from

Desperados - a tequila flavored beer

Desperados – a tequila flavored beer. We drank these while waiting for a bus after the Chappelle. Tasted horrible. Don’t drink it.

This was the first part of our week. I’ll try to wrap up the rest, too, shortly in “Part 2” with more climbs to come.

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A week in the alps

Next week I’m going to head over to Chamonix for a technical alpine mountaineering course by Alpine Guides. My friend Lauri will join me there as he could not go with some other friends at mid-summer. We climbed together at Kebnekaise two years ago and last year at Grossglockner. Both times on different ropes, though.

The course will focus on technical routes, i.e. more on the rock and ice than on the snow. The course will run from Monday to Friday with a short briefing session on the preceding Sunday. I’ll actually head over there already on Thursday morning, but to Switzerland and to the city of Basel where one of my friends from the last fall’s Nepal expedition lives. I’ll first spend a night there and late on Friday afternoon travel to Geneva airport and where I will meet Lauri. We’ll then take a shuttle bus to Chamonix and our bed and breakfast Ice & Orange.

We will then have almost two full days to do some climbing by ourselves. For our Saturday activity I’ve been looking at a route called Voie Burat-Perroux which tops out at Aiguille L’Index in the Aiguilles Rouges range. It is an eight pitch multi-climb (seven pitches in practice) bolted route on the east face. It should not be too difficult at a maximum grade of F5b and by combining some routes you can alter the crux to be from F5a  to F6a, so you have a nice range there to choose from.

Voie Brunat-Perroux topo

Hervé Thivierge Voie Brunat-Perroux topo in blue. The normal route is in red.

For Sunday we have a planned to do the Arête des Cosmiques which is more of an alpine climb. It starts at the Abri Simond hut and ends at the Aguille du Midi cable car station, which means it is a bit higher in the elevation. The route is also a bit more easier on the technical grade, which is understandable as you will be climbing it with boots instead of climbing shoes due to the snow sections and the glacier approach. The alpine grade for the climb is a bit disputed as it has been given a grade from PD to AD depending on the source.

The course schedule is composed so that on the first day we will do a multi-pitch climb also in the Aiguilles Rouges focusing on ropework, moving together and such. On the second day we’ll do a long alpine route like Papillons Arete or Mirroir D’Argentine. The latter, though, is in my opinion more like a classic multi-pitch rock climb rather than an alpine climb. The next three days will be spent doing climbs around the Mt Blanc range and the next two nights will be slept in the mountain huts. Possible climbs could be Aiguille D’Entrèves, Chèré Couloir or Dent du Géant. There are loads of options and most probably the decision is done right before the climb according to the weather and snow conditions. We’ll see where we will end up.

On Friday evening we’ll have an end briefing and the next day I will travel onward instead of heading home. I’ll catch a train to Paris where my wife will be waiting for me at her business history conference. We’ll then have a nice couple of days in the Paris to even out the strain from the week of climbing.

That’s my plan for the near future. After that, I don’t know yet. I have now been to a consultation of an ankle surgeon who said that we should do a local anesthesia on my injured ankle and then strain it. That should tell if that is the actual spot that causes the pain or not. Then, depending on the results of that test, it is likely that I’m up for a minor surgery where he will smoothen some rough spots on my broken cartilage and bone. That would then mean at least a few weeks of no training or much else activities either. Shame, but it is more important to get the ankle fixed for good. Though, it could well be that it won’t ever come as good as it used to be as the cartilage does not heal by itself. I’l just have to wait and see how things go.

MRI of my ankle

MRI of my ankle. The cartilage should be smooth and not have those bumps.

MRI of my ankle

Another MRI of my ankle. The cartilage should be smooth and the white area below that is swollen bone contution.

Posted in Alps, Climbing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Few climbs in South Africa

Too long it has again been from the last post. Too long it has also been from our South Africa trip to get something written. Our trips focus was not on climbing, but we still managed visit few places for that too. The experiences were quite mixed, but mostly fun.

Blyde river canyon

Our first stop after the ten days at Kruger National Park was at Blyde River Canyon. We stayed at the similarily named camping site, which might be a bit of an understatement as they did have dozens of quite luxurious looking huts or apartments also. The views from the establishment were one of the best you can find in the whole canyon. Even the views to the Three Rondawels were much better from the campsites view point than from the “official” Three Rondawels viewpoint.

Enough about the boring views 🙂 The climbing around here is all actually situated within the complex and is completely trad climbing. Before hand search from the topo had revealed that there should be couple of single pitch climbs and few multipitch climbs within our skill and focus range. In total there are currently 11 different crags to choose from. If you comfortably climb 6a-6b trad routes, you should have plenty of climbing available in any of the crags. For us that was not the case and there were basically just two crags that had easy enough routes in all of their pitches.

Blyde River Canyon from the top view point

Blyde River Canyon from the top view point. Three Rondawaels are the three cone topped hills at the back. The first crag we tried to reach is the the huge red cliff on the bottom right. Not sure though whether it was the top or bottom one…

On the day we arrived there we took decided to take a little walk to one of the crags and see how it looks like. If it looked good, we could go back and fetch the gear. Sounded quite simple like that, but proved to be something totally different in the end. The instructions said that we should take one of the few walking trails within the complex from the lower lookout point and follow it for some time. That was simple enough at first, especially with the map provided by the resort, though the trail markings were quite worn off. The first hurdle we encountered was the small stream we were supposed to be crossing soon after the start. We found the stream, but it took some walking back and forth to really believe that the initial place was to place to cross the river. Never would had guessed that you were supposed to cross the stream by ankle deep in the cold water on a walking trail in such a place. But we did cross the steam and the trail did continue on the other side. From here we were supposed to walk until the trail starts to head down and some while after that there should be and old trail leading to the crag. We did walk down the path and tried hard to find the path with no luck. In one place there was something path like there, but after some climbing through thorny bushes and branches we kind of figured out that this was not it. We tried to look for the path a little more down, but with no results. Nor did we see anything  on the way back and we returned to the car empty handed. It is a shame that the nice looking cliff you could see from the lookout point was just within out reach, but still somewhere in unknown. That scrambling was enough for us for that day and we went to do some braai.

Blyde River Canyon and braai

Blyde River Canyon and braai. Try the butternut if can get hold of it.

The next morning we went to take look at another crag, near the upper lookout point. This time the walk over to the base of the crag was quite straightforward. Only after 10-15 minutes of walking on a good path we found ourselves at the bottom of the crag. Here, though, we encountered another kind of problems. As we looked at the wall and then the topo and then again the wall and few times more at the topo, we kind of figured out where the route could start… perhaps. We considered the wall for sometime, but it was quite clear that it would not be a wise thing to start a 5 pitch climb with quite scetchy idea were the route goes. I’m sure we would have just gotten ourselves off route into something out of our abilities. So, we decided to leave to wall for someone else with better knowledge and skills and headed off to see the sights along the Blyde River Canyon.

There is a PDF topo available for Blydepoort

Sabie Gorge

Big Swing

Big Swing. We jumped from the platform across the gorge.

After Blyde River we spent the night at Graskop, a short drive away. First thing in the next morning we did not do climbing, but we did a swing jump called Big Swing in  gorge within the town. If we still had any dust in our eyes, they were all sprinkled off after that. The swing consists of a 68m free fall and after that the ropes will start to catch and you will swing across the gorge back and forth. We did a tandem jump and it sure was worth the big bucks they charge for it.

We did not get our adrenaline dose for the day yet though. After the jump we drove to a town called Sabie. Actually we stopped just outside the town at the bridge across the similarily named river. I’ve read that there should be climbing in all the grades on the walls of the gorge. We parked at the parking area next to the bridge and went to have a look at the crags. The routes were pretty easy to find as there was basically just one path that went down to the river downstream. We spotted some of the routes that could be in our grade range and also met two guys who were just finishing their climbing. We exchanged a few words and headed back to the car to fetch our gear.

Gearing up at Sabie Gorge

Everything was looking great as I was gearing up for the first climb

Soon we were all geared up at the bottom of the first route we were supposed to climb in South Africa. It was graded 12 in South African scale (about 4a in French scale). It sounded easy enough for the first route. How wrong I could be. As I started up the route, I began to feel that this is a bit tricky for a route of that grade. I plunged on, but at the second bolt I took a rest and tried to figure out where the hell the route goes. I couldn’t understand that this should be something with that low grade. It didn’t take long for me to make the decision to bail out as I could still down climb a little bit on the side. That was not something I had figured out how the climbing here would be.

I was not totally turned back by hardness of the grades, though, and I soon started up another route opposite to this one. This was graded 14 (about 4c/5a) and seemed to have some nice jugs to pull, but on the same it was a bit overhanging. Also the topo said that it is steeper than it looks. Well… it certainly was. I would not call that a easy 5a for any rate. In the end I managed to do all the moves and get to the top, altough I had to hang on the rope near the top to figure out how the last few moves would go. At the top I tied the rope to a tree and around a rock and absailed down. I had had enough climbing here with just the two routes tried. We packed all the things up and headed back to the car.

Abseiling down at Sabie Gorge

Me abseiling down the second route I tried and collecting the quickdraws off the wall

So, no onsights or even redpoints under my belt after the first real climbing session. I was not very sorry for it, but a bit scared if this is the level of climbing they have in here. I don’t know if it was the different type of rock or what, but that level of climbs I should be able to climb any day. All I could do was to wonder how the rest of the climbing would turn out as we drove towards the Swaziland border and our next destination.

The decision to leave the climbing to only two routes was on time schedule wise a very good move, as when we put our next destination to the navigator, the route was much, much longer than we had thought. It would  be well after dark when we would arrive there and that did not include yet the border procedures at the SA-Swazi border. On top of that we had to do a slight detour too on the route, as at some point we came to realize that we are missing the paper that shows that we have a permit to take the car into swaziland. A quick call to the Avis number told that we would definetily need the paper and we could get it from any Avis location. Luckily we had just passed the exit ramp to a nearby airport and they had Avis office there. Then about one hour later we were again on the same spot, but this time with all the needed documents in hand. So, if you ever do cross the borders in South Africa, do check that you have the permit. We thought that the permit would be amongst the other paper we received, but it was not, altough I had many times said that we would need it. Well… things happen and this time we had luck and we eventually reached the next place, though, much later than we had planned.

Permit to cross border with a rental car

Permit to cross border with a rental car. Make sure you have this with you when you leave the rental office if you are planning to go border crossing.

There is a wiki topo for Sabie Gorge available.


We did not actually do any climbing in Swaziland, although there should be some climbing to do there. Instead we had other activities planned there. We had beforehand booked us a treetop canopy trail in the morning and a caving tour in the evening. These are not exactly climbing, but we had never tried neither of them and they have quite a few related aspects in them.

After some misunderstandings in our reservation and the time, we did get things rolling after an extra breakfast at the canopy tour venue inside the Malolotja Nature Reserve. The time issue might have something to do that we were the only clients there and perhaps the guides did not wish to wake up that early 🙂 I have to admit that, I was a bit dissappointed in this, though, it certainly will provide a lot of exitement for some others. Sliding on the wire across the canyon did not just have the same kick as the 68m free fall did the previous day. Still, we did enjoy the rides. The whole tour including the short jeep ride and walk ins and outs took about two hours or a bit more. Our guide was obviously keen to do this job and provided us a lot of information about the vegetation and surroundings, though the speeches did sound a bit rehearsed. There was also another “helper guide” who took some pictures of us as slided on the wires. At first we were told that we could not hold the camera ourselves during the slides, but I did take some video footage during a couple of slides nonetheless. Apparently the guide saw that this weren’t that demanding for us, as by the book you should hold the slings you hang on with your one hand and be ready to break down the speed with your other hand on the wire.

Swinging the canopy tour slide

Swinging the canopy tour slide

Overall it was fun to do those slides, but after couple of them it got a little bit of repetitive. If you haven’t done anything similar ever like climbing or other height sports, you will certainly find the experience thrilling, but for others it perhaps is not worth it. There are quite a few of these canopy trails across South Africa and then this one in Swaziland to choose from if you are interested to give it a go.

The evening program, the caving, did not neither start as scheduled, as we had asked for a pickup and they had a little scheduling problems with another event they were running the same day. We thought the the pickup would be great as there should be some food and drinks afterwards and driving after a beer or two is always discouraged.

Chimneying down at underground

Chimneying down at underground

Eventually our pickup arrived and we got our gear (nice white jumpsuits and helmets with lamps) and shuffled on to the cave parking. From the parking space (on some of their friends property I believe, as we went through locked gates to get there) it was a 45 minute walk uphill to the entrance of the cave. Totally we were about two hours underground. The cave is not developed at all, so there were no signs or markings anywhere. The caving itself was quite a bit more challenging than I had thought, as we had to really crawl and squeeze ourselves through narrow gapes and climb up or down slippery chimneys or boulders. In the end it was fun allright, but on the same it was quite clear that this was not our cup of tea. It didn’t make it any more attractive that we had to stop and pose for a picture every few meters. It was fun for the first few times, but it soon became mostly just annoying. If nothing else we got quite a few pictures of us in white overalls. After the caving we went to a local cuddling place called quite intuitively Cuddle Puddle. It was an outside swimming pool which was sourced with hot water from the near by springs. That I have to admit was fun… float in a hot water and eat pizza and drink beer at the same time 😀

My wife squeezing through a tight place

My wife squeezing through a tight place

The overalls after the caving

The overalls after the caving

So, if you are at the area and have any interest in caving or want to try it out, by all means try it. Be warned though that it is not a walk in park I thought it might be, but you do require some amount of strength, agility and adventurous mind to manage it.

 oNgoye Forest Reserve

It took a few days after the canopy tour and caving for us to do any climbing related things, though we did some scuba diving at Sodwana Bay in between. When I had searched for the possible climbing venues on our route, I came across with a little gem called oNgoye Forest Reserve. The place is basically a park where ornitologist go to see birds. I don’t know if there is much anything interesting for anyone else… except for climbers, of course 🙂

First a little warning if anyone is ever going there, that do take a four wheel drive car with you as it will definitely save a lot of stress on the way. The last about 3km is on a very rough (and when I say very rough, I mean VERY rough) road or on concrete strips they have installed there. The concrete strips are nice to drive on, but in places without 4×4 car you would not have wanted to drive off the strips as you might not be able to get back on. We managed to get there with a normal Volkswagen Polo, but I think the drive there was much, much more scary and mind shattering than any climbing there would be. Do your pick, but be warned.

