Pumori 2012: Khumbu

Pumori Base Camp. Weather before team departure.
Pumori Base Camp. Weather before team departure.

I look at the men sitting around me in the kitchen tent, lit only by the climbing team’s and the cook’s headlamps and… a small candle. The three climbing Sherpas, who have just come down from the Southwest Ridge of Pumori after battling 60-70mph winds trying to fix rope along the route, look utterly spent. Their faces are gaunt and sunken in the scarce light. They are warming their hands, which my whim to climb Pumori in winter could have cost them, against aluminum cups of steaming hot tea. ‘If the wind is too strong on the ridge, come down with your gear, don’t risk anything,’ I told the three Sherpas over 12 hours ago in the morning when they were leaving base camp to work on the route. The winds, weather forecasts predicted, would only get stronger above 6500 meters from that day on, and climbing would be impossible anyway. A long wait at the frigid base camp would also be difficult for the boys and, perhaps, too difficult for me. I hoped the forecasts would, perhaps, be wrong, but the faces of my Sherpas tell me the winds were indeed as relentless as expected. The bulky backpacks they brought down are unequivocal signs that we are not returning to the route. I am relieved to see everyone healthy if tired and disappointed, but I am also sorry to witness the end of what could be my last Himalayan dream.

‘I’m sorry, Mila,’ Dorje, the team’s sirdar, tells me, thinking that it is the impossibility of climbing Pumori that casts a shadow over my face.

‘Don’t be sorry,’ I say – to both him and myself. I then thank the boys wholeheartedly for their hard work fixing rope on the steep and exposed Southwest ridge, for waiting for days at the lifeless windy base camp when the weather halted their progress, for truly believing that I could, in fact, climb such a technically difficult route in winter and for putting their lives at risk to fulfill my dream. Six pairs of eyes look at me, six men hear my voice, but they don’t listen.

‘A waste of money and gear,’ Dorje sums up the sentiment.

‘Just money and gear, though – not fingers or anything else irreplaceable,’ I insist. ‘If we still have all our fingers and the will to climb together, we can try this again at another, more appropriate, time. Meanwhile, I have another idea…’

Kangtega from Pangboche
Kangtega from Pangboche

I like my voice that night – I recognize it again, at last. It sounds calm and certain; it knows what’s important. When the expedition was leaving Kathmandu, my voice and my whole attitude were different.

‘I can see that you have a strong team,’ someone, whose opinion counts, told me a few days before departure.

‘Yes, it is a strong team, except for me,’ I said.

‘I can see that, too,’ was the response of my interlocutor – a vocalization of what people see when they see me: someone, who is carried to the summits in a basket on the backs of her climbing Sherpas. Past my appearance and countenance people all too rarely see how much I actually love to climb and how hard and seriously I work at doing it well. Leaving Kathmandu before the Pumori expedition, I was not, as I used to do, simply setting out to scale a mountain that attracted me but also to prove that I was equal to the hardest of mountaineering tasks. I’d forgotten that to reach the summit is, in reality, not at all ‘the hardest of mountaineering tasks’.

Ama Dablam
Ama Dablam

Trekking to Pumori base camp at 5300 meters took us 6 days. It was cold, hard to walk and even harder to breathe – as always. The busiest trekking trail in Nepal leading to Everest Base Camp looked empty – disappointingly so, as the winter sun was still friendly and welcoming, and the weather, if windy, was clear. Many of the mountains I passed I recognized as friends: the gloriously steep Thamserku, towering above Namche Bazaar and the trail to Tengboche, Ama Dablam – the most beautiful mountain I have climbed yet – standing tall and proud across the river from Pangboche, Cholatse on the way to Lobuche, which taught me to appreciate the people I climb with more than the mountains I crave to climb, and, of course, Everest, where a part of me fell asleep somewhere below the Second Step, and never woke up. I feel at home walking amongst these stone bodyguards of the mountain gods, whom I worship, and who don’t know I exist. It is, however, with a heavy heart that I step onto the site of the Everest Memorial, where out of the frigid ground small chortens grow like brunch-less, bloodless tree trunks, decorated with memorial plates, telling trekkers and climbers about those who came before them – and would never leave now.

