Mid-april 2019... The journey begins...
A new chapter opens with this Himlung 2019. The objective of these chronicles is to shed light on how an expedition works, to tell stories about what goes on internally, both for a better understanding of the desire for a summit, the attraction for high altitude, and to allow you to make a better choice for the next expedition or to organize your own ascent.
How can we speak "properly" about this expedition?
The main objective of these Himlung chronicles was to let a group of amateur climber get to know the Himlung and the realities of its ascent. To explain, over and over again, to clarify what this style of Himalayan expedition was just all about.
Right before our departure, the "Himlung 2019" expedition became a Mountain Magazine expedition as part of a partnership with Expédition Unlimited, one of the branches of Secret Planet (an agency based in Lyon).
Articles were published on the web by both Expédition Unlimited and Montagnes Magazine on their respective websites, based on the text I sent to Expédition Unlimited as the expedition progressed. First via email up to Koto and then later as we gained the more remote Phu valley, thanks to my Thuraya satellite phone. The use of audio files was surprising and new to me. A different way to share an experience. The challenge was interesting....
I would add another requirement, on the journalistic quality of this form of conversation.
It is difficult to know if these objectives were achieved. For me, there remains the pleasure of writing, an exercise that is both difficult and captivating at the same time.
The rest of the story will be written by Cécile, one of the participants of the ascent, in a future article in an issue of Montagnes Magazine, certainly in the fall of 2019.
Himlung 2019, the first chronicle
The different stages of an expedition on a high altitude summit.
An expedition is thought of, built, shared, and prepared long in advance.
Sometimes more than two years in advance....
And some of these steps are particularly important.
About two months before the expedition, the mountaineers meet over a weekend in the Alps - a crucial step. This is what Cécile described in an article for Montagnes Magazine.
Then, here I am in Kathmandu for the second step, the validation of the organization.
I always arrive 3 or 4 days before the group to make sure all preparations for the expedition have concretised as planned and to participate in the official briefing at the Ministry of Tourism.
On the terrace of Padma, opposite the white dome of the Stupa of Buddhanath, with my Nepalese companions, it is a question of verifying that the organization of equipment is as we had imagined together last autumn and, with what I presented to the participants during the winter.
My companions are Bishal Rai, head of the Himalayan Travellers agency and also sirdar of the expedition and trekking guide, as well as Dipen Bothe, "Nepali Mountain Guide" in charge of the whole ascent.
For the Himlung, this working meeting is relatively simple because it is a classic ascent that we know almost by heart. Except that many things can change and, thinking about possible (probable) hazards helps one to feel more relaxed about everything.
This 2019 expedition to the Himlung is no exception to theis rule, as the news came in 15 days ago.
It is impossible to reach the base camp with mules as planned and budgeted. It snowed a lot this winter in Nepal and the access trails to Phu have been damaged and are not passable with pack animals.
Everything has to be carried on someone’s back
Bishal has organized everything, but with an additional constraint: the loads are strictly calibrated to 25 kg so that the carriers can add their belongings for a total load of less than 30 kg (knowing that there is accommodation and food everywhere along the way, so the carriers can be autonomous).
This, at least doubles the budget for transport of equipment. And of course, the question of who will bear this cost arises immediately.
But for now, it's time for action.
Today, with three days to go, the situation has radically changed!!
Purna and Durga, the muleteers from Tal with whom we have been working for more than 10 years in the Phu Valley (but also for the Manaslu), have just returned from a reconnaissance trip to Meta. Good news, it will work with mules if the whole Nepalese team helps out in two or three places that are still too complicated and if we accept the possibility of delays.
Everything is much simpler this way.
The equipment has yet to be listed, the number of gas cartridges calculated and the functioning and movements of the Nepalese mountaineering team agreed. Because in continuous progress, it is a specific skill that few agencies master and it is also a continuous training challenge for us. It is above all Dipen's job to manage his team and plan the food at altitude, with one important constraint: that there is always a Nepali Leader rope with us at each camp with adequate means of communication.
We also decided to integrate Kumari into the junior "Nepali Leader" team (and not just in addition) with a real salary.
There will therefore be 7 people in the Nepalese mountaineering team, coming from very different ethnic groups:
1 "Nepali Mountain Guide", Dipen Bhote
3 Senior "Nepal Leaders", Dhan Magar, Kharma Sherpa, Darche Bhote (Dorje)
3 Junior "Nepal Leaders", Sonam Sherpa, Anil Rai, Kumari Kulung
To be more precise, the Nepalese guides are not required to carry equipment and we have managed to integrate a woman into our Nepalese team, also respecting the ratio of one Nepalese to two Westerners (the French UIAGM guide is counted in the travel team).