We spent one night there and did some climbing in the evening and in the morning. There is a rangers office close to the crags and we camped there. They only charged us 10R (1€) each per day for that. The ranger who was posted there when we arrived did not speak any English, but only Zulu. With some sign language we managed to say that we would like camp there and our message seemed to hit the mark there. Later that evening there came another ranger, too, there and we were also told that we could use the water from a nearby tank and use the toilet in a structure behind the ranger office. We had prepared our selves with plenty of water, but the toilet was a welcoming surprise.

oNgoye slabs from the below

oNgoye slabs from the below

In the evening we scouted the crags and did some climbing on “oNgoye slabs”. They are more than fifty meter high, but actual climbing is on the highest 30 meters or so. It took some time to figure out where the routes are, but in the end we managed to do two sport climbs there. The rock there had quite a few interesting feature in it with few big holes or horns here and there. In places it was quite featureless, but still with some good holds scattered around. During the last climb we could enjoy ourselves with the gospel music that was played down in the valley at the local church. The place in itself was already quite amazing sight, but with the sun setting behind us and the gospel playing in the background, it made the whole scene surreal with serenity. That had to be one of the best and most memorable climbing session I ever had had. We even ended the day with a pancake party at our camp, so what more can you really demand from life?

Looking very professional on top of the oNgoye Slabs

Looking very professional on top of the oNgoye Slabs. You can even see the ocean from here.

The next day before breakfast we headed for a big  rock called Baboon Boulder that had few routes on it. You could actually see the rock from the camp perimeters if you looked. It was a nice session there and my wife did her first ever lead climb outside which was great. After the climbs we had a break for breakfast and headed then for the third crag in the area, Barbet Boulder. This crag had the most routes on it, although half of it did not have the bolts, but only top anchors I’m understood. I did three climbs there, one going up a huge slabby flake onto a huge bowl, one with some bushy moves after some tricky moves and one with with big bowl shaped holes on the route. The routes here were much more trickier than the ones on the other crags. The rock and the quite smooth featureless surface reminded of me about some our Finnish crags with next-to-non-existant holds. Again the overall features of the rock were quite amazing. Never before I have climbed into a huge 3-4m wide crater like bowl.

Barbet boulder and I'm inside a huge stone bowl

Barbet boulder and I’m inside a huge stone bowl. The move to get there were quite tricky.

The place is quite tucked away, if I might say, but it is a very amazing place and should be visited for just the sake of itself if not for climbing. There is enough fun climbing for a weekend or two, though the grades might seem a bit low. Don’t be fooled by this as the routes are trickier than you would imagine. The routes we climbed were in scale from sub 4 to mindblowing 5a, but that felt more like 6a to me in parts. In anyway the climbing was fun relaxed and very enjoyable and I would definately go back there again if I would be around there, but with a four-wheel drive car this time 🙂

The scenery from the top of the Barbet Boulder

The scenery from the top of the Barbet Boulder. Can you really find a more aestetic crag anywhere?

There is a wiki page for oNgoye forest climbing at Climb ZA.


Right after oNgoye we drove to another climbing venue, Kloof Gorge. Kloof Gorge is a large canyon just north of Durban. We purposefully skipped the Durban itself for other more interesting things. Our guesthouse was situated right at the bank of the gorge and you could look right into it from the yard. We arrived there just at the twilight, though, and had to wait until the next morning to really see the scenery.

There are plenty of crags to climb on, but most of them start from 6a-6b range. We had planned to go on a trad climbing cliff called Boothill. With that on our minds we drove to the parking area for that crags after the breakfast and started the walk in. It was supposed to be just a few minutes to the crag, but after about 10-15 minutes we decided that there must be something wrong. Also the trail was steadily heading away from the cliff more and more. We turned back and this time aimed to the top of the cliff. We soon found it and figured out that the few minutes approach must be to the top of the cliff only. There was supposed to be a trail to the bottom too, but we did not see it perhaps. Now we faced the fact that if we would like to climb here, we would need to abseil down with a natural anchor as there was no bolts or anything like that.What would make the thing more difficult was that we did not know exactly which part of the crag we were. After a couple of minutes of pondering, we decided to head instead to a sports crag nearby.

Approach to Rumdoodle

Approach to Rumdoodle was a bit more scrambly than average.

Soon we were again approaching a crag, this one called Rumdoodle. This time it should take about 20 minutes to the crag on a good path. That timing was spot on, but we again found ourselves stranded on top of the cliff. There was supposed to be a path on both sides of the crag, but again we failed to find neither of them. We were already checking on that which of the top anchors would be the best to abseil down, when out of nowhere came a park ranger who asked if we were looking a way down. We certainly were and he was nice enough to show us the correct spot where the route down would go. I don’t believe that we would have ever found the spot neither from the top or from the bottom by ourselves. The “path” was more kind of a scramle with few almost climbing moves involved and it was quite nicely hidden and tucked away behind some bushes. Anyway we got the the bottom and in no time were under the first routes we would climb.

Rumdoodle canyon

Rumdoodle canyon

We only did two routes there and both of them were in a less than two meter wide canyon that separated the tip of the gorge escarpment. Our routes were on the slabby “island” side as the other side was a bit too challenging and a bit too overhanging for us. The climbing was more “juggy” than in oNgoye and the grades I think were more spot on than in Sabie Gorge. Both of the routes were nice, pleasant and relaxed climbing. As one of my friend would say, holiday climbing. It was easy, but fun. We could have tried a couple of more routes there, but we decided to call it a day and instead head for the Drakensberg mountain range so that we wouldn’t have to drive in the dark again.

There is a wiki topo page at @ KZN Mountain Club pages.


Cathedral Peak range in the clouds

Cathedral Peak range in the clouds. This is one of the better visibility moments on the ascend.

Our original plan was to climb to the peaks of Cathedral Peak and Sentinel Peak, but former one was ruined by a bad weather and the latter one of my injured ankle giving some trouble while coming down from the former. The route to Cathedral Peak is not, as one could say, technical, but it would have had a 1600m elevation gain from the car park. We managed to get to the bottom of the actual Cathedral Peak, but the fog that had been lingering around the whole morning prevented us to go any further. We did not know the exact route and trying to find it in that weather would have been just plain stupid. The last 200-300m climb would have been a scramble and no ropes should be needed. The scenery from our high point was quite amazing, though, in the moments the clouds did give some break and we were still happy with the trek. On the way back the weather did naturally get better and we were quite amazed for how ofter you could see peak enroute as on the way up we literally could see about 50m maximum in any direction. The descent on the wobbly surface also took some toll on my ankle, as it was very sore on the way down and during the evening and even in the next morning. This made us to do some alterations in our trekking plans, but we eventually did almost all the hikes we had planned, though it looked kind of bad in some point.

Chain ladders at the Sentinel Peak

Chain ladders at the Sentinel Peak

Sentinel Peak from the car park

Sentinel Peak from the car park. That sheer face is the north face.

The sore leg of mine did also quickly dissipate the thoughts of climbing the Sentinel Peak too. The “normal route” up there is mostly a scamble, but it did have a short climbing of one pitch in the beginning. We didn’t want to push it and decided to skip it. Instead we did visit the highest point in the area, Mont-Aux-Sources 3282m, at the border of Lesotho. Despite the initial goal were not met, the Drakensberg range is truly an amazing sight, especially the Royal Natal National Park area. You should definately go there if you have the change. There are also a lot of climbing to be done, but the rock quality of the mountain range is quite poor and the climbing then a bit iffy with poor protection everywhere. There is only one bolted route on the whole range which is a route up the sheer North face of the Sentinel Peak. If you are adventurous enough, though, there should be enough routes climb for one’s hearts content.

Eagle Mountain (Mt. Everest)

Before our return to the city, Johannesburg that is, we stopped at Eagle Mountain on the way from Drakensberg. Eagle Mountain (also know with a name Mount Everest) is a three rocky hills on a private game reserve right outside the town of Harrismith. You could spend a day there or even a week or two for just to climb as there are a lot of routes on both the cliff faces and on boulders scattered around the area and if that is not enough there is plenty of room for new routes. At the reserve you can either camp or stay in the huts. We don’t know how much that would cost, but our day visit was 60R (6€) per person, though the guide book was talking something much less than that. I guess the inflation runs here quite steep too.

The three main hills at the area are called Eagle Mountain, Mount Everest and Mooihoek. In addition to those there are at least a dozen boulders which have bolted routes of all grades. We had bought a guidebook (120R) from Bush & Bundu in Pietermaritzburg and from there we had chosen a long single pitch trad route with a grade 12 (around 4a) at Mount Everest. We parked the car to a most closest and most convenient place we saw, gathered our gear and started off towards the route. At the parking place we could not yet really see or figure out the exact location of the route, but we chose to follow the rock and check from the guide where we were heading. It didn’t take long to notice that the vegetation is quite impassable in places and we had to make quite a few detours and turn-arounds on the way. It didn’t make the walk any easier that the lower slopes of the hill were surprisingly steep, much steeper than they looked. Eventually after wandering around a good while through the thorny bushes and scrambling around small cliffs, we arrived at the bottom of the route. It looked like quite pleasant one with huge jugs and a lot of features, almost like limestone cliffs. We then started to sort out the gear and just as we had almost everything in place I noticed one crucial thing missing. The nuttool. I had left it at the car trunk. I tried to figure that if we would need it, but I couldn’t really be sure if my wife or even I could get all the gear off the wall if they would happen get stuck too much. I had quite a few cams with me which I knew we would get out, but the stoppers or nuts I weren’t that sure. After a few minutes I came into conclusion that we’ll head back down to the nearby boulders to do some sport routes again. The little hangover from yesterday evenings beer did help a little also to make that decision. So, it looked like that we had carried all the trad gear for no reason through the whole trip. I weren’t dissappointed though as I was sure I would get plenty of use for those back in Finland.

My wife on top of her first onsight

My wife on top of her first onsight

So we went to down to a boulder called Bonni Boulder where we climbed few easy routes. My wife did the first on-sight on really easy route in her own words. I also soloed a route next to it with similar grade. It was a bit scary eventhough it was quite easy is it was about 10m high and on the beginning there was an ant colony living inside one whole in the rock! Just the few route under the hot scorching sun was enough for this time and called a day and had some lunch.

Coming down after my solo climb

Coming down from my solo climb was more trickier than the actual climb.

This weren’t yet the end of our trip (we still had a few more days left), but it was the end of the adrenalin filled action. If I would have to some howe gather the feelings of our climbing in South Africa, I would say it was fun and relaxed. It might have something to do with the grades we climbed, but in the end I think thats what I will like to do on a holiday. It would be a different thing to go on a climbing holiday, but for this trip it was just perfect. If I would give any advice for people going in these areas for climbing I could say that really take some for the approaches. This probably is valid for any location anywhere when you are going to a new crag, but here sometimes we couldn’t even find the cliff though we tried. So take some time. Also the grades seemed to be quite inconsistent, at least on the lower end of the scale. This too might relate to any place anywhere, but just some causion could be use when choosing a route. As always.

You can find some route descriptions from the KZN MCSA site.

For the rest of the summer so far, I have been climbing outside only few times as my time schedule has been hindered with all kinds of other activities and illness. And about the rest of the summer, I will be doing more climbing and at the end of the August I will be going to Chamonix for a mountaineering course. This will be focusing on more technical stuff, which I think might help me get climbing routes above AD in future. I’ll try to put a separate post about later on, I hope.

Then another issue. That my injured ankle. As you might have read on the Drakensberg section that it is still causing some trouble even after 10 months from the accident. In June I had an MRI scans taken from it and got the results back. It turned out that there is some tendon rupture there and also some cartilage damage. I’m not sure how it will be eventually be healed, but good changes are that I’m up for some minor surgery later on. I have scheduled appointment on a specialist on ankle injuries and a surgeon in two weeks and then will know more about it. That I’ve told that it won’t get any worse now and I can use it within the limits of my own feelings.

Posted in Climbing, South Africa | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A month in South Africa coming up

At the end of the month I’m leaving for a month’s vacation in South Africa with my wife. We are going there mainly for animals and nature, but we have included some scuba diving, trekking and even some occasional climbing in between.

In a month it is impossible to travel around the whole country. It is just so huge. That’s why we will just cover the eastern side of South Africa, the area between Lesotho and Mozambique. Our itinerary will include some animal-watching in Kruger National Park followed by some adventuring with canopy tours and caving before we head to the shores of the Indian Ocean to do some scuba diving. From there we will go to the Drakensberg for some trekking. By then, the month will be almost over and we’ll head back to Johannesburg for a few days before our return back to home. That’s all we really have time in a month. Of course you could really do a whole lot more if you really wanted, but on this trip we decided to focus on fewer things but experience them better.

I have done quite a bit of research to find suitable climbing venues on our route and I think I have figured out a pretty nice combination of sport and trad climbing for us. I also tried to find only the kind of places we both – me and my wife – could enjoy. Not that I would be a real ticking machine (I can do a 6b with a pinch), but I had to choose crags with more than one of 4’s and 5’s which is the grade the missus might enjoy too. Well, enjoy might be a bit of a push here, but at least she should be able do a few routes at any place we visit. I have to admit that I’m looking forward to some relaxed climbing too, with not too much pushing-to-the-limits kind of sweaty work. In total we will have something like 4-5 proper days for climbing but on most of those we will do something else as well. The route we take also dictates that we won’t be climbing at the big venues of Table Mountain or the world famous bouldering mecca Rocklands, they are just too far away. Neither will we visit the Magaliesberg even though it is just an hour or two drive away from Johannesburg.