Pumori from the Everest Memorial
Pumori from the Everest Memorial

It is from here that I first see Pumori in her full stature. She seems to be one of the chortens, and I wonder briefly if she is waiting for my name to be inscribed on her Southwest Ridge. There have been no successful ascent of the mountain in 2012, and it doesn’t feel to me like we will be granted passage to her summit, either. Nevertheless, the beauty of Pumori fascinates and draws me like a magnet, and when next morning I stand at our base camp at the foot of the mountain, I forget all about my fears and premonitions; I am ready and excited to go climbing.

Blog Update: Back from Pumori

Pumori Lake
Pumori Lake

Dearest Readers,

My climbing team and I returned from the icy Everest region yesterday, after unsuccessfully attempting to climb Pumori by the mountain’s southwest ridge. Not surprisingly, if still sadly, the winter winds and the bitter mountain cold made it impossible to reach the 7161-meter summit safely. Nevertheless, the expedition has been a great experience, with the SW ridge route providing some of the most scenic, challenging and exposed climbing I have done so far. As always, I will tell you all about the climb after a little rest here in Kathmandu.

For now, let me wish you all a beautiful, warm and happy holiday season! Merry Christmas from Nepal!

Love,

Mila

Blog Update: Another Cold White Christmas

Pumori (photo via Wikipedia)

This season winter came to Kathmandu and the mountains early. The capital of Nepal is now already as cold as it usually gets in January, and our October/early November Ganesh expedition was about as cold as my winter ascent of Ganchenpo. A winter ascent would be a serious trial in such unusually low temperatures, which only makes it more interesting for me to try. And what could be more exciting for a true altitude junkie than to attempt a winter ascent of one of the most beautiful and recognizable peaks in the world – the stunning Pumori in the upper Khumbu region just 8 km away from Everest? This is not a rhetorical question. The answer to it is, to try to scale the same mountain – a dangerous climb even on the normal route – via the notoriously difficult and steep Southwest Ridge. A scene of several accidents, the route has taken more climbers to failure than success. In terms of technical difficulty, it will be by far the most challenging climb I have ever attempted: it features overhanging terrain, long vertical walls of rock and ice and exposed traverses. My greatest enemy in the mountains – the cold – will be another serious obstacle on the way to Pumori’s summit at 7161 meters. It will take all my luck and courage to succeed – in summiting or deciding to turn around before I get myself or any of my friends in trouble. The reason my team and I chose the more difficult route over the normal one is that the latter, although technically easier, is well-known for its high avalanche risk. Those of you, who have read about my recent Manaslu expedition, will understand why I particularly want to avoid at least this danger.

Pumori, photo from EBC trek 2009

Why Pumori? Why such a ridiculously technical climb in such a cold season? Aren’t there other mountains to climb: lower in elevation and, thus, warmer, with easier routes? And, speaking of warmth, how long has it been since I’ve been to the beach or gone for a long dive in the sea? Well, it is Pumori because, in addition to being a most alluring peak its own right, it is close to the unforgettable Chomolungma. In fact, it was George Mallory, who died tragically on Everest during the 1924 expedition, who gave Pumori her name, and mountaineers often refer to the mountain as ‘Everest’s daughter’. As such, it is part of Everest, which, although I have climbed it, is still a dream, that somehow feels unfulfilled. Thus, I climb on. It makes sense to me to try a more challenging climbing route now than I would have dared do before: it’s not that I am a better mountaineer now, but I am calmer, and I can enjoy the challenge a little more – even if I loose it. As for the beach… there’s a glacial lake at the foot of Pumori, so I’m bringing my swimsuit :).

