Friday, 29 November 2013

Holiday snaps

In some ways it seems only five minutes ago since I got back from Pakistan and in others it seems a long long time ago and a distinct lack of posts here. My motivation for climbing was pretty much at an all time low after getting back from the Charakusa valley.  Partly due to  letting Jon down but also just the fact it was another unsuccessful trip, two in row after the Chamlang expedition with Nick last year. Now that’s pretty standard for the Himalayan game (unless you’re Mick Fowler who seems to manage to nail amazing objectives on every recent trip!) but it’s still very frustrating.

I haven’t managed much climbing in the past few months but have a had a couple of great weekend trips out to Chamonix and the odd day out on the grit. 

Running up on the Chaine des Fiz, definitely the quite side of the valley but equally as stunning

Amazing views of the Mt Blanc Massif, a very special place

Reminding the arms and head how to rock climb at Cratcliffe (photo Chris Coleman)

At the end of October Josie and I headed off to Sicily for 9 days. There is such a difference between holidays and expeditions and after the pressure, stress and disappointment of Pakistan, Sicily was utter bliss.

Somewhere on Mount Etna... no we didn't see very much of it

A very moody looking Taormina with Mount Etna in the distance
We had an amazing time exploring the Island and in between taking in all the sights and local food managed to squeeze in a bit of road biking and a few days climbing.  The climbing development is fairly recent and growing every day.  We based ourselves in San Vito Lo Capo for three days climbing, a small coastal town on the NW corner of Sicily. It is home to the most concentrated and extensive climbing on the island and makes a great Euro sport climbing destination.

Looking across at the San Vito Lo Capo coast line and sea cliffs that are home to a lot of the climbing.
We weren't there purely for climbing and with only three half days of climbing hardly touch the area.  We both really enjoyed it though and although some people have said that the quality isn't amazing the few routes I did were really good with a mix of all styles. It definitely more than just the climbing quality that makes it a good destination, the setting and local region all make it a worth while visit.  More importantly it definitely got my psyche back for climbing.  Just be warned about the crazy and sometimes very baffling 'pig's tail' lower offs, they take some working out when you're pumped stupid!   

Exploring the streets of the medieval town of Cefalu

They sure knew how to build stuff back in the day, the ruins of Sergesta

Josie riding in the hills above Castellammare del Golfo

Water stop in Scoppelo

Sicily was great, road biking, climbing and and a whole load of culture thrown into one.  A few of the other highlights were watching Stromboli erupt five times during dinner - pretty amazing!  Exploring the old medieval streets of Cefalu and enjoying the local food and very nice local wine...  And on top of that, not stressing about getting up a big mountain everyday!

Loving Life!

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Heading home

I bailed. The weather window held and we went back up for a second attempt on Link Sar, found a way through the glacier and onto the face and after one night on the route I did something I’ve never done before, I had to bail when everything was looking good.

We’d had a big day on the first day trying to beat the incoming weather, leaving base camp early morning, making the approach, and then climbed up to about 6000m on the north face where we managed to get a very small bivi ledge on top of a rock. I hadn’t felt amazing on the first day and Jon had done most of the leading as we moved together up the North Face.
Jon finding a way through the glacier to access the face

Jon on the lower part of the North Face

After a very slow start the next morning Jon headed off and as I followed I just knew straight away I was way more tired than I should have been. After taking over the lead I knew it was all over. I couldn’t even lead a full 70m pitch, having to stop and belay after 50m on ground we should have been moving together on. Not wanting to give in I set off again, but exactly the same thing happened, I just ran out of steam after 50m and had to stop. I’d never felt like this on a climb before, completely exhausted. My legs weren’t too tired, but it just felt like there was nothing in me to power them. I’ve never thought of myself as the most technical or fastest climber, but one thing I know I can do is push on when my body says it’s had enough. But not this time there just wasn’t anything there.

Jon heading up the North Face

Jon coming up to the ridge where we’d hoped to get the tent up

I’d been fighting a stomach bug for the last couple of weeks which had seen me struggling with psyche for a bit, but after a prescribed ‘bowl bomb’ from a doctor friend back home between our attempts I thought I’d sorted it and on the way back up the psyche was definitely back and I was super excited to get back on Link Sar. I guess in the end it had taken a hell of a lot more out of me than I thought and at altitude I just wasn’t recovering.

