In the last 10 years our Himalayan adventures have been based on mountains off the beaten path, normally virgin peaks or unexplored routes. Basically, the goal is to touch a piece of earth no human had touched before. This is undoubtedly a beautiful, philosophic, romantic climbing style, but sometimes... it sucks! Going for new things (combined with the fact that niether one of us is called Mick Fowler) means that our chances of success are drastically reduced to a modest percentage. Our personal experience tells us something like 80% failures to 20% successes.
Well, for me and Daniela Teixeira, our last expedition to the Himalayas, in September, clearly falls into the 80% range.
Daniela, at Pensi-La Base Camp (4400m), still smiling. Here we still didn´t suspect we were going to be on the 80% spectrum of our percentage theory.
Anyway, we embarked on an adventure which lead us into some tricky situations that we'll share in our next story, for now, I'll tell you about the lead up. In August this year, Paulo was guiding an expedition to try a virgin summit in Ladakh. This trip, we recognize, happened to be on the happy 20%... a success!
Shan-Ri (6,197m) – Part 1
After four days trekking across the beautiful Markha Valley, Ana Moutinho, Irene Frutuoso (the trekkers), along with João Lopes, Tiago Faneca and Pedro Costa (the climbers), guided by me, established base camp at a beautiful place called Langtang Chan (4400m). From there we were ready to try… something!
The trekking involved some river crossings. At first it was a fun experience, but by the fourth crossing, everyone was thinkning the same: “Okay, we already have our feet very clean. Enough washing!”
The next day (August 25th) was dedicated to rest... for some. Me, along with the girls and Pedro Costa, walked up to 4900m to a pass where, we thought, it would be possible to catch the first glance of the mountains we could climb.
At 4900m: A small reconnaissance trip above Base Camp to a high pass. We were hoping to get a glimpse at our future climbing propositions, but we could only see the first mountain of the bunch, just in the back of Ana, Irene and Pedro.
On the next day, Ana and Irene went out for the last two days of the trek and, the climbers started the acclimatization process. With heavy loads, we hiked to 5170m to a place called 'Camp I' just before the tip of an unnamed glacier. We called it “Male Glacier” because the valley went down to a place called Male. Our camp was on a comfortable grass platform and, so far, the altitude boots had been completely useless because the snow was non-existent. We managed to do everything in light trail shoes.
A very interesting rock tower. Probably a virgin summit... Anyone?
Since we didn´t have a clear objective we started to plan based on what we could see in front of us, which, because of our geographical location and eyesight angle, wasn´t very much. We could only make out one interesting 5900m peak, but everyone (except for Tiago) was a bit fixated on the 6000m mark, so the beauty of it wasn´t enough to appeal for the consensus. Anyway, according to the map, we had four summits to choose, three of them above 6000m. So, we had to make the final decision after the acclimatization process, some days after.
Establishing Camp I at 5170m.
On the next day, in front of a good dinner provided by Jor, our cook at base camp, João admitted: “I know that mountains are not measured only by their altitude but… I confess I would like to climb something above 6000m!” As the guide, I tried to adopt my best professional mode, answering a simple: “We will attempt whatever the team decide. For me, 5000m or 6000m are the same, as long as the team is happy!” A short moment of reflection followed a more practical thought of Tiago: “You guys are a bit obsessed with the number 6000!” Everyone laughed, and the decision was made, we would head for a summit over 6000m. The next morning we stashed some kit at Camp I and headed back down to base camp to finish the acclimitization process, rest up and study the map before pushing on to higher places.
The full group at Langtang Chan, our Base Camp site.