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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

 

K2 acclimatization rotations complete

We have just finished 2 rotations on K2. We are down at base camp currently resting and recuperating while awaiting the summit weather window to show itself. The next slog on the mountain will be the summit push itself and its expected to happen sometime towards the end of the month.

K2 is no easy mountain. In fact, it’s a beast. From the moment you set foot on its slopes, the onslaught ensues. Our team has chosen to climb via the classic Abruzzi ridge (aka SE ridge). Advanced base camp is about 2.5 hours from base camp and one has to traverse eastwards on the Godwin Austin Glacier before hitting the icefall. Just like the Khumbu ice fall on Everest, this final 1 hour obstacle stands between us and ABC. Although not as intricate and extensive as the Khumbu falls, it does possess its own unique challenges. One usually doesn’t use crampons to cross and does so during anytime of the day. This means that the ice usually melts and the route often changes without notice. Small invisible puddles of water forms beneath what seems like pristine ice and snow which can be extremely deceptive. After this mini Khumbu falls, it’s a short rocky climb before ABC reveals itself at 5300m. Only having space for about 3-4 tents, ABC is more of a storage and staging facility before donning crampons and hitting the Abruzzi ridge. During the first rotation however, I spent a night at ABC before heading to C1 the next day.

Moving through the ice falls before ABC

From the moment you hit the slope on the Abruzzi ridge, there’s no flat ground and the lowest inclination of the slope at any point is 40 deg.  I was warned about avalanches and rock fall before starting the route, however, I had no idea how common these avalanches came pouring down. The moment we hit the slope, shouts of “AVALANCHE” filled the air. We had to scramble to the left near the rocks to avoid being taken down. Some of the avalanches were small but some were huge. They left the right of the trail with huge chunks of ice and snow which filled up the previous tracks and made it even more difficult for the rest below to scale the slope. It took up so much energy each time we had to scramble to the left to avoid the avalanches. I was so exhausted just staying alive that there wasn’t much more in me to climb upwards.

Just when I thought avalanches were bad, rock falling on the trail made me change my mind. Rock fall can be subtle. However if that loose rock that falls happens to come your way, that’s the end. As I was climbing on the fixed lines, I heard this huge rumble and when I looked back, I saw this huge piece of rock (which was bigger than a tent) breaking off from the side and slipping onto the track and dragging the fixed lines together with it. I was dragged down as I was on the fixed line above. The falling rock either cut the ropes below or removed one of the anchors. Only then did the feeling of being dragged down cease. It was also lucky that I was the last man on the line that day; else those below would have definitely died. If I was about 5 mins slower on the trail, the rock would also have smashed right onto me. It was the most sobering experience in my tiny climbing career so far. That event kept playing in my head again and again and I found it difficult moving myself forward. However, I also knew that if I was slow or I stopped, I would be increasing my risk of getting hit by more rocks. This fear kept me moving each time I gazed above and there was a huge rock tower looming high over me. The fear was intense. I kept god in mind as I moved forward as I knew he was the only one who could protect me.

ABC to C1 was an intense slog in the snow. Snow could reach thigh level and trails were simply being covered by the strong winds and the avalanches. The slope was nearly vertical as we neared C1. It was an intense workout just getting to C1 at 6070m. It took me 7 h. Finally seeing C1 perched atop a small flat area was also scary. The tent lines were tied to any piece of rock that could be found. They were all jumbled and mixed and were preventing the 4 tents pitched from being blown away. I couldn’t think much as I made my way into the tent. I knew I was sleeping by the edge of the slope but I was too tired.

Utterly exhausted after reaching C1 for the first time.

The climb from C1 to C2 was supposed to be shorter but harder according to the sherpas. I grew not to believe the sherpas as I always had to add 1-2 hours to the timings that they gave. I wanted to experience the route for myself before judging. The climb from C1 to C2 was relentless. It was a straight up from C1. No time to relax. Very soon, the path of snow turned into ice and very soon the ice turned to rock. We were climbing near vertical rock faces with our crampons. These rock faces were not small either. Some were more than 10-15m high. It was more interesting climbing rock with crampons rather than trudging through the never ending snow fields. However, it became more and more difficult as we got nearer to C2. The slopes were near vertical and every step had to be carefully planned or the crampons had to be kicked hard into the thick blue ice.

