12th – 13th October. Things start to stack up.

evening1It’s amazing just how quickly things can go pear shaped. At C4 we had made a plan for Ben and Phemba to descend to C2 and Sidi Mama and I would remain at C3 where we would pack up the gear and then I’d try to make a flight off the mountain from near 7000m

The wind had been blowing hard down the mountain all night and spindrift had been blasting the tent ever since midnight … this was actually the least of my problems.

The afternoon before Ben and I were standing at C3, just under a set of seracs. Ben was keen to keep going down and I was keen to get a tent set up and to crawl into my sleeping bag. Ben set off into the late afternoon light but Phemba and Sidi were nowhere to be seen – which was a bit perplexing but I just thought that they were packing up their gear at the tent that they had been borrowing from some of Phemba’s friends the night before.

An hour later I was still wondering where they were.

Sidi finally dropped down to me to tell me the news that Phemba had changed his mind about descending and would instead go down lower tomoro … hmmmm Not such good news. Sidi told me that there was another stove in our tents at C2 so Ben should be able melt water and get some fluid and food into him – we just weren’t sure if he had anyway to light the stove!

I turned on the radio to try and call Ben to see where he was – I stil hadn’t seen him walking into C2 yet but I could have missed him. It was getting dark and I was already exhausted – Ben had been walking on for a while after me and would be even more tired …

"Ben – you there? copy Ben?"

"Hi Mal – when is Phemba coming down? I’m a bit off the track and in some pretty deep snow …"

"Um …. it appears that Phemba is not coming down tonight bro … Can you manage your way back to the track and come back up?"

"%^**($%^^% – I’ll try …."

After that I didn’t have any radio contact with Ben. I had horrible visions of him wandering into a deep crevasse – or simply being too tired to make it back up to C3. Sidi and I had a chat for a while and we made the choice to send him down to look for Ben and continue on down to C2.

for about the next hour I had no radio contact with either Ben or Sidi and I could only see 1 headlamp, slowly making it’s way to the area of C2. I was starting to get quite worried and got geared up again to drop down into the dark to possibly help Sidi when the radio finally crackled into life.

"Mal Dai this is Sidi – Ben Dai and I are now are C2"

whew ……

Ben and Sidi were to share a pretty cold night under 1 sleeping bag and sharing two mattresses in one of our tents at C2. I could finally crawl into my bag for the evening and hope for a lessening of the winds in the morning.

8am – 13th October

I was outside the tent, gearing up to try and make a speedriding descent down the mountain. My pack was pretty heavy – the heaviest I’d ever carried when trying to make a flight.

The wind was reduced but still blowing down the mountain.

Phemba was still somewhere above me and I could see Sidi Mama making his way back up towards C3 – very very very slowly. Sophie had left Basecamp at 4:30 am and was now at the bottom of the mountain waiting to film my landing. Both Ben and Sophie were reporting that the air was still at both 5300m and 6400m.

sf1Where I was it was definitely down the hill … I was exhausted, tired and very very nervous. What would normally take about 5-10 minutes to get ready now took me about an hour. I had to climb back up above my C3 to find a good site for launching that gave me a good ski run with a good run out. I had to carry my wing and ski’s up in one go – dig out a platform for the wing to rest on and then sit my ski’s. Then I had to go back down to get my pack and then come back up.

As I came back up to my chosen launch site Phemba came into view. He was wondering where everybody was and why Sidi hadn’t come back up. I was wondering why he’d changed plans. As my Nepali was not very good and his English wasn’t very good it wasn’t a very fruitful discussion.

I pointed down to Sidi slowly coming back up and to my wing laid out on the snow, Phemba seemed to finally get the idea that I was going try and fly. He kept on going down and eventually got to Sidi Mama, they split the loads and continued on down the mountain. I was sitting waiting for the wind to drop …

sf3Eventually the wind seemed to ease, I was all hooked in and ready to go. I gave a call down to both Ben and Sophie that I was going to launch. Took a deep breath, pointed my ski’s downhill and gave it a go.