Leading the expedition will be my regular climbing partners and friends: Dorje Sherpa and Pasang Wongchu Sherpa. Sangye Sherpa and a ‘newbie’ on our team, but not on the Southwest Ridge, Dawa Sherpa, will also climb with us. Our cooks, Pasang Nima Sherpa and Pemba Sherpa, will make sure we are eating well while off the mountain. On our way to Pumori base camp, which follows the same trail as the famous Everest Base Camp trekking route, we will stop by the Pema Choling Monastery above Phakding, where I hope to see the kids in good health and deliver my friends’ donations. Many thanks to all of you, who have shown interest in the project! The donations page for the monastery is not yet up and running, but, if you would like to support the cause, please, check back once in a while, as we’re only a few days away from getting things working:

https://sixthsymph.com/pemacholing-monastery-khumbu-nepal/

Millions of thanks in advance!

We leave for Lukla on the 4th of December, and expect to reach base camp within 7-8 days. To keep my friends and readers updated on our progress, I will tweet occasionally throughout the expedition. You can follow the climb here:

https://twitter.com/Liudmila_M

Given that we expect the expedition to last about a month, I will most likely be on the mountain for Christmas and New Year, as well as the season’s other big event, the end of the world on the 21st of December. For all three of them I wish you love, warmth, courage and happy new beginnings! Thank you for following my expeditions in 2012! I hope to be back in 2013 with better poetry and more exciting adventure stories for my readers. Drop by if you’re curious ;)!

Love,

Mila

Ganesh I: Plan B

Thinking up a Plan B

I look at my altimeter, showing me to be about 200 meters below base camp, then, at the long grassy slope leading possibly to the glacier, but maybe to another dead end, and sit back down on a warm moss-covered rock. From the top of the moraine by the dry glacier I am facing what is our Plan B – another way to get onto the glacier above 5000 meters. In the past couple of days our previous Camp I location and the route leading up to it have been cleared of rope and other remaining gear, and we must now search for a new spot for Camp 1. Phil and most of the other expedition members are on the moraine with me, looking up and guessing, like I am, about what lies beyond the line, which cuts off our view of the route. We are all hoping that, as it does in the Google Earth images, the slope meets the glacier; we hope, too, that the dangers and obstacles of the new route may prove more manageable than the ones, which have chased us down Yangra just a few days ago.

‘It would be a long way,’ one of us voices a sentiment we all share about the ‘Plan B’ route, ‘down, and then back up…’

‘It’s fine as long as we get to the glacier this way…’ another voice expresses another shared hope.

The next day Phil and the Sherpas leave base camp at 6 am and reach the glacier following the new route. It is heavily crevassed, we are told in the evening, and the ridge along which we were to proceed to the summit is corniced and narrow – too dangerous to camp on, which couldn’t be avoided. However, another attempt is to be made to cross the glacier and take a closer look at the ridge before any decisions are made. This time, everyone will go climbing together. The chances of actually finding the way around the newly-encountered major obstacles are slim, so the climbers will not carry any gear up for storage. We realize that, in all likelihood, this will be the team’s last foray up the mountain.

The beginning of ‘Plan B’

The night before the climb I feel sick and choose to stay behind as, early in the morning, the inji and the Sherpas leave base camp. I hear them walk away, and, knowing what news they will bring from the glacier at the end of the day, tell myself that the climbing part of the expedition is almost definitely over. There is nothing surprising or sad about this thought. Ganesh I, after all, has never been climbed from Nepal – for a reason.