The salaries of the Nepalese team are the most important budget line of an expedition (this is the subject of a new page on the site "How much does an expedition cost"), but this reinforced management team is also a very real criterion of quality. Something that has been pointed out in this article on the comparison between the two Himlung expeditions in spring 2019.
At the end of the meeting, for Dipeen, I took a pair of Millet SHIVAs out of my luggage, a new shoe model for intermediate climbs (the 7000ers). It will be a good in situ test, since I will use the same model at altitude.
One day later....
It is now time to join Bishal in Bhrikuti Mandap, the offices of the Ministry of Tourism and the Mountaineering Section.
Légendes des photos:
First off a photo of the summit
Cécile and Dorje
An idea of the itinerary
A small map to understand the environs
And finally a photo of the team at the Hotel Padma. We are a group of 10 people. The photographer Frédéric is missing. And where did Jean-Paul get off to?
In La Grave, for the weekend meeting we. Everyone has made the effort to be there and it's been super!
A view from my desk!
Indeed, the situation on the ground is impressive. I have never seen this before.
Following an accident where a horse broke its leg sliding down the slope, the local DDE did a great job!
Bishal, at the Kopan house office, the office of Himalayan Travellers
Himlung 2019, the second chronicle
Behind the scenes of the Ministry of Tourism
"I would like to facilitate the administrative formalities for expeditions in my department, to make things more fluid for foreigners. It's really my priority..."
What a surprise when these remarks are made in a ministry in Nepal.
What a revolution!
Especially when Bishal, in charge of the administrative process of our expedition permits, testifies to the same reality.
Everything is easier....
I can only admire the courage and energy expended by this young woman.
What a pleasure to have a coffee with this high-caste head of department who takes the time to listen to a simple "quieré", a stranger.
However, I came to address some unpleasant topics.
Correction of the official list of authorized summits.
This document is the most important key to organizing an expedition in Nepal. And, unfortunately, it still contains many errors, especially the mountain access routes, the so-called "Caravan Route". And this detail has many consequences, both technical and economic.
For example, for the Himlung, the "Caravan route" is indicated only from the side of Phu, (the one we will use), but there is of course another side to this mountain, the acces from the east from the Tilje valley (also the return from the Manaslu).
Concretely, if you want to open a new route on this side...... Impossible, because even if the summit is authorized, you have to follow the "Caravan Route" through Phu, and therefore this slope is inaccessible to you.
This is often difficult for Western climbers to understand.
However, it is the misadventure of 3 talented young Austrian mountaineers who were forced to fall back on an opening on the Phu side, with in the end a very beautiful traverse to the neighbouring Himlung.
More broadly, updating this document is also very important to digitalise the formalities of ascent permits, as is the case for entry visas to Nepal or for trekking permits.
The answer is relatively simple.
The decision to correct this list lies with the highest level of the Nepalese state, "the Cabinet", the equivalent of the French Council of Ministers. This makes things more complex and necessarily requires a lot of time.
Will the prospect of the national event "2020 year of tourism in Nepal" have a beneficial effect?
I also had a second request.
To understand the procedure for proposing new summits to add to this list.
There are interesting peaks from an alpine point of view or for the economic development of a region such as the Limi massif or the Dolpo, but also in Phu.
Her answer is consistent and much more optimistic!
"Nepal having become a federal state, it is therefore the local level (community of communes or districts) which must address the ministerial level by addressing a request directly to the services of the Ministry of Tourism. »
Of course, this necessarily requires energy, perseverance and time... And a little internal support to move the dossier forward....
My third and much more ambitious proposal (the opening of all the "small summits in western Nepal") will be for later, "Tea time is finish...".
We'll talk about it again, of course.
With Bishal, we will focus on promoting the opening of a few peaks, such as Nemju in the Phu Valley, Teri Himal in the Naar Valley, Gyaekochen in the Dolpo region, Futi Himal in Mustang or Nyalu Leck in the Limi Valley.
The first meeting is to be organized..., with the Chairman of Phu, Vice President of the Naar & Phu inter-municipality... and the Narpa Bhumi Rural Municipality.
A work in progress, but for the moment it's time for the Himlung.
I head to the airport with Dipen to pick up my altitude travellers..., who in the end arrive late.
Légendes des photos:
The Nemju, from Phu, of course!
Will we be able to do so officially authorized to organize an expedition in 2020?
Our new Hotel in Boudhanath....A little more space for all our luggage, but without Padma's terrace! You don't need a great hotel, especially to spend so little time there. The choice of location is more important, and here Boudhanath seems to me to be much more consistent with a deep cultural immersion.