The first 2 seconds felt fine. I felt the canopy start to inflate, grab the air and then start to rush up over my head – then nothing, no pressure on my lines, no pressure on my brakes. I could see the shadow of my canopy, looking all mangled above and slight behind me to my right.

ABORT

sf4The snow wasn’t nice soft powder but variable hard crusts that then gave way to deep powder below. There was also a crevasse below C3 that I didn’t really want to ski into. I got my ski’s sideways underneath me and in a flurry of snow I eventually came to a stop. My wing slammed down in front me fully inflated and with a strong wind blowing hard on the back of my neck.

Just as I’d launched a strong gust must have come rolling down over the col and caught my wing. I was breathing hard, a bit caught up in my lines but happy to have stopped. I called down to Sophie and Ben that I’d had to abort but that I was going to try again.

The next 1.5 hours were spent breaking a trail back to near C3 and carrying all my gear back up to the launch site. By the time I’d got there the wind was slightly stronger down the hill, I was even more exhausted, I was the last person on the mountain above C2, the day was getting older and I was even more nervous ….

Time to call it quits – I simply couldn’t risk having another go. I loaded up all my gear, put my ski’s on my pack (too heavy a pack and too tired to ski down to C2 in the variable snow etc) and started down to C2.

The boys and Ben had packed C2 and after putting more gear onto our back we began our last trip down through the icefall and back to C1. The route was getting pretty bad with crevasses that had been mere step overs the week before now almost 1.5 – 2m wide. We crossed the ladder above the hourglass and looked back at it – it was now almost free from the lower side of the crevasse it was spanning by about 1m. Russell Brice had asked if we (being the last group on the mountain) could take the ladder out behind us. Neither Phemba or Sidi looked all that keen to try and take it out – the ropes were as taut as guitar strings. We were also standing on a very precarious serac, it almost looked like the ladder and ropes here might be holding the whole thing up … Phemba and I had a chat for a bit but he indicated that he thought it was too dangerous to remove and I couldn’t really insist …

From C1 we packed up a series of loads that could be dragged lower and retrieved the next day. I managed to lighten my load enough to get a final ski in from C1 to within 15 minutes walk of basecamp.

Ben, Sidi, Phemba and Norbu (our kitchen boy who’d come up to C1 to help with loads) were about 40 minutes behind. Walking back into Basecamp was pretty emotional – It was great to be able to give Sophie a huge hug, Deb was on hand with hot lemon tea and it was awesome to take off my boots and, for the last time a drop my pack …

Ben wasn’t far behind and got the same lemon tea treatment as did the rest of the boys.

ben lemon tea

We were all off the mountain – 14 days after stepping onto it for the first time. Over the next few days we got BC packed up and stashed away into barrels.

The weather wasn’t quite finished with us though – we’d arrived in a snow storm and on our final day we woke to 10cm of new snow and wind – we were leaving in a snowstorm!

Setting up for the summit. 3 days of hard work.

It had been essential that Ben and I had made the effort to reach camp 3 on our first cycle on the mountain. The first summit window had come and gone over the period 4th – 6th October and the winds on the upper mountain were expected to increase over the next few weeks. Our forced climb to C3 had put us in a good position to make a summit push when the next window appeared but we were both pretty damn exhausted.

Initially we had planned to rest for 2-3 days and make a bid for the summit on the 10th of October but the winds were not going to be low enough and Ben was also pretty tired. An extra 2 days rest, and good food at basecamp allowed us to recover our strength and motivation for what was going to be a pretty hard final 4-5 days on the mountain.

We had left all our essential equipment at Camp 2, as we planned to go from basecamp to Camp 2 in one very long day. My ski’s, ski boots and wing were also stashed at Camp 2 although I was doubtful of the winds being low enough for me to make an attempt to fly from the summit.

On the 7th our forecast showed that there was a substantial lowering of the winds from midday on the 11th at the height of camp 4 and that the 12th would have winds on the summit between 15 – 25km. The 13th also looked promising but with a forecast of higher cloud and higher humidity.

We set our sights on the 12th with a possible backup day on the 13th.

