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Unfavourable conditions

Kumaran just called me from camp 4 yesterday. Their team tried their best to reach the summit. It was so close… only about 150m away. However, the weather was horrendous… so much so that the ropes could not be set. and it was unsafe for them to proceed further. All the other teams left and started to descend while their team, Everquest remained. Eventually, they too had to descend. Kumaran is now on his way back to base camp.

– Written by wife, Gayathri

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Posted by on October 3, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Makalu summit push

Kumaran is on his summit push currently on Makalu. Only briefly spoke to him last night. Wishing him all the best and we are praying for his safety…

– Written by wife, Gayathri

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Makalu climb update

Kumaran has completed his cycle of climbs up Makalu camp 1 and 2. Currently, the team is waiting for the window of good weather for the summit push.

There is no internet connection and he intermittently manages to contact us via the satellite phone.

This climb appears to be more serene as compared to K2. Perhaps its the familiarity of being back in Nepal..

For updates by the company, visit: http://www.everquestexpeditions.com/ever-quest-expeditions-makalu-expeditions/

– Written by Gayathri, wife aka personal secretary

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Acclimatisation before the climb

I’m now back in Lukla after an eventful 1 week of acclimatisation in the Khumbu. The reason we had planned for this type of program instead of the traditional trek from Tumlingtar airport to Makalu base camp was due to the lack of high elevations during the trek and the fact that base camp would be situated at 5700m. I wasn’t too confident of getting myself directly to that altitude even though i had just been on K2 for the last 2 months. So the plan was to acclimatise in the Khumbu valley for a short time before taking a helicopter to Makalu BC.

I arrived in Lukla on the 7th. We were luckly to have flew as i was told that there had been no flights into Lukla for the past 12 days due to bad weather and the 1st flight had just flown in the day before. Even though i had flown this route numerous times, this flight into Lukla was probably the most memorable of them all. It was extremely cloudy and there was so much turbulence that i thought the wings of the plane would break off at any point. No one (probably including the pilot) knew where the airport was as the runway was all shrouded with clouds. Suddenly, through a break in the clouds, we saw the runway appear immediately below us. I really thought it was too late and that the pilot would steer the plane around and attempt another landing but he didn’t. He descended fast as if it was a free fall but managed to land smoothly. All the passengers had no words to describe the relief they felt and only could be amazed at the skills of the crew. We were the last flight in that day, as after we landed, the weather turned bad. There were no more flights for the next few days as well. How lucky we were.

The monsoon wasn’t over yet. It was cloudy and raining for most of the time and there were very few tourists around. Our initial plan was to climb Kongde peak (6187m) for acclimatisation. There were a couple of reasons for that. We had to return to Lukla by the 13th to catch the heli to BC on the 14th. So we had to stay around the Lukla area and couldn’t venture too deep into the Khumbu. There were only a few peaks that were in the region that were above 5500m. However, there was also a problem of a too rapid ascent. Lukla (2860m) to 6000m+ in 4-5 days just wasn’t going to be safe even for someone like me who just came back from K2. So we had to change our plans.

Atop Namche but still no reception?

After staying in Phakding for the first night, we went to Namche (3440m). It felt like a ghost town compared to the busy streets I always remembered it to be. The next day, we were at Thame (3800m). Our plan was to cross the Bhote Koshi river towards the Kongde slope and climb one of the ridges up to a height of 5500m + and sleep there. However as we were travelling towards Thame the grass and shrubs on the other side of the river (where we intended to climb) was noted to be overgrown. The cloud line was also too low for us to make a proper assessment of what lay above the tree line. The walk to Thame was beautiful and Thame village was even more beautiful. I highly recommend anyone to visit this path less traveled away from the over trampled EBC trek.

Beautiful Thame valley and Thame village as we walked down from the Thame monastry

When we reached Thame, we abandoned our idea after speaking with our lodge owner. He suggested that we climb Sunder peak (5300m) instead. Plans got modified there and then once again. We decided to climb Sunder peak and sleep in Thame the same night (climb high sleep low principal) and climb and sleep atop of Tashi Lapsa pass (5700m) over the next few days. So we took on the challenge of climbing Sunder peak right after we arrived in Thame from Namche. That was going to be almost a 2km increase in vertical elevation within the same day. We left at 2pm after lunch. It took us 4h15min to reach the false/commerical summit (just below 5000m). It was a wonderfully pleasent climb with great views. The clouds parted from time to time allowing us to view the majestic Thamserku and Kongde ranges. The path was well maintained and it was a slight scramble on big boulders close to the summit. It was getting dark and the true summit seemed really steep and the path wasn’t clearly defined any longer. We decide to stop where we were and descend before it got more unsafe, having our main objective in mind – to acclimatise only. It took us another 1h45min to get back down in the dark. It was a tiring 9h day but the climb instilled alot of confidence in me. I was feeling fitter and faster than when i was trekking in K2. I knew i was more physically prepared for the upcoming climb.

