12th December 2012

3701m – Summit Ice Cap of Aoraki Mt Cook

 

 

 

3….                  2….                 1…..
See ya !!!!

 

 

Well after 4 years of wanting to do it I finally manged to get a none work period to coincide with a good weather window and a chance at making a speedriding descent off the top of Mt Cook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the end it turned into a 36 hour round trip from Wanaka.  I flew in with a heli load of people to Plateau hut – uncertain if I had a rope party to wander up the Linda glacier with.  As it turned out I teamed up with Bram Whillock, a ske mountaineering type who wanted to make a ski descent of Mt Cook.

 

Bram has been going around doing all kinds of interesting things – check out his site : www.bramski.org

 

Anyway – I had planned on having a night in Plateau hut to acclimatise but as things go we ended up making the most of the good weather and afer flying in  at 3:30 we were awake at 12:00 midnight, getting our gear on and starting to skin / ski over towards the mouth of the Linda glacier.  Bram and I had agreed to only us the rope if we really needed to on the glacier – we had a great freeze and were were also using ski's – damn hard work on the frozen snow really.  The crevasses were reasonable well bridged and with a great freeze it was pretty safe – safer then being roped up and on ski's at any rate.  Bram did mention, after he had returned to the hut, that he was sure the crevasses had opened up during the night ….  I told him that just hadn't been able to see how big they were!

 

Overall this wee mission would have to have been, what felt like my worst ever climb of Aoraki via the Linda glacer – I was feeling a bit ill (prob mild AMS) had quite a lot of nervous energy (ie scared) and really didn't want to have to make a repeat attempt the next night!  The summit rocks were fairly boney and free of snow / ice which actually makes them easier to climb.  As we topped out on the the summit ridge a fair amount of cloud started to rise out the Tasman Valley and onto the Grand Plateau – not ideal for a landing.  Conditions on the summit were also a little bit firm with no really "safe" place to make a good launch and with a SW tail wind I felt it better to fly from just below the summit – at the summit ice cap shrund.

 

By the time I'd gotten all ready to go and sorted out wing, skis and camera's the cloud had broken and I had a great line down to the mouth of the Linda Glacier …

 

Big thanks to Bram Whillock and Paul Rogers for additional outside footage.

19th October

We’re on the walk out – we left SamaGoan a few days ago and are now about to head over the Lharka Lha.

We should be back in Kathmandu bu the 24th or the 25th of October – maybe in time for the RWC final – go the All Blacks

We’ve been joined by a good mate of mine’s girlfriend – Monica and her Brother. we met them at Samagoan on the 16th and they had a acclimatization day on the 17th.

The weather is fine – if a tad cold and we’re all dreaming of different food on kathmandu!

CIAO

The Speedfly8000 Team

Mal, Ben and Sophie (+ Monica and Urus)

8th October

We’ve been resting and waiting at basecamp for the last 4 days, looking for a possible weather window to make our summit bit. It looks like it is finally arriving. Right now we’re banking on a summit attempt on the 12th of October. We’ll actually be leaving basecamp in the very early hours of the 9th of October to do up to camp 1 to drink some warm fluids and eat before continuing up to camp 2 where all of our equipment is stashed. It should take us between 7-8 hours in total with lite packs.

By far the best summit window of the season was between the 3rd and 5th of October but Ben and I were still acclimatizing (as were a number of other groups) and could take advantage of the fine , calm weather. It also meant that we missed the long lines of people on the fixed lines and the hordes on the summit, over two days we think that over 100 people summited. Himex alone put more than 40 people on the summit (including sherpa’s)

So now there will be about 3-4 groups on the hill overt the next few days, with a total of about 20 people trying to make a summit bid. Some groups have opted for an early window, not choosing to believe the wind forecast and choosing instead to trade of totally clear skies for low temperatures and wind chill. we’re planning on the lowest wind day to hopefully allow me to make a summit flight with my speed wing. Right now I’m estimating my chances of even thinking of making a flight attempt at about 50% due to the wind.

