Monday, 28 May 2012

Summit of Lhotse 8401m (world's 4th highest peak)

So, the summit has been reached, and now i am back safe in Kathmandu. I am now one of very few Britons who have climbed Lhotse, the youngest Brit woman and perhaps even the youngest woman to have ever climbed it. But that doesn't say anything about the experience itself.... As with these less poplar mountains, my summit day was completely void of other climbers- myself, our 2 sherpas and my climbing buddy were the only 4 people on the peak- whilst on Everest there have been hundreds of people going up at a time. In fact, we could look out from our route on Lhotse and see the ques going up Everest- a line of head torches stretching for nearly a 1000m upwards- whereas we were totally alone with an entire mountain to ourselves. I can remember thinking: I am so glad I am not in that que, fighting off the cold and altitude long enough to have my brief turn for a photograph on the top. It's not what climbing mountains should be about. No one on our team of 4 (2 climbers and 2 sherpas) had been on Lhotse before, so we were all excited to be climbing into the unknown for the first time together. I took the lead- worried about rock fall, which was a significant problem this year for Lhotse- with many people being injured by debris. I found a rhythm and was determined not to rush or get out of breath- i found our pace very peaceful and after a while I fell into a routine that went on an on for hours without us stopping. I felt really strong and alert, and at no point did i feel like i was climbing in the 'death zone', despite Lhotse being a massive 8401m in height. The climb gains the summit via a Couloir that seemed to go on forever- I can remember looking up and it seemed never ending. The couloir is usually covered in snow, but this year it was mostly a rock climb- dry loose rock that we would have to step so delicately over so as not to cause it to crumble and fall off down the Lhotse face. Eventually we reached the summit slopes and suddenly the comforting enclosure of the couloir was replaced by the breathtaking exposure of the steep open summit field- you could look between your feet and see down for miles, look to either side and the drops into Tibet were huge- a mistake here would have ended in an almighty fall. But it was also absolutely stunning- the sun had turned the sky pink and baby blue- Everest was lit up in the morning glow to my left, it was so quiet and peaceful to watch the sunrise over the HImalayas from a view point that so few have been able to look out from- Everest looked completely different from where we were perched on the Lhotse summit slopes. Finally, a rocky mound maybe 50m in height leads to a snowy crest which is the summit. The rocky mound is a vertical rock climb- i never thought i would be actually rock climbing at 8400m with the himlayas spread out below me. Climbing with mittens, huge boots and an oxygen mask is pretty difficult- but my whole mantra had been to stay calm and keep a rhythm- i stepped my feet down like i was walking on glass, so as not to dislodge the loose rock, and slowly made my way up the 2 pitches of climbing that led to the snowy top. Below my teetering feet was the body of a Czech man- he had died only a few days before, he had simply sat down at the bottom of the rock climb, shut his eyes and died. Looking down and catching glimpses of him made my heart race and gave me a lump in my throat- another fellow climber dead, i tried not to cry and to concentrate on making my way safely upwards. The last few jabs of my crampons into the last patch of snow and suddenly i was hit with the view from the other side of the mountain- it appeared out of nowhere! I was looking over the other side of the mountain into Tibet- i nearly fell off the other side! The summit is so small only 2 people can sit on it at any time. The sun burst into view and the entire world seemed to be at my feet- huge himalayan peaks so small in the distance, the clouds rolling below me like an ocean- and the beautiful colours of the dawn sky- I was the only person in the whole world who had this view, it was the most breathtaking moment of my life- literally, it took my breath away. I was so overwhelmed and shocked by the view before me that i screamed aloud and then screamed again down the radio that i'd made it, my sherpa, Lakpa, then came up behind me and we hugged and i cried as i was so happy that he had made it too- another first summit for him also. We could see people climbing up on Everest, but where were were there was nobody- we sat for a while and just took in the view until our other two climbers reached the top, we all hugged again- 4 tiny humans perched on top of this giant himalayan peak. It took us just under three hours back to our high camp, then straight down to Everest camp2, and base camp the next day. Post expedition thoughts: 60 days to the day, and i was finally on top of my mountain. This has been the hardest trip i have ever done simply in terms of it being a metal struggle. This season on Everest and Lhotse has been hard, with the mountain being out of condition, strong weather systems, avalanches and entire teams packing up and leaving early, We hung on, we prayed, we listened to every piece of news and gossip and hoped that the mountain would at the last minute improve enough for us to climb. There were many times when i thought it was over, but still- something told me to hang in there and trust that we would get our shot. Over half the teams with permits for Lhotse abandoned earl this year- but those that stayed were rewarded with the most incredible climb, yes the mountain wasnt in great condition- but it made it all the more fun and interesting to climb, and so I am very grateful for that. Many people have perished this year, which is devastating. In less than a month I saw three bodies- this is not normal for any 24 year old woman, even one who climbs big mountains. I am so thankful to just be alive and safe and well, and to have been spared by the mountain. For those that weren't so lucky, may they rest in peace- my thoughts and prayers go out to all their loved ones. For now, I just want to go home and be with my family- this season has been a stressful and harrowing experience, and the fact that we made the summit hasnt sunk in yet over the worry that we have dealt with these past 2 months. I want to go home and not go near a mountain for a few weeks at least anyway. I want to wear normal clothes and shoes, eat my favourite foods, enjoy the English summer and have fun with my friends and family- no climbing required. (though i can't guarantee that the climbing ban will last more than a week!) I'd like to firstly thank Henry, Kame, Young Lakpa and Lakpa Onju for making our attempt successful, without any glitches and for working so hard against the odds to make sure that the Lhotse climb went ahead, despite the huge amount of attention that Everest required. Bob, my team mate- congratulations man, it was great to share the summit with you. The team at Karrimor for thier support and messages of well wishing throughout, and for supplying kit and finance for the expedition. To TAG Heuer for also supporting the expedition and for supplying me with a great watch that came all the way to the summit and back. To my family and friends- your support and phone calls kept me going when the trip seemed doomed to fail, for the endless weeks of waiting and then through the nerves of beginning the ascent- your messages meant so much, and i really cant wait to get home and enjoy the summer with you- not just hear about it over the phone! Dad, Nanny, Margot, Belinda and Mum, Rob sorry for the angst and worry- and for the sleepless nights as i went to the summit! Finally, i think ive come a long way since my fall on Everest- i learnt a tough lesson there which i have never forgotten and has made me strive to be the best i can possibly be on the mountain at all times. Climbing a much more technically difficult peak in good style i hope has proved that my determination to be a better mountaineer has paid off. You fall and you pick yourself up again- you learn your lessons and you come back stronger. That's life, and I am so thankful to be alive and able to do this- and that is thanks to so many others, whom I dedicate the success of this climb too. Over and out for now- Bonita.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Lhotse update