Treasure Island crag @ Blydepoort

Justin Nixon Treasure Island crag @ Blydepoort

Where we will be climbing then? Our first South African rock experience will be just after visitin Kruger at Blydepoort. Blydepoort is situated right at the edge of the Blyde River Canyon and one of its landmarks, the Three Rondavels. Climbing there is strictly trad climbing with the exception of the odd few pegs pushed into the rock in the early days. The routes are mostly multi-pitch with only a few single pitch ones here and there. The walk-ins are short as you can drive almost to the top of some of the crags, so the access won’t be a problem. Check out the resources at the bottom of this post for more details on this crag. Initially, I had considering the Manoutsa crags, some 40km north from Blydepoort along the road, but when I got some insight about the approaches there, I chose to go with Blydepoort instead. Manoutsa is somewhat similar to Blydepoort: all trad and multipitch, but the approaches for the easier routes could be two hours of walking uphill in the bush to the base of the crags. After finding this out the place did not sound too appealing anymore.

Kids Corner in Sabie Gorge

Toprope Kids Corner in Sabie Gorge

After Blydepoort and Blyde River Canyon there we might have time for a quick excursion to the Sabie Gorge crag. As the name implies, the crag is situated just outside (or within, depending on your view) the town of Sabie, some 45 kilometers west of Hazyview and 25 km south of Graskop. The crag has developed almost right under the Sabie bridge crossing the Sabie River. The routes are within the gorge and some of them could provide a deep water solo if you are brave enough to expose yourself to the risk of underwater rocks and possibly contaminated water. The climbs are all single pitch and bolted and are mainly on the 5/6 scale. I doubt that we will have time for this detour as there is a lot to see in the Blyde River Canyon and we been thinking about taking a swing at the Big Swing – a 68 meter high rope swing – in Graskop, and about doing a canopy tour in Hazyview. We aren’t sure about the latter, though, as a similar canopy tour is available in Swaziland that we might opt for.

After that it will be some time before we will have a chance to kick our feet on the rock again. We’ll first stay a few day in Swaziland and then head for the coast and Sodwana Bay for some scuba diving. In Swaziland we are going to do a caving trip, though, which relates to climbing a little, but I do not know how serious the stuff is. We’ll see. In any case I think it will be quite exciting as we’ve never done caving before.

After our few days of scuba diving, we will head towards Durban, but on the way we are planning do a stop over at oNgoye Forest Reserve. It is quite popular with bird ethusiasts, but I’ve read that there should be some climbing too. What would be nicer than climbing in a nature park! The place is not something you would call a popular climbing venue, but the idea of climbing there sounds really interesting. Overall there are three crags, or boulders you might say, that have established routes on them. There could be room for even more according to the route guide. The route grades range from sub 3 to 5b in the French scale, but the guide says that the grades are bit deceiving and are harder than they seem. Whether they are just under graded or sneakily tricky is not quite clear. The only problem with this venue is the access. On the official website it says that you will need a 4×4 car to visit the reserve and we will only have a so called “regular” car with us. But the route guide mentions that some kind of concrete slabs have been installed on the road and it should now be accessible with cars without the 4 wheel drive. The official website was last updated in 2009, so this really might be the case. I also received some information from one of the bed&breakfast places we have booked, who were kind enough to ask about the access from their friends about. They told that accessing all the roads within the park would require a 4×4, but that you can access the camp with a vehicle that has “a reasonable” clearance. I will take this as a good sign which encourages us to at least try to go there. Only when we get there we will know for sure. The accommodation should not be an issue, as there is a camping place in the park and it only costs 10R per person plus another 10R for the entry fee to the park.

Rumdoodle crag in Kloof Gorge

Greg Streatfield Rumdoodle crag in Kloof Gorge

After oNgoye we will have another climbing opportunity when we go to Kloof, near Durban. My original idea was to go to Monteseel a bit further north, but after googling and asking some questions, it became clear that it isn’t possible to stay at the “old MCSA club house”, situated just a few minutes’ walk away from the crags. Monteseel is a trad only venue and it would have had plenty of nice and easy routes to climb for us. This meant more work for me as I now needed to find another place to stay and possibly another place to climb as well. Things seemed to eventually sort out as we booked a bed&breakfast at the very edge of the Kloof Gorge, which also has plenty of climbing to do. Unfortunately most of the climbing here is sport climbing and worse still, it is way too hard for our skills. If you can climb confidently from 6b and above, you would have a lot to climb there. But despite the fact that most of the routes are beyond our reach, there are a few easier routes to climb too and even one trad climbing crag with some routes for us to try. Considering that we will only spend one night here, there should be plenty of climbing option for us with the odd 10-20 easier routes. In addition, if we are lucky, we might have time for a quick stop at Monteseel too, on our way to Drakensberg.

Angus Leppan (pitch 3) in Drakensberg

Lukas Malan Angus Leppan (pitch 3) in Drakensberg

So, after Kloof our plan is to go to the mountainous area of Drakensberg, the region with the highest peaks in the whole southern Africa. We will be spending a few nights in both Cathedral Peak and Royal Natal national parks. Our idea is not to actually climb there, but to trek instead. We might do some scrambling, though, as getting on top of the Cathedral Peak or Sentinel Peak requires a little bit of that.  We might have an opportunity to do a route which requires more climbing and even a rope, but we’ll have to see how it is when we get there. In general it will be mainly trekking in Drakensberg and there should be a lot of that to do there. If you would have the time you could do a one-week traverse trek from Cathedral Peak to Royal Natal or if you were even more enthusiastic you could cross the whole Drakensberg in two weeks. The best option is said to be the first mentioned week-long trek. Sadly, we won’t have time for more than just day treks from the comfort of the camps.

Free State OfMind at Eagle Mountain

Colin Crabtree Free State Of Mind at Eagle Mountain

After we have had enough of Drakensberg, there won’t be many days left of our trip. However, on the way back to Johannesburg there is, conveniently, a grand climbing venue on the way – the Everest … or Eagle Mountain as some people call it. Eagle Mountain is situated just outside Harrismith in the Free State. There should be over 200 sport routes, both single and multi pitch, and you should find some trad routes there too. The grades range from easy scrambling to 7c, so everyone should be able to find something suitable. We won’t have too much time to spend there and will only get to scratch the surface. If we would have an additional day to climb there, we could utilize the lodging facilities right under the crag. The whole place is actually situated on the property of the Eagle Mountain Game Lodge and a nominal fee 5R must be paid by day visitors.

I wish we would have more time for everything, but we don’t. After the last climbs at Eagle Mountain, we will drive to Johannesburg and will spend the last few days there taking in the sights around the town. I won’t get into details about that, but our plan is to visit the Cradle of Humankind, Soweto and the Apartheid Museum. And, of course, just enjoy good food and drinks before we fly back to home. That was our itinerary for the trip summarized. I’ll make some more detailed posts either during or after the trip.

Finding the places to climb in South Africa is, if not tricky, at least time-consuming as it takes a bit of work. Especially getting information about the routes is complicated as the real guide books are hard to get a hold of outside South Africa. I’ll list the resources I have used below.

Online route guides:

KwaZulu-Natal MCSA guides is a collection of route guides of most of the venues in KwaZulu-Natal and some from the neighbouring states too. Some of the guides you can find only here, like the oNgoye and Old Baldy. Check also the old KZN MCSA sites guides as there could be some information that has not passed to the new site.

Climb ZA route guides includes venues from all over South Africa. Most of them have similar information to the KZN MCSA route guides, but there are some venues, like Eagle Mountain, that have an online topo only in here.

SACIN route section has information on routes all around South Africa. Not nearly as vast as the two above, but seems to have some unique pieces of information like the cave of Shongweni.

Despite the name, has some information about South Africa climbing.

Guide books:

There are several guide books on South African crags. I only looked for the ones on KwaZulu-Natal, but there are books for other areas too like Table Mountain and Rocklands in Cape area.

A Climber’s Guide to KwaZulu-Natal Rock is a comprehensive guide book for the crags in KwaZulu-Natal.

Serpent Spires is a rather interesting hybrid of a route guide and a short-story collection for Drakensbergs. It is compiled of articles from MCSA Journal about Drakensberg climbing and of route descriptions in various areas. You can find most of the routes in KZN Drakensberg route guide, but they lack the many topo pictures and introductions and comments you can find in this book. There is also a leaflet type of a guide published MCSA, but I have not seen it.

More difficult than finding the book titles is finding a place to buy them from. I bought my KZN Rock guide from Mammoth, a Cape Town based outdoor store, though you cannot see the book in their web store. I asked them about the book via email and they had it available. I bought it at the same time as I bought two Drakensberg hiking maps. The maps cost R55 each and the KZN rock guide R239. The shipping to Finland for all three items was R139. I could not place the order online because the rock guide was not available from the web shop, so I paid the order with a credit card that was processed on phone. They were nice enough to call me and we handled the payment like that. As for the other book, Serpent Spire, it was much more simple as it was available at Book Depository and it took only a few clicks before the book was on its way. For the other books for South Africa you could try the Climb ZA shop where they have a few titles available, and they offer international shipping too. You could also try Bush & Bundu, a Pietermaritzburg based outdoor shop, from where you should be able to get many of the books and also some of the MCSA published leaflets like the one for Drakensberg.


If you need a guide for Durban/Kloof/Drakensberg area (or even further) you could contact Peak High which offers guiding for both rock climbing and mountaineering.

I hope that the pieces of information I have gathered will have some value for fellow climbers!

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To the Khumbu valley and back in civilization

The last day in the basecamp had gone and the last morning at the basecamp was at hand. Most of the morning went packing things up and taking the last individual and group pictures against the huge west face of the Baruntse. During the breakfast we also heard an interesting news from Lukla that there has been a traffic jam because of bad weather and there are around 2000 persons waiting for the skies to clear and the flights to start operate again. Well.. we would have still almost a week till we get there and were sure it would be sorted out before that.

The road from Baruntse basecamp to Amphulapcha pass

The road from Baruntse basecamp to Amphulapcha pass is quite rocky

Crystal clear mountain lake between Baruntse and Amphulapcha

Crystal clear mountain lake between Baruntse and Amphulapcha

The days trek would take us to the high camp on Amphulapcha pass, which is our last obstacle before entering the Khumbu side of the valley. The route was on most parts quite tricky with non-existing paths going through large sections of broken rock. So, it was most likely a good decicion for Alan and Erik to leave one day earlier for the journey. Beside the terrain the trekking was quite pleasent. On the way we could observe the Hunku valley opening to the south and we could enjoy also the crystal clear mountain lakes on the vay. Before we would climb up to the high camp, we entered the side of the valley where lies the Panch Pokhari – Five lakes – which is a sacred place. On the adjacent slopes we walked we could see all down the Hunku valley and back towards Baruntse as well as to the Ama Dablam which was rising at the end of the ridge formation that the Amphulapcha was part of. At the end of the valley, just below the climb up to the pass, there was another group of people camping there. We do not know whether they were coming or going over the pass, but we continued pass them to very edge of the pass. When we reached the high camp spot just under the layered glacier of the pass, the sun was already starting to set in. We were now on the northern slopes which meant the sun would dip behind the mountains quite early. Again Markus had been early on the spot and picked us an amazing tent spot with one of the best views of the whole trip. Eventhough I could not match the Markus’ speed, I had a pretty steady and good flow that day and especially up the last climb. I took that as a good sign that the whatever I had had in my system was already passing.

Panorama of the Panch Pokhari

Panorama of the Panch Pokhari, though you can only see two of them from this vantage point

Our tent spot at Amphulapcha high camp

Our tent spot at Amphulapcha high camp is right there where the bag is. I have seen worse than this.

As I mentioned that the sun was already setting when we got there and it started to get cold quite soon after. That would not been much of a problem otherwise, but the porters where quite late and only couple of the tents had arrived and basically none of the gear duffel bags. The terrain during the day must have been very hard for the porters. This ment that none of us had really not much more clothing to put on as it was getting colder. Luckily the kitchen stuff was partially there and we got some warm drinks and some noodle soup to eat. More so I was in luck too as the first two duffel bags to arrive to the camp were my two bags. At least I did not have to be cold unlike most of the others. It eventually took until 6pm that all the bags had arrived to the camp.  Soon after we got dinner and then it was time to sleep again.

People waiting for their bags

People waiting for their bags and trying to stay warm with the hot tea

The night at the Amphulapcha was surprisingly much more warmer than any of the nights at the basecamp despite the fact that the sun does not shine much here and the 400m higher elevation. The others also said that the camp 1 had been also much more warmer than the basecamp, so it seems the basecamp is quite a cold magnet sucking in all the cold air around it. After nice pancake breakfast we started up to the pass. The day was supposed to be a bit longer one and we got a small lunch package with us. There is no direct way up the Amphulapcha glacier at it is very layered and there could be more than 10-20m of vertical ice to climb from one platform to another platform if going up a direct line. We, however, went up a route that the sherpas had been scouting the last evening. It wounded up zigzagging here and there, but it saved us from doing actually much real climbing at all. We could have most probably gone up by other routes too, but the porters would have had real trouble if would have done so. Even now there were two or three places were you had to use your crampons for real. We made through it nice and clean, but I really have to be amazed by the porters as they navigated through the same route and while wearing nothing but cheap canvas shoes for friction. Not that just getting up with the sneakers they wore would be an effort they did it while carrying up 60kg loads with them. Those guys are real crazy bastards, they are.

View of the Amphulapcha glacier from right underneath it

View of the Amphulapcha glacier from right underneath it. You can try to search for the best path up yourself too.

Porters climbing up the steps on the Amphulapcha glacier

Porters climbing up the steps on the Amphulapcha glacier. The loads with these guys in the picture must be over 50kg.

From the top of the pass we had quite a nice view both to the Hunku valley and to the Khumbu side and right across valley there rose the huge face of Lhotse and Everest was lurking to us just behind it. The enjoyment was soon rendered into dispair as we were able to descend from the pass just mere 10m and had to stop there. What had here was a true traffic jam. Apparently there were some people coming up the pass from the other side, which is not very common. This jammed the whole thing as a bit further down there is a section which you need to ascend or descend via fixed ropes. And you can’t do that in both ways at the same time. On top of that all the porters and other non-climbing sherpas had to be rappelled down, because they did not have neither the skills or the equipment to go down by themselves. What they did was, that they tied up a loop around a porter – or sometimes two at the sametime – and then they would lower the poor porter down with that rope. They porters did not have much control of the things with their canvas shoes and thumbled all over the place when they were lowered. Apparently no-one was hurt, though. Eventually we had to wait perched on a rocky edge for more than four hours than any of us got through the bottleneck. When it finally was our time to go, the whole affair took something like a minute in total. Such a wait for such a small thing.