A view from upper C2. Where the Godwin Austin glacier meets the Baltoro gacier.

Broad peak having a watchful eye over me over me as I climb to upper C2.

Our group had decided to place C2 just below the House’s Chimney as it always had been too windy above the chimney. After a day’s rest at C2, we were heading further upwards for acclimatization. The House chimney was a spider web of old ropes and a flexible metal ladder. It was a narrow couloir which was just wide enough to fit a single person. There was rock and hard ice all around but it was rather difficult to get a good foot or hand hold while climbing. After this 10-15m vertical section, it was a wide open space where the location of the traditional C2 resided. There were ripped and destroyed tents all around in this small open space and the wind was not letting us down. The ripped tents were not laid to rest there either. They were still being continued to be ripped by the blasting winds. We carried on abit above the upper C2 and also found that the winds were too harsh for us to continue any further towards C3. We turned back to our lower C2 and rested there for the night before the long decent towards base camp the next day.

Repelling down the House’s Chimney. Looks like i’m enjoying myself resting against the side rock wall but honestly, there wasn’t space for anything else.

As we rest in BC now, all our minds are only focused on one thing now – The summit window. According to different weather prediction models, there will be bad weather on the mountain till the 22nd July. We stay watch closely as to when K2 will have a few days of continuous good weather to offer and we will be making our finals plans for the summit push then. I’m also recovering from a bad throat infection which made me lose my voice. I’m recovering but the progress is very slow. Each day, I’m coughing out blood stained mucous and my throat is extremely dry. The infection part is probably over but the cold dry mountain air isn’t making things any much better. My voice is slowly returning but I really do hope that I will be recovered enough to take on the summit push. I truly hope that this would not put a full stop to my summit ambitions.

Will keep this blog updated before our final departure.

 

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Some pictures from the weeks towards base camp

The map of this crazy terrain. From Askole to K2 base camp

Sorting out all the loads to be given out equally to the porters in Askole. It is always a mess before heading off for the expedition

The mighty western slope of G4 which dominates the foreground throughout the trek from Urdukas all the way to concordia

The first view of the majestic and mighty K2 as we turned off the baltoro glacier onto the godwin austin glacier. The jaw dropping scenery was just too spectacular.

The 3 peaks of broad peak as viewed from K2 base camp. K2 base camp sandwiches us between the 2nd highest and 12th highest mountains in the world

Our poor pet goat that had crossed the entire baltoro with our team only to be slaughtered for dinner in the coming days. It is a sad thought that this fellow probably wouldn’t be around by the time this post gets published. Also a mention to the crazy idea of wrapping the goat’s tethering rope around its horns when its not in use.

Kami from Pangboche and me during the Puja ceremony at base camp. Kami shall be my personal sherpa for the rest of the expedition. At the age of 53, he’s the oldest and most experienced of all the sherpas. This will be his 5th visit to K2.

 
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Posted by on July 7, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

K2 Base Camp

I finally reached base camp on Sunday 25th of June. It was a long hard journey to reach this place which is nestled far away from civilization. Of all my travels, this is the most remote place that I have ever been to and also indeed the most beautiful as well.

On Everest, the nearest village (Gorek Shep) is 1.5hours walk away where u can have a lodge to stay, warm food, wifi and mobile reception. From EBC, one can even call for a heli which will transfer us safely to Kathmandu. Here, however there is a vast contrast. The nearest village is at least a 3 day walk away. There is absolutely no mobile / wifi and heli rescues are far and few in between due to the low number of trekkers/climbers in the region as well as the fact that there is no commercial heli services available. All heli rescues have to be done via the Paksitan air force due to the sensitive nature of the region and they are rarely called due to the red tape and high costs involved. So this is isolation at its extreme.

