4 8000ers, 30 Days.
Annapurna, Kanchenjunga, Lhotse, Makalu
My next journey, or phase, of my project was about to begin. I must admit, since Manaslu and Dhaulagiri I hadn’t trained as much as I had hoped! Christmas arrived and it seemed like I was caught up in the holiday’s and then BOOM it was March. My intention was Kanchenjunga, Makalu, Lhotse…
I arrived in Kathmandu, greeted by my climbing partner, Gelje, who was just as excited to see me. After a few days of settling into the Nepali lifestyle I met up with the Seven Summit Treks team, Dawa and his brothers, this was the first time I was using SST, however I knew them all before. SST was like another family to me in Nepal, so I knew all was good! I decided to move away from Elite Exped for this season because they offered only Everest and Lhotse this year and so SST was the best option. During this dinner, which also had Simone Moro in attendance (incredible alpinist and Heli Pilot) it was brought up that I should join the Annapurna expedition leaving the next day! Everyone said, including Simone, it was a no brainer. This year there was a big and experienced team heading out there so there was a great chance of Summiting. Annapurna is the most dangerous of all 14 and requires a strong team and Sherpas for fixing the route. Fixing, as I soon was about to find out, was a big issue on Annapurna.
So, I packed up and left! I was also now in debt by an extra 15k but that was at the back of my mind!
Luckily Gelje was able to join me on this last-minute adventure and if he hadn’t there would’ve been 0 summits on Annapurna this year…
We flew straight into Basecamp by heli, this freaked me out! From sea level to 4500m was slightly insane and a huge risk, it was complete chance if your body could acclimatise that quickly to this height but with constant water draining our bodies, we were all okay.
After a few days at Basecamp, we set off on our first rotation which took us to Camp 1 (5,500), followed by one night and then back down to BC. We then made another rotation to Camp 2 (6000m) a few days later where we also stayed the night and back down to BC in preparation for summit push. The way from BC to camp 1 all rocky parts, a mixture of scrambling and regular hiking, nothing incredibly intense. There is one section at the beginning of the rocky section in the glacier which is an active avalanche zone and needs to be traversed very quickly, this part is stressful but other than that the way was quite nice. From c1 to c2 begins the snow and ice, a long flat walk to the base of the slopes to camp 2, greeted us in the morning. It was another hot, hot, walk, reminding me of the Everest Western cwm. Once you reach the slopes, it’s a mixture of very steep, slightly rocky, and some very deep snow to reach Camp 2, however its not very far. Once you’re at camp 2 you’re only just reaching 6000m and so the elevation is still not so high, certainly not enough for a summit push, but getting to Camp is the most dangerous section and so our plan was to avoid that way for as long as possible. Also, the lines had not yet been fixed to camp 3, and that’s where the drama began.
As I mention before, fixing on Annapurna is a slight nightmare for the Sherpa. From camp 2 to camp 3 there are many routes you can take. Gelje and another sherpa on SST team, Pasang Norbu, where forced into becoming the sole fixers in what would eventually be the whole route! We were furious, especially me, I didn’t bring Gelje to fix the route and for that reason I also couldn’t climb with him on summit push as he was fixing. They initially fixed a harder, yet much safer route called the Dutch Rib. It’s a knife-edge climb almost the whole way, much shorter than our actual route and avoided avalanche zones. But other teams on the expedition seem to think this route was too technical and so forced SST to remove the ropes and start again. By this time, we were waiting at Basecamp for what seemed like an eternity. The weather was getting bad, and the snow was piling up, making the fixing even harder. Eventually everyone settled on a route, and we got the green light to move up to Camp 3.
From 2 to the 3 the route was difficult, very steep sections, a lot of rock on exposed ridges and some queues of course. It was also pretty cold and windy the day we were pushing up, I was rotating between gloves every 30 min as they were soaked through, and risk of frostbite was high.
When we did eventually make it to camp 3 and avoided all avalanches, we were exhausted, we went up only to lower camp 3. The next morning, we proceeded to higher camp 3 only, a short day, as we were all tired and camp 4 was not yet fixed.
Then it was time to move to camp 4, and that night go for our summit push. Everyone was anxious. There were only 4 people in our team going with sherpa and o2, the rest were no o2 and no sherpa support – I think I was more worried for these guys than myself. We knew that the weather the next day would go bad after 2pm and so we would need to reach summit at 11am latest to be safely down to camp 4 before the bad weather came in.