We’ll just have to wait and see if the forecast is is better than expected. If I can’t fly from the summit I expect to mask an attempt from around 7500m or just below main summit ridge line at about 7200m where I should be protected from the prevailing winds.

Sophie will keep the blog updated over the coming days and if the wind seems to drop a bit later on we’ll delay our summit attempt in favor of lower wind levels.

CIAO

Mal

4th October

Ben and I are back down at basecamp after 6 days of hard work and effort on the lower mountain. Originally the plan was that we would only be on the mountain for 3 days, spending either 1 or 2 nights at camp 1 and climbing to touch camp 2.

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Instead, after reaching and establishing ourselves at camp 1 we both felt that we would be better served by making an attempt to reach and "touch" camp3. This would then put us in a position to make a summit attempt on our second rotation.

Before leaving basecamp we had arranged food for camps 1 and 2 so we would be ok in that regard for our plan change! Our radio system is also working well – allowing us to communicate with Sophie back in basecamp – the higher we go the better the reception.

RIMG0436The actual route on the mountain varies radically from camp to camp. Basecamp to camp1 is a long slow climb crossing a number of crevasses that are easily negotiated – the sting in the tail is the final 180m or so climb up to Camp 1 at 5700m. Camp 1 to Camp 2 is through the icefall and has numerous steep sections (all using fixed lines) as well as one ladder to cross. Camp 2 is located just above all the seracs on the first really flat section at 6400m. Our first time up there was pretty hard and both of us were breathing fairly heavily and really feeling the altitude. Camp 2 to camp 3 is a pretty easy day (easy is a relative term above 6400m) and gradually climbs up the final headwall to the col. The col is a pretty windy place and many teams have placed their camps just below the col – protected from the wind but also in a position where they can be covered in snow. Right now we have a number of loads of gear buried at the Col awaiting our return.

Our original, optimistic plan was to sleep at C1, touch C2 and then climb the next day to C2 and sleep. After our first touch of C2 we were both totally exhausted so instead we planned a "rest" day at C1. It was a rest day for Ben – but for me it was a day of climbing up above C1 and finding launch sites to make a number of flights to my chosen landing area below C1. The flying was great – the canopy was a little bit slow to inflate and I dropped much more than I would normally flying at lower altitudes but once I was actually in the air the normal glide ratio of the canopy was the same (about 1:3.5). Swooping in above other climbers was great fun – skinning back up to C1 and above was not so much fun!

Speedriding on Manaslu
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I had planned to make a flight from Camp 3 but heavy cloud, occasional snow showers and minute weather windows made making a flight attempt just too risky. Instead, I skied down from C3 to C2. It’s not easy to ski at that altitude with a heavy pack and in flat light. About 1/2 way down the cloud cleared just below C2 to the summit and it made the final few hundred meters of skiing just simply glorious.

There was a weather clearance from C2 to below C1 which would have made a a flight possible but it was getting pretty late and Ben wasn’t the only one who was tired! Sidi MaMa, Ben and I quickly packed up C2, stored all our gear and made it waterproof and started to make our way down the fixed lines to C1 and then continued down baseamp. It was great to Sophie when we got down and it was also great to have a shower (in our new flash shower tent) after 6 days of alternatively sweating, freezing and then sleeping in the same clothes.

Right now we are enjoying one of the finest days that basecamp has seen all season, Ben has been eating, sleeping, reading and then sleeping some more. Soph took the opportunity to drop below basecamp to actually see the view for the fisrt time (it’s always been in cloud) and I went to catch up with Russel and co at the Himex tent to see how the team was getting on with their summit bid.

So now our waiting game for a summit window starts. The wind is forecast to increase from the 7th and doesn’t look like dropping until after the 10th of October so we’ll have the time to rest and recover here in basecamp for a bit.

All the best to ya all

Mal

Mal and Ben, are well and truly into their acclimatisation on the mountain. They tagged Camp 2 the day before yesterday and Mal went up again to Camp 2 yesterday to fly back down to Camp 1, just for fun. They’ll be sleeping at Camp 2 tonight and then heading back to base for a couple of days rest before heading back up to tag Camp 3. Meanwhile Sidi Mama (aka the machine who smiles) and Pemba Rinji have been ferrying ridiculous loads and setting up the camps ahead of them.