Unlike Everest base camp where one cannot see Everest until he’s halfway through to camp2, K2 looms high above the K2 base camp. Its somewhat daunting and scary to see something so massive keeping a guard on all those wanting to climb it. To the north there’s K2 and just to the opposite side, there are the 3 massive peaks of broad peak. We stand humbled between these 2 8000ers every morning when we arise from our tents. We have been lucky to have caught a good glimpse of K2 as we approached BC as from my understanding, K2 is almost always shrouded with clouds. It was an indescribable feeling gazing upon its lofty peak as I tried to decipher the different routes that had been used by climbers from the south side (Abruzzi ridge, cessan route, central rib, magic line, western ridge). It was difficult enough getting to base camp via the tough relentless trek on the Baltoro glacier. When I saw K2, I was engulfed by an overwhelming sense of an insurmountable task ahead. I was wondering how in the world I was going to get up there. Admiring the beauty of the mountains from below when you know that you’re not trying to climb it far differs when you know you’re trying to reach the peak. The beauty of the mountains turns to fear.

Getting to base camp wasn’t easy at all. The ride from Skardu to Askole took us a good 7h and wasn’t the safest of travels. There were landslides along the way which had to be manually cleared and certain segments of the route were winding over the edge of cliffs with boulders perched precariously atop just waiting to slide off. The 2 way traffic on a one way road also made things much more interesting. There wasn’t a dull moment on the jeep ride to Askole.

In Askole, our loads had to be divided into 25kg packets for each porter to carry. It was a mess splitting the loads as all the villagers looking for a job had gathered around our campsite and there had to be police presence to prevent things from getting unruly. I sure was glad that I didn’t have to be the one segregating the jobs amongst the porters.

Our trekking route was as follows:

Askole (3100m) -> Jhola (3200m) -> Paju (3400m) -> Urdukas (4150m) -> Goro II (4300m) -> Broad Peak Base Camp (4800m) -> K2 base camp (4980m)

This was the longest purest form of trekking I had ever experienced. 6 days trekking over 65km of unadulterated trails over the massive Baltoro glacier in the most rugged terrain and unforgiving weather ever. There was rain, sun, hail, snow along the way in and the numerous ups and downs on the slippery icy slopes didn’t make this trek one bit easy at all. However it was all worthwhile. It was one of the most beautiful treks that I’d ever made. The highest concentration of the highest peaks in the world was located in the region and I was glad to have witnessed them first hand.

After 5 days of walking from Askole just before reaching Concodria, the first glimpse of K2 came in sight. As my Sherpa, Kami, said his prayers I muttered my own. Kami had broken his arm from a falling rock just below camp 1 in 2015. He had to be evacuated and underwent a surgery to fix the fracture. As he was probably humbly requesting K2 to grant him safe passage this season, I was muttering the same in my head too. K2 was a gigantic sheet of ice and snow rising from below our feet to high above any other peaks in the area. It was the sole mountain that dominated the background of the entire scene. The weather was perfect. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It was as though K2 had stood guard in the exact position for thousands of years daunting over all the life forms that had the privilege to witness its splendor. It was an amazing but absolutely terrifying feeling that I was going to attempt climbing this massive peak in a few weeks.
We have been resting for the last 4 days in base camp waiting for a weather opportunity to make our first acclimatization cycle on the mountain. The sherpas have already fixed ropes to camp1 but there is too much snow at the moment to make any further progress on the mountain. There will be 28 people (Pakistanis, porters, sherpas and foreigners) attempting K2 from the Abruzzi ridge and 32 people attempting K2 from the Cessan route. The biggest expedition on the Abruzzi is us, Dreamer’s Destination and the biggest on the Cessan is Russel Brice’s Himex team. We will be fixing the routes independently on either route and will combine our efforts from above camp 4 when the 2 routes meet.

I will be setting out for my first acclimatization cycle soon. Will try to check in again in a few days time.

 
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Posted by on June 30, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

K2

This project has been 5 years in the making. I was invited to climb K2 by Khoo Swee Chiow just before I flew off to Everest in 2012. That idea had been planted in my head ever since. I couldn’t go with him that year as I was going to start work again in July 2012 and there was too little time to change plans. I was planning to go last year but due to the lack of sponsorship, my plans were foiled again. However this year, things seemed to fall in place and the man above seemed to be giving the green light.