I get dressed, put a towel and a change of clothes into my backpack, and go for a hike down the glacier – to search for a lake, which would not be entirely frozen, for my swim. I walk alone, making my way across the grey ocean of rocks and boulders, as if frozen in motion, climbing up and descending the ‘waves’ under the cool fall sun. Every tiny lake I encounter on my way is all solid ice, and I can walk and jump on the glassy surface without fear or hope of breaking it. After over an hour of searching, I feel exhausted and disappointed. Lowering myself onto a large boulder by one of the lakes of ice, I stare at the unassailable fortress that Ganesh has proved to be and at the frozen water under my feet. While the remains of determination to keep looking for the route and for the lake leave my body, I begin to feel increasingly like old rag doll, thrown away by her puppeteer, my motivation – gone. ‘This could be my last climb,’ I remind myself, conscious of the fact that I cannot keep putting my family through the torture of having to let me go – let go of me – every other month. ‘You’re too old for this. You have to stop, grow up and focus on your job,’ the same voice continues, ‘you must walk away, eventually, and the sooner – the better. This is no place for someone like you, and never was, really.’ These words sound to me like a cold sentence to the part of myself, which has been the defining one for a long time now. To walk away now would be like walking into a prison cell, acknowledging and accepting my sentence, and I cannot summon the strength to leave my seat in the middle of the vast Torugumba glacier. When I finally find the strength to pull myself up and start stumbling in the direction of base camp, I move slowly, and it takes me a small eternity to return to my tent.

A frozen lake on Torugumba Glacier

It is after 6 pm when the first of my team mates returns to base camp by the light of his head lamp. ‘Are you alive?’ he asks, coming up to my tent. ‘You’d been coughing so much at night we decided not to wake you when we were leaving.’

‘I’m fine,’ I say, ‘but how did you do today? How far up the glacier did you guys manage to progress?’

‘Far enough to see that the glacier is a no-go. The crevasses are huge – we’d need ladders to make it across them. And the ridge, too, doesn’t look so good…’

‘Oh,’ I mumble, crawling out of my cold nylon home into the much colder air outside. ‘Come have some tea in the dining tent and tell me all about it.’

We go to the yellow tent, where the gas heaters are burning, and the sweet milk tea is waiting on the table. Soon, the rest of the team arrive, cold and fatigued after 12 hours of climbing, and join us for dinner. We look at pictures of the glacier and the ridge, and it is clear to me from what I see that we’re done with Yangra – or, perhaps, that she’s done with us. We had a plan C – ascending a very steep couloir of about 1500 meters in vertical length, which would shorten the distance we’d have to cover on the ridge to the summit – but it would have been unfair to ask our Sherpas, already working very hard indeed, to climb in such dangerous conditions, given that several seracs threaten the couloir, and we have already seen more than one collapse… The expedition is over, and we begin discussing our departure arrangements.

‘I could get a helicopter to come pick you up tomorrow,’ Phil tells the four of us, who want to return to Kathmandu by air.

‘No, please, let’s make it the day after,’ I jump in before my team mates have a chance to respond.

‘But why?’

‘I still have to do the swim, and the Sherpas have told me they’d seen a lake from high on the mountain, which wasn’t frozen…’

‘Don’t be ridiculous, Mila…’ one of the boys intervenes.

‘I’m not being ridiculous – just trying to make the most of my time here. I would really like to go for a swim, and there seems to be a puddle for me to do it in.’

‘I haven’t seen a single lake from above that wasn’t frozen…’ says another climber.

‘Just give me one more day, if you can. We have to pack, anyway. It’s too late now, and in the morning you wouldn’t have the time because helicopters usually fly early…’