View from Sunder Peak commercial summit. The Kongde range in the background

We got some rations, packed light and headed westwards towards Rolwaling village. The valley got more remote and we didn’t see another trekker all along the way. Finally we reached high camp (4800m). We were prepared to sleep in our tents but were pleasantly surprised to see that there was a shelter built. It was going to be our private getaway for the night. We brewed hot tea and watched a movie from Jamling’s iPhone as we warmed up in our sleeping bags. Perhaps it was because we were so hungry or perhaps it was because we all chipped in to cook but dinner was awesome with the simple yet extremely tastly instant noodles. Another movie followed before we slept.

As i lay in my sleeping bag with a zinc sheet over my head with the sound of raindrops hitting the roof, i closed my eyes with a smile on my face. I had never been this happy in many months. Although i had nothing much with me at that time, I felt that i had everything i needed. I left all my cares and worries back at home and without a mobile phone to remind me of reality, it was wonderful to have my mind blank. I forgot how beautiful the mountains were. I forgot how beautiful Nepal and its people were. The place i was at now, was a stark contrast to where i was a month ago – in the Baltoro glacier in Pakistan. I knew i was in familiar settings with familiar faces. I was in the company of a trusted friend and climber – Jamling. The moments were much more enjoyable with his cheerful, lively and simple character. It was warm inside my sleeping bag and cold outside. I fell asleep that night happy.

Our cozy high camp shelter that pleasantly surprised us

Our delicious yet simple dinner under the shelter in high camp

The next day was a relatively challenging climb that had no flat ground to rest. We soon hit the Tashi Lapsa glacier and it reminded me of the endless days i spent on the Baltoro glacier. The last part up was scrambling on loose rocks and scree. There were numerous occasions of rock fall that we experienced. Jamling finally made a decision to stop ascending just about 100-200m from the top of the pass due to the increasing danger of rock fall. We made camp at 5500m under a sheer vertical cliff which was relatively free from rock fall. Surprisingly the climb was smooth and the night went by well without any signs of AMS. With more confidence instilled in me, it was a walk back to Namche the next day and back to Lukla the day after.

Pachermo Peak (6273m) seen in the background with the Tashi Lapsa pass seen in the foreground. Picture taken from our campsite which was free from rock fall

I had gone from 1300m in Kathmandu to 5500m on the Tashi Lapsa pass in 5 days. I highly don’t recommend anyone who’s not acclimatised to follow this crazy acclimatisation schedule of mine. Luckly for me, I still had some bits of altitude memory in me and i hope that this week of acclimatisation as well as my previous stint on K2 and all the training that I’ve put in between comes to good use on Makalu.

I fly off on the 14th and i’m quite certain that internet connection will be close to negligible in BC. So i hope to update this blog when possible. I really hope that the weather clears up so that the heli ride in will be filled with incredible once in a lifetime views.

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Makalu Go Go Go

3 weeks resting back home after K2 seemed to fly by too quickly. I was basically eating and sleeping for most part of the first week. The subsequent week, i was meeting up with friends and the final week, i was preparing for my next climb.

I’m in the Khumbu currently and getting ready for my next climb – Makalu (the 5th highest mountain in the world). This will be the last 8000m peak that i will be attempting as i wish to concentrate on family and work after this 6 months of no pay leave is over. I’ve been wanting to climb Makalu ever since i saw her majestic peak from the summit of Everest in 2012. The Makalu massive looms on the background in the eyes of every Everester coming down from the summit. For most part of the descend down the South-East ridge, Makalu is obvious and when u can no longer see the mountain, you know that you’re going to reach Camp 4 on the South Col real soon.

