21st of April – Our chosen base camp might seem quite unusual for most of the people familiar with the Himalayan type of expedition. Our hosts in Na village, two young Sherpa girls, welcomed us in their small, cold, simply built stone lodge in the highest village of the Rolwaling valley. We preferred to set this as starting point for our climbs rather than living in a tent for the next 20 days. It was obviously a better shelter, way easier to organise logistically, and apparently cheaper than hiring a cook and the necessary staff that is normally needed to run a basic base camp up in the mountains.
For my first experience in Nepal, and for my climbing partner, Kyriakos, first time in the Himalaya, the time spent among local people in such a remote mountain village was quite an interesting experience. The blend between the culture, the spirituality of the place and the climbing experience makes Rolwaling such an attractive destination for us.
12th of February – I double click on “Nepal” folder in my laptop, then open again the Rolwaling subfolder and scroll through a dozen of peak photos that I collected after days of searching online. I was drawn again by an image with an interesting looking peak far in the background. I kept zooming in, trying to see more details, but the photo size was way too small for that. The photo was taken a few years ago by a Slovenian climber. I had found online the article about his expedition in the Rolwaling region. A few hours later I identified the peak and the position from which the photo was taken on Google maps and on other 4 different maps.
I kept searching for information about this peak apparently called Chobutse, Tsoboje and also Khan Taggri in the Tibetan language. I found out that it was only climbed 4 times so far, first time in 1972 from the North col, then in 1985 by the south west ridge, then in 2002 first time in alpine style by the same South West ridge and then in 2015 soloed on the South West face by a local Sherpa climber. It got late in the night and I still did not find any climb or attempt from the North Eastern or North Western flanks (the one in the photo).That was great news! I thought that an attempt to climb from that side could be a great adventure… I had to let Kyriakos know about this idea. I remember going to sleep with this mountain in my mind, and that I had to carry on with gathering further information about approach, descent, access to the valley, logistics and costs for a possible expedition.
28th April – We planned to climb the South face of Peak Chekigo for acclimatisation purposes, but also because we spotted a nice and direct new line just in the center of the face. After our first climbing attempt on the East ridge of Yelung North Peak where we bailed because of difficult snow conditions (wet, heavy and rotten ice on top) we decided to climb as much as possible during the night and hopefully the snow would be harder.
Everything was so quiet, it was completely dark and I was trying to fall asleep in the small uncomfortable tent. A few hours earlier we set camp under a big overhanging rock, sheltered in our opinion from objective dangers. When I heard a sharp noise I jumped half way out of my sleeping bag and turned on my headlamp.
Kyriakos’ voice whispered “Man, are you OK?”.
“I heard a rockfall… and I still hear the rock rolling down the slope. Listen!” I said.
I tried to unzip the tent when something big hit the tent and stopped. I looked outside, it was a big chunk of perfectly clear ice, evidently coming from a serac. Somehow it hit some snow and rock features and it was projected weirdly towards our direction. I tried to get back to sleep struggling not to think too much about what happened.
One hour later we woke up anyway, packed our gear and started climbing up the scary couloir. We tried to move as fast as possible to avoid exposure to other possible serac falls but it’s not an easy thing to do when you are above 5000 m and trying to acclimatise.
Higher up, once we traversed left from the dangerous area, our headlamps were exploring a way up the first steep rock walls. Above us an icefall was formed, but not long enough to touch the ground. It was still dark and Kyriakos started leading mixed ground to the right of the ice without having any prospect of the further difficulties or where the pitch would lead us. Other few pitches followed, then a snow slope, then some vertical ice and then rock again. It was good, technical climbing and it captured all our focus. We continued meticulously up the face.
The daylight came and the sun rays started to warm up the slope at an early hour. By ten o’clock we were already struggling to progress up a snow field that was already melting. We realised fast that climbing in the sun on this kind of technical South facing slope can get really dangerous. We couldn’t wait for the evening shade since we did not bring a tent and bivouac gear with us. So, the decision was simple: we head down as fast as possible.
3rd of May – I was hiking down with ease on the small yak trail on the right morraine of Ripimo Glacier. We had just made another reconnaissance trip at the base of the NE Face of Chobutse peak. On the previous trip we weren’t so lucky with the weather and half of the face was covered in clouds making any detailed observation impossible. This time, we were happy to discover the full view of the face and on top of that we decided that a line might be possible to climb on the face without exposing ourselves at all to the hanging seracs further to the East.
Now we started to hike down to Na village and make a short detour to Chorolpa Lake to make sure if there is a possible descent line on the West face of the mountain.
Later, when coming down from the lake we met our liaison officer who was probably too bored to wait for us in the village and went for a hike up the valley. He looked quite unhappy and he was feeling sick from altitude. He was a Tourism Ministry official, living in Kathmandu who had never been to such an altitude before. His official purpose there was to make sure we were safe in the mountains and to check if we weren’t climbing other mountains than the ones we paid for. It was quite an easy job considering he just came “to visit” us shortly and the substantial sum of money he was accumulating.