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Most of the other expedition teams are on their way up in preparation for their push to the summit, making the most of the good weather window. For the last 2 days there has been a pretty constant stream of thermal clad, millet boot wearing, heavy breathing, slow moving climbers rolling past our camp on their way to Camp 1 and beyond.

Meanwhile back at the ranch some exciting base camp news! Today the shower tent was erected and I am now all shiny and new. It comes complete with a solar shower kit so if the sun ever comes out at BC that will be handy. Whilst the weather on the mountain has been mostly clear base camp has an omnipresent layer of plog surrounding it. Makes me want to climb the mountain, until I start walking up a hill….

Hope there are blue skies wherever you are

Soph

Speedfly8000

speedfly8000@gmail.com (for text only emails)

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28th September! – It’s Sophie’s Birthday

waking up to a brilliant morning - smallThe weather gods finally caved in – it must have been Sophie’s birthday present – we woke up this morning to SUN beaming into the front door of our tent and an amazing view of the east pinnacle of Manaslu as well as a totally clear view all the way down the valley. For us walking in we’ve been plauged by high cloud and rain each day – for those here at basecamp it’s been heavy grey cloud, rain and snow for at least the last 10 days or more. But now the weather seems to have turned – we’re all hoping it means the end of the monsoon and more days of clear sky’s.

So this morning we got up to enjoy the sun and to busy ourselves for our first full trip up to C1. Sophie was still in bed for a bit and our staff took turns coming up to our tent to wish her a happy birthday, we even had a visit from friends at Himex to wish her happy birthday. (and yes KAZ the package was delivered and caused huge amounts of laughter)

Sidi and Pemba
Amazing climbing stadff - small

So, the morning quickly turned into a packing frenzy as Ben and I got ready for our first full day on the mountain and our two climbing sherpa’s stuffed their packs full of gear for a carry to C1. These guys are simply great fun to be with and work incredibly hard. This trip we have with us Phemba Ringi Sherpa and Sidi Mama Tamang. It’s the first time I’ve worked with Pemba but he’s just great – I’ve done a number of trips with Sidi and, as usual, he’s full of smiles and laughter. The boys took great pains to make sure that Ben and I would leave after them and NOT try to catch up to them – as if we could!

Just on 10am we all started up the hill slowly – this would also be Sophie’s first trip above basecamp and she came up past the crampon point, the point where the rock end and the ice begins – which is now irrelevant as the whole valley is loaded with snow. I’d left my ski’s there the day before when Ben and I had gone for a small wander – I’d tried to ski down in REALLY flat light and today I could see my tracks …. Not pretty. The route from there is a slow, gradual rise up to 5500m where it Sophies Birthday weather - smallsteepens up for the last 200m or so to the "high" C1. Soph had come with us to about 5150m before waving us goodbyew and heading down to cups of tea and Dal Bhat in the kitchen. Ben and I made our way very slowly up the valley – it was like walking in a furnace at times as the sun was simply baking – the order of the day was a very stylish themal attire on the lower body with harnesses and then glacier shirts on top – and loads of sunscreen.

The trip from 4800m to 5700m took us the best part of 4 1/2 hours and the amount of new snow was remarkable. Over 1.5m had fallen between 5500m-5700m in the last 4-5 days and we were thankful of the deep trench to walk in – well Ben was – I was ski touring my way up. It was pretty damn hard going at times.

Anyway we got to C1 just slightly before the sun left our part of the hill and the temp plummeted, all of a sudden the thermal pants option just didn’t seem so good – a quick stash of our gear – a boot change for me (back into the Millets) and we were going DOWN. It took less than 1 1/2 hours for us to come down!

Ben - descending from c1 - small

So the plan for the next 3 days is for us to head up to C1, go to C2, I’ll be looking for good launch and landing sites (we’ve already spotted a few) and then come back down for a rest before going back up again to head to C3 ….