The giant pyramid shaped Makalu in the background as climbers decent from the summit of Everest

Going away from home after already spending so much time away on K2 is taking a toll on me. I feel sad to leave my family and the comforts of home and yet I’m excited to climb. However, I felt much more at peace parting with my family this time. I don’t know why. Maybe, its because they themselves are calmer as they know this will be my last climb. Maybe its because i survived and made a responsible decision to turn back and come down alive on K2. Maybe its cos i know that the summit is not important and that I’m already extremely lucky to be living my dream of climbing. I’m at peace with myself for just having the opportunity to begin the climb.

 

I thought i would be resting after K2 but i was hitting the gym soon after getting back home in preparation for Makalu. Gym sessions 4x a week and staircase climbs and Bukit Timah Hill climbs 2x a week

 

The climb will take me 6 weeks. Jamling Bhote, whom i climbed Ama Dablam with in 2011 will be my personal sherpa. We will be travelling to Lukla and acclimatizing near Kongde peak before returning to Lukla. Then we take a helicopter and fly straight into Makalu base camp. I’m looking forward to the wonderful views when flying over the Ampulapcha pass, Sherpani col and Baruntse. In fact, our plan initially was to take the difficult trek through the Ampulapcha pass, sherpani col, East col and then descend onto Makalu BC. After the availability of a cheaper heli ride in, we changed our plans completely to what it stands at currently.

Many climbers choose not to climb Makalu in autumn. The season of choice and that which has the greatest success is always spring. As we begin the climb just as the monsoon season ends, heavy snow on the slopes is expected and there is still a possibility the monsoon persisting bringing along with it heavy snow and winds. I’ll be going with a team no larger than 6 foreign climbers including me. We will rely on 7 sherpas to set lines, transport equipment, break trails and guide us. It will be extremely challenging for them to take on this task all by themselves. But unfortunately, Makalu is neither a popular mountain nor has it a good success rate. Then why then am I climbing you might ask. I’m climbing because it has been a dream ever since 2012. Its my last chance to climb a 8000m peak. Summiting or not doesn’t matter to me any more after all the climbs that I’ve done. But I’m not going to give up that easily even before challenge begins. I’m going in with a mindset to summit but also a mindset not to get disappointed if I don’t.

The 2 beneficiaries I’ll be raising money for are the Singapore National Stroke Association (SNSA) and the Home Nursing Foundation (HNF). The money for HNF will go towards its pioneer care givers program and funds raised for SNSA will go towards stroke education among the public as well as rehabilitation and reintegration of stroke patients back into the society to be working adults once again. My fund raising efforts will go on till the end of the year. Please feel free to click on either of the logos to donate any amount. No amount is too small as every cent will be used for improving the quality of life for the caregivers of patients as well as stroke survivors.

There will be very limited internet access at Makalu base camp. I hope to be able to update my blog periodically, else updates will still follow on my Facebook page. Thank u all for your support.

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

K2 summits and no summits… Glad to be back at home

I was back from my summit push on the 26th. However I did not make the summit. I decided to turn back from C2 due to a couple of reasons which I thought compromised safety. It was a difficult decision to turn back but at that instant, I thought it was best not to push on.

I finally reach Home just before Singapore’s birthday and currently resting and recuperating from my 2 month stint in Pakistan. Mainly eating and sleeping and trying my best to get rid of the chronic fatigue. From the comforts of home, I write this retrospective entry on what happened during the summit push.

We left to ABC on the 22nd. By this time, the icefall had dissolved and melted to become something totally unrecognizable. The ropes which had been threaded through the ice had become loose and the path towards ABC was no longer there. Kami and I spent about an hour figuring out and constructing a new way through the ice fall. We were almost about to turn back as it was starting to get dangerous with melting ice from high ice towers starting to randomly collapse. However, Kami managed to get us safely past the technical segments and to ABC. What a start to the summit push. The easiest segment of the climb was turning out to be a challenge in itself.

We were on our way towards C1 on the 23rd. From the word go, the weather was not the best. Even though I felt stronger than the previous rotations, my timing from ABC to C1 was about the same due to the weather and terrain. Historically, late July has seen the best weather to summit but it didn’t seem so in our case. It started snowing heavily and winds started picking up halfway through the climb. When we reached C1 in the blizzard, we found that most of the snow beneath our tents had melted and the tents were either sliding down the slope or lopsided. We had to readjust and re-carve the ground in the howling winds and snow storm which drained a lot of our energy. Finally when we were in the tent, I was wondering how we would climb to C2 if this horrible weather continued the next day. Vanessa, Jang Ga and myself stayed in C1 while Hari, John, Ah Jung and Cheng Xue proceeded straight to C2.