We went down to the village and waited for him to come and have his 15 minute briefing on the importance of his presence there. He then decided he was feeling too sick from altitude and went down and back to Kathmandu.
I turned on the inReach Mini device and checked for the next day’s weather forecast. We had to wait for the best weather window for our attempt to Chobutse.
7th May – My watch starts to vibrate, and I try to ignore it. It’s wake up time at midnight. Before getting out of the cozy sleeping bag I recap in my mind all the things that I have to do in order to avoid getting too crowded in our tiny tent. The coffee isn’t really so enjoyable, especially at 5000 m high and at sub 0 temperatures.
We packed everything quietly and started towards the NE Face of Chobutse Peak. We had to traverse Ripimo Glacier to get to the base of our mountain. Not an easy thing to do in complete darkness, loose terrain and surrounded by glaciated lakes. Somehow, 2 hours later we found ourselves at the base of the NE face. A short chat while drinking some water and taking the crampons and we started going up the face on good, frozen snow.
At first light we found ourselves in front of the first technical difficulties. Roping up from this point on was definitely wise. We searched for possible holds and planned the climbing moves for the first section like sport climbers do before the start of the competition. Kyriakos leads first over the short crux and heads upwards towards a corner with loose rock and short sections of frozen snow. Four pitches of similar difficulty (M4) followed and we reached a steep snowfield. At this latitude the sun is present very early on NE slopes of the mountain and we had to battle again with deep melted snow, heat and altitude.
At mid afternoon we had to stop, decided to find a shelter and wait for colder conditions to continue the climb. The planned bivouac spot, under an overhanging rock band, needed some proper digging, levelling and setting up a tent in a small space above the abyss. With a proper shelter set up, there was one less problem to solve for the day, but on this type of mountain faces, conditions never seem to improve. The wind picked up and the spin drifts constantly flooded the entrance of the tent. Trying to rest or sleep with a worrying mind and at altitude is almost impossible.
8th May – The morning arrived again and we were hoping for the spindrifts to stop. They never did so at around 4 am we decided to make a move, pack everything as fast as we can and start climbing again. The climbing was easy and exposed at the beginning, then it got harder and… exposed. I negotiated a line through a delicate rock line. I was barely hooking my ice axes into thin ice formations that were actually breaking after I was passing them. I was wondering if Kyriakos will still find holds to pass those sections.
The unexpected level of climbing (around M6) kept us really concentrated. These 4 or 5 long sustained pitches were actually retrospectively pleasurable. Our progress continued, we traversed leftwards for a couple hundred meters over good climbable ice footings. Then, changing leads constantly we kept climbing over mixed ground again, this time with easier climbing, but still surprisingly sustained. We managed to get access to a short airy rocky ridge that we actually spotted from the valley 2 days ago. I carefully climbed it over very loose rock with the hope that at the end of it we might find a good spot for our planned second bivouac.
We were both feeling less than energetic for a couple of hours now and we felt a desperate need for a rest before continuing the final ice runnels that could lead us to the summit ridge. But the terrain in front of us was still too steep and plastered with ice and we couldn’t see anything more than a hanging in the harness type of rest. Kyriakos kept searching for a shelter half a pitch to the left but came back with no beneficial result: “there is no place to actually pitch a tent, and not even a place where to perch your bum”.
Being drained out of energy, the option of continuing the climb to the next possible bivouac (around 350 m in elevation) seemed close to impossible. We kept discussing other possible options but with the increasing wind and the late afternoon approaching we needed to take a decision. We started building a rappel anchor and headed down in a long runnel that seemed to lead at the bottom of the East face of the mountain. After many rappels with pitons, wires and slings left behind, and quite a lot of unpleasant down climbing, we found ourselves at the base of the mountain soon after midnight and being totally knackered.
9th May – Gathering the energy to wake up, pack the tent and the gear again, melt snow and find the right motivation to start heading down the most difficult to walk terrain on Ripimo glacier was extremely hard. We were leaving behind a mountain that we dreamed for the last months, a route that nobody had tried before and an unfinished technical and complex climb that we approached with the simplest and pure alpine style.
12th May – Descending back to the green landscapes of the Rolwaling Valley and in the rhododendrone forests on our way back to civilisation, if we can call Kathmandu like that, I returned to a relaxed state of mind again. Our expedition finished without a summit and after a few days of own inner debate I understood that the only best decision that one can take on an alpine climb is the one you take it at that single moment, while living the exposure, the tiredness, the fear and desire of the climb. It is the one that keeps you alive and enthusiastic to try such climbs again and again.
It was a memorable pleasant experience to take part of such an exploring journey together with my good friend, to plan, organise, travel, discover and interact with new people in a different culture, to do what I do best at higher altitudes in the unknown, to dare to push the limit, to risk and in the end come back alive.
The summit stays far behind and I am able to enthuse about the style of climbs I like to do. More than ever now I find motivation in the process of climbing a mountain than reaching a summit. I became a bigger fan of the alpine style, the light, the simple, the self supported… the hard way.