I heard Gelje’s voice outside the tent, “it’s time”. I put my boots on, annoying everyone else who was trying to sleep another hour before leaving, and I got outside, greeted by the unwelcomed cold and wind of the night. We started at 8pm. When I say we, it was myself, one other lady without o2 and the fixing team. It was seriously difficult keeping warm when you are with the fixing team. Every 30 minutes the rope would have to be fixed another 50m, I would have to sit and somehow manage to keep the circulation going to my extremities without being able to move. Luckily there was almost 0 wind, so this helped.
When the sun was rising, we reached the point where there was no rope left. I freaked out slightly. It was a long traverse up to the final summit rocks (It looked like the final part it ended up being another 200m from the summit!). We had rope for the final sections which required it, as they were all steep rocky sections. So, we continued and eventually reached the rocks a few hours later. It was already starting to get late and there was still 200m to fix of difficult terrain. Gelje was at the lead the whole way.
We reached summit at 11am. It was such a crazy feeling. I had just summited Annapurna, the one mountain that you really want to tick off the 14 8000ers list.
We descended together to Camp 4 and then made our way to camp 2 where we rested one night as the weather had come in and it was safer to wait here. The night at camp 2 was surprisingly warm, I think we were all exhausted and so having only one sleeping bag between three of us was no issue.
The next morning, we made our way to BC. At harness point we were greeted by beers! Best moment ever, and at BC, a warm shower and amazing food. It was all celebrations and happiness until we got the news that two of our team members climbing without o2 and Sherpa were still above camp 4 and had no radio contact. All of us went pale, we knew this was not good. One of the guys wasn’t even wearing a down suit during summit push and the other was already delirious upon reaching the summit close to 2pm. They had been caught in the forecasted storm at 2pm and lost there way when the fixed lines ended on the traverse. We were all waiting for a radio call. We managed to get in contact with Giumpi, the Italian climber and asked him if he needed rescuing. He was out of his mind. He asked whether he had to rescue someone else and if he was being rescued, he didn’t need it! It was a horrible situation for Dawa who oversaw ordering the rescue as he didn’t know whether to send one. The next day we called again and sent a heli rescue for the two climbers. Gelje was the long line rescuer. Gelje was the hero of this whole expedition! The first went to look for the climbers, they found them separated, Tim was already at his tent at camp 4 and Giumpi was completely off-track heading towards a crevasse. Quickly the heli returned and Gelje went off for the rescues. Both the guys suffered severe frostbite and were out of their minds. It was a scary few hours indeed.
We returned to Pokhara for a few days rest before starting our next adventure – Kanchenjunga!
After a few days chilling in Pokhara, doing laundry and eating too much, we jumped on the heli to our next destination – Kanchenjunga Basecamp. The way there we got into bad weather in a town called Taplethuk. An interesting town. The day before a boy had murdered his mother and father with a Kurkri and I seemed to be one of the lucky ones that saw the image of the scene. It freaked me out, I couldn’t even walk to the toilet which was down the street on my own. But anyway, the next day we left early with Simone Moro as our Pilot and reached the cold, rocky basecamp. It was an uncomfortable basecamp.
The nights were icy cold, and no tent was on flat ground. We didn’t stay here very long though. After one day we set off to camp 2. The next day we wondered up to camp 3, the views where stunning – it’s a beautiful mountain. Camp 3 is perched on the edge of the snow however we were greeted by a lot of injuries. One guy had a shard of ice into his eye, another had snow blindness and there was one death. The next day we went up to camp 4 – without o2 still. This was the first time I had gone to around 7400m without oxygen. Surprisingly it wasn’t too bad but I could certainly feel the difference.
Now the rumor's and basically the sentence that came from every person’s mouth at BC that had summited was “it was seriously long” The summit push on Kanchenjunga is known for being extremely long, probably the longest of all the 14.
I was kind of scared. How long could it possibly be!!
It was long. My lord, it was long. But it was fun and never uncomfortable, it was a slog but towards the summit it was mostly rocky, and we also seemed to move very fast. We reached the summit in 9 hours which compared to others was fast. Most people took between 11-15 hours, one lady in fact took over 20. So, we reached the summit at 4:15am which meant we got to watch the sunrise of Sikim, it was incredible. The most memorable and beautiful scene I had ever seen.
The way down was glorious, we moved swiftly all the way to Basecamp, also very rare.
I thought the fact we had got down quickly meant we would get out of Basecamp quickly too, but no.
We were stuck for three days. It doesn’t sound like much but trust me, it is. Especially when the staff had packed away the toilet tent, shower tent and all the food was pretty much over.
I was crying in my tent. But no one needed to know that. I just wanted a shower! Really what happened was that after a summit it was always nice to be able to get back to the comforts of civilized life and be able to celebrate, however after three days, which is like a lifetime on the mountain, you forget About the joys of summiting and it all wears off.