It was a tough 6 months from Jan till June this year. I was looking for sponsors, training, working full time and sorting out permits, equipment and logistics for the climb all at the same time. It wasn’t easy. As one gets more senior at work, there seems to be a ton of more responsibilities and each time I tried to clear a certain duty, more fell on my shoulders. I was struggling daily to keep my head above water. Training to be a surgeon is no easy task. Never did I imagine that I would be at this stage in my orthopaedic surgical residency career and would be taking a break again to climb. I will be defaulted by another year to exit and complete my residency. But I realized that this was the last chance I probably had. This was a hurdle standing in my way before planning to start a family. There was a ton of resistance from work, family and my wife but as time went by, they realized that I had put my mind to it and I was serious about what I had committed to. They gradually became supportive as well. The last few months have also been a very spiritual journey for me. Unlike my journey on Everest, there isn’t a real reason as to why I should be sacrificing so much, working so hard and risking my life to climb K2. I have been asking myself why this strong attraction, why this much compulsion, why this need to climb. The more I thought, the more I realized I didn’t have an answer. However, the more I made time to think, reflect and pray, I have realized that this was something I have to do. It was more than just a hobby and a thrill seeking behavior. I couldn’t explain. However I hope to be able to articulate the reason as time goes on during the climb.

I’m currently in Skardu (2500m) in the Northern most Gilgit Baltistan territory in Pakistan. This is the last place with readily available wifi and mobile reception. We’ll be starting our 8h jeep ride to Askole (3300m) tmr and then starting our 6 day journey on foot to K2 Base camp (5000m). I arrived in Islamabad on the 14th of June and met the rest of my team before flying to Skardu on 16th June. We had a splendid clear day and got a glimpse of the massive Karakouram range and the mighty Nanga Parbat (the 9th highest mountain in the world but the 2nd most deadly of them all). We have been restocking the food items, packing and sorting out paper work for the last 3 days here in Skardu. My K2 team comprises of 2 Americans, 2 Icelanders (1 climber and 1 video/photographer), 1 Norwegian, 3 Chinese (who’re all trying to be the 1st Chinese to complete all 14 8000m mountains) and myself. We will have a support team of 9 sherpas, 4 Pakistani high altitude climbers and 5 cooks.

I will endeavor to update this blog if I can borrow satellite wifi from my climbing partners. Else pls see my personal fb page or climbeverest2012 fb page for occasional updates.

I will also be raising funds for 2 charities during this climb. I’ll be raising funds for the Home Nursing Foundation (HNF) as well as the Singapore National Stroke Association and fund raising efforts will go on till the end of the year. The details of my charity effort and the dedicated programes for which the funds raised will be channelled to can be found at https://give.asia/movement/no_mountain_too_high_1 (for HNF) and https://www.giving.sg/campaigns/no_mountain_too_high (for SNSA). Please spread the word and donate generously.

A big shout out to all those who’ve helped out in 1 way or another to have made this climb possible!

May this season be gentle on the climbers and may everyone be safe and successful on the mountain.

View of Nanga Parbat from the air. The deadly mountain which claimed 31 lives before it was first sumited in 1953. It remains the 2nd deadliest mountain in the world to climb.

View from Concordia Motel in Skardu. Beautiful snow capped peaks with the Indus river winding through the valley.

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

Story from 5 years ago – Everest Summit Push!

Story from 5 years ago – Everest Summit Push!

Almost 5 years have passed and I still hadn’t gotten down to writing the last segment of my climb. I’ve no excuses but would being busy at work be a reason good enough to spare me from assault?

As me and Gayathri returned from Nepal to Singapore on our silk air flight on the 3rd of June together with my secondary school teacher Mr Krishnan, I was in for a pleasant but embarrassing surprise. The captain of the plane welcomed everyone on board n something more. ‘A special welcome to Dr Kumaran Rasappan who is here with us. He has successfully scaled to the summit of Mt Everest and raised money for charity in doing so. Congratulations Dr Kumaran’. As the other passengers started clapping, I sank lower in my seat hoping that no one would realize it was me. It seemed that Gayathri and Mr Krishnan were more excited on the news than me.