Himlung 2019, the third chronicle
"An adventure that ends well..."
At Kathmandu airport, in front of the baggage carousel.
I try not to worry too much... The luggage for Turkish's last flight is starting to arrive. It's amazing how many suitcases or bags a plane can hold, when you expect only one, in particular.
Yesterday, Bernard did not get his checked baggage.
This is a rather rare situation but it causes a lot of stress and complicates the rest of the trip, and even more so an expedition.
First, we had to understand the situation and find a trace of the missing bag. Then spend the evening and night as best as possible hoping that everything will be fine. And finally, the next day, waiting for what seemed like some very long minutes in front of the luggage carousel.
Bingo... here it is.
What a relief!!!!!
Our expedition to the Himlung can continue as planned.
We'll leave tomorrow, at dawn....
And here are some small details that will help to simplify the story if unfortunately it happens to you.
1... Before departure
Make a very precise list of the things you take on board in the hold.
Do not leave important medicine or cash in your hold luggage.
2... At registration
Check that the departing personnel check your luggage for the final destination.
And above all, put a tag with your name on your luggage! Don't lose it during the trip!
3... On arrival
Have a means to communicate with the people waiting for you outside the airport.
4... in Nepal
And above all, make sure you plan a buffer day when you arrive in Kathmandu. Even if one wants to limit the stay in Kathmandu as much as possible at the beginning of an expedition.
It all seems so simple.
But, don't worry... all will be fine.
Most importantly, have a good trip on your next expedition!
Légendes des photos:
After a long bus and jeep trip, our stop for the night. It may be possible to push directly to Koto, but taking a little margin of safety and saving yourself are also important factors. The owner is a long-standing friend who greatly facilitates our organization.
Himlung 2019, the fourth chronicle
"The approach of an expedition is not a trek!?...."
We have just completed the first stage of the expedition to Buddhanath. It is a real gateway between our western life and the new rhythm that we need to adapt to live at high altitude.
And the first message for this acclimatization is to pay attention to our state of travel: our health, our well-being and the small details of daily life.
Above all, do not attempt to run everywhere, do everything, see everything... On the contrary, sit in a corner of the square, transform into stone and observe the passing life.
The reality of Kathmandu is currently being shaken up by major construction projects (alignment of avenues, water supply) that add to the ambient noise, traffic jams, dust and mud. Which makes life even more difficult, so you might as well rest quietly in the preserved universe of the Great Stupa.
But also, the situation is improving from year to year. The road is now paved in front of the Stupa!
We are on our way to the beginning of the Annapurna Tour, which we will take as far as Koto, where the Phu Valley joins the Marsyangdi, the main river. And here is some news of this beginning of the journey for our trekking friends.
The major Chinese Nagdi hydroelectric project has now been completed, but two other projects are planned on the Danaqiu/Koto portion. As a result, the road has been much improved, with large concrete sections. Which is very good news for us. The time spent travelling by jeep from Besisahar has been reduced (3 hours for Syange and 3 hours for Koto) and become considerably more pleasant.
For trekkers, the walking begins (at least for me) in Chamje.
After Tal, a "new" path on the left bank for Dharapani has been opened. From there, it is recommended to make the detour to Nache and even sleep there before continuing with an exceptional suspension bridge and a very discreet monastery.
Currently, the trail we will use tomorrow, for Meta, Naar and Phu is increasingly used in “teashop mode” by trekkers, to avoid the valley bottom and the road.
Will this "restricted area" of Naar/Phu soon be open to all, without formalities or special permits?
Trek or approach walk...?
I suggest an inspiring reading on this subject, with the pointed plume of Cédric Sapin-Defour, in his little red book "Expresso". Sorry... I also need to find the chapter for you...
An approach walk to a summit is not a trek, even if it is exactly the same route, with the same stages! The difference lies in the fact that the approach walk is first of all the preliminary to the main objective: the ascent of a summit...
So it's much more than a trek!!!!!!!
And that changes everything.
There is an "after" to this approach and it is a real preparation for the ascent and not just a formality, or worse, a constraint. The approach is a much more important step than it seems and it is often during this period that the success or failure of an expedition is determined. It is the place where the Alpine mountaineer mutates into Homo Himalayus on a quest for a summit.
For us, this hiking trip begins tomorrow and we are all healthy and fit. We meet up with the entire Nepalese team and all the equipment which was carefully prepared to be loaded on the mules. We must now take into account several factors that complicate our shared adventure:
The hypoxic environment
The rusticity of our daily way of life
The complexity of weather or mountain conditions
The environment that will become more and more alpine.
