Tuesday, 3 December 2013

An account of the incredible Chhubohe Expedition, by the Director of Expedition Wise Ltd.

“Tent tea, tent tea”

It’s 4am on Saturday 16th November 2013, -20°C and I am awoken from my stuttered sleeping pattern inmy tent at Base Camp at 4,600m with the call for morning tent tea.

This is day 15 of our Unclimbed Himalayan Peak Expedition to climb Chhubohe (pronounced “Chub Chay”) and other unclimbed peaks on the Chomochomo Danda range in the Lost Valleys of Nar-Phu. Our 15 days so far were as follows:

1 day flying in; 3 days in Kathmandu organising the permits, buying last minute items of personal kit, sorting out all group climbing kit, and some visiting of the local tourist sites; 3 days trekking along the Annapurna circuit; 3 days trekking into the Lost Valleys area to Base Camp; 2 rest days; 1 day of climbing to summit 2 new unnamed and unclimbed peaks.

Basecamp, with the South West Face of Chhubohe behind
The steaming mug of tea is handed to me by Tendi Sherpa, one of the two climbing Sherpas we have with us; the “us” being Bug Wrightson, a freelance outdoor activities leader, Ian Foster, an outdoor equipment retailer and myself, Brian Jackson, director of  Expedition Wise 

An hour later, Spantik boots have been warmed enough to fit my feet, all clothes and climbing kit has been donned or packed and breakfast porridge eaten, Bug, Pasang Sherpa, Tendi Sherpa and myself set off for the South West face of Chhubohe.  Ian is unfortunately suffering from a chest infection but braves the cold to eat breakfast with us before waving us off.
Map showing Chhubohe in the Lost Valleys
One year previously, I had received the list of the newly opened unclimbed peaks from the Nepalese Ministry of Tourism.  I had selected one main peak in a region north of the Annapurna range in the romantically names “Lost Valleys” – Chhubohe.  There were two reasons for this choice.  Firstly I had not been to the Annapurna region of Nepal and secondly (and far more important), it was the lowest of all the peaks on the list at 5,603m (height TBC upon climbing) which suited me just fine.

Knowing November to be a good month to trek in Nepal, I set the date for the climb as November 2013 and paid for the necessary climbing permit.  Now all I had to do was earn the money for the actual challenge, buy some more kit (never a hardship), recruit some other foolish dreamers and convince my wife that I can take the whole month of November off (after already having been booked to lead charity treks up Kilimanjaro x 2, Simien Mountains in Ethiopia, Elbrus in Russia and Great Wall of China next year).

Bug, Brian & Ian at basecamp, ahead of the Chhubohe ascent
Excited about the adventure of a lifetime (let me backtrack and say that this had been a dream of mine since I was 8 years old – to climb an unclimbed mountain, to walk where no person had ever walked before), I sent out an e-mail to all the Expedition Wise staff asking who would like to join me in this adventure.  I immediately had responses from Bug Wrightson and Ian Foster.  Bug I knew from his working with me on our London to Paris charity cycle rides.  Ian I knew from countless 3 Peaks charity challenges and our “Old Man’s Trip to Elbrus” the previous year.  The team was formed and the challenge set – we were off!

We start walking at 5am on the frozen turf and slate and zigzag our way towards the South West face. I am both confident and anxious.  Confident, as two days previously, Pasang Sherpa and I have already climbed 2 previously unclimbed and unnamed peaks on the Chomochomo Danda range at 5,506m and 5,610m respectively. We named them Jaistai Dada (Just a Hill) and Kaloche (Black Peak – named after Arnold Black, a friend of mine who recently lost his battle with Pancreatic Cancer).  I am therefore confident I can climb to this height.  I am anxious however as I know the snow conditions are appalling (deep non formed sugar crystals) and the worry that the single day of rest may not have been enough for me to recover for this longer, harder climb.  With this not all together positive outlook, I continue on with the team.  

Brian, Bug & Sherpa Pasang en route to summit with Annapurna & Chulu range behind
We take just over 2 hours to reach the South West Face proper and the snow line.  We now all harness up, attach our crampons, don our helmets, tie onto the rope a s a group of 4 and wield our ice axes as we start the actual climb.  Maybe I was mistaken about the snow as the first 10 paces are solid with the reassuring crunch and squeaking sound of solid compact snow.  Step 11, I fall through the crust to my knees in complete powder and realise that it is going to be a long frustrating climb on the face.  We continue as a group of 4, kicking steps, breaking through crust, wading up to our hips, digging a furrow, sometimes swimming in snow to increase our height slowly but surely.  Even when the slope kicks up to 75°, the snow is still fighting us and causing several choice words from both the Sherpas and Bug and I.

Eventually the sun crests the ridge above us and lifts our spirits.  The views are amazing of the Annapurnas behind us set in a pink and orange sky.  The sun causes us to overheat but we are not really in a position to redress as we are now on the steepest section of the South West Face. Pasang Sherpa leads the final steps to the ridge and we all collapse exhausted and extremely hot.  We redress, take on some much needed water, leave our packs behind taking only the essentials for the final push along the South East Ridge to the rock summit of Chhubohe.

Brian and Tendi ascending Chhubohe in deep snow
I want to lead this section so I unrope from the centre and set off to break trail in the very deep snow.  I am soon breathing so heavily that the other 3 laugh at me looking as though I am on fire with the amount of breath condensating around me.  I continue to the top of the ridge within 100m of the actual rock summit and then stop to film the other 3 as they make their way up the ridge to join me.

The final 100m is a narrow ridge of snow and rock with intimidating drops to either side leading to a pulpit of rock on the summit so we all rope up once again and set off on the final section of the climb.  2m from the top, we realise that the summit rock is actually two towers split by a 1m gap; “like Adam & Eve on Tryfan on steroids” says Bug.  We have to jump this gap to reach the summit so we each take a deep breath, steel ourselves, and with the aid of the tensioned rope between us, leap over the chasm to land on our crampons on the rock pulpit.

Sherpa Pasang, Bug & Brian at the summit of Chhubohe

 Wahay!!  Woohoo!!  Amazing!!! We are all standing on top of Chhubohe, a first ascent in the Himalayas.  Congratulations and hugs all around whilst taking care not to fall off the 1m square summit tower down the precipitous 400m snow slope on the one side and the 550m rock and ice cliff on the other.  We check our 2 x GPS’ and get readings of 5,640m and 5,542m so go for the lower of the two readings as the official height.  After lots of photos in our charity t-shirts and banners (I am raising money for Pancreatic Cancer UK www.justgiving.com/brian-jackson2), we take out our prayer flags that have been blessed by the local Lama and start tying them on between the summit tower and the ridge.  We have now placed prayer flags 5kms apart on both the North and South main summits on this range of peaks. 

Brian at Chhubohe summit
We now only need to reverse our route back to return to our Base Camp.  We remain roped as we descend the South West Face, arriving tired, dehydrated but elated after 11hours back to camp.

Thank you to Bug and Ian for a great adventure and to Sherpas Pasang and Tendi for all their guidance, trail breaking and general friendship on this Himalayan First Ascent Expedition.

A huge thank you too, to everyone at home who supported us whilst we were away on the expedition, and your kind generosity to the fundraising for Pancreatic Cancer UK.
Prayer flags that the team assembled at Chhubohe peak