Going up in crappy weather on the 24th of July from ABC to C1

Kami re-pitching our tent in the blizzard on C1

When we awoke on the 24th, it was a splendid clear day. The plan was for everyone to move to C3 straight, skipping C2 to keep in track with the rest of the team. As we proceeded to C2 the weather started getting worse to a point where I couldn’t figure out what was 20m in front of me. It was the worst weather I had ever climbed in. Footsteps from the climbers just 5 mins ahead of me were nowhere to be seen as I passed them as the snow filled in the tracks. By this time in the season, the top layer of snow on the slopes had melted away exposing the blue ice beneath which had now been laced with a layer of sugary snow. The terrain was impeccably difficult to tread on, even though this was the 2nd time we were there. Rocks were loose and we had to take extreme care not to step on or hold those rocks in case they fell onto the climbers below. Every step that we took was precariously slippery as we struggled to kick into the virgin blue ice masked by the deceptively easy layer of snow. It took us a lot of energy by the time we got to C2. Jang Ga had decided to proceed to C3 in that terrible weather. I and Vanessa decided to stay in C2. As I rolled into my tent, I was surprised to see Hari there. He became sick the previous day and decided to rest in for the night. His plan was to proceed to C3 the next day.

Ascent from C1 to C2. The winds were starting to rip above even as we left C1.

The weather was horrendous when we woke up on the 25th. 50kmh winds and the snow was flying by horizontal to the ground. The tents were rattling as though they were going to rip apart. It was totally different from what the weather reports had predicted. Mingma confirmed that the weather reports were not tallying any longer. This was when I had to make the decision that would cost me the summit. To proceed or to stay put. I knew that if I didn’t reach C3 by that day, it would mean the end of my summit bid but I also knew that pushing on in that weather was also dangerous. Hari made the wise decision to turn back and my heart was with him to get down as well. Vanessa on the other hand summed up all her grit and will and began to proceed to C3; what would take her 8 hours to complete in that weather. The 4 Austrian/German climbers from Furtenbach adventures, turned back on the Abruzzi route from C2 due to the weather and terrain conditions. We heard that all the Himax climbers on the Cessan route also turned around. The 2 Mexicans had not started with the summit bid and the Polish had their own plans in BC. Which left only our team, Fredrich from Sweden and the Mongolian behind on the Abruzzi route.

A lot of thoughts were running through my mind by now. These were some of the reasons I decided not to proceed with the summit push.

– The weather prediction was no longer in unison with the reports and the summit day on the 27th looked questionable as well.

– Even if we had summited on the 27th, the weather on the 28th was looking extremely bad and it would be dangerous coming down from the summit.

– Fixed lines halfway from C3 to the summit had not been laid and it was questionable if the huge avalanche a few days back had destroyed whatever lines that had been laid from C3 to C4.

– It was also unsure if the avalanche had swept away the stash (O2 and other climbing equipment) stowed above C3.

– The weather was so bad on the 25th that the sherpas could not ferry up any loads to C4 and return to C3 as planned and that meant that not all O2 cylinders would be available at C3 and C4. The Sherpas were also not proceeding on to check the state of the lines and equipment above C3 due to the weather.

– There seemed to be too little time to do all these by the expected summit date which was set on the 27th.

– The 26th seemed to have reports of high winds and this would mean very little time for the sherpas to work on laying the fixing the lines above C3.

With all these strong reasons against proceeding, I just thought that the risks were too much to take and the chances of success were very slim. Furthermore, I wasn’t as strong as my team mates and my health wasn’t the best at that point. I knew my reserves were thin and would have struggled if anything were to have happened on the way up or down.

I decided that I’ll push as far as I could and then return back to BC instead. However the next day on the 26th, it was foggy and visibility was extremely bad. We could not see anything more than the tent in front of us. We thought that there was no point in proceeding up and decided to descend back to BC in the fog. The Mongolian also followed suit. The ice fall below ABC was again different as compared to when we were going up. We somehow manoeuvred our way around and ended up in BC that afternoon. Although I was disappointed that I could not be with the rest of the team, I thought that it was the best decision to make at that point of time.