And the second message to facilitate this acclimatization is to pay attention to our physical state: a minimum bag with only what is necessary for one day, but adequate equipment and above all a pace adapted to each individual. No one has anything to prove to anyone else.
The day will be long and the departure early. This is the longest day of the approach walk.
And tomorrow we will all be in Meta, far from the road and the Annapurna Tour. Certainly no connection with the outside, except for our satellite phone.
Légendes des photos:
A tea break in Dharapani is also an opportunity to establish or maintain ongoing relationships along the way. The competition between lodges is real... And nothing beats a good network of partners.
Since Koto, the first mountains are finally unveiled! And in particular the long ridge between the Lamjung Himal, an almost 7000 and the Annapurna II. The little peak in the middle is virgin and doesn't even have a name! It is also a project that is slowly taking hold in my list of climbing projects. The next step will be to reach the base camp to see what the beginning of Lamjung's eastern ridge looks like.
On the way to the Himlung, the still rudimentary lodge of Chacha. We will use it on the way down to camp in the forest. Because next fall it will be an important point on our journey to Kang Garu.
The work in progress on the Koto Meta route is particularly impressive. Everything is done by hand... Masses and crowbars to dig the holes of explosive charges. And talk about work security!
Just as we leave Koto, another team is busy expanding the path. We pass quietly in the middle of the construction site. Just to be a spectator and a witness of this reality: the road is moving forward...! Slowly, but it moves forward.
The beautiful path to Naar. We will sleep at more than 4000 m, higher than the village of Phu. It is for me a beautiful way to consolidate our acclimatization. The village is superb... Of course, it means making a detour. This represents time, but moreover an additional cost for the agency.
Cecile, on the way to Phu. The trail crosses the bridge to change banks during low water periods.
A recording of my conversation with Eric for Expedition Unlimited. You can't stop progress....
Himlung 2019, the fifth chronicle
"Here we are in Phu, the last village of our approach. »
A short day still separates us from our base camp at about 4850 m, higher than the Mont Blanc.
Everything is fine, everyone is fit and healthy. The weather is perfect and the temperatures are rather mild. However, spring has not yet begun in Phu. People are not yet in the fields, people are still in the mountain pastures, quietly at home or in Kathmandu.
Today is an à la carte day, we will sleep in the same place for a second night. The wake up was early this morning and for some it will be an active acclimatisation day with some hiking to the small peak that dominates the village, Gurusangbo at 4746 m. The view is particularly beautiful over the mountains of the valley and of course to the Himlung.
Others will stay closer to the village, go up to the monastery or rest. For my part, I am waiting for the sun to appear as I write this post, then I will go to Karma's house in the village for tea, meet the vice president and discuss with Lakpa the steps to authorize the Nemju, a beautiful 6000m summit, the "Hausberg" of Phu.
Our approach from Koto was ideal, we took the time for a detour to the village of Naar, to sleep at more than 4000m, then to go down to Kyang before reaching Phu, for an additional day of acclimatization. It's difficult to do better, to take even more time. There is always a tension to get to base camp as quickly as possible, not to waste time or effort, to be efficient. For some, it is really difficult to put the summit at a distance.
This approach is also cultural, which does not spoil the story. I transform myself into a tourist guide to visit a monastery, explain the iconography or history of Buddhism. And the detour to Naar allows one to see a reality very different from that of Phu and also to imagine one day climbing Kang Garu, a summit of "almost 7000m", which is particularly aesthetic.
In Phu, we are now at 4000 m and we will stay above this altitude for the rest of our trip. We are in a hypoxic environment and above all we will continue to climb upwards. But, exerting oneself at altitude is unreasonable....
So we have an appointment this afternoon, at tea time, for a short briefing on dealing with altitude.
The third message to facilitate our acclimatization is to pay attention to the quality of our walking.
This walk has most often become natural for hikers or mountaineers, but also without any real conscience. We will be inspired by the reflection of the conscious march (which is also close to the Afghan march).
We will talk about breathing, rhythm, our steps... Everything that allows one to increase the quality of our walking to ultimately limit our physical efforts and especially how to develop more awareness in our gestures.
More pleasure too.
And it is really an essential step to live well at altitude.
8:30 am, the sun is shining on my tent, it's time for some breakfast.
Fiona has just completed her first paragliding flight!
See you in 4 or 5 days for the next installment from the French Camp for "the big departure".
Find the rest of the chronicles on the next page: the chronicles of the Himlung, the ascent...
Légendes des photos
Going up to Naar, the place is superb, the monastery is a stunning building. It is a classic and recommended camping spot for groups travelling from Phu to Naar. On the other hand, the decoration of the labrang is disappointing with only poor quality tankas hanging on the wall.
