Thursday, 18 December 2014

Summit Day - The First Ascent of Nar Phu Peak

" Morning Sir - black tea?" I am woken at 1am in my tent at Base Camp at 5200m by Nima, our camp sherpa.

I have slept in all of the clothes I will be wearing for the summit attempt so I only need to pull out my inner boots from my sleeping bag, where they have been overnight to keep them from freezing, before pulling them on and then fitting my outer boots.  This is a task that takes a lot of effort and has me out of breath and needing to rest for a few minutes before then leaving my tent for a porridge breakfast with the rest of the summit team: Rhiannon, Heather, Dawn, Catherine, James, our 2 climbing Sherpas, Pasang and Dorje and finally Shika Pande
y, a trainee guide.

We start by heading downwards through a deep snow furrow that our climbing sherpas waded through yesterday for us.  It is not ideal to be heading downwards for 150m but our peak sits on the other side of a rock valley from our base camp.

It is minus 24
as we trudge down and then back up the same height to reach the face of the glacier.  It is here that we don harnesses, crampons, helmets, ice axes and rope up together. The initial climb is a simple 8m of 45° ice to get us onto the glacier where we plod upwards for 1.5hrs to reach the huge 100m high hanging glacier that blocks our path onto the upper glacier we need to reach to gain access to Nar Phu Peak.  

We have spent a lot of time using binoculars from base camp looking for a feasible route through the hanging glacier and have opted for an ice ramp at the glacier's right hand edge that leads right and then switches left.  The ramp starts out at an easy 45° but soon steepens to 65° hard ice.  We climb together in 3 rope groups and make it to the top shattered and in need of a drink and a snack bar.  Most of our water is frozen so we chip away at the ice to get some fluids into our bodies.

The wind has really picked up now and a few of our group are suffering from the early onset of frostbite.  We take off their boots and massage their feet before placing them into our armpits to rewarm them.

We now have an important choice, to continue along the glacier to the col, another kilometer of ice with crevasses to cross and then climb the West Ridge with a few false summits OR attempt to climb directly on the West Face where we are.  Until this moment, it has been hard to see which route is best due to the hanging glacier blocking our view of the complete route.

We choose the much steeper but objectively safer West Face.

We are now in a fight against the elements as the wind speed really picks up and freezes any skin that is not covered.

The West Face is very steep with snow pitches of 50°-75° which we climb in our rope teams with the use of some fixed rope and running belays to avoid any waiting around in the increasingly cold and harsh conditions.

We reach a tantalising 150m below the summit to find a large crevass to cross and a very steep 80° ice and snow wall blocking our route.  The time is racing away and we are aware that we will be descending the steep West Face in the dark. To come this far not to reach the top is heart breaking but we are not ready to give up yet so after a quick discussion, we agree to go for it and see if we can make it even though it will mean descending in the dark.  Dorje, one of our climbing sherpas, crosses the crevass on a snow bridge and leads up the ice placing a fixed line and an ice axe anchor at the top.  We follow him up scrambling on the ice and snow before reaching the top exhausted with our efforts at this altitude of 5900m.  There is now only a steady slope of 50° to reach the true summit.  We are going to make it and as a complete team of 9 out of 9.

 We reach the rock tower summit on the top of Nar Phu Peak at just after 2pm and check our GPS and get a reading of 5930m.  We have done it, we have climbed an unclimbed peak, we are the first sumitteers of this mountain.  To stand where no one has previously stood is exhilarating and emotional!  Lots of hugs and a few tears before putting up our prayer flags bought specifically from the Buddinath in Kathmandu and taking our summit photo and off we go conscious of the route to be reversed and the need for safety now on the descent.

It takes all of our energy reserves and more to make it back to camp in the dark, finishing after 16.5hrs at 7:30pm.

What an amazing day!