The traffic jam on top of the pass

Noora Sotaniemi The traffic jam on top of the pass

After the abseil there were still fixed ropes going for about 200m more. I witnessed a close call situation, though, just at the top of the fixed ropes. A porter just before me, carrying the solar panels to charge anything among other things, fell and his cargo was sent thumbling and rolling down the quite a steep slope. It looked like the panels were a goner, but they luckily stopped just before they would have fallen off another edge down below. Fortunately for the porter he did not hurt himself and only needed my assistance to lift him back on hes feet. I did that and after confirming he was ok continued my descend. Somewhat further down there was another incident when a very you – could not really be even 15 I would say – had fallen with load and it was beginning to slip from his grasp. At that point I was accompanied with Mia and David and we helped him to keep hold of the load and I also chopped a small platform for him to stand and work with the cargo. A momoent later though apparently his big brother (or cousin or something like that) came back up and helped him from there on. We had then only the final steep snow slope to descend and we would be back in the valley floor. We were told that we were quite lucky that the slope was no under the snow as other times it has been quite a rolling rock run to the bottom. Much more nicer to walk on the snow than on the wobbly rocks. Later on we by the way heard that only a day or two after us passing the Amphulapcha, there had died four people – a sherpa guide, two clients and a porter. Apparently they had been roped together and somebody had slipped. If this truly happened, mysterious is that why the rope was not attached to anything? The answer to this we might never know.

Looking up to the Amphulapcha pass from the north side

Looking up to the Amphulapcha pass from the north side

From there it would be relatively gentle walk to the campsite. Or thats what we thought. The leg to the “big rock” – as the place is called – was surprisingly long and winding. It was quite frustrating that you did not have any clue how far the place is. The fact that it started snow a little on the way and paths were very slippery in parts did not help either. Neither did the vanishing little light we had left under the thick cloud coverage. The clouds had creeped in while we had descended from the pass and the visibility was quite low. On the way we could have enjoyed the views to the Lhotse or even to the more closer Island Peak, but none of that could be seen now. Eventually just after the dark I arrived to the campsite where there was oddly quiet. Most of the people were in the tents resting apparently and in the darkness you could not see anyway much. We were served some dinner soon after, but I was wondering where was Markus who I thought would be sharing the tents. I wondered if he has gone for a little hike somewhere, but even later on there was no sign of him. Later I learned that he was actually sleeping in the tent next to mine and we both apparently had individual tents for the night. Little extra did not hurt me.


Chukkung. The first real village after left Lukla.

The girls enjoying the refreshing cola in Dingboche

Markus Stählin The girls enjoying the refreshing cola in Dingboche

The night had more clearer skies than the day before and I could see during my pee break that we had actually slept almost right under the north face of Ama Dablam. Could not have guessed that yesterday. The morning, though, was quite chilly and again covered in the fog. After the breakfast people started to head off towards the warmth of the Khumbu valley. It took about an hour to get to the first real village, Chukkung, where the most thirstiest of our group made a stop for a very pricey beer. Up here it costs around 500 rupees, approx 5€, per can. I did not stop there an continued on. At Dingboche, at 4530m, I met Markus, Mia and Noora who had stopped instead of beer for a cans of coke. We had a brief chat and headed again further on. At noon I stopped at Shomare, 4000m, for lunch. I had some noodles and cheese momos. After some akward communications I also got a mug of hot chhang in front of me. It tasted great. Well… I if you like a warm moonshine, you could say it tasted great. While I was there I saw first Alan to pass by and then Rich and Steve too. I lured them inside to have some company. After the surprisingly effective mugs of chhang we headed the final half and hour walk to Pengboche where we would sleep for the night. We arrived there just in time for the lunch, or the second one for me. Most of the people were already there and majority of them had a can of beer in hand. It was quite obvious that everybody started to let go of the expedition stress. Here we actually slept indoors for a change and everybody a got a bed in on of the double rooms they had.

The common room of our Pengboche lodge and our team having an afternoon drinks

The common room of our Pengboche lodge and our team having an afternoon drinks

Before the dinner I left with Rich and Steve to look for some more chhang. As a skimpy person I did not want to pay 500 rupees for a can of beer when I could get a whole jug of chhang with less than that. After some search we finally found a place that served chhang, but I think it was even there fetch from another place. We did not then locate the real source of chhang in Pengboche. Getting a bit light headed we headed of for some dinner. Dinner was quite uneventful, but after that the party really got loose. It did not take long for somebody to turn on the nepali pop and after that the room was full of dancing sherpas before you could blink an eye. It also did not take long when we were also asked and half dragged to the dancing floor which was basically formed as an circle around the heater in the center of the room. The dancing lasted the whole night and if any of us it was Noora who got the lions share of the dancing as for some reason the sherpas where very fond of dancing with her. Maybe it was her height that made her quite the same sized as the sherpas that fonded them. We could never know, but I did went to bed in good time as it seemed the dancing might last through the whole night.

The party at Pengboche

The party at Pengboche

The classic Khumbu view from just outside Penboche

The classic Khumbu view from just outside Penboche

The next morning we finally had some good weather and good first time in Khumbu really enjoy the surroundings. The last evenings partying did not show much on the breakfast table which had remaned the same as the last few days with toast, pancakes and omelets. It would be just a few hours walk to Namche Bazaar if one does not stop for too long. Most of us could not pass the well advertized bakery at Tengboche, right next to the almost as famous monastery. At the bakery you have around ten different chocolate cakes to choose form and then you have also the cupcakes and bisquits and all too. For me the one piece of

Chocolate cake at the Tengboche bakery

Stef Wolput Chocolate cake at the Tengboche bakery

that “Wacky Crazy” was enough. With the overdoze of chocolate inside us we took a brief tour at the monastery before returning to the path down the valley. From the monastery you can by the way look one of the most famous sceneries of the Ama Dablam. The monastery is on top of a hill and either way you go you have to ascend a steeply to get there. At the bottom of the hill towards Namche and our way we crossed the Dudh Kosi river that has been flowing at the bottom of the valley. I met there some others of our group and stopped for a drink of chhang. This time they did not have to go fetch it from anywhere and in no time I had a full jug of it at the table. When finished I headed off again, though, now with bit more faltering steps. The final few kilometers to Namche Bazaar on the way down are very unmotivating walking. After every corner you pass and think that now you will see the houses of Namche there comes in to view instead just another bend in the path. If something positive there is at that path, it is in very, very good condition and it is in long parts wide enough to drive with a car. If you can somehow get a car up there that is. Finally after the many bends on the way I reached the Namche and our quite thugged away teahouse.

Here finally the luxury needs of many came inlight and most of the members did sleep in other guest houses or hotels. Eventually there was only six of us that slept at the designated guest house. This time we did not have the warmth of the rooms, but it was back to the tents again. After the super-carb dinner of mashed potatoes, rice and pasta, we planned to go a local bar as did most of the others too. There would be also members from the Ama Dablam expedition who had been stuck here at Namche for about a week already. They had been hit the worst by the traffic jam at the Lukla and some of them had even decided to walk out from Lukla to Jiri, which would take additional four days time. We – I, Rich, Arnold and Jangbo – war aiming for the bar, but just at the corner of it Jangbo told that we could visit one of his friends. We were like “why not” and soon we where at a darkened guest house banging on the doors. It was a bit akward , but Jangbo said it would be ok. We did have to infact wait for long and we found ourselves in the common room of the guest house with jugs of chhang in front of us. It did not look too bad. The guest house owner was somekind of a legendary sherpa who had been on expedition on basically with all the legendary western mounaineers. It was very stunning how he told all the stories and just casually mentioned that “and then there was also this guy Messner with us” without even stopping. We had great fun listening these stories. After quite a few jugs of chhang it was time for as to finally head to the bar. Our host did, however, invite us for a pancake breakfast the next morning which we delightfully accepted. At the bar there was full party going on and we joined in. The party lasted until the bar closed and everybody started to head back to their places. Personally I was quite wasted, but luckily had some supportive people with me to get to the guest house. For some reason – hard to imagine why 🙂 – I had trouble finding my own tent and I had to basically go through all the tents until I was not anymore steered nicely to the next tent. It was a damn good party I have to say.

Party at a bar in Namche Bazaar

Steven Etchen Party at a bar in Namche Bazaar

My morning at Namche Bazaar was not perhaps the high points of the trip. I was woken by the sherpas pulling down my tent and almost dragging my stuff out of it and me with them. I had a bit vague memories of the last night, but by the feeling I now had it must have been a good one. I jumped out of the tent and pulled my gear out. Not a moment too soon as soon I was out of the tent it was collapsed and packed by the very effective sherpa staff. I had a bit of trouble orienteering myself and got some help from Jangbo to stuff by gear into the duffel bags. With Jangbos very resolute packing it was quickly done. I then hauled myself to the breakfast that was still served inside the guest house. Almost all had already eaten, though. After I got something to my stomach we headed for the second breakfast to the place we were yesterday invited. At mid-morning there we were, Jangbo, Arnold, Rich and me, eating potato pancakes and some sauce to go with it and of course it was washed down with a glass of chhang. What other would be more better than a good morning brew? Eventually we had to say farewell to our kind host, but we were able to leave we were given one kata each. Those are white scarfs embroided throughout with symbols of good luck. I was still feeling a bit unsteady from the last night, but luckily the most of the way was downhill and on a good path so not too great exertion was needed. Our plan was not to go all the way to Lukla today, but stop at the halfway at Phakding. This was because they had only been able to book the flights for the day after tomorrow.

At halfway we stopped for a lunch. Now the hangover had really kicked in. I took some relief in cheese sandwich and french fries. From there it weren’t much more than an hours walk to Phakding, although it felt much longer. The path was very fortunately good and too hilly. I arrived to Phakding at midafternoon. I took notice of the reggae bar they had there, but today I did not have any interest of going there. Maybe on the next trip 😉 At Phakding we did not have much to do other than just wait as most of the bags had not arrived. Even by the dinner there were only few of the bags that had arrived. We heard that there had been some hassle with some porter who had been a bit drunk the night before and at halfway to Phakding many of the porters had returned back to Namche Bazaar to check on the guy. For us it stayed unclear what eventually had happened to the poor guy and had the other porters found him after all. It was well past the normal bed time when the bags finally arrived. It would not had matterd much, though, as we had already gotten some blankets were quite well off with those.

The last morning really on the road broke out with clear skies and with the almost constant roar of the planes arriving and leaving Lukla. It was a very good sign that we would be able leave as planned. After the usual porrige-pancake-omelette breakfast we started the last trek of the trip. It was only two hours walk to Lukla and well before noon we were already there. Thus, the trek ended. It was for real quite good to know that there was no more trekking or anything like that left. Everybody looked quite happy. There was, though, one incident about 20 minutes before Lukla, but not for any of our team. There was, apparently an Americans, two ladies who passed me and Mia on one tight corner on the briddle path that was laid out there. The moment thei had passed us we heard a bushes rustle and a scream and ended with a thud and roll. I turned over and went to look what happened. Before me there were already few others and some was already climbing down the 5m drop she had apparently fallen. She was moaning down there which ment she weren’t too badly hurt I guess. Few moments later there came a man with a large medic kit running down the path who had I guess heard the screaming. It was quite a shame that the women, who most likely were on their way to the Everest basecamp, had end their trek only after 20 minutes away from Lukla. We saw that there were already quite few people attending the situation we continued our way to the Lukla.

We are waiting for our flight at the Namaste Lodge

Erich Bonfert We are waiting for our flight at the Namaste Lodge

Expedition team group photo just before we leave Lukla

Erich Bonfert Expedition team group photo just before we leave Lukla. From left to right: Robert, Steven, Daniel, Mikko (me), Stef, Rich (at the back), Jangbo, Noora, Mia, Markus (just behind Mia), Arnold, Vivian, Jan, David, Alan, Andrew and kneeling down are Erich and Takeshi.

When we arrived at Lukla we headed to the Namaste Lodge to get our rooms and then it was time for the well deserved beer. The afternoon went pretty much with enjoying the warm sun and the cold beer. We had some lunch at the bar and more lunch at the lodge. Before dinner we had some more beer in the various bars that had happy hours of three beers for the price of two. After dinner it continued pretty much with the same formula. We stayed quite late at the bar playing pool and drinking more beer. Again in the morning we could notice the evenings fun and we seeked amending at the local Illy café and their cakes and milkshakes. At this point we did not know when our flight would be, but we were supposed to be at our lodge waiting for the notification. As it was with the fly in, the flight times are not exact science here. We did not have to wait for long as just after noon we were summoned to the airport. At the airport we had to wait for a while for our flight in the surprisingly cold waiting hall. Still, it weren much more than hour from that and we were back again in hot Kathmandu. From the airport we had a minibus to our hotels, I would be staying at the same Kohinoor as before the expedition. Quite a few others, though, chose a more extravagant accommodation from the top of the line hotels in Kathmandu. The hot and polluted air as well as the flight did some tricks to us too, with most visible being the Viv’s puking in the minivan on the way from the airport. I, as well as some others, had too some symptoms of cold and feverish feeling after we got back to Kathmandu, but that did subside in a day or two of rest.