On the airy ridge 

Ignoring the massive disappointment I’d love to be able to say it was a difficult decision to make to go down, but with how I felt there was only one option for me. Then with how I felt on the descent and the walk back to base camp there was no doubt in my mind I had made the right decision, as difficult as it is to accept now. To say I’m gutted and disappointed is an understatement but more so for Jon, he has acclimatized well, as always is as fit as ever and the route was good to go. I really feel I’ve let him down massively, but Jon being Jon is being great about the whole thing even though he must be so disappointed. I’ve had expeditions fail in the past due to weather or conditions but to fail because of my body letting me down is something I’m finding hard to accept and very frustrating.

The ridge looked like we should be able to get a good bivi, but we soon realised it was going to take too long so lowered back down to start chopping an easier but smaller ledge on a rock 

Jon trying not to fall off the bivi ledge

I really don’t feel I’m recovering up here and don’t have confidence in getting fit enough for another go, so we start the journey back to Islamabad tomorrow.  It's always difficult going away empty handed from a trip, especially when you don’t know why you haven’t been able to give it your best effort.  But the Charakusa Valley has been an amazing place to visit and I feel very lucky to have been able to spend the time here that we have and I hope I can come back again one day and actually climb something here. 

Amazing view of K7 against the night sky from our bivi

Friday, 23 August 2013

Link Sar attempt… sort of

After countless days in the rain at base camp it looked like we eventually had a few days of good weather coming so had planned on going up Sulu Peak to sleep high, but at the last minute the weather changed and a week long weather window appeared.  We weren’t really acclimatized enough for Link Sar and hadn’t checked out the approach properly but the weather looked too good to miss, so we decided to go up to Link Sar and just see how we felt.  A quick repack of the bags lead to some stupidly heavy packs, about 19kg each including all the ropes, rack and food for seven days, but we knew there’d be no going fast and light with our lack of acclimatization.

A quick change of plans and sorting kit for Link Sar rather than Sulu Peak (Photo – Jon Griffith)

The first day didn’t see us at the bergschrund as we’d hoped. Getting caught by the sun and heat on the unfrozen glacier, we bivied at about 5,100m thinking it was only a couple of hours to the start of the route at around 5,500m. 4 hours after leaving our bivi spot we still hadn’t made it to the start of the route. The glacier was so broken, gnarly and scary. Where Jon and Will had simply walked up last year we were struggling to find our way around massive crevasses and ice towers. In the time we’d hoped to be a couple of hours up the route, we still hadn’t found a way to the start of it!

Jon heading through the first ice fall and onto the upper glacier

Threading our way through endless crevasses (Photo – Jon Griffith)

The safest place on the glacier we could find to stop once the sun got too intense (Photo – Jon Griffith)

It was fair to say I was knackered from the big pack and heat of the day before, it had really taken it out of me. Luckily Jon didn’t seem to have noticed the heavy pack and heat and he’d been happily breaking trail all the way up so far and was raring to go. We were really late and it was still going to take at least a couple more hours to work our way onto the face and on top of that I just didn’t feel comfortable starting up a massive route as tired as I felt already. Having figured out a way onto the face, we left a gear stash at our high point and headed back down to base camp to recoup for a couple of days. Fingers crossed this weather holds and we’ll head back up in a day or so.

Heading up toward the start of the route with sunrise on K6 behind (Photo – Jon Griffith)

Jon at the point we got shut down, we tried a couple of different ways but couldn’t find a way through and definitely didn’t fancy the bridge of ice blocks on the right
Heading back down to base camp with the kit stashed and a better route found for our return in a few days

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Rainy Days in Base Camp

Time is dragging on very slowly at the moment. Since we got down from Drifika six days ago we have had heavy rain in base camp every day, all day. We needed some snow, but I dread to think how much it has put down in the last week up high. In the fleeting glimpses we get of K6 through the clouds it is plastered with snow and has taken on a very wintery look. But it's all good and hopefully when the weather settles the conditions will be much better.

Gone are the blue skies and sunshine – a wet and gloomy base camp

On these trips I don’t mind a few days of bad weather at first, especially after just getting down from a few days up high.  The forced rest days are good as it is hard to make yourself take them whilst the sun is shining. But after six days of it, as soothing as the sound of rain falling on the tent is, frustration does start to show! 

No matter what the weather Ali and Ali keeping producing a seemingly unlimited quantity of food

The daily routine of waking up to the sound of rain, breakfast, read, lunch, read, watch a movie, snooze, dinner, bed, is all very restful to start with and probably sounds like the perfect holiday to a lot of people, with no distractions of mobile phones, news and no internet apart from e-mails it is about as peaceful and restful as you can get. But that’s not what we’re here for and with a lot of time to think I often find myself questioning why I do these trips. The amount of unproductive and wasted time really gets to me, but then that’s all part of the game I guess. It is quite funny how the little things you do every day and think nothing of at home like shaving and washing clothes almost add excitement to the day!