The chortens at Thau, just before arriving in Naar. A place of beautiful energy with a splendid view.
Kyang, the winter village of Phu. Now with several lodges, including Phukarsland, the largest. On a beautiful flat piece of ground with beautiful cliffs near Kyang which could be a great climbing spot. But my energy is currently elsewhere...Who would like to open the first major route or at least one crag here (with Bishal, we can organize all the logistics for you at cost price...?). Looking for climbers desperately!!!!!!
Just in front of the village, on the other side, our usual campsite. The house serves as our dining room and the kitchen staff are also well accommodated there. It is a great place to stay at least two nights to explore the village of Phu.
I never get tired of the special atmosphere of the village of Phu. A village at the end of the world. I just sit in a corner to turn into stone and blend in. However, it is difficult to refuse invitations to drink yak butter tea…
What beautiful energy!
The crossing of the black glacier between Kari Kobler Base Camp and French Camp. The itinerary changes every year and even sometimes during the course of an expedition. An unpleasant journey but fortunately not very long. Also, a little dangerous to climb up the moraine to the French Camp. The choice to transform the French Camp into an advanced base camp with the kitchen team is essential for me since it means we avoid going back and forth over the glacier. But the effort required of the Nepalese team is significant and requires a little organisation. Of course it also costs more! Which explains why Nepalese agencies avoid making this choice!
Himlung 2019, the sixth chronicle
Here, the continuation of our adventures in Nepal, towards the summit of the Himlung Himal. This expedition was organized by Expédition Unlimited in France with Himalayan Travellers in Nepal.
You can find the first five chronicles of the first part of our story on my site.
Have a good trip....
"The big start"
Saturday, May 4.
We leave our base at French Camp definitively to settle in at Camp 1 with the entire kitchen team and head for the summit with 3 or 4 high altitude camps and continuous progress.
It's really a great start…
We will meet the Nepalese team in 8 days when we return from the summit. These last two days have allowed us to transport our equipment to this first high camp while continuing our acclimatization. Some mild headaches appeared and then faded. The weather is improving slowly and even if the wind persists at altitude, for the moment we are concentrated on reaching camp 3 at 6300m, as calmly as possible. The setting is of course superb and we are alone. Lionel's team has now come down. For us, the main objective is to save as much energy as possible, not to make any unnecessary effort. To reach the altitudes we want to, this is essential.
And here is a new message in the form of an anecdote that illustrates this new paradigm.
It is the story of the sword of Damocles versus cerebral or pulmonary oedema....
The first prerequisite is that it is completely absurd and unreasonable to make repeated efforts in a hypoxic environment. Yet this is what we have chosen to do as we go higher and higher, and with more and more effort, hoping to experience a lot of pleasure and emotions. If possible in full consciousness....
The voyagers of altitude that we are, we must imagine ourselves with a sword of Damocles hanging over our heads. This sword is very real because it is simply the risk of an oedema (cerebral or pulmonary) that can occur, most especially fatal cases.
Fortunately, this sword is suspended from the ceiling (or whatever...) by a multitude of strings. It's not going to come down on us unless one cuts all these strings.
Unfortunately, we cut a string each time one of our actions is not apt and causes a strain on our body. A bag that is too heavy, a walking rhythm that makes us breathless, a leg that is too long, a lack of hydration or nutrition, too much sleep, a health problem, nervousness and many other micro elements of our daily life at altitude.
Obviously, we cut strings, but the objective is to cut as few as possible and especially not to cut the last one.
And also, when we are very careful, with rest periods for example, we can even add new ones or consolidate them. Maybe that's what acclimatization is all about?
This story, which is now part of our collective corpus, can even allow us to prevent and help one of our travelling companions who is getting too agitated. But reality also shows that this is very difficult!
For our Nepalese friends, I have another story in my bag, which illustrates this point differently.
It's the story of "Hold Buffallo and his son..." But it's another children's story I'm going to tell tonight. I am already sure that Kumari will laugh.....
See you at camp 3.
A lot will have happened and the summit will be just above us.
See you soon.
Légendes des photos
The Himalayan Travellers logo. A very symbolic and very buddhist image.
Between camp 2 and camp 3.
Cécile cooking with Urpa, Jiban, and Bahadur.
The French Camp. For the first time this year we shared the camp with another team, but only for one morning! We will be alone from here on for the rest of our expedition. The other teams prefer to stay on the other side of the Pangri glacier!?
The French Camp with Gyaji Kang as a backdrop.
Going up to Camp 1, a very simple and pleasant itinerary.
Camp 1, also quite pleasant because it is still on rock. Beautiful platforms have been built. In the autumn, many people stay here, but, a priori, there is no problem for water, which can be found a little below the camp.