Durbar Square in Kathmandu

Durbar Square in Kathmandu

I had still four nights until I was planned to leave Kathmandu, I had plenty of time to do some sightseeing around and do some souvenir shopping. I also had good time to organize the shipping of my excess gear back to Finland as I would be continuing my trip elsewhere. Many of the days and evening followed though quite a regular theme with dinners together with others and the breakfasts and the days we spent on separate ways. I tried to visit some of the sights we had missed with me and my wifes visit 5 years before, such as the Boudhanath stupa and the famous monkey temple, where we did not go because of our skimpynes. It did afterall cost 200 rupees or 2€ for foreigners. On of the highlights of our second Kathmandu stay was, most certainly, the party that Murari, the nepali organizer of SummitClimb, held at his house. We were told that it had been quite a while since the last one and it might get a bit out of hands at there. Our party, though, was quite pleasant chilling and we had a very good time there. Day by day people started to leave and every evening there were fever and fever attending. Somehow it was worst like that than everybody would leave at once. Some of us got really well together and it was a shame that it had to end.

The four days I had went actually surprisingly fast and it was time for me too to continue onward. I did not leave for home yet, but I would travel to Kolkata in India where my wife would be waiting for me. She did fly there the same day as I and we would meet there after the more than a months absense. The expedition then become to its end and for those who like to read about the two weeks we travelled in India (it was our sixth time there), can read about it from our travelling blog. It is in Finnish though.

And for those who interested about sending your gear from Kathmandu to home. I sent about 30kg of luggage back to Finland and the total cost for me was about 160€. I do not think it is very expensive, at least it is cheaper than have that as excess baggage on most airlines. The shipping took almost exactly four weeks to arrive at the airport where I had to pick it up and clear the customs. I did not have to pay any customs duties as they were my won used gear that I had.

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To Baruntse – the ups and downs

After the Mera Peak summit day we did not have a long to rest: already the next day we packed all things up and started the trek towards Baruntse basecamp.

Breakfast table at Mera basecamp

The dining tent had been taken away and only the tables and chairs remained for the last breakfast at Mera Peak basecamp

In the morning after the summit day we woke up in clear, but very windy weather. When we headed for breakfast to the dining tent we were surprised to see no dining tent at all. The staff had already packed it up and only the tables remained with several thermoses of water and tea to keep the tablecloths in place. Still malnutritioned from the previous day’s strains, we took quite a few additional rounds of everything. We knew that the day’s walk would be mostly down – though it did have quite a bit of steep ascending too – and took our time packing things up, refreshing ourselves and then leaving the basecamp.

The views just outside the Mera Peak basecamp

Baruntse (back left) came into view almost as soon as we left Mera Peak basecamp. The huge mountain on the right is Chamlang.

Almost immediately, as soon as we left the basecamp and descended down the snow cover lessened and the path was mostly on rocks. There was one quite a steep downhill that was on a northern slope and still covered in snow and slippery ice. It wasn’t too long though and I had a quite a good flow and almost ran it down. There we had a little break next to a teahouse, which we thought shouldn’t even exist. In one of my pre-trip posts I mentioned the mysterious teahouses in Hunku valley. This was one of them and it certainly is a tea house. We didn’t go in, but by the look of it, they at least sell general items and I bet you could get a place to sleep in there too. Apparently someone has figured that there is enough trekking here to make a living out of it.

The first mysterious teahouse

The first mysterious teahouse. This is at the bottom of the first long descend from Mera Peak basecamp. It apparently has a small shop and most probably some basic sleeping facilities too.

Crystal clear mountain lake in Hunku valley

This, the most magnfiicent mountain lake, was almost perfectly teardrop-shaped and the oddly rocked shores made it look almost like a tropical reef. It would be colder for sure, though. Chamlang is looking down at the background.

After the break we continued our trek downwards to the bottom of the valley. Just around the corner there was one of the most magnificent mountain lakes I have ever seen. It was perfectly teardrop-shaped and the water was clear with a turquoise hue. I had to stop and seep in the atmosphere for a moment. We had already achieved more than half of the day’s share, but the last few stretches of the day were on quite a difficult terrain with jumping over and circling rocks and boulders. Eventually we arrived to our campsite called Rato Oral which means “rathole”. I wouldn’t go that far in describing it, but the nasty wind and humid and foggy air did not make it a real paradise either. Quite a long while after all the others had arrived, Alan arrived with Stef who had been helping him along. For Alan, with the stiff and akward leg, the boulderous section was quite hard going. He did however make it to the camp well before nightfall.

Rato Oral at the Hunku Valley

Rato Oral in Hunku Valley, our only camp in there. It was quite a windy place.

The next day we would have a long stretch to cover. Arnold had decided that we would skip the next camp and go straight to Baruntse basecamp from here. It would be a long day, but it would be a pretty gentle slope up the valley. After the breakfast we started, but could not get far when just outside the camp the path turned around a bend and many superb mountains came into view and quite a few people took more than a one-photo-stop there. Peak 41 was on the left and Chamlang to our right. We could even see Everest and Lhotse rising at the end of the valley. Enjoying the views we walked on for quite a bit on an easy going path until we reached our lunch stop at the campsite we decided to skip. It was very windy there and the sun shining from the clear blue sky did not do much to warm us up. We used most of the break for resting and trying to find a place the wind would not reach, but in vain. Here, by the way, was the second mysterious teahouse. It is much smaller than the one we had passed the previous day, but still much more than I had understood there would be. I’m quite sure you could find a few berths to sleep in here, but if nothing else you will get at least something to eat. We did not use the facilities, though, but ate outside in the wind.

The second mysterious teahouse at the Hunku valley

Our lunch stop and the second mysterious teahouse in Hunku valley. The views are not too bad, though the place is very, very windy.

Having eaten well we started the second leg of the day’s trek in small patches. I started last with the dutch Jan, but soon passed Alan and Steve. Despite being able to pass them, I felt very, very odd almost immediately I had left the lunchspot. I really couldn’t put it in any other words than just plain “odd”. I knew something was one or two notches off, but could not place it anywhere. I wondered about the “fishy momos”, but those had been two days ago. I just carried on, but it was constant struggling for the rest of the way. I had to take breaks quite often, but every time after a small break I could continue for a few minutes until the “odd” feeling creeped in. Eventually I made it over the two small ridges you have to cross to reach the basecamp, but I was very tired when I got there. There had been some kind of an argument about the sleeping arrangements, because there weren’t enough tents for everyone to have individual tents at the basecamp and then double tents at higher camps. I would have been ok with staying in double tents all the way, but the ultimate decision was to have single tents at the basecamp and then double tents after all at the higher camps. However this meant that the sherpas would have to bring some of the camp 1 tents to camp 2 which would be troublesome to say the least. I was too tired really to have an opinion and was just happy to get my gear stashed somewhere and have a little lie-down.

The panorama of the Baruntse basecamp

The panoramic view of our Baruntse basecamp. My tent is the leftmost tent in the picture, third to the left from the green dinig tent.

The first morning at Baruntse basecamp broke with a slight headache. I also had the same kind of “heat” on my forehead as I had had at Mera highcamp (or basecamp, can’t remember anymore). I thought it must be the altitude as we were, however, at 5350m. The breakfast was served to the tents because we were missing most of the tables. Some of the porters had some disagreements at the previous day’s lunch point and had decided to leave the expedition. The tables and chairs had then been left there and had not yet arrived here by some other porters who had gone to fetch them. The breakfast tasted quite the same inside the tent too. After eating we hung around the basecamp and I also discussed the feelings I had with both Mia and Noora and Arnold too. A little later we measured my blood oxygen saturation which was around 72-74%. That is a bit low, but not too worrying. Later I told Arnold about the forehead heat I had had and then he thought it might just be a regular flu. Lots of liquids to drink was the advice and that was exactly I did.

Puja at the Baruntse basecamp

Steven Etchen Puja at Baruntse basecamp. The altar is covered with prayer flags and food and various alcoholic drinks. On the right side of the altar there is our gear waiting to be blessed.

The sherpa dance after the puja

Richard Bryars Most of us participated in the "mandatory" sherpa dance after the puja. It is more difficult than it looks like because the pace fluctuates. You can see the flour patches on our cheeks that we received during the puja.

For the rest of the day we had two activities planned: the puja and a Gamow-bag demonstration. The puja was held around noon by the closest resemblance of a lama they had – a kitchen boy cum sherpa who had been in a monastery for a few years some time back. So, now the fast rising star, Jangbo’s niece by the way, in addition to being a kitchen boy and a mountain sherpa, now was a lama too. The puja involved some chanting and burning of twigs and eventually indulging various liqours like chang and whisky and finally we were blessed with a toss of flour to our face and with a necklace that should protect us in the mountain. Before the puja all of us had brought some item that we would use on the climb to the altar for blessing. Most people brought an ice axe (like myself) or crampons, but there was some odd headlamp too. After all the blessing we then had to do the sherpa dance, which was incredibly simple, but unbelievably difficult to maneuver. Arnold had done this quite a few times but was still struggling like the rest of us. All blessed now, we were ready to go.

The Gamow bag demonstration

Jan Van den Bose The Gamow bag demonstration. I am inside that red tube.

After the puja and some late lunch, we had the day’s second activity. That was the Gamow-bag demonstration. The Gamow-bag is basically just a plastic bag in which you put a person suffering from altitude sickness. Then you pump air inside to generate an artificial pressure rise which has the same effect as if the person would go to lower elevation. This way you can buy some precious time for the help to arrive to treat the altitude sickness properly, which almost certainly means evacuation to lower altitudes. Because I was a bit low on the saturation levels, I was chosen to be the guinea pig for the test. I got the oxygen saturation meter and an altimeter with me inside the bag. Then it was closed and Arnold started to pump some air inside. Within just few minutes I was artificially transported to an elevation more than 2000m lower. At the same time I could see the effect of the “descend” as my oxygen saturation rose at the same pace as the artificial atmosphere got lower and lower. I wasn’t in the bag for long and then I was again at 5350m for real. The rest of the day and evening went by with the normal chatting and resting and waiting for dinner and bed time.

The next day we had planned to hike to camp 1 above the West Col at a bit over 6100m. After the breakfast, which we now had in the dining tent, we packed the stuff we wanted to stash to camp 1 beforehand and of course everything we would need on the way. I measured my oxygen saturation again and it showed 78-80% which was an improvement. Arnold told me to take it easy and go just as far as it felt good. How the day went and what happened during the few next days I already wrote about in my previous post, but I will provide a recap here anyway.

At around 10am I left the camp, felt good and the going was easy. I was able to walk quite long distances without stopping which was a good thing. I was purposefully walking rather slow so as not to strain myself too much. Some people who had started off a bit after me passed me by, but I was taking my own pace. After an hour or so I passed Robert who was feeling queasy. He was having some stomach problems or otherwise just feeling off. I continued forward and got to the halfway tent. It was there so that we could stash crampons and ice axes on the way down. I took a little break and continued onward. A little later I reached Steve who was taking some pictures. At the same time, all of a sudden, I began to feel worse every moment and walking began to feel heavier and heavier. When I was looking at the West Col at the end of the valley, it seemed quite a distance away still. I continued again for a while, but had the feeling I should turn back. I sat down next to the path to rest for a minute. Steve passed me and continued onward. I was wondering what I should do now. Should I continue or turn back?

The road to the West Col

Daniel Newton On the way to the West Col. This is about two thirds of the way. That first hill ahead is the last steep ascend before the col. I took my "thinking stop" just short of that. The route up the col is through the leftmost v-shaped couloir.

The couloir up the West Col

Daniel Newton The couloir up the West Col as seen from half way up

After a while of self-debating, I decided to continue. I thought, if I would get at least to the bottom of the col, I could stash some of my gear there, so I wouldn’t have to carry them all the way back there later. After I got on top of the last longer ascend, I met first Markus and then Jan who were already coming back. I asked them if there was any place where I could stash my gear. They could not say, but there might be something, so I continued onward. Finally I reached the bottom of the West Col at 3:30pm. It had taken me 5,5 hours to reach the col. It would still be another 200m and maybe 1,5 hours of climbing to get to the camp. I really didn’t have the energy to climb up there and I was beginning to worry about the time too. It would get dark in a few hours and I had foolishly left my headlamp at the basecamp. When I reached the col, Dan and Rich where down there packing up their gear and getting ready for the trek back to the basecamp. Noora was just about to come down too. I looked for a place to stash my gear. I didn’t want to leave them just under the col and grabbed a few bamboo strings that were lying on the snow and walked a couple of dozen meters back the path. I dug up a hole a meter or two off the path and shoved my gear there. I had put the things into two waterproof bags to protect from the snow. During the hiding process Noora had reached the bottom of the col. We exchanged a few words and she continued down. I had some second thoughts about if this was a good place to hide my gear after all, and for a while looked for a better place. I found none and by this time also Mia and David had come down from the col. It was getting quite late and they were as worried as me about the time. Neither of them had the headlamps with them either and we had to head down pretty fast. I was tired and could not keep up with them, but managed to reach the midway tent soon after them. They were waiting for me there and getting their crampons off in the meanwhile. Once I got there, I said that I had to take a little break here and that I couldn’t possibly keep up with them. They asked if I had anything to eat or drink or if did I need anything else. I was out of snacks and got a pack of nuts from Mia and Dave had an extra Gore-Tex jacket which he gave me. Then I bid them farewell and they continued down the path to reach the basecamp before dark. I went inside the tent to have some rest and waited for the next people to come down from the col. Later I heard that Mia (mostly) and Dave had also asked me various questions like when is my sister’s birthday or who is the president of Finland. This was because they suspected that I might have AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) as I was a bit delirious and my fatigue and other symptoms could have indicated for that as well. I could not remember anything of the questioning, for reasons which will come alight later on.

I don’t know for how long I had waited, but there was still some light when the next persons got to the tent. It was Andy and Viv, and Stef was not far behind. I explained my situation to them and headed down beforehand because you could still see without a lamp and I knew they would catch me soon. I had made it to the top of the steep descend before the wide semi-flat area and the final small drop to the basecamp when Stef reached me. He went pass me and helped me by showing some light on the descend. I got down the slope without any incidents. I could then see some lights approaching  from the direction of the basecamp. When I met the lights I saw that it was two sherpas from our kitchen staff and they were carrying a thermos of juice. I took the juice gladly. They must have come thanks to Mia and Dave who had probably told that there will be people coming very late and tired. As I was sipping the juice, Andy and Viv arrived for some juice too. We gulped it down and started going again towards the basecamp. It was getting increasingly dark every moment and walking became more difficult. Both Andy and Viv walked naturally faster than my fatigued pace and I had to ask them to slow down quite a few times. Also they for some reason did not want to use their headlamps until I finally said that it would be vice to turn them on. I did not have the strength to do much else than follow them, trying to get some help from the light that was always a bit too much ahead. I do not know why, but we spent a very long time on the last few stretches of the way. There are quite a few paths there and it was completely dark now, but it seemed that we wandered very randomly for the last kilometer or so. We could also see the headlamps of the last people coming down on top of the steep slope.