9th October

RIMG0593In the early hours of the morning Ben and I got up at 2 am, forced ourselves to eat a big breakfast and left basecamp at 3:30am. It was bitterly cold on the lower mountain as dawn approached and, as the upper mountain came into view, a long plume of snow was clearly visible blasting off the summit ridge. We arrived at C1 by 7 am – a pretty fast 3 1/2 hour trip, and we then settled down to get warm, use our C1 stove to get warm water and food into us and to wait for the day to heat up so we could then make our way up to C2.

After a 2 1/2 hour rest, (Ben was pretty shattered – he’d not been able to sleep the night before or eat much food for our alpine start breakfast) we began our last trip up through the icefall and the "hourglass" towards C2.

RIMG0612The hourglass is a 150m high snow slope that has fixed lines on it – it’s moderately steep and is cut by a number of crevasses. It is also avalanche prone and tends to funnel snow down steep runnels. We’d not had any snow now for 3-4 days and conditions were good. There were also a number of other teams making final bids on the mountain and our Sherpa team of Phemba and Sidi Mama were right behind us. It was impressive to see just how much the mountain was moving, crevasses that only 5 days ago had been easy step overs now required a fair bit of thought and determination to cross – the route was definitely beginning to fall out of condition. Once above the hourglass there was still about 250m of height to gain before reaching C2.

We spent the rest of the afternoon organizing gear, resting and drinking water before getting a much needed early night and a good nights sleep at 6400m. It would be our last good sleep for a few days ….

10th October

The journey from C2 to C3 is quite a short climb – only 400m to the col, but the 400m gain is significant in that you are then going to be sleeping at 6800m on a windy col. Almost 700m above us is C4 and the wind is quite strong. The temperature is now getting seriously cold – during the evening the temperature in our tent was -19 degree’s … Not so inspiring. Phemba and Sidi had made plans to try and carry a load of gear to C4 that afternoon, but strong winds and cold temperatures put that plan to rest. I had got a forecast from Sophie that evening and the outlook for an attempt to speedride off the summit looked bleak.

I had carried all my personal equipment plus my ski’s, wing, flying harness AND my climbing boots from C2 whilst wearing my touring boots. The forecast for the next few days was for dropping winds but summit day still hada forecast of up to 25km on the summit and 18km at C4 – it was also blowing a westerly which was exactly the wrong direction for me to make a launch …. I had to make a hard choice. I would need to carry my ski’s on my pack on the way to C4 and I didn’t much like the idea of them acting like sails in the winds that were raking the face leading to C4. I went to sleep that night hoping for a radical change in the forecast …… Sleep didn’t come easy for me at C3 and I was highly jealous of Ben’s consistent easy breathing as he fell asleep that night

11th October

Ben and I were up early to ensure our boots were thawed and we had had enough food and water for the day’s climb ahead. Phemba and Sidi had been unable to make the load carry to C4 the previous day and they had significantly heavy loads. The winds were still very strong and spindrift was blasting the tent, I made the choice to forgo my attempt at a flight from above 8000m and instead would hope for lower winds on our descent.

RIMG0673From 7000m Ben and I used oxygen which greatly assisted our climb to C4. The previous 6 days winds had covered the fixed lines with snow and it was going to be hard going to clear them. The morning had been bitterly cold and we felt that a slightly later start would be warmer as the wind was also forecast to drop slightly. I lead off with Ben behind me and Phemba and Sidi coming up behind us. There were sections of up to 100m of buried fixed line that needed to be cleared and in addition the snow was a hard breakable crust that needed to be stomped through. RIMG0536 The actual climb went up through a series of seracs and eventually onto the ramp, a 400m+ long sloping snow field that ends in hard blue ice as it leads onto the summit plateau and C4 at 7,450m. C4 is a very cold, exposed wind swept place. Remnants of the previous summit window showed old bamboo wands, some broken tents and food scraps. It is a pretty desolate place….