I was surprised that only the 3 of us together with another couple were the only ones who got off at Singapore being their final destination. The rest of the passenger were in transit to Australia. Apparently Australia has a high Nepali population. As we were claiming our bags I noticed a huge crowd gathered at out the belt we were at. I didn’t tell anyone other than family abt my arrival. But there was no one else at exiting from there. Oh dear, it dawned upon me that my summit was something bigger than I ever expected. My mom was the first to greet me outside the gate. She hugged me with all her might and gave a kiss my cheek. Something that I had only remembered her doing as I was a young child. Following which media crew engulfed me with thralls of camera flashes. My title sponsors ‘Cerebos’ were present and the alumni and current members of 01 raffles scout group were also present. Sporadic pockets of friends formed the exterior of this group and the rest of my family was nestled quietly at the perimeter. I took to them first. It felt really weird being greeted by so many ppl. I knew it was just everest but I was made to feel like star and that I had done something extraordinary. The months following that memorable day would be filled with media interviews, photoshoots, enquiries from fellow aspiring everesters on everest and numerous talks and lectures to educational/medical / commercial institutions. Till today, I’m still giving talks. Its getting draining but every time I talk abt the mountains, it makes me feel as though I’m back on my climbs again and that gives me the motivation to keep talking. I live on the mountains through the memories and the passion of sharing my experiences.

What’s keeping me busy now? Life has a way of entangling people in the moment and keep them from looking back or forwards. It has been such for me. I’m training to become a fully qualified orthopedic surgeon in Tan Tock Seng hospital and it’ll take me another 2 years to fully qualify. This seems to be another mountain keeping me extremely busy all the time. The life of a specialist trainee is not easy at all. Sleepless nights, exams after exams, long hours, on calls, studying and doing research in the only free time you’ve got left. I love medicine but honestly, I’d rather be on the mountain anytime. Life was straight forward and simple. U take one step forward and you know you’re one step closer to your goal of the summit but in working life, no matter how much you struggle, the end product may not seem to be in sight. Another mountain to climb indeed.

Where did I last leave everyone hanging? On the final days of the climb during summit push. Let me take things from there and complete the loop.

It was 2am and my alarm clock rang. This time I knew that it was the last time I would be waking up early from base camp. Our last cycle and also our summit push! We ate breakfast, put our gear on and bid farewell to everyone staying behind. We had done this a couple of times now but there was a different feeling this time round, everyone was more solemn. There would be summits and there would be disappointment but what we were all worried abt was if everyone who bid us farewell would be seen again.

It was the quickest trawl through base camp. But as the sun began to rise, we clearly could see that the ice was certainly less stable as the season was drawing to a close. There were a lot of mini avalanches with ice drift spinning past us as we crossed the ice fall. I remember this scary moment where part of the western shoulder broke off in front of us and all of us ducked. After a few seconds till we waited for the wind to settle we realized that it had only been a small avalanche but it was sure damn scary. I was certain that this summit window would be the last for the season.

It was a quick rest in camp 1 and by the late morning on the same day, we were fast on our way to camp 2. It was a pretty scary experience trudging to camp 2 this time. Although I clocked the fastest timing, the route was sprawled with dangers which we had not experienced before. The season was getting warm and ice from either sides of the western cwm (Nuptse and western shoulder of Everest) had started breaking off. This made the section prone to avalanches and there were huge blocks of ice and rock spewed all across the cwm. Some parts of the straight forward route had to be modified as large crevasses had formed very close to the main route. We saw a few small avalanches along the way as well as a huge one which had us kneeling just to avoid the spin drift. I started wondering how the situation would be when we made our return a few days later.

Sitting at the top of the berschund, the IMG camp site was the furthest and highest amongst all the others. Just when you think it you’ve reached C2, it would be another half hour climb just to reach our campsite. Even though I had been there a couple of times now, I really felt exhausted this time going for almost a full day from base camp straight to C2.

A quick and early breakfast the next morning and we were up the Lhotse face by sunrise via the new route, just to the right of the old one, avoiding the rock fall danger that the previous route possessed. I was fired up as I climbed. Somehow with renewed energy and motivation knowing that this would be the last time I’d ever be coming up this route again. The climb was also made easier from the foot-steps carved into the ice by all the many climbers.

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View from C3 looking down on the cloud filled Western Cwm with Pumori in the background

As I climbed, I was relieved when I saw the first tents starting to appear but it would be another 1.5hours before we reached IMG’s C3. We were moving much slower up at this altitude but were happy that O2 was finally made available. We slapped on our O2 masks, set the regulator at 0.5L/min and started resting. I didn’t know it but my body was being recharged much faster as compared to resting without O2. For the first time throughout the expedition, I was going to sleep with O2. Drifting in and out of sleep, I was truly yearning for the next day to start as I forgot how uncomfortable it could get sleeping with O2 from my memory of Cho Oyu.