Finally at 7pm I arrived to the basecamp, tired, but very happy to be there. Arnold who came with the last bunch came just 5 minutes or so after us. He asked us when we had arrived and when I told that it had been just a few minutes ago, all he said was “Oh god”. That didn’t sound too good. After a short rest I went to the dining tent where almost everybody else already was. I ate and then went to sleep. Quite a few others also looked quite tired from the day’s journey.

The next day we had a rest day. The following day the plan was to head back up to camp 1. After the breakfast I went back to the tent and took some rest. I could not stop thinking about what had happened the previous day. Somehow I got the idea to measure my temperature. I am very notorious of going on with full speed without even noticing a one or even two degrees of fever. I also generate quite a high fever if I’m going to have any. Some people might be totally devastated at 38 degrees, but sometimes I hardly even notice that. My hunch paid off this time. The meter read 37,2 degrees which is slightly – about a half a degree – on the high side. Then suddenly all the things from the past few days, all the way to Mera Peak high camp, started fall into place. The heat on the forehead, the odd fatigue and everything else. I tried to rest as much as possible and drink a lot of liquids. The day went by trying to watch Jangbo and others on the summit ridge who were fixing the ropes there. Rich had a binoculars that we shared.

Dinner time came. Just before the dinner I had measured my temperature which had been 38,1 degrees. As you can imagine it felt quite bad to see that, because I immediately knew that I could not possibly go up the next day. After dinner I told about the fever to Mia and Noora and soon after also to Arnold and let him know that I would not be leaving tomorrow. Arnold was quite positive though and said that you never know how things go and that I should just rest and he would do everything to get me as high as possible on the mountain. I knew it was over for me, but it was quite nice to hear such encouraging words. I was also wondering if I should use Noora’s satellite phone to call home and tell about my situation and that they should not wonder why my Spot tracker does not move from the basecamp when we were supposed to be heading up the mountain. It was quite an eye watering call to my wife, but I was glad that I did it. It was good to hear her voice and she still had solid faith that I would be able to conquer Baruntse. But I knew I wouldn’t.

The next morning almost everybody else was busy packing all the things for the summit bid. Only me, Alan and the 70-year-old German Erik would stay behind. Alan did not want to risk himself or the others with his broken leg and Erik was just happy to be at the basecamp and had no need to go any higher. When everybody started to leave we got a few heart-sinkening farewells and then they were off. It was my heart that was sinking, not theirs. Without much else to do I just rested and read my books. Lunch came and then the dinner. Now we had only one dinner tent because the other one had been hauled up to camp 1 to serve as a kitchen tent. Before hitting the bed I measured that I had still 37,6 degrees fever, which proved my decision to stay at the basecamp right.

Panorama on top of the West Col towards Makalu

Richard Bryars Panorama on top of the West Col towards Makalu

The second day at the abandoned basecamp came. It felt like the illness had gone deeper into my lungs and sinuses. I decided to start taking some antibiotics to kill the bugs as we would still have quite a journey away from here, eventhough I wouldn’t be climbing any more. Before breakfast we saw Kaji, the sirdar aka camp manager, outside trying to radio the teams at camp 1. I also spoke a few words first with Arnold about my condition and the gear stash I had near the bottom of the col. Then I also spoke with Mia and explained to her too the location where my gear was stashed as she had been with me there although I had not shown the exact location to her. The problem was, that I had gear worth more than a thousand euros buried in the snow up there and nobody else couldn’t find it. Arnold had promised to bring down the gear for me before he left. Apparently they had looked on the wrong side of the path and we had had a classic misunderstanding of “which left”. What we hadn’t obviously established was whether it was on left side when you look up or down the path. Now this should have been clarified. Later I heard that there had been basically two major topics in the radio conversation: how is the weather forecast and where the fuck is Mikko’s stash 🙂 Allan told me at breakfast that three people had already been up at the summit, which was a bit surprising as they were only supposed to go for the summit bid the next day. Apparentely some of them had had a little too boring a time at the camp and had decided to do some morning walking. Now we also had a new topic to discuss, or to guess to be more precise: who were the early summitters? Our guess was Markus, Jan and Rich.

On the summit ridge

Jan Van den Bose The early bird climbers on the summit ridge. Markus and Rich in the front and Jangbo at the back.

Jangbo and the rugged route on the Baruntse ridge

Markus Stählin Jangbo and the rugged route on the Baruntse ridge

For the rest of the day we did not do much. When the day was already setting, Markus came back to the basecamp. He confirmed that the three summitters truly were him, Jan and Rich. He said that Rich might still come to the basecamp the same day. He was also guessing that not everybody would make it to the top the next day. The route had been very difficult and Jangbo had still had to work on it on the way up. Just before dinner Rich too arrived to the basecamp. Jan had stayed at camp 1 for the night. We talked a bit about this and that, but soon retired to bed.

The next morning was the summit day for the rest of the team at camp 2. When we got to the breakfast table we heard the news that the Finnish ladies, Mia and Noora, had just summitted. Just in time for the breakfast also Jan bumped into the dining tent from camp 1. After the breakfast we spent most of the time looking through binoculars and trying to see how people progressed on the summit ridge. Both the binoculars and the telelens on my camera were just a notch too short and it was quite difficult to make much out of it. We could see basically different colored blobs here and there and we tried to remember what colored downsuits everybody had to be able to guess who they were. At noon there were no other summitters, but just before that the kitchen boy/lama/climbing sherpa came back from the mountain. I was happy to see that he dragged after him my two bags of gear. I did not have to go after them myself after all 🙂 At lunch time we heard that two more had reached the summit, though we did not know who they were. Arnold also said that everybody had started the descend back to the camps. At the same time Andy and Viv came back to the basecamp and Robert soon after them. The British couple had turned back quite soon after leaving camp 2 because Viv had been very tired and bit nauseous. Robert had not left camp 2 at all because he had had some stomach problems. The afternoon passed as we watched the blobs moving slowly down the ridge, maybe even surprisingly slowly, but it was very hard to estimate the progress up there from down here. Just before the dinner Mia and Noora came too to the basecamp after a very tiring journey. They were unable to tell anything more about the other possible summitters. During the dinner we heard that everybody else had stayed at camp 2 for the night. This was also quite obvious as almost everything from camp 1 had been brought down by the sherpas, including the other dinner tent which was erected adjacent to the other as it used to be. The following day everybody should come down to the basecamp.

The route on the Baruntse ridge

Daniel Newton Here you can see much of the route high up on the Baruntse ridge. The real summit is the last peak you can see.

The next morning started up lazily. After breakfast many people used the luxury of the shower tent and washed some of their clothes. I skipped both activities and planned to shower as soon as we get to the Khumbu valley, perhaps 😉 All in all, there wasn’t much to do at the camp. Alan and Erik were going to leave for the Amphulapcha already today and split the trek into two. The rest of us would follow the next day. The sherpas arrived at a steady flow to the basecamp during the morning and afternoon. The first of the others to arrive were Arnold and Stef and they enlightened us that the other two on the summit had been Stef and David. David was also the last to summit and had only arrived to camp 2 at 6pm being very tired. After lunch also the rest of the members – Dan, Tak, David and Steve – arrived to the basecamp. Not much else happened the resr of the afternoon. At dinner we had a quite a bunch of people again at the table, which was a nice change.  For the dessert we got the mandatory summit cake, like we had had at Mera Peak. Quite soon after the dinner people retired to their tents, but before following them I took a glass of chhang as it was served warm this time.

The SummitClimb Baruntse 2012 official cake

Mia Graeffe The SummitClimb Baruntse 2012 official cake. The spelling is a bit off as is custom 🙂

That was basically the end of our tima at Baruntse basecamp. The next day we left it behind and trekked to the Amphulapcha La and then onwards to the Khumbu valley.

The Team Finland at Baruntse basecamp

Mia Graeffe Team Finland at Baruntse basecamp. Two of them summitted Baruntse, one of them just got high on fever.

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The Mera Peak Climb

On 22nd of October we arrived at the Mera Peak basecamp. It is situated on a valley floor on the Eastern side of the Mera La about 250m lower than the basecamp that other parties aiming for Mera Peak are using. This location was advertised to us as warm and lush green, and it was supposed to be much better than the regular basecamp higher up. Although the location was convenient for us considering the onward journey to Baruntse, it did not exactly match the other advertised features.

Mera Peak basecamp panorama

Panorama of our Mera Peak basecamp. The central summit is above the sharp rocky pyramid at the top middle of the picture and that rocky pyramid is the high camp.

What we had as a basecamp was a windy and cold valley which had about 15cm of snow all around. Not something you would call lush by any standards. We were told that snow here at this time of the season was quite exceptional. Nonetheless, our basecamp was quite nice still. We now had our dining tent up for the first time. It basically consists of sheets of fabric suspended on a metal frame. It had been brought from the Baruntse basecamp by a few quick porters who had been ahead of us. It was stashed there after the last expedition as there is no point of hauling it over neither the Mera La or the Amphulapcha La at the other end. We actually had two dining tents which were put together one after another to provide seating for all the 19 of us eating there. We also had the toilet tent that had been introduced already earlier and the kitchen tent, but now the porters had a sleeping tent too. It was basically a another “dining tent” where the porters huddled in a pile and slept. I really don’t envy the arrangement they had. At the basecamp we did not have our individual tents either – as opposed to what was promised – but I didn’t mind unlike some others who were grumbling about it. I think it is actually more fun to share a tent because you have someone to talk to. Even though we did not have the grassy floor at our camp, we did have quite nice views of the surrounding mountains. We could actually see Mera Peak’s central summit – the one we were heading at – and also most of the route from the high camp to the summit. Only the final summit plateau was blocked from the view. Towards the Hunku valley we could see some of the 7000m peaks there and just behind us was the Peak 41, though the actual peak was blocked by a jagged rigde before it. That is pretty much how the basecamp was.

The training ice wall

The training ice wall. Mia and Alan abseiling down. The steep route is on the left of Alan and the more gradual route is just out of picture to the right.

The next day we went to a nearby ice wall to practice some fixed rope and abseiling. This time we had very good weather for a change. Everybody pulled their harnesses and axes out for the day’s work and in a perfect line headed up the nearby snow slope. Close to the end of the trail we also had a tiny experience on queueing in the mountains as we had a traffic jam in the steep final meters. It sure felt dumb to stand there and move half a step every minute or so for just a few meters’ cause. Finally we all made it up and started to gear up. The thing that many – me included – hadn’t done ever before was climbing the fixed rope. For that we used a carabiner and an ascender attached to the harness. The

Mikko climbing the steep training route

Mia Graeffe Me climbing the steeper route.

ascender was used on the steep sections and the carabiner on the more level sections. At all times one of them had to be attached either to the fixed rope or to one of the anchors. Also for quite a few people this was the first time to climb ice of any kind and we saw a whole range of ice-climbing styles. I already had some experience in ice climbing, but this was a bit different as we only had one axe for one hand and the ascender for the other. That is something that requires getting used to. The sherpas had set up two lines – one more gradual and one more steeper – which we were supposed to climb up and then abseil down next to them. The rope wasn’t a regular climbing rope, but a thin plastic rope and the handling of that, especially on the abseil, was also something quite different from what I was used to. Overall the training session was very fun and useful. I managed to climb the lines in a somewhat respectable style which I cannot say for all of us, but everybody still managed to do them. Having trouble with these lines wasn’t too much of an issue as they were much more steeper and technical than any of those that we would have to climb for real. When we thought we had climbed enough we were allowed to return to the basecamp at our own pace.

The good weather also meant that hordes of people at the high camp and probably some at the normal basecamp had been eagerly waiting for such a weather window. The weather was clear, but the winds were quite strong. Despite that, we could see tens and tens of black dots of people slowly inching up the slopes towards the summit plateau. There really was a lot of people trying to reach the summit. We do not know how many succeeded, but considering the wind, I’m sure that some people must have turned around.

The view from the Mera La

The view from Mera La was a bit better this time. From left to right you can see peaks like Kusum Kangurum, Kyashar, Kantega, Ama Dablam and a few others.

After the second night at the basecamp we headed up to high camp with a leisurely schedule. We ate breakfast and packed the final things we would need at the high camp. I left the camp among the last few people and walked together with Alan who had some trouble with his leg he had hurt when descending to the basecamp two days earlier. I really could sympathize with him as I had had my own troubles with my ankle for the past two months. Again we had great weather and this time the views from the Mera La were truly stunning. We could see mountains like Kantega, Kyashar, Peak 41, Chamlang, Ama Dablam, Baruntse and Makalu. Not too bad a view at all 🙂 The route we took led us up the same way to Mera La that we had descended earlier. From there we headed up the steady snow slope up a rock formation where the high camp was situated. The whole way from Mera La to the camp there was a well trodden path which was very pleasant to walk. We went about halfway together with Alan, but I felt much more stronger than him and I headed ahead. He was not left alone, though, as he had a sherpa to keep him company. I really seemed to have found an extra boost as I passed quite a few other team members on the last stretch. Still, many had already made their way to the high camp when I got there and almost all the tents were also put up. Again my pairing as tent buddies with Markus paid out as he had been (again) the first on the spot and the first to pickup the tent spot. We had definitely the best spot of them all at the center of the biggest ledge and perfectly level floor. All of the others were not so lucky and the most unfortunate was the Brit couple Andy and Viv who had got a spot where many would have used a harness while sleeping. After all they didn’t use one nor did they fell of the egde, which was good. The rest of the day was spent resting and eating to get more energy for the following days’ trial. The high camp itself is quite a spot. It is situated on the very egde of the face dropping to the valley where we had our basecamp. The views were magnificent from here too. While sitting in our tent we could even see two 8000m peaks (!) – Makalu and Kanchenjunga far to the east. On top of that there were some 7000m peaks to look at. We were not the only ones at the high camp but there was perhaps four-five other teams there, though smaller ones than ours.