We got our one tent up and the 4 of us (Ben, Phemba, Sidi and I) crowded into it – it was a pretty cramped situation and with the thin air it didn’t look like it was going to be a very fun night’s sleep. The order of the evening was to melt water, drink and try to eat and stay warm. I’d gotten another forecast from Sophie at basecamp and there was still no significant drop in the wind levels for summit day. As the sun set and the temperature dropped we were all feeling a bit apprehensive. The tent was shaking and buckling in the wind, the temperature was already sitting at -25 degree’s as we all tried to settle into comfortable positions for the long night ahead and to wait for the early dawn light when we would be getting ready to make our way towards the summit, another 716m and at least 5 hours above us ….

RIMG0672

This is the final installment for the Tasman Glacier trip.  Our final day was pretty spectacular as we skinned our way up the not often visited Darwin Glacier.  As a Mountain Guide I often spend my time at the head of the Tasman Glacier on many of the peaks we flew off.  I'd never been into this region and I was very very impressed with the terrain.

 

The early morning conditions were pretty hard and the ski down to Darwin Corner was a bit of a trial – heavy packs don't make for fun skiing and a breakable crust only add to the difficulties.  After dropping our gear the and entrance to the valley we got up high enough to see that the glacier leading to the top of Mt Anan was going to be in the shade most of the day – which would mean that it'd not corn up for a good ski run.  This alone would have made us change our plans but the fact that there was a large series of seracs to cross under with some serious debris sealed the deal – we changed our plans and went for Mt Hamilton instead …

 

The approach to our launch site was directly in the baking sun and it was HOT!  By the time we'd all reached to col our ascent route was looking great for a ski run, both Cam and Cory were fizzing.  The fly team found a good spot to launch from and after a few set up issues we all made it off – all told it was a pretty amazing place to fly from  – the back drop of Malte Brun and the main divide was breathtaking …

 

Enjoy the final Episode

Big Shout out to

CAM MULVEY

CORY GREEN

ZAC MORRIS

 

Thanks for the video efforts boys …

How did the training go in respect to my expectations?  For me the first trip away on to the snow was a significant start to the whole adventure, the weather delays had been frustrating and the time off work was becoming harder to acquire!

 

 

I enjoy a steep learning curve and from the moment we stepped out onto the mountain it was game on.  Crampons went on immediately just to get to the hut, then it was a necessity to clear are way into the building just to dump a little gear.  With a swift glance at our accommodation for the next few days it was back out on to the hill and wings out!  The flying side of adventures is generally the main reason I am on them, however I have loved skiing since a young age and to be able to combine the two is perfect…if not a little daunting at first.

With the added weight of our rucksacks complete with ice stakes, ski poles, crampons and more waiting to snag our lines, the relatively slim knowledge of where I was about to fly off to and the shear compilation of new aspects for me – it was an immediate chance for me to take the bull by the horns and ski launch for the first time from right outside our hut…successfully.

 

 

A short flight and a slightly bouncy landing got me started on to the next phase of my learning…ski touring.  Having never really been drawn to this side of snow sports I was pleasantly surprised at how easy it makes moving around the terrain and how enjoyable it is.  I can see with all the challenges presented in this first proper mini mission, technique and practice are going to be crucial.

The crampon and ice axe use, and ski touring skills that were needed to get us to a number of our glacier locations and launch sites were both fun and great practice.  To be able to move around an environment and choose almost any route is fantastic.  Mal’s principles of prevention rather than cure when making route selection and plans certainly reassured me on the snow.  The necessity to read the weather and the snow is as important as reading the wind before a flight.  My relatively constant stream of questions about how to do things and “when can we try” things were answered patiently and with solutions that I can work with.  The location of our trip was stunning, the hut was well equipped although if it wasn't bad weather I certainly wanted to be out and about exploring and practicing my new skills.  And perhaps the most important aspect, the Speedfly8000 team seemed to work extremely well. 

Looking forward to more missions soon!

 

 


 

I have just been lucky enough to find and image of the face that we intend to fly as well as showing me the general landing area we wish to use.  This image is taken looking from the NE in the vicinity of the proposed landing area – the standard route ascends from the col on the right hand side of the picture.

Our launch site will be from the main summit over the top of the hanging seracs on the upper face.

I've got goosebumps …..