K6 slowly emerges from the clouds for a brief spell

After a very brief sunny spell this morning the rain is falling as hard as ever, so it is back to my annual attempt to learn French and listen to a few hours of French lessons to try and make the most of the down time. I try on every expedition, but never seem to make it past the second CD… The weather is meant to improve in the next few days so hopefully we’ll be able to escape base camp again soon.

Jon eagerly checking the weather forecast for good news…

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Drifika Attempt

After our failed attempt on Sulu Peak because of a faulty stove we headed straight back up the next day but this time we got shut down by the heat. It is just so hot out here at the moment that all the couloirs on Sulu Peak were almost constant streams of rock fall 24 hours a day. We spent two nights below it, but it didn’t freeze enough at any point to make it safe enough to climb and after seeing one spectacularly large rock fall we turned tail and ran back down to the valley.

Less than 24 hours after getting down from sitting below Sulu Peak we were on our way up to Drifika, a beautiful and aesthetic pyramid peak sitting at 6447m. Perfect acclimatization height, but more importantly a snow ridge so there wouldn't be any rock fall problems in the heat. Leaving base camp with five days of food and lots of extra luxuries the packs felt very heavy, but we got through the two ice falls and set our little tent up on the Drifika Glacier around 5100m that afternoon just in time to escape a massive rain storm.

Heading up to the first ice fall

Climbing up the side of the first ice fall

We were awoken around 3am just before the alarm by more heavy rain, so got an extra couple of hours sleep before leaving. Unfortunately the rain and a lack of overnight freeze meant it was only about an hour after leaving the tent that we were back putting it up in the exact same spot. The glacier was just too dangerous to cross without a freeze.  The rain had saturated the surface so we didn’t know if we were just post holing through deep snow or falling through crevasses.

Heading back through big crevasses to wait for colder conditions the next day (Photo – Jon Griffith)

Take two… with a good freeze the next night we were off just after 4am and easily across the glacier and onto a small ridge that lead up to the col below the North Ridge. Even at 6.30am the heat in the sun was just so powerful and zapping of any energy. We settled in for a day on the col at c.5700m below the North Ridge, which looked as we’d hoped: straightforward snow climbing up to the summit. The views on the way up to and from the col were just amazing, a panorama of Karakoram giants, Masherbrum, K2, Broad Peak, Chongolisa, the Gasherbrums. It was amazing to see all these peaks for the first time.

Jon at sunrise on the Drifika Glacier

On the initial ridge leading up to the Col below the North Ridge (Photo – Jon Griffith)

Escaping the midday heat in the tent at the Col, K7 in the background

Sunset on K7 from the col (Photo – Jon Griffith)

Sunset with Masherbrum on the right

Expecting to be able to solo up and down, we had only brought one rope and four ice screws just in case there were any short tricky sections. We soon discovered the next morning that what had looked like nice névé was actually about a cm of white useless crud on top of hard black ice. With multiple swings for each ice axe placement, although not at all steep, it just feels very insecure, hard work and the sort of ground I hate so we soon had the rope out to move together. But with only four screws we couldn’t get very far before having to put belays in, which were actually a thankful rest for our screaming calfs from all the front pointing! In the end at about 6,100m we decided to pull the plug and head back down to the tent. It was taking too much out of us for acclimatization, not enjoyable and was going to take ages to get off with only one rope.
Jon heading up the North Ridge of Drifika
On the North Ridge with K2, Broad Peak and Chongolisa in the background (Photo – Jon Griffith)
It looked like névé, but no… climbing on the icy west flank of the North Ridge (Photo – Jon Griffith)
Jon on the North Ridge with the amazing backdrop of K2, Broad Peak and Chongolisa
Heading back to the col, K2 is the prominent pyramid peak in the centre

It was a shame not to have reached the summit but it did its job and got us some height to help with acclimatizing and was just nice to be high in the mountains again. We left the col under grey sky’s very early the next morning and coming back down the glacier and ice falls to base camp it was amazing how much they had changed in just the three days we’d been up there. It is just so hot out here at the moment. I never thought I’d be asking for bad weather on a trip but we really need some snow to bring the faces back into condition. 

Back at the col, a pretty spectacular campsite! (Photo – Jon Griffith)
Jon photographing the approaching weather which thankfully just missed us

Heading back down to the Drifika Glacier and base camp the next morning, just before the weather arrived (Photo – Jon Griffith)