Journal: Shishapangma

Expedition journal

I had arrived in Kathmandu on Aug11th and after traveling through Tibet for a few weeks, arrived in advance base camp for Shishapangma on August 31st.

The more we moved up the mountain the more Mother Nature would push us back, we were constantly retreating. If it was not the bad weather and poor visibility it would be the poor snow conditions, We would have to retrace our  hard earned steps all the way back to advanced base camp and let the snow consolidate and wait for better weather. As if things could not haven gotten worse, it happened. Like a nightmare that tightens around your throat and won’t let you go and leaves you gasping for air, the ground shook all around us. I jumped to my feet, is this a dream is this really happening. Earth quake, earth quake. On wobble legs I exited the mess tent and looked up at Shishapangma, avalanches were happening all over the mountain. As if she was shaking the snow of her shoulders. 

Like a bird in flight, fear swooped down on me; we had Sherpa’s on the mountain and other teams from other countries as well. Other teams came rushing to our mess tent as the crackle of the two way radio came to life.  We called ABC to camp one, ABC to camp one. Nothing could be heard but static from the radio, Fear could be seen in the faces all around me; we called again ABC to camp one and then in a distant voice came the reply, we are ok, we are ok. Then we called ABC to camp two, ABC to camp two and after a long pause that seemed to go on forever, another voice could be heard, were ok, everybody is ok. Crawling into my sleeping bag that night I gave a silent prayer to the goddess of the mountain for not taking any lives. The next day climbers descended back to ABC to tell stories that nightmares are made off.  We all knew that we had been lucky, the day before the team and I had climbed in the exact same spot where one of the avalanches took place and now that spot lay strewn with debris.

After a few days, early in the morning we were at the puja alter burning juniper and asking the goddess of the mountain for safe passage as we once again descended onto her slopes. Climbing through the ice fall gave us entry to the upper slopes and to camp one. That night the tent shook from yet another storm as if the mountain was telling us to go home. I awoke early with the sound of the wind beating on the tent and as my eyes adjusted to the light a thick layer of hoar frost was lining the inside of our tent. Stewart and I did not open enough flaps for ventilation. The hoar frost is caused by the condensation from the warm air from our lungs as we are breathing and the lack of ventilation.  I lay there lost in thought and felt that this expedition was over, all hopes of the summit lost. To my great surprise and relief as I unzipped the tent I was greeted with blue skies, yes it was windy but the skies were blue in every direction. Once the tiny stove was lit and the process of melting snow was under way to produce water that would hydrate our bodies, packing was in order with earnest. 

With crampons tightly secured to our boots and heads bent into the wind we climbed up through the snow field and looked up at the head wall. With a deep breath I kicked hard into the ice and up I climbed forever up, at times the wind and snow cut the visibility to a minimum. We hoped that it would die down; fore this would be our last chance. The forecast for the coming weeks was not in our favour, conditions would be deteriorating. As we climbed to the top of the shoulder and over, we found ourselves onto another broad snow field; from there it was just a long slog to camp two. The rest of the day would be used to melt water to hydrate our bodies and rest. 

Morning came early and with that the shrouding of backpacks. Up through the snow field we climbed until we came to the next head wall that would lead us to another shoulder in the mountain, from here we would traverses the steep ridge and find the safest place to pitch our tiny tents. I say the safest because were on a steep ridge and moving around too much inside of the tent could result in going for the big ride into thin air. 

With adrenalin pumping through my veins I didn’t get much sleep, I reached into the darkness for my head lamp and with flicker of light looked at the time; it was 2:30 am.  This is it, time to start moving again. Crawling out of my tent I was greeted with a slap in the face, cold hung into the air like a thick fog. Every pour in my body was on fire and tingling with excitement. This would be our last push, a push that would take us to the summit. 

The tiny glow from head lamps could be seen in the distances, other climbers from other teams were on their way. With confidence I climbed upwards and caught up with them and at times climbed on past. Soon the sun began to rise and with that much needed warmth from its rays, looking over my shoulder in the distances I could see Mount Everest, Cho Oyu, Lhotse and Nuptse. Looking straight ahead and upwards I could see the summit of Shishapangma. I arrived on the summit on October the 4th at 10:20 Nepal time. 

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