Eventually, I persuade the team to give me another day to try and find the lake. I ask one of the Sherpas how to get to it, but, instead of explaining, he suggests to walk with me and make sure I come back in one piece. ‘Bring some evidence, if you do go swimming,’ my team mates request before I leave for the lake next morning. My companion and I then trek down for about an hour, cross the moraine onto the glacier and find ourselves by a tiny turquoise lake, glittering with thin ice on its sides but otherwise perfectly suited for a short swim. ‘It would be hard to do two kilometers here,’ I muse as I estimate the distance between the shores to be a maximum of 10 meters, ‘we’d be here until spring.’ Thus, I decide to simply enjoy a little refreshing dip of about 20 minutes. ‘Be careful,’ my ‘babysitter’ warns me as, breaking the thin film of ice and sinking thigh-deep into silt, I step into the perfectly blue, perfectly cold water. I feel the cold intensely as I cross the lake slowly for the first time. The warmth of my body is still too much of a contrast against the near-zero water temperature for me to be comfortable. In a couple of minutes, however, my bodily warmth retreats deeper under my skin, and cold becomes an integral part of me. Then, I can swim, it seems, forever. When I finally crawl out of the water, the midday sun feels warmer than it ever has in a long time. I sit and rest on a rock by the water, waiting for the inevitable onset of shivering to start and pass. When it does, I change, and start stumbling back up and across the moraine behind my Sherpa guide. I am slow and clumsy because my muscles have not yet warmed up sufficiently, but it doesn’t matter: I feel calm, relaxed and cleansed of all my disappointments – and cannot help smiling at the feeling.

In good company with the Altitude Junkies' Ganesh I Expedition team
In good company with the Altitude Junkies’ Ganesh I Expedition team

It takes us a long time to return to the tent village of base camp, but we make it by lunchtime. I am too excited and energetic to eat, so I simply gulp milk tea, cup after cup, until the time comes to start packing. It takes me no time at all, as stuffing whole periods of my life into shapeless bags, not to mention a couple of weeks, is something I’ve had a lot of practice in. At dinner my team mates and I watch the videos of the swim, drink champagne, and share our future climbing plans. We have all had a great time climbing on Ganesh – another safe, exciting and unique expedition with Altitude Junkies, whose leaders and Sherpas have done everything in their power to find a safe route to the summit, and had the integrity to stop and turn around when such a route did not reveal itself in spite of their efforts.

Ganesh I, still unclimbed from Nepal

A helicopter picks up four of the expedition members at 3800 meters next morning, and, as it takes off, I look at Ganesh not with sadness or regret but with genuine gratitude. It has reminded me that I was not at all a ‘conqueror’ of mountains but someone, who simply loves being in their presence – unconditionally. Mountains and high, remote lakes are, to me, spacial representations of power and sources of energy. Like people, who live high in the Himalaya, I believe that a force dwells in them that can elevate or shatter into pieces the strongest of human spirits. Sometimes it grants one a safe passage to the summit against all odds, sometimes – unexpectedly defeats all one’s expectations for success; in either case you can rely on it to teach you a lesson in humility and patience. I appreciate the lessons Ganesh has taught me, but I might need a refresher soon :).

P.S.: A couple of videos from the swim:

Getting into the water:

The views around the lake:

Ganesh I: Things That Fall

The shadow of Ganesh II on Ganesh I

In just a couple of days after locating Camp I, Phil, Sami and the Sherpas leave base camp in search of a safe route to Camp II. Although it is still very early in the morning – cold and, at least for yours truly, nearly impossible to get out of the sleeping bag – I am wide awake, listening to the clanking of the reconnaissance team’s harnesses as they prepare to leave. Then, it’s all quiet again, except for my heart, whose excited, impatient beating I can hear clearly. ‘What will they find on the glacier?’ I wonder, wishing I was only strong and fast enough to have joined them on their exploratory climb. I am not – not at all: still sick, I cough as much as before the first climb to Camp I, and the illness I can’t seem to shake off is slowly draining me of energy.

When I finally summon the courage to unzip my -40C sleeping bag, the bitter morning cold instantly makes itself felt on every exposed bit of skin. I loose feeling in my fingertips as I go through my very basic ‘beauty’ routine, and the little mirror I am holding in my hands is useless, clouded and frosted as it is. In fact, it is probably best this way… At breakfast I listen for Phil’s voice on the base camp radio station in the kitchen tent, but hear nothing. ‘It’s 8 am,’ I tell myself, ‘too early for any major news.’ After 9 am, sun finally reaches base camp, and the climbers emerge from the dining tent to ‘worship’ it, standing in line and basking in its warmth, which will not last.