It was an early start the next day just as the sun hit the Lhotse face. For the first time in this expedition, I was climbing with O2 and it made a HUGE difference. I felt strong and was rather fast compared to ever before. We were soon scrambling up the yellow band in about an hour after setting off. The yellow band was a really tiring vertical 30 m segment where crampons had to spark and screech on rock. I could see the queue of climbers behind us waiting to clear the segment. Soon, we reached the Geneva Spur where we could see the branching trail which led to C4 of those climbing Lhotse. We carried on west towards the south col. Before I knew it, I got a glimpse of C4 perched delicately amongst the ruins of previous expeditions on the beautiful South Col at 7900m. It was a rather quick climb from C3 to C4 which took me about 3.5hours.

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Clearing the Yellow Band at about 7800m

C4 was a very dry, isolated place with dead bodies hidden amongst the ruins of shredded tents and plastic and used O2 tanks from almost 60 years of expeditions. For the first time, I could see Everest, from a different angle, standing there right in front of me in all her glory. I was wondering how in the world I was supposed to climb that remaining 1 vertical kilometre towards the sky in just a few hours. I had reached literally the highest point in my life thus far and the scary face of Everest loomed in front of me. While I was eating and resting, I had to mentally prepare myself for what seemed how a soldier would feel before starting his strike on his enemies at war. I knew I had to give my 110% but didn’t know if I was going to make it out alive. It was a sobering thought that kept me from sleeping for the rest of the day. We rested from about noon till 8pm and then we were off on the same day.

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A different view of Everest from the South Col. A shear vertical additional 1 km more to go!

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Resting with O2 in C4 waiting for the summit push in the evening

With the O2 set at 2L/min, I was fast. The difference I felt with climbing with O2 was like night and day. We climbed past the triangular face and into the unknown. There I came across my encounter with my first dead body on the slopes. On the 19th of May which was the 1st summit window, there were over 200 climbers vying for the summit which caused a traffic jam. Many were asked to return due to their O2 tanks running low. 4 climbers who reached the summits died on their way down to C4 as their O2 ran out and they were left lying beside the main path up. There was this person lying still on the snow as I was climbing. Initially I thought he was resting but when he lay motionless for the next 10 mins as I passed him, it occurred to me that he was one of those who died on the 19th. I encountered all 4 of those who died. We had to literally go around and cross them as they blocked our path. It was a sobering experience and even though I had seen dead people as a doctor, this was different. I was reminded of my own mortality as I knew I was going to do exactly what they had tried doing a week back. Before my mind could sink deeper into this fear, I had to shake myself out of it and get my focus back on.

I reached the balcony at about 8400m where we had our first O2 tank change. My mask was only off for about 5 mins but within that time, my fingers and toes started freezing up and I started panting harder. It was -40deg Celcius and I was in the death zone where O2 levels were about a third of what was available at sea level. Sherpas choose to climb with O2 not because they can’t make it to the top without it but as it keeps them warm. I clearly knew what a difference it made with O2 that moment. When I was resting in the dark for that few moments, I saw this female climber getting dragged up the slope by 2 sherpas on short rope. The 3rd Sherpa quickly removed her pack, her down and made her comfortable. The climber looked like she was in a terrible state. She couldn’t talk, was gasping and before she knew it, the Sherpas changed her tank and got her back onto her feet even though she was pleading for a few more moments of rest. I really thought she wasn’t going to make it down alive.

With a new tank, it was time to tackle the rest of the south east ridge. The sun began to rise around 4.30 am and it was truly an unforgettable sight. When people ask me now, what the most memorable part of the summit was. I undoubtedly always tell them that it was this moment when the sun rose and finally I could see how high I had climbed; to see the Tibetan plateau on my right and Nepal on my left with the shadow of Everest cast upon Nepal – unforgettably mesmerising. I was looking down upon Lhotse by that time and I knew the summit couldn’t be that far away. I finally reached the south summit and had a view of the true summit just a stone’s throw away but I knew it would be another few hours before I got there.

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A view of the true summit taken from the South Summit. The Hillary Step and the queue of climbers that a waiting to clear the segment can be seen.