Food is particularly important at high altitude... Especially for morale! With Nicolas, we are not really a fan of dehydrated meals. And a small Franconian fondue at more than 5000 m is so good!
The itinerary between Camp 1 and Camp 2... Certainly the most unpleasant part of the story. Nothing very complicated, just scree and boulders with paths and a section of path.
Just after Crampon Point, the glacier's passage is not as complicated as it seems. Just a question of how to get there while being roped up. Nepalese teams in autumn generally avoid this passage and prefer the route from above, more rocky & scree but above all fully equipped with fixed ropes!
Another choice and another practice....
Once the passage of the "Junction" has been crossed..., the progression is also easier.
Maybe it's a good name for this part of the itinerary?
The Nepali Team, at Camp 3....
Kumari for her first night so high at 6300 m, with Dipen and Dorje.
Himlung 2019, the seventh chronicle
"In Slow Attitude to Camp 3..."
Here we are at Camp 3, at 6300m, comfortably settled in our Black Beard high-altitude tents. The Himlung is almost within reach....
Everyone has reached Camp 3, as fit as possible, with food and equipment. This was an important objective of the expedition, an essential prerequisite for the final part of the ascent.
The setting is absolutely splendid, and at the same time reassuring, since we are on a large flat and impressive slope, just in front of the Himlung, the Himjung and the Gyajikang, all of them 7000ers. The climb between Camp 1 and Camp 2 was the most demanding, with first an unpleasant stony slope and then passages on a tormented glacier which fortunately became easier and easier as one gets closer to Camp 2. Some rested at camp 2, others should have done so... The trip to camp 3 was mainly done in slow mode over two days, to slow down our progress, weather permitting.
What a comfort and luxury to just be here, camping on a Himalayan glacier.
The weather is fine, exceptionally so in fact, without the usual afternoon rainfall and cumulus development, but with a lot of wind at altitude (80 km/h at 7000m). This is due to Cyclone Fanny, which is currently parked in the Bay of Bengal.
We have 4 days to do something.
- But what?
- And above all, how?
Everything will depend on the wind at altitude and the physical condition of each climber. And we are a particularly heterogeneous group from this point of view.
See you around May 14th for more details...
Everyone will then have made it as far as possible and will have experienced as best as possible life at altitude, in these high and white mountains.
Paulo "at home"
Légendes des photos
A special photo dedicated to Lindsay Griffin with the North Face of Gyaji Kang.
With Middle Camp 2, of course.
The climb between camp 2 and camp 3... Just a glacier hike but of course at altitude.
Roped up with Bernard, on the way down to camp 2.
We have just made a round trip to Camp 3 to drop off our equipment (mainly high altitude clothing and food).
A beautiful atmosphere at more than 6000 m.
The most difficult thing is to learn how to live these privileged moments at high altitude.
And it's neither easy nor obvious....
During our ascent to Camp 3, a very strong Japanese rope team moves upward right before our eyes. A great performance....
And a nice meeting back at base camp... Congratulations to Hana Tani (UIAGM guide in Japan) and his team.
Himlung 2019, the eighth chronicle
"On the use of time... between weather and the window for the summit"
Sunday May 12th
A few centimetres of snow radically changed the atmosphere of base camp. The storm, of a rare violence, arrived early on the evening of May 11th, illuminating the mess tent and making us jump at every thunderclap.
The opportunity to learn that lightning is called THOK or CHATTANG, and thunder, GARANGURUNG or DUKEK, in Bothe or the Nepali language. Because we are a multi-ethnic agency....
Thunderstorms are a rare phenomenon in the Himalayas during the spring or autumn expedition periods. It is more common in summer during the monsoon season. It will continue late into the night and Mother Nature's pyrotechnic show was particularly exceptional this time. Especially from the comfort of base camp....
"Being in the right place at the right time", in this precise place where time and the natural elements telescope into one another. Thanks to Yann Giezendanner's weather forecast, we evacuated the mountain just at the right time. I imagine with anguish our team at Camp 3 in the wind and lightning, in the middle of the storm! The altitude experience would have taken on a whole different appearance between ordeal and survival.
Weather forecasts are essential in the Himalayas and for our mountain activities, and not just to stay “in the bistro”.
My appointments by phone and SMS with Yann are key moments in time management; of the time available on the mountain and are often scarce. We had 4 days from camp 3 to 6300 m, from where the summit was possible, with everyone arriving more or less in shape at this camp. On the other hand, the forecasted weather only allowed us a small two-day window, but always with strong wind between 50/60 km/h and the next day 45 km/h. This represents the "acceptable" upper limit, but with difficult and especially cold conditions for progressing towards the summit.