But anyhow, eventually, on a seriously cloudy morning, Simone Moro appeared with his heli out of nowhere – it was honestly the scariest heli ride of my life – and we made it out to Lukla. At Lukla we spent a day to rest, no hot water and no laundry though.. and then we were off again.
2 down, 2 two go!
We had another few days rest in Lukla before heading to Everest Basecamp for our Lhotse summit. At Everest Basecamp we were greeted by the kitchen staff and a couple of remaining climbers including David Goettler, a North Face athlete.
After one night at BC we were ready to head up! I was worried about going through the Icefall again.. But this year the icefall was much kinder than last year and felt shorter. There were a few dangerous sections towards the end which meant really digging deep when we were tired. I was already starting to feel it in my lungs after 2 mountains and Gelje was catching a bad case of the flu. He couldn’t walk more than 5 metres without a raging coughing fit. Again I was worried. From camp 2 Gelje had to use oxygen, unheard of for him. We made it to camp 3 a couple of days later and I was exhausted. We were going to summit from here. Nearly 2000m of ascent in one night, it was going to be tough. We also had the issue of weather. We had to summit on the 22nd in order to make it to Makalu in time, but the 22nd was also the worst day for weather, 30kph winds and snowing.
In fact it was more like 60-70kph winds on the night. It was seriously seriously cold. Like frostbite cold.
We started at 7pm from camp 3 and made it to Camp 4 by 11pm, this was good moving. This also meant we had about one hour to rest at camp 4 in a tent that was sloping at an 80 degree angle…
We left camp 4 and were straight into the couloir. The wind funnelled right into the couloir, increasing its intensity by tenfold. I could barely stay upright. It was a battle against the forces, my mind was also fixated on looking out for dead bodies for some reason, I had an obsession that I would accidently step on one, very strange.
We made it to the last rock before summit and there was the body I was dreading... it had been there for 10 or so years and its face was fully exposed. But onwards and upwards! The summit was just there!
We made It early morning again but no sunrise as it was too cloudy.
Down we went, all the way to Basecamp again. Only one more to go, energy levels 0, mental strength lacking.
From BC to BC, no rest no time.
We flew straight to Makalu BC, it was a stunning heli ride over the white mountains, we felt like we were higher than everything around us. It was also scary but due to my lack of nepali I didn’t know that the heli was not going high enough at one point to get over the upcoming ridge!
Makalu Basecamp is another cold one. But it turned out we didn’t even get to find out how cold because we were straight up to camp 2 that day! I was in shock, I almost chocked on my Nutella toast. But we were so tight on time and a good window was coming on the 28th.
So up to camp 2 we trotted. Gelje and I were absolutely shattered already. We looked at each other with that look of – get me the hell of this mountain asap! We just put our heads down and kept putting one foot in front of the other. For this climb I had to get an extra sherpa to help Gelje carrying oxygen and what I thought would be some of my belongings too, but my bag felt heavier than ever.
After reaching camp 2, which was very far away, the worst day was yet to come, camp2 to camp3! This was the long one, an 8 hour slog, up, up and up. It was torture. Every step felt useless, like we were no closer to our destination. What was one hour when there were seven more to go!
Again our plan was to summit from camp 3, however on Makalu, camp 3 and camp 4 are the same elevation, however some words from David Goettler were stuck in my head – ‘On Makalu don’t be lazy, get as high as possible before summit push’ So I convinced Gelje to push onto camp 4 where there was one tent we could use. Im so glad we did this because the traverse from camp 3 to camp 4 is awful and the snow was knee deep.
Camp 4 to summit was pretty smooth – towards the final 200m its all rock and scrambling, it added a bit of excitement to the climb. However, for some reason, this was the coldest I had ever felt on a mountain. My hands and feet were on the verge of freezing the whole damn way. I was constantly wriggling fingers and toes to maintain some blood flow but it was such a chore! I just had to battle through. I was conscious that there may be a moment when I just couldn’t recover movement and it could mean losing some fingers or toes, but I was so determined, I wasn’t going to let this happen. The last section was also very slow as there was some trailblazing that had to be done (by Gelje). Every step took 5 minutes – not good for my frozen feet.
We made it to the summit at 7:30am.
Again we stormed down to BC and that was the end! I had done it – 4 8000ers in exactly 30 days. It was incredible.
I couldn’t of done any of this without Gelje Sherpa and the support of Seven Summit Treks.
What a season!
Now I am jetting off to Pakistan for three more 8000ers! Nanga Parbat, K2 and Broad peak.
Thanks guys 😊
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