The Mera Peak high camp

Richard Bryars The Mera Peak high camp

As we were now at 5800m it was very important to eat as much as you could. The altitude can affect the appetite of some people, but I had a very good appetite even there. The food here of course wasn’t as varied as at the basecamp, but it was very good nonetheless. Mostly it was noodle or pasta soup at higher camps. You also have to drink a lot and that too was managed well by the kitchen staff who probably had a constant fire for boiling water for all of us. Luckily for them, they didn’t have to melt the water from snow as there was, conveniently, a glacier stream pushing out just some 10-20 meters away from the camp site.

Then the summit day came. As planned earlier, we had our “wake up tea” at midnight which was served to our tents. I also ate some porridge they served for those who wanted. Apparently some others did not have the appetite for sticky, semi cold porridge in the middle of the night after a very short sleep 😉 I had slept quite well the few odd hours we had, although I had some weird heat on my forehead which I could not fathom, but the probable reasons for that would come apparent a few days afterwards.

At 1:30 am we were all gathered outside ready to leave. I had put on my very thin technical underwear and on top of that one thicker merino wool layer. The next layer was my Gore-Tex trousers  and one longsleeved sport shirt. As the final layer I had the Marmot 8000m pants and parka. On my head I had a fleece cap and a helmet with storm goggles. On my feet I had a pair of fresh trekking socks and Millet Everest boots. For nutrition I had 1 litre of water, a few chocolate bars and a flapjack. It was completely dark outside and we left in a single file a bit before 2am with our headtorches lighting the way. The weather was quite pleasant with very little wind and it was quite nice and warm. The first part of the route is a quite gentle snow slope and we even had a path of some kind to follow. Maybe after an hour or an hour and a half since I was left to walk alone as some people were a bit slower and some went faster and I could not keep up with them. At this point it wasn’t probable to loose the track as you could see headlamps ahead of you and the path was quite clearly visible.

When I started to reach the steeper section of the route, I caught up the 67 year old Tak – a japanese living in Canada. He had his semi-personal sherpa with him who was helping him to get along. For quite a bit we walked at the same pace, me keeping in the front. At some point on the steepest part the sherpa and an american Robert passed us. Not long after Tak lay down on the snow to rest after a sprint. He looked very tired and I had to ask many times if was he ok. He replied that he was ok and stood up. He did, though, want me to go in front as he said he could not see the route. He must have been very tired, I was too, but not that tired. Earlier the helping sherpa had given Tak some juice by pouring it straight to his mouth, which had looked quite worrying considering that he did not manage to drink by himself. I have to admit that the path here was nonexistent at best and you had to make the best out of it. A little later we caught up with the sherpa who was waiting for Tak. The whole affair wasn’t very well judged by the sherpa, I think. Here the weather had also got a bit worse as the wind had caught up and it was blowing snow which obscured the visibility. Luckily the bad weather did not last for long, but for the time being it was certainly made the progress quite a bit harder with wind and snow blowing to your face.

Mikko on the Mera Peak summit plateau at sunrise

Markus Stählin Me on the summit plateau just after sunrise.

After the steep section I left Tak behind and spurted ahead. When I reached the start of the summit plaeau the sun was already rising above the skyline. For the first time you see where you where, instead of just guessing by the vague features around you in the dark. I could see the summit and some people already on top of it. It was around 6am now and I still had some distance to go. I ate the other half of my Twix bar here, which then turned out to be a wrong move. It made my mouth or throat produce a lot of phlegm and I had to spit it out every now and then. The plateau seemed to continue forever. I tried to keep up with my routine of walking some 25 to 50 steps before having a break, which I had done through the night. When I was nearing the summit cone, I was passed by Markus on his way back down. He wished me well and cheered me forward to do the last hundreds of meters.

The ice wall to the Mera Peak summit

Stef Wolput The last obstacle before the Mera Peak summit. It certainly felt much more steeper than it looks.

Finally I arrived to the summit pyramid, where I saw Rich already down from the summit and the Finnish ladies Mia and Noora abseiling down when I arrived. Andy and Viv were waiting for their turn to climb up. I was quite exhausted here. I was at a bit over 6400m, the highest I had ever been and now I had only 10m to go to the summit. This was the only technical part of the climb, as we had to climb some 5-7m steep ice wall up to the summit bump. When I had caught some breath and the ropes were free, I began to climb up the ropes. There were sherpas helping on both ends of the rope so you did not really have to take care yourself that you set up the gear properly – not that it would have been very difficult. The climb wasn’t very long nor was it very difficult, but when I got to the top I had to take quite a few deep breaths to steady myself. I walked the last few meters to the summit and accepted the congratulations from Arnold, our expedition leader, with joy. I was at the summit now. 6461m or something like that, depending on the source. It was 7am so it had taken me 5 hours to reach the top.

Mikko at the Mera Peak summit

My summit pose at the Mera Peak summit. Yes... I do have to work on that a bit for the next time.

Panorama from the Mera Peak summit

Panorama from the Mera Peak summit. Everest is the highest peak on left side (yes the thing behind Lhotse) and Makalu (at the back) and Chamlang (in front) on the right side. The mountain far away near the right edge is Kanchenjunga. Baruntse is the brownish mountain in the background between Everest and Makalu.

They say the view from the Mera Peak is one of the best in the Himalayas and I wouldn’t argue against that. You can see both the planes of Nepal and the high mountains of Himalaya. On clear weather you can see 6 of the 14 8000m peaks and that kind of locations are quite rare. I enjoyed the vistas for a while and then I was joined by Robert and we took the mandatory summit pictures with Everest in the background. Eventhough the views were excellent, I did not have the energy to seep in much more and started to head back down. At the same time Alan and Tak made it to the top too. I did not waste much time and started to walk back down. As I was reaching the end of the summit plateau I met people from other expeditions coming up. They were all roped up, perhaps not so much because of safety than for keeping the clients walking at a fast enough pace. They had most probably left almost at daybreak and had to get to the summit fast as the weather would always get worse during the day. I took a little break and let them pass. I then continued down again, wearily but steadily. Because of the fatigue I stumbled a bit with the crampons on the melting path slushing under my feet. I even took a half of a somersault when my crampons got caught up on each other. No harm or damage was done though. Further down the sun started to really heat things up and I had to take my down suit off at one point. Now with daylight you could also see the many crevasses around the path of which you did not have any clue about on the way up.

Other people coming up the steeper section

Mia Graeffe Here are teams from other expeditions coming up the final stretches of the steeper section. The route bends to the left behind the snow slopes and you can't see the high camp from here. Our basecamp, though, is way down on the valley floor where the last snow turn into brown rock.

It took me almost two hours to get back to the high camp. Quite many of us had already packed things up and left for the basecamp at that point. I crashed into our tent to have some rest. Soon the kitchen staff brought me some soup and juice, which were very welcome. I packed my things, having little breaks in between. When I was done I tried to get some more water, but the kitchen had already closed and all the things were already packed. I had no choice but to start heading to the basecamp. I did not have many breaks on the way as I just wanted to get to the basecamp as soon as possible. The sun was scorching and I had very little water left. I took a little break at Mera La where I took my crampons off and sipped the last remaining water I had. Luckily the way down to the basecamp wasn’t as slippery as it had been the previous time and I had little trouble other than fatigue.

Mikko arriving to the basecamp after summit day

Markus Stählin Me having just arrived to the basecamp after the Mera Peak summit

I finally reached the basecamp at 12:30 being very thirsty which was soon cured by the juice brought by the staff. It so took me 10,5 hours from high camp to the summit to the basecamp. Quite a long day it was. Almost as soon as I had put my pack down they had the lunch ready – I had arrived at just the right time 🙂 The rest of the day went just resting and relaxing. Alan and Steve arrived three hours after me and were the last ones to come in. Both of them were quite tired, Steve perhaps a notch more. He didn’t even show up for the dinner later and had caught up with a terrible cough. Many others were in heavy sleep when they rang the dinner bell which is quite understandable. After the dinner I apparently wasn’t the only one tired as everybody vanished into the tents as soon as they had finished their plates. I followed the cue and lay down for the well deserved rest.

That was my Mera Peak summit day. It was long, but exciting at the same time. Like many others said, too, it was much harder than they had anticipated and climbing the Mera Peak is definitely not trekking in any sense of the word. I was quite pleased that I managed to do that and was very satisfied with the expedition already at this phase. I’ll continue the story in the next post with our walk to the Baruntse and then back to the civilization.

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Breaking in the new tools

The last few days I have been bound to bed (figuratively speaking) by an influenza that has been raging here in Finland through and also in my working place and with my relatives. I’m getting better now, but haven’t been able to do much sporting, which is a shame. Luckily I have been able to already test out my new ice tools I bought for myself as a christmas present. They are the new models of the Petzl Quark.

Two weeks ago I opened the season with my friend at an artificial ice climbing venue in Helsinkin called Pirunkallio. It is a rock face next to a lake which have been frozen over by pumping the water onto the to top and letting it flow down the rock. This is the second year they have done that, but this winter we didn’t get proper sub zero temperatures until mid January. Year ago they opened up the wall a month earlier. Nontheless, when we were there we had a crispy -18 degrees celsius evening. Not too much, but still my hands were a bit cold and my but froze a little. The wall is a bit different than las year – which is understandable – and the most notable thing is that there weren’t that much of ice as last year. This mostly due from the shorter period of proper conditions to prepare the wall. Still it was quite fun and seemed steep enough for our skills and condition. The price for a single day is 10€ and the season pass is 80€, but you could get for 60€ if you are a member of the local climbing association.

Me climbing and Ilkka belaying

Me climbing and Ilkka belaying at Kauhala

Last Saturday we – me and my usual climbing partner Ilkka and his friend Tero – to Kauhala a short distance away at Kirkkonummi. I hadn’t been there before for ice climbing, but had been few times for rock climbing. The crags are not the same, though. The place was surprisingly good. It has ice on quite a wide area and you could do some ice bouldering – which we did too – and highest sections are something like 10m high. Most of it is not exactly vertical, but steep enough to get you pumped. At least for me. If some place, that could be a place where I could even be brave enough to try leading on the ice. Tero had some ice screws with him, but all of us passed the opportunity for a lead. Over all the ice walll provides very wide range of climbing and even from a single anchor you can climb steeper or more gradual routes. There were even few bulging spots and getting on small ice ledges was quite tricky. I would really recommend to visit this place if you are not familiar with it.

My new Quarks

My new Quarks on Kauhala ice

And the tools. I do like them. We compared them to my friends older Quarks and the new ones seem quite a bit lighter. That makes them a bit harder to give them enough force to thrust them into the ice, but that could also be just getting used to them and lack of skill 😉 They are very sharp from the factory which helps a little. These new ones also come with integrated trigrest and it has an additional hook for the index finger. This gives better grip of the tool and allows better leashes climbing. I have been, in fact, using mine leashlesly partly due that I can and partly because I haven’t manged yet to buy ones. Even when I do I will buy ones like Black Diamond’s Spinner Leash or Grivel’s Double Spring. Also DMM is coming up this year with their own version Freedom Leash. Anyway they haven’t been money gone to waste and I’m eager to get to use them again soon. I do not have any real experience other than with the old and new Quarks, so I’m not the best person to say are they better or worse than others, but many have recommended them and I like them and they’re now mine 😀

I have few more pictures from Kauhala too.

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The trek to Mera Peak basecamp

It truly has been too long since I wrote anything, almost three months. I could blame it on my trip to India right afterwards or on the work/holiday trip to London a little later or on all the festive season celebrations we have had recently, but even those are long past. Mainly it has just been my lazyness, but behold – here I am again.

My last post was mainly about how the malady got the better of me at Baruntse, but that is a bit of skipping ahead of the story. Let’s first start from where my second last post left us – the flight to Lukla. My wife did a splendid job recounting the SummitClimb posts so you probably have had an idea about what was going on, but surely there are some gaps here and there and I’m trying to fill those as best I can.

So where should I start… my last post before hitting the “blackout zone” was on the last day in Kathmandu, now more than three months ago so I’ll start from there.

Early in the morning on 14th October we headed to the airport for the flight to Lukla. We had been mentally prepared for hours of waiting, but everything went surprisingly fast and smooth. We couldn’t fit in on one flight and I was lucky to be on the first. The people on the second flight had to wait for a few hours for their flight and they missed the breakfast we got in Lukla at the Namaste Lodge. Our initial plan was to stay for the night in Lukla, but the leaders had decided to continue onwards the same day. This would give us one extra day to pass the Zetrwa La that was looming above us and more time for better acclimatization.

The street of Lukla

The only street in Lukla

After a quick stroll back and forth the only street in Lukla we headed toward the hills. It wasy a leisurous 2-3 hour walk to the village of Chutanga where we spent the night. Not much worth mentioning here, people just chatted and got to know each other. This was the first night in the tents and people divided into “tent couples” relatively smoothly. I was sharing a tent with the Swiss Markus, who appeared to be a very good tent partner indeed. He has quite extensive experience in climbing, including the Ama Dablam and one 8000m peak called Hidden Peak in Pakistan and a big bunch of peaks in the Swiss Alps. He was probably one of the most experienced guys in thegroup if not the most experienced. In the evening we got a three course menu served in the tea house’s common room and everybody seemed to enjoy it.


Chutanga. Our first camp site tents still to be pitched.