As is often the case, the notion of "all together at the top" is extremely complex.
Some succeeded the Himlung, others Ana Peak or Karma Himal, and still others climbed as high as their bodies would let them.
For my part, I did not succeed in validating the relevance of a camp at Lung La or in making the South-Western Ridge of the Himlung or the Gyorbu Himal.
In the end, we are all healthy at base camp, to "Be in the right place at the right time".
But the journey is not over....
Part of the group, the Lamo Kuta (long legs) alias Fiona, Nico and Bernard, will join the Manang Valley by crossing the mountain pastures from Phu to Naar and 3 passes at more than 5000 m, while the Sanu Kuta will stay a little in Phu to enjoy the atmosphere of the village before going down the valley as planned with the whole Nepalese team and the mule drivers.
And everyone will meet in Koto for the final trip to Kathmandu on May 16.
Légendes des photos
Himlung Base Camp... In the early morning after the previous night’s storm.
The very beautiful Himjung ridge, which has not yet been crossed on the way up (but only on the way down). The small point on the right is the Gyorbu Himal. And Frank should recognize his ridge...?
A beautiful view of the three peaks above Camp 3.
From left to right, the Dharma Himal, the Karma Himal, and Anna Peak.
The old normal route passed below these peaks with a last camp just after the Karma Himal. But that was already a few years ago.
Himlung 2019, the ninth chronicle
"From Camp 3..."
Most often, groups considering climbing the Himlung Himal are only concerned with the Himlung.
And that's a shame, because they forget the other summits accessible from camp 3, which would make it possible to enhance and optimize the time spent at altitude by achieving other summits, while adapting if necessary to the levels of climbers or mountain conditions.
In concrete terms, if there is too much wind or too much snow at an altitude of around 7000 m, an ascent may be possible to a lower atitude. And for that, the peaks of Karma Himal or Anna Peak are ideal. However, everyone remains stuck on the administrative logic of the permit and a single summit.
For our group, which is particularly heterogeneous both in terms of mountaineering experience and physical level, these summits have been honourable alternative objectives.
Not to mention the Gyorbu Himal near the Lung La, which has yet to be climbed! (And that I haven't even been able to reach... GRRRR!)
On arrival at Camp 3, with the Nepalese team we organized ourselves so as to offer everyone the best possible experience, with the short weather window available.
The group of the most competent and fit climbers left for the Himlung in pairs, each with a Nepalese. The next day François formed a rope team with Frédérique to climb Anna Peak, while Cécile and Olivier stayed at camp 3 to rest. With Bernard we had planned to climb to Lung La to make the trail to Gyarbu Himal for the others the next day and to consider the summit of the Himlung from a camp 4.
The weather was very good on May 9th, without afternoon cumulus development but with a sustained wind of between 50 and 60 km/h at altitude.
All the summiting team left around 3:30 in the morning from camp 3. They will all stay between 10 to 20 minutes at the top.
Luc and Sonam arrived at the summit around 9:20 am and were back at Camp 3 at 12:30 pm,
Nicolas and Dipeen, at 9:30 and 12:00,
Jean-Paul and Karma at 10:30 and 3:00,
Fiona and Dhan at 11:00 and 2:00.
François and Frédérique climbed Anna Peak.
Unfortunately, Bernard, Dorje, Anil and I made a U-turn around 6600 m.
To understand the reality of the situation, it is important to know that another team was with us at Camp 3: two Dutch climbers with two Nepalese guides.
They left two hours before our team and were back around 7:00 pm.
Exhausted and affected by frostbite, they will be evacuated by helicopter directly from Camp 3 the next morning!
On our side, the next day, Nicolas and Luc will go to the Karma Himal.
Olivier with Nicolas and Cécile with me will make an attempt towards the Anna Himal. Then, the whole team will go down to Camp 1.
With Fiona, we will stay at camp 2 because she would like to take off with her paraglider the next morning, but the cold and strong wind will force us to go down on foot as well.
Everyone will meet at base camp on May 11th.
But the journey is not over... After a morning to sort things out, some of them leave for Phu.
Once again, the objective is to adapt as best as possible to everyone's desires with an "à la carte" return program. The mules will not arrive for two days and it would be a shame to simply wait for them at base camp. But to do this, you have to rethink the whole organization and agree to split into several small groups.
Jean-Paul & Luc want to spend two days in Phu to enjoy the village and make a last hike to a nearby summit.
Fiona, Nico & Bernard want to cross the passes to Naar and join Ngawal by the Kang La. They will leave with Dhan, Karma and Sonam because there is one night in a tent and three in lodges.