The seracs on the approach to the start of the route

I go to the telescope to try and spot the team on the mountain, but they are hidden from view by the rocks and seracs above Camp I. I then attempt to distract myself by reading but cannot for the life of me focus on the imaginary adventures described in the book. ‘Well, I have to do something,’ I muse, and deicide to go and search the glacier for a lake to swim in. It is a beautiful morning, clear and crisp, and the fall colors of the grass and small bushes under my feet, powdered with dry snow, are a soothing site. As I begin to descend towards the glacier, I suddenly feel the ground shake under my feet. Within seconds, I hear cracking sounds come from the seracs on the surrounding mountains. A large avalanche rolls down the steep face of Ganesh II in front of me but it is what I see when I turn to face our Yangra that makes me hold my breath: a cloud of snow is engulfing the same slopes we climbed on our way to Camp I. I stand and stare at the floating snow as several smaller slides occur on Ganesh II and IV.

Avalanche cloud over the start of the route

‘They must be ways above Camp I now,’ I keep telling myself as, stumbling on rocks and slipping on dry grass I run back to base camp to find out if the scouting team is alright. Our cook, Da Pasang, looks at my flushed, worried face with an eyebrow raised in amusement, and tells me that everything is fine and that the climbers are safe. Taking a deep breath of relief, I return to my book and my milk tea in the dining tent. Later in in day I walk to the scope and, locating the team on the face of the mountain, watch them descend. Their backpacks look enormous, and something attached to their side straps glitters as it reflects the setting sun – it’s the snow bars the team had carried up to fix rope on the glacier. My heart sinks as I put two and two together and realize that the climbers must have come across a very serious obstacle during their search for Camp II. By the size of their backpacks it is also clear that they are bringing back down some of the gear they’d been carrying to Camp I for storage. The route, then, is a no-go. I hold my tongue and try to avoid sharing my guesses with the rest of the climbers at base camp, but they soon see what I have seen, and a bit of a panic starts by the telescope.

‘The expedition is over,’ the boys voice their thoughts, bewildered.

‘Now, how do you know that?’ I ask the loudest person in the group.

‘There’s been no news on the radio, they’re carrying the rope and the snow bars down – obviously, it’s all over.’

‘Why don’t we hold off this kind of conjectures until Phil, Sami and the Sherpas descend? They’ll tell us what’s happening. And then you can freak out all you like,’ I suggest.

‘But…’ he protests.

‘But what? Did you think there was going to be a highway to the summit once we got past Camp I? Really? So, we might have to try another route. And then, another one before we find the way. This is an exploratory expedition. We’re exploring our options here,’

‘But we won’t have the time for all that now!’

‘You don’t know that; you won’t know until you try. You run out of time – you don’t wait for the time to run out, doing nothing,’

‘There’s gotta be another way we can go,’ another climber steps in to support me.

‘Exactly,’ I smile, relieved, ‘and if there is one, there’s no reason we shouldn’t find it. We have experienced leaders, strong Sherpas and a good team. Let’s not give up before we’ve heard the news from Phil himself.’

Phil on his way to Camp I, by the rockfall couloir

When the reconnaissance team arrives at base camp, looking exhausted, I have very little interest in whether or not they have found the way, or what it was that blocked their passage: seeing our route in the cloud of avalanche snow earlier makes these things all but irrelevant. This being my 4th expedition with Phil Crampton’s Altitude Junkies and 7th with some of the AJ Sherpas, I care a great deal more about the safety of these people, all of whom I consider to be my friends, than I do about climbing the mountain. I am concerned, if not really surprised, when I listen to Phil’s account of what’s happened: just above Camp I there was an area of heavy rockfall that the team could not get around; they tried to climb over it on steep rock, but it was so rotten that it would break away from under the climbers’ hands and feet; as they began to retreat, a falling boulder the size of a table was a meter away from hitting one of the Sherpas. The route above our present Camp I would be deadly dangerous and, therefore, a no-go, so we must search for an alternative way to reach the glacier. Meanwhile, we plan to climb to Camp I once more in the morning to retrieve the gear we’d left there.