The knife edge ridge followed the south summit. There was already 2 way traffic by this time with people who had already summited returning back. The 1 way rocky face just before the Hillary step was extremely difficult to manoeuvre with this 2 way traffic. There were dangerous instances where we had to clip off the fixed lines for a sustained periods to allow climbers to pass. Soon I reached the Hillary Step. 10metres of vertical rock which stood between the summit and a climber achieving his dreams. It was harder than I had expected. I was panting so hard just after completing it and had to turn up my O2 to 3L/min just to catch my breath. I knew now why it was considered the crux of the climb.

As I passed the Hilary Step and climbed higher, I knew there was no further obstacles that stood between me and the summit now. I knew that 4 years of preparations and hard work was going to be paid off. Though a hundred thoughts tried running past my mind, I was just too tired to be excited. I walked till there was no further land to walk upwards. I knew that this was it. This was the summit of the world!

26th of May 2012 at 0655H (Nepal Time) I stood on the rooftop of the world. I was thankful for everyone who have seen me through till this moment and for God to have allowed me to achieve this feat.

Prayer flags covered the summit and there were about a dozen people at that moment celebrating their triumph. The walkie talkie sounded “Congratulations, now get down as soon as possible”. I knew the dangerous of staying atop for long. I quickly got down to business. I took out my sponsor flags, took videos and photos and had a few moments for myself. I had dreamt of this moment for a long time but when I was actually realising it at the very moment, I wasn’t as emotional as I thought I’d be. My mind was a blank and I was thinking about the perils ahead on the way down. The sense of satisfaction, elation and exuberation were emotions that I had dreamt I’d be feeling on the summit but none of that surfaced. I was extremely exhausted and the feeling became even more overwhelming when I knew that I was only halfway done. I had to go back down. Within 20 mins, I was climbing back down again.

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The proudest moment in my life! Standing on the summit of the world with the Singaporean flag! 26th May 2012 t 0655H (Nepal time)

Coming down was harder than going up. I had to give my fullest concentration to each step, else I knew the consequences. Slowly, I made my way down to C4. Had my first drink in over 12 hours. Picked myself up and made my way down to C2. I was totally exhausted and dehydrated by the time I reached C2 close to 7pm. It was a 23hour summit push no food and minimal water. I got a shock when I peed that night. There was blood in my urine! I realised that I had exhausted my body so much that it started breaking down my muscles in order to get energy and what I saw was a phenomena called myoglobinuria – where the red pigmented myoglobin from the muscles got excreted from the urine due to muscle breakdown as the body didn’t have enough energy stores. Scary but relieving as I had some medical background and knew that it wasn’t life threatening. I scrambled into my tent to get my much needed rest and nourishment.

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

The next day, with renewed energy, I was hurrying back to BC as fast as I could hoping that the rest of the melting ice would not crumble on me while I was passing. The celebrations awaited. It was indeed a much anticipated and welcomed event after the 2 months of hardship. Only then did it start sinking into me what I had accomplished.

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Celebrations at BC with the customary Sherpa baked cake. We knew the task was accomplished finally after 2 months of gruelling hard work, determination, perseverance and sheer strength from within.

My journey wasn’t over just as yet. Mr Krishnan had already made his way down to KTM and was awaiting my arrival there and Gayathri was waiting for me at Phortse. We still had to go to Gorkha to deliver the computers to the students there. I made a long 1 day journey from BC all the way to Phortse on the 28th and reunited with Gayathri after almost a month. We were back at Lukla by the next day but had to take a helicopter back to KTM. The weather was bad and we could not fly out by regular twin otter planes.

My Everest adventure concluded with me reuniting with Mr Krishnan and Netra Mani Kattel, the ex-headmaster of Shree Saraswothi higher secondary school in Gorkha, in Tibet Guest House in Thamel and then proceeding to Fire and Ice café to finally savour good city food after being away on the mountains for almost 3 months.

Many things have happened since then. With me updating my blog after 5 years, as you may have guessed, many more things are about to happen. I’ll disclose the information slowly over the coming weeks.

Currently however, there are 3 Singaporeans trying for the summit of Everest this year. The NTU-NIE team comprising of Yusrina, Jeremy Tong and Dr Sara. Let us all wish them the best of luck for this season!

 
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Posted by on May 1, 2017 in Uncategorized