Descending from C2 on the 26th

Rappelling back to ABC through the thick fog below

This is what happened to the main team in the days to come.

– Vanessa reached C3 on the 25th in the bad weather. The team decided to push upwards from C3 to C4 in thick fog and winds on the 26th. Even after climbing till 6pm, they could not find the true C4 site and decided to pitch camp about half hour below the actual C4. There was thick snow all around and they had to dig away 1.5m of ice and snow to construct their tents.

– At this time, the team received news that the rope that Fedrick said he was going to transport to C4 was going to be placed along the way between C3 and C4 as Fedrick decided to turn back due to bad weather and terrain conditions.

– The team decided that they could not make the summit on the 27th due to time constraints and decided to push for the summit on the 28th instead. They choose to rest on the 27th at C4 with O2.

– While the clients rested for the whole of the 27th, the sherpas (one of the was sent down to collect Fedrick’s ropes) fixed lines above C4. They managed to fix up to just below the bottle neck due to thick snow conditions.

– The team set off for the summit on the 27th at 10pm and slowly made their way up in winds. The plan was to turn back on the 28th noon regardless of the outcome of the climb as the weather was predicted to turn very bad after noon on the 28th.

– The sherpas started fixing the bottle neck on the 28th at about 9am and the clients followed closely behind the sherpas. The weather report that arrived that moning mentioned that the high winds that were predicted that afternoon had died down and that it would be much better weather. Mingma took the risk and pushed on hoping that that morning’s report would be accurate.

– After a 17h push in the waist deep snow, poor visibility and winds, the weather cleared up amazingly just as the team was reaching the summit and finally after braving all odds, the team summited K2 at about 1535h on the 28th.

– They made their way safely to C4 by 2000h and back to BC by the evening of the 29th; some as late as 11pm.

Vanessa, Cheng Xie and Jang Ga were attempting K2 for their 3rd time. John was attempting to be the first Icelandic to reach K2’s summit and Ah Jung was on his quest for all 14 8000m peaks. They took risks and pushed really hard. In the end, it all paid off. They had put their heads in the lions mouth and had returned successful and unscathed. Hats off to all of them. They deserve all the praise and accolades for making it up on such a difficult season. My heartfelt congrats to the 5 of them.

We also had 2 Pakistani records. Amin was the 4th Pakistani to complete all 5 8000m peaks in Pakistan with his successful completion of Broad Peak. Fadzeel became the 1st Pakistani to climb K2 twice successfully and probably he is the first in the world to summit K2 twice without supplemental O2 as well! The 28th saw 5 clients and 6 sherpas (all of them summiting K2 for their first time except Mingma who has summited now twice with this success) and Fadzeel on the summit.

We exited the range via the Gondogoro la pass which was shorter than the old route but would encompass us climbing again to 5600m and descending down a steep dangerous ravine with no crampons and harness. Coming down was just as scary as going up K2. It was a 3 day journey to the village of Hushe where we got a jeep back to Skardu. Finally the expedition was over!

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A final farewell to the mighty K2. A view from Concordia.

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Approaching the top of Gondogoro la pass

 

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From the top of Gondogoro la pass. The hundreds of peaks appeared magically in front of us

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Laila Peak seen from Seisho camp. Very technical

I was really disappointed that I turned back on the 25th but I keep telling myself that things could have turned out much different from what materialised. As I mentioned in my previous post, I am happy that I was able to live out my dream of climbing K2 and even more glad that I had gotten this far. No regrets on that. No looking back. I probably will not attempt K2 again but the stories from this expedition will always stay fresh in my mind.

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Summit Push

The Summit weather window seems to be playing around with us. It was initially on the 27th. Then the 28th looked good as well but now it seems that the 26th is looking best. This information keeps getting updated and changing. K2 is all about the weather. If u can get the weather right, it’ll be a successful season. However, the weather currently isn’t looking so good or that it’s going to be that predictable. We’re setting our expected summit date as the 27th and heading off to C1 on the 23rd. I’m not taking chances with the condition of my body and I’ll be heading off to ABC on the 22nd. Plans are fluid and can change anytime. So this is it – The summit push. We’ll know the outcome of the last 1.5 months on the mountain in the next 1 week. I’m happy to have come this far in the first place. Anything more than this is a bonus for me.

 
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Posted by on July 22, 2017 in Uncategorized