With the rest of the group, Dorje and I will go down to Phu the next day and then return with the whole kitchen team and the mules.
Then, we will all meet in Koto at our usual lodge to finish the trip together.
The return by jeep and then by bus will be particularly efficient and direct! Departure 6h30 from Koto and arrival at 21h30 at Boudhanath at the hotel....
We have two days left to enjoy the Kathmandu Valley!
Légendes des photos
The Gyorbu Himal and the snow slopes that we climbed up to the middle. It is also a beautiful objective even if it does not officially exist. And why not on skis...?
The large slopes of the West slope, with the South-West ridge. Rarely frequented.
François & Frédéric, during the descent....
With Fiona just before the Junction, we carry our equipment down in “sled mode”. Not necessarily simple but less difficult/physical than carrying everything in our backpacks.
The cliffs of Kyang... Who will take the time to make paths there...
Here we are back in Bouddhanath....
The tenth and last chronicle
"Himlung 2019, coming to the end..."
It's the end of the trip..., time to put away the mountaineering equipment and to say a few more words about this Himalayan adventure.
This last expedition to the Himlung has allowed me to close my reflection on the normal route of this mountain and to complete the online topo on my site (all that remains is to illustrate it). In particular on the technical difficulty of this ascent.
One of the objectives of this 2019 expedition was to validate a simpler route without a fixed rope, using a route we had opened, the South-West Ridge.
From this point of view, we did not succeed and I am very disappointed. The Northwest Ridge and its fixed ropes will therefore remain the normal and most frequented route.
Simply because the other ridge is less direct and requires more effort. And, especially because the installation of an additional camp radically changes the nature of the ascent, which becomes similar to that of a large 7000. So with a lot more commitment.
It's a real shame, because this South-West ridge is very beautiful and a camp would have been possible a little below the ridge, protected by an ice wall. It was also the access to the Gyorbu Himal and the Northern Himjung Ridge.
The Himlung is definitely not an easy summit and its normal route from camp 3 can be on the PD+ side in snow with a slope at 35/40°, which is very exposed. Of course, especially in hard or icy snow.
The ascent of the Himlung therefore requires a real experience in mountaineering to be comfortable in this style of slope (where any slide would be fatal), with a very good physical condition because the effort is important and takes place at altitude.
To illustrate this style of competence, it is not easy to find equivalent routes in the Alps, especially now that snow routes are becoming less and less frequent.
The Coolidge couloir at Pelvoux.
The Middle Glacier at the Aiguille d'Argentière
The Lyskamm traverse
The Mont Blanc traverse
Of course, people will be able to tell me that with fixed ropes, you don't need to have this technical level.
"Anyone can do the Himlung! »
Of course it's not true... !
First and foremost for safety reasons.
Then, because fixed ropes are a real debate and the equipment of spring is not the same as that of autumn, it can snow with wind..., and then goodbye fixed ropes!
In the end, there is a good chance that these ropes are already in place in the steep parts since they are systematically abandoned after the season. And the easiest way would be for there to be a team (a fixing team) that would take care of this equipment in early autumn in a professional and systematic way (which would prevent each expedition from carrying rolls of rope for nothing). A topic over which discussion should continue....
In conclusion, to achieve the ascent of an affordable 7000 summit in Nepal, there is little choice.
The Putha Hiunchuli remains the most affordable summit.
Thanks to the advance of the road to Dunai, its organization is now easier, but with still two domestic flights to reach Juphal. With the team of Himalayan Travellers, we will therefore propose this summit again in autumn 2020 and above all optimize and document it through our contacts with the villagers of Kakot.
I'm going there this fall for Gyaekochen.
And this expedition is also planned for 2021 by Expedition Unlimited.
I will not return to the Himlung by its normal route, because the Nepalese team of Himalayan Travellers now has all the cards in hand and the skills necessary to organize and supervise this ascent in spring 2020.
I will only take care of the information for the participants and the preparation weekend in La Grave because it is a key element for the success of a Himalayan expedition.
The presentation of this expedition "by Himalayan Travellers" is now online on my website.
But the story is not over!
On the other side of the Himlung, in the North, there is another world to clear - a large ridge on the edge of Tibet. A huge journey to altitude to succeed in the "Great Crossing of the Himlung", which we had just touched in the spring of 2016.
Let's meet in spring 2021 for... "Himlung Mega Ridge", a ridge that is not too technical but gigantic and punctuated by virgin peaks!
"Never stop exploring..."
Légendes des photos
On the descent, between Camp 1 and French Camp
Nicolas at Himlung Camp 3
Tea time in the mess tent, with Frédéric and Nicolas....