I go to sleep that night with a bad, bad feeling: I feel like the mountain we thought we could tame on first attempt is awake, alert and angry with us for our arrogance. I understand her, and have no doubt that we will not reach Yangra’s summit; I doubt it, however, that I will make it back down after picking up my stuff from Camp I: at night several snow slides from one of the surrounding mountains echo through base camp and penetrate deep into my mind, filling it with fear. ‘Perhaps, I could ask someone to bring my things down for me, as one of my team mates, ill like me, has done,’ a little voice whispers inside me. Unfortunately, I can’t afford the luxury of taking its advice: some of my ‘closest friends’ are made of rock and ice, and I won’t loose them to fear.

With Phil and Pasang, our sirdar, gone to explore other route possibilities, it is Sami, who leads the group to Camp I. I follow him at first but, getting cold as we wait for the others, I decide to keep moving up slowly on my own. I listen to the creaking and cracking of the seracs, which seem to be a lot closer to me than they really are, and move with the ‘music’. I climb at a normal pace and wait for the rest of the climbers to catch up, but the cold and the adrenalin won’t allow me to stop for long. When I enter the rockfall couloir, the sound of sliding and falling rocks distracts me from the seracs as I scramble up cautiously. I am above the couloir, in the middle of the final steep rock section on the route, when a loud crack coming from up high leaves me ossified on fixed rope. It is the same sound I’d heard on Manaslu the night before one the most injurious avalanches in recent Himalayan history. ‘The serac’s gonna go now,’ the little voice whispers, ‘hold on!’ Perched on a little outcrop on the rock face, I sit and wait for the wave of snow to wash over and drown me. ‘What are you doing?’ I ask myself after a couple of minutes when, naturally, nothing so dramatic happens. ‘This route is perfectly safe. You wouldn’t even get ‘dusted’ where you are now, no matter how many of those cracking seracs collapsed. Get up and get going!’ But I can’t. I close my eyes and see the empty Camp 3 on Manaslu: I am utterly helpless against the memories of grief, and voidness, and confusion this image brings me. ‘It should have been me,’ I echo the words I repeated so many times on Manaslu, thinking of the lost climbers and their families. Then, I open my eyes and look down at base camp far below. My fear-filled gaze retraces my steps downwards in search of someone from the team: there is nobody anywhere in sight, no one to distract and, thus, rescue me from my shame and my fear. I know it is pointless to wait to be ‘rescued’, and I can only play a damsel in distress for so long. ‘Either up or down, but you have to get moving. Get up!’

Zoom-in on base camp from Camp I

When I reach the top of the rock and look at the over-hanging serac slightly above and to the right of me, I notice that it’s changed shape: a piece must have broken off. I sit down to drink some water and catch my breath before stepping onto the rocky ‘minefield’ – the last section on the way to Camp I. While I rest, one of my team mates catches up to me, and we carry on together. At Camp I I recover from the climb, gather my gear and begin the descent. It is after noon now, and the morning cold has loosened its grasp on rocks and seracs, making our way down objectively more dangerous than the ascent has been. However, my fear seems to have melted away in the sun, and, in no rush to get off the mountain I now like better than ever, I follow my two slower team mates down. I feel calm and content, pleased with myself for not having lost my little battle against two of the greatest human fears: this of death, and of loneliness. It was Ganesh, who granted me this small but personally meaningful victory – a gift I accept with a lot of gratitude, and promise not to ask the mountain for more, as much I still want the summit.

Sunset on Ganesh II

Back at base camp Phil informs us that there is a Plan B, the possibilities of which are to be explored the next day. The team still has the time, the gear and the desire to look for the way to the summit of Yangra. It is good to see everyone excited and hopeful again. However, it is at least equally good to see the mountain, which has laughingly shaken us off its slopes, stand so majestically against the starry night sky.