Blue Skies! Mal.

Basecamp

Baecamp smallCurrently we are at our base-camp at 4900mtrs organizing equipment, setting up the solar chargers and feathering the nest for what will be our home for the next month or so. Our acclimitization walk from Samagoan went very smoothly with Mal, Soph and myself slowly walking up to 4100 meters quite comfortably before returning to our hostel to read and relax. Our planned move to basecamp the following day was thwarted by steady rain, rain in which we could not expect our sandal wearing porters (30 of them each carrying approx 30kgs) to work. The day instead was spent reading and chatting to climbers who had descended from Manaslu base to take a break from the weather. The climbers bought with them tales of diabolical crevasses, avalanches and constant rain/snow. We could not wait to see for ourselves. Early the next morning the hotel courtyard was full of porters strapping loads to their backs. I nearly busted myself on the way up, I decided to see if a relatively fit, goretek clad thirty something male in sturdy boots could keep up with a young lady carrying 30kgs in skirt and thongs. I gave up after only a few gasping hours. Five hours later we arrived at our basecamp all feeling strong and ready to launch into the task of digging out platforms for our sleeping, eating and the kitchen tents.

On the way to our base Mal and I made as short detour to chat with Russel and Dave Mckinley, aka ’Dgnarly’ who are with the massive Himex expedition. We paid Russel $100US each for use of his fixed lines and got the latest news of the mountain.Russ and D’Gnarly (aka Dave Mckinley) reported a few easily navigable crevasses between base and camp one and a high Avalanche risk above two which will abate with the expected good weather coming. That afternoon and this morning have been Mal and soph in diing tent - smallspent organizing our base. We now have two tarpaulin clad sleeping tents, a foam floored dining/relaxing tent with solar power, a dry, level kitchen tent and a poo-barrel tent positioned some distance away! We had planned a chill out after setting everything up but as Mal and I feel so good we are going to take a wander up towards camp one to begin our acclimatization. Sophie is planning to spent the day resting up for her birthday celebration extravaganza tomorrow which will include Dhal Baht, some chocolate, a birthday cake and snow cones (not yellow!)

Ben West

It never rains but it pours.

The monsoon is still making it’s presence felt. Since we arrived at Samagoan the heavens have been open and the pani (water) has been falling. In the last 2 1/2 days there has been over 200mm of rain. There has been a steady stream of Sherpa’s coming down from basecamp to visit friends and family or to just simply hang out. From what we have been able d to find out it seems that all the other expeditions are still in basecamp and there has been about 1m new snow.

Weather 25th September
weather on 25th

Camp 1 is most likely a tad buried …. All last night it was simply belting down and the dawn was grey, murky and rainy. After a chat about the porters we felt it better to wait one more day here for the better weather that is forecast for tomorrow. It wouldn’t be good to have one of them slip and injure themselves OR to drop any of our gear + the deep snow into basecamp would also prove to be a problem for them wearing only lite shoes and or walking boots.

A small overhang to shelter from the rain
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Yesterday however we did get out on an acclimatization walk in the afternoon when the rain had eased. We climbed up the basecamp track to about 4150m and sat in wee cave to watch the clouds come and go – giving us some glimpses of the glacier across from us and the lake far below.

Just this morning we arranged to have a Puja (blessings from the Lama) here in Samagoan as the local Lama was heading down to a lower village for a few days and would not be able to come up to basecamp. We had our boots, axes and my canopy blessed – all done under cover out of the rain in a local prayer room.

Puja in Samagoan
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So now we are simply waiting for the promised good weather to come again.

23rd September

We’re now at the not so small village of Samagoan, which is at the base of Manaslu, one day and another 1000m from basecamp. We’ll be spending tomoro here resting and doing a small acclimatization walk before moving up onto the mountain. With any luck I’ll be able to up high enough on some of the surrounding slopes to do a quick run down on the speedwing!

We left Kathmandu on the morning of the 16th of September