Ok do a super quick update: Acclimatisation Is pretty much complete- I've been up to 6700m, below camp3, turned back because of strong winds and inadequate clothing on my legs- a pair of leggings!!! In 50knot winds... Don't worry I have proper cold weather clothing at BC. Now it's the 1st May. Apparently at present (this can change at any time) there is no good weather (more strong winds) for the foreseeable future. So our team are deciding on what to do next. I personally am hoping for a trip to Sonams lodge in Pangboche (!) So what's happened since my last blog: First rotation up to camp1 was combined with 2 nights straight after at camp2 (6400m) it was an uneventful few days- a quick descent back to BC did however see us pass a body (RIP)being readied for chopper rescue. A few minutes after we passed the rescue party in the western cwm we came across a crevasse covered in his blood. It was a sobering and rather upsetting day. Just before going back for the second rotation to camp3 a huge search fell and wiped out part of the icefall route. We watched it happen from the safety of base camp. Our Sherpas- true legends In this case- we headed down through the icefall and saw the serac, they knew it was going to go so went back up to a higher camp, made some noodles and as they predicted it fell a few hours later. Their judjement probably saved their lives and shows we are in good hands. The next day we climbed through the icefall over the avalanche debris and through to camp2 with no problems. It was the next day as we sat in the mess tent that we hear the most almighty crack- rushing out of the tent we saw a huge avalanche cascade right into the western cwm and as the dust cloud exploded we watched as people- little ants in the distance- became engulfed in white. I was sure I was watching people be buried alive. The dust cloud was so big It dusted us as camp2 and our friends down in the icefall probably over a mile away. Incredibly not a single person died. A miracle. It was 10am and so a busy time in the cwm- camp1 was obliterated but amazingly no one was there at the time. We assumed a mass grave. We still can't believe that just by chance camp1 was unusually quiet. There was one casualty who was blown by the shock wave into a crevasse and got airlifted to hospital in kathmandu. Our Sherpas along with others found him and rob, our team doctor, was first on scene with medical help. After our jaunt up to the lhotse face in strong winds (I turned back pretty early from the winds) we made a safe descent back to BC (yesterday) and all feeling excited for what lays ahead. I'll say again- I am prepared to Turn back at any moment if the route is not safe. And will not take any risks with weather- if a window doesn't come then that would be pretty tough to stomach but if that's the mountains then I accept that they don't necessarily have the same agenda as I do! Lastly, our team is great- I'm in full health and everything is Going to plan. We just need the winds to calm and maybe then we can take a shot at the summit. Fingers crossed! We have to leave now and head back up from this little village with Internet access back to base camp before dark- thanks for all the messages of support. And family- if you are worrying please stop, as I keep telling you I am the most risk averse climber ever! If it's not safe I am Not going anywhere. Love to all, Bonita