The next morning we were woken up by warm cups of tea or coffee – a tradition which continued through the whole expedition. The wakeup drink was followed by a breakfast and furious packing of things back into the duffel bags so that the porters could start going on. Usually the breakfast included porridge, muesli, cereals or pancakes  – which became more common later on in the trip – or alternately some toast and fried eggs or actually any random combination of any of these! Everything was washed down with tea and coffee which were available usually throughout the day exluding the walking times, but sometimes even on those. We started walking again in the mid-morning upward to our next stop at Charkateng. I’m not actually sure if that is the official name, but anyway it is the village/tea house between Chutanga  and Zatrwa La situated at a bit over 4000m. Nothing interesting on that leg really. At the tea house there was a young girl who really seemed to enjoy our precense. She started to playfully threathen us with some kind of a long root vegetable which was quite weird, but fun at the same time. After the first glimpse she actually appeared to  somewhat retarded, which might in this country put both the family and the child in an akward position where nobody knows how to deal with the matter. Luckily she has at least the possibility to live with the rest of her family.


The panoramic view of the Charkateng village

On the third day out, we started towards the summit of the Zatrwala Pass. The porters left as soon as the bags were assembled and created a long line up the hill. Halfway up we turned around and and saw for the first time the mountains around us, as the last two days had been quite foggy. We saw many mountains and among them the Cho Oyu on the Tibetan border. Everybody reached the pass well and for a few people it was the highest point they have reached in their lives.

View from Zatrwa La

The view from Zatrwa La. The rightmost large snowy mountain at the back is Cho Oyu.

After a packed lunch at the top – a slice of cheese, an egg and an orange – we headed over the pass and then down to the foggy Tuli Kharka for the next night. Again we stayed in the tents and ate inside the tea house. This time they did not put up the toilet tent for some reason and all the number two matters had to be done either behind the rock (better) or in the tea house’s toilet booth (worse). The toilet tent is just a simple tent about one square meter in size and so high that you can stand up in there. To the floor there usually is dug up a hole for the fecies and some stepping stones put on the sides of it. One would think this is not a too complicated facility to use, but judging by the stories we heard it actually is for quite a few people. It should not be too hard to miss the hole with your droppings, but people do. Apparently squatting is not in everybody’s capability list. But it just got better as we heard that in some expeditions people have not just missed the hole, but they have missed even the floor and sprayed the walls or even the roof with their things. Ok, the roof sounds like a bit of an exaggeration, but I have to say that even I was quite careful not to touch too much of the insides of the toilet tent 🙂 I too actually had some problems with a loose stomach during the expedition and took some antibiotics for a few days, which seemed to do the trick.

Shower and toilet tents

Stef Wolput The shower tent in the foreground and the toilet tent at the back (sorry I did not have better picture)

Tuli Kharka

The foggy Tuli Kharka

Hinku valley and Mera Peak

The descend down to Hinku valley and Mera Peak in the distance

From Tuli Kharka the trail was mostly downhill – or Nepali downhill. That means that when something is “Nepali downhill”, it most probably has almost as much up- as downhill. It was quite  a tiring day for the legs because of all the ups and downs we had to walk, and the rest at the end of the day’s walk in Kothey was much desired. The route descended again into the vegetation and most of the day was actually spent between bushes and – in the lower parts – trees. We had now arrived in Hinku Valley. What was perhaps more noteworthy than the winding trail, was that we now saw Mera Peak for the first time. From our vantage point we only saw the north side though, which has been climbed too, but we would be going up the northern slopes via the standard route. So, we still had to wait for a while to see where we were headed at.

Kothey really is a proper village compared to the ones on both flanks of Zatrwa La. This is most probably due to the fact that most people who come climbing Mera Peak do not cross the pass, but instead spend two-three more days to reach Kothey by going around the hills separating Hinku Valley from Lukla. Here there were many teahouses all looking quite the same and most probably all providing the same services of board, lodging and hot shower. Most of them also have a small shop attached to them where you can buy all kinds of suplies from beer to Pringles and toilet paper. The hot shower is in fact a small wooden structure, a bit larger than our toilet tent, and the shower feature is provided by bucket hot water. I personally did not try this at any point of the trek, but all who did, seemed quite happy with it. At least they didn’t think the 200 rupees (around 2 euros) was a bad bargain at all. For the evening meal our cook had bought some meat butchered  on the spot, which I of course was happyly excluded from. I am a vegetarian, if you didn’t know that.


Our tents at Kothey

Being a vegatarian on this kind of a trip is really not much of an issue. Most of the food is ok at least if you are eating eggs and milk products. I love eggs and I was getting some kind of unwanted reputation of eating loads of fried eggs during breakfasts. I must have eaten something like 100 eggs in total during the expedition. Something you perhaps wouldn’t do at home, but at there it didn’t seem much of an issue. Usual menus included a random selection of rice, pasta, smashed potato, vegetables, mushrooms, various sauces, momos, soups, dal and such. On top of that there was the meaty stuff like beef and more common sardines or tuna or something like that. More than once – usually for breakfast – the meat eaters were treated with Spam 😉 Sometimes we all got popcorn for an apetizer snack which was fun. The cooks prepare all the items into separate containers so you can have what you want even without having any special diet, but usually you are hungry enough to eat everything they throw at you. Even if the kitchen boys don’t know that you are vegetarian, they will quite nicely pick it up after a week or two of skipping the meat on every course 😉 One word of caution, though, for the vegetarians. Be precice to inform that you are a vegetarian and if any “surprises” arise you should inform the expedition leader who can then forward the message to the personnel. I had one surprise in Mera Peak basecamp when we were served veg momos. I had I think three momos (large ones) and the first tasted quite funny, a bit fishy I was thinking. The next two did not though, but after a moment my neighbour – one of the two Finnish ladies on the trip – said that “by the way the momos have some tuna inside”. Well… I had definitely eaten tuna without knowing, but what was done was done. It didn’t kill me, but it sure didn’t feel nice. I informed the expedition leader about it and he took it as his errand to strongly advice the kitchen staff to keep the meat (or fish) really separate. That one incident then remained the only one.

Super carb combo meal

The super carb combo meal. Probably no one else than Nepali sherpa cooks could put smashed potato, rice and pasta on the same plate.

From Kothey we had probably one of the best trekking days of the whole trip. The route was nice, gradually inclining up the valley and there were no big up- or downhills on the way. And the sceney… it was awesome. Almost the whole day we could see great mountain faces on both sides of the valley, Mera Peak’s summits peaking in to view every once in a while, but even better was the sight of the angular Kyashar peak and next to that the massive Kusum Kanguru. Both of them being very beatiful and very difficult mountains to climb. I walked most of the way on my own which I slightly wondered, as for a long part of the day I could not see any of our porters or group members and only a few other trekkers. I figured out that the porters had been using a different route which followed the dry riverbed down below and at the camp I heard that most of our group had also taken that route. Shame for them because the top route scenery was totally awing and I had that all by myself, so no complaints on my side. I took my time on the route and chatted a little with a Norwegian who had been climbing the Island Peak and was now going for the Mera Peak. At the end of the walk I arrived to Thangnag at 4350 meters, which was the place for our first rest day. Thangnag is a bit smaller than Kothey, but there still was around 15 teahouses to choose from. Ours was the last one of the village. Again – like after almost every trekking leg – there were hot drinks waiting for us. Usually it was tea, but sometimes also lemon juice which was a nice variation. For the rest of the day the sun was shining and everybody just relaxed and enjoyed the surroundings.

Hinku valley

Hinku valley with a view of the magnificent Kyashar


Thangnag and the western face of Mera Peak.

Showring at Thangnag

Noora shower fresh at Thangnag. The smaller hut is the shower.

Our rest day started off a bit later than usual as we were in no hurry anywhere. We had the whole day to do different things, so people washed cloths (me included), some took another hot shower and many went for little acclimatization hikes around the village. I went on one too with the Briton Rich and we headed for the nearby hill where our leader had told was supposed be a nice high altitude lake. We got to almost 4900 meters when the clouds started to roll in and we decided to turn back. We could not see the lake yet, but hunger was also starting to creep in as we hadn’t had lunch yet. We barely made back for the lunch and on the way we saw others who had already eaten and now headed for the lake too. Apparently only one or two eventually got to the lake which had still been quite a bit of walking away from the point from where we turned back. Apparently you had to go to well over 5000 meters to reach it. Anyways, the rest day was very welcome for everyone and did good. Also it seemed perfect for Viv – a Brit too – who was feeling quite sick and nauseous in the morning and didn’t even manage to get to the breakfast table. Luckily, after the rest day she was back in shape.

Hinku valley and Mera La

The view from our acclimatization hike. Thangnag is the small orange blobs at the valley floor and Mera La is just behind the mountain on the right. The lake is Tso Sabo which flooded the whole valley in 1998.

The following day – the seventh of our expedition – we headed up towards the Mera La. Some of us had already seen it from the aclimatization hikes, but now it opened up for everyone. The hike was quite gentle with a good path and no great obstacles on the way. The sun was shining and it was quite a pleasant day out. Way before lunch time we reached our destination, Khare, at 4900m. It is the last village on the way until the Khumbu valley, still quite a many days away. It has around ten teahouse on a sloping hillside. From here you can also rent the gear for climbing Mera Peak and even buy the permit to do it! So, this is the place for some ex tempore mountaineering 😀 If you like, you could even do some off-piste skiing here, at least I saw some old “atomics” lying against the teahouse wall. I would still recommend for you to bring your gear from Kathmandu, because by the look of them the gear have seen more years than many of the sherpa staff we had… From the village you could not quite see the Mera La, but you could instead see the massive face of Mera Peak and the beautiful views back down to Hinku valley. You could also see the Mera Peak central summit peeking behind the forefront rigde.

Khare towards the Hinku valley

View from Khare towards the Hinku valley

Here we shared the teahouse common room with a Jagged Globe group during spare time and dining. The Jagged Globe seemed to have a wee bit better everything… better tents, better drinks, better food, better utensils and so on. This might have caused the incident during dinner, which we thought might have been done to pun the Jagged Globe stuff. The JG group had almost eaten their dinner when our kitchen staff brought us no other than oven fresh pizza! It didn’t need much pushing to make those slices disappear. It still remains a mystery whether the ceremonyously presented pizza really was planned ahead or was it just to make fun of the JG staff. Well… we didn’t mind either way 😉

The next day our initial plan was to head over the Mera La to the basecamp, but that plan was rendered futile as about 15cm of fresh snow had fallen during the night. The expedition leader did not doubt if we could cross the pass, but the problem was the porters. They would have had some serious trouble with their canvas shoes they use in any terrain or any weather. Those porters really are some crazy guys. The right decision was to have an extra rest/acclimatization day. The weather also rendered null the plans of the people at the basecamp or at the highcamp. The snow and the wind made it impossible to reach the summit, though a few people had tried, we heard, until the weather had forced them to turn back. This meant, for many, that their expedition was over as they did not have an extra day (if any for starters) and many summit attempts where then left undone. Among the victims of the snowfall were friends and neighbours of the Swiss Markus, who just by chance were there at the same time. They both had made their plans to come here separately, without neither of them knowing of the other. Markus got to know about his neighbours from his wife at home, who, again by chance, had heard the plans of these other guys. Unfortunately they did not have that extra day and had to turn back. So, when and if you come here (or any other region in Nepal) for some trekking or climbing, do take a few extra days as you never know what might happen. It is much more troublesome and costly to go back next year to try again.

Khare the next day

Khare the next day

Most of our group spent the day doing some hikes in the surroundings. Some hiked up the trail we were going to continue along, but we went the other direction to a nearby lake at the end of the Hinku glacier. There was no ice though, but the views from the dry river/lake bed were quite nice. At the other end there was the crossing of two upsteam glacier streams which then joined to be the Hinku glacier. At the junction rises the very prominent and magnificent Malangphulang with steep faces and arêtes. On the side there was the Mera Peak face where we saw a few avalanches plummeting down. The rest of the day was spent playing cards, reading and trying to hunt the mysterious creature that walked around the tents during the night. Later it turned out to be a small cow from one of the teahouses just wandering around.

Us by the lake near Khare

Us by the lake near Khare. From right to left: Noora, Markus and Me

Finally, the next morning, we were able to move on again. The ground was still covered with snow and the path that usually is just rock and dirt was now a snowfield. Eventhough the porters would cross the pass with just their sneakers on, we were going to use the crampons. Many of us did not have such crampons that would fit the trekking shoes, so we were forced to take out our big boots. Luckily the porters carried the 2,5kg boots to the start of the steeper section where we could change into those. Eventhough the ascent was very steep up there and now quite slippery with the snow cover, we managed to get up unscatched. The same did not go with the JG team: during the ascent we saw just a few hundred meters out of the village one of their group member lying beside the path covered with a jacket, wimpering and holding his leg. He was already being attended by a few others and their head guide was rushing in, so we passed him without further delay. Later we heard that he was evacuated with a helicopter later that day and he had apparently twisted or broken his knee. Not the best way to end your trip.

Going up to Mera La

Going up to Mera La. Alan (in front) and Steven with a bunch of porters.

Jangbo and the Millet showroom

Jangbo and the Millet showroom

The small group I was walking with was taking all the time to reach the pass with no rush. We changed into our climbing boots and crampons and headed up the short steeper section up to the pass. At the top of the pass I suddently felt quite exhausted eventhough I had felt very strong and good at the beginning. I tried to eat a little to get some energy, but the lethargic feeling stuck. Despite of that we reached the pass, but the clouds had started to roll in and blocked the view in almost every direction. I was still quite happy as this was the highest point of my life at 5400m. The normal basecamp is right below the Mera La, but we were going to have our basecamp about 200m lower on the valley floor. This side of the pass was more treacherous and it was covered with a slippery icy coating. I was quite tired coming down the path, but managed to do it without any incidents. Sadly, the other one of my trekking mates for the day, ex-scostman Alan, slipped halfway down the path. He twisted his leg, but still managed to come down on his own. It did not seem too bad at the moment, but did give him some nuicance later on. After skipping and slipping down the path we arrived to the bottom of the pass and the basecamp was already waiting there all set up. Again we were greeted with some hot beverages which were very welcome on this much cooler side of the pass with cold air seeping from all around.

Ice walls at Mera La

Ice walls at Mera La. The route goes around from the left.

Looking down from the Mera La

Looking down from the Mera La. The first tents of the normal Mera Peak basecamp can be seen behind the people. We descended into the clouds and further 200 m down.

So, this was the first part of the journey. I will try to continue from here sooner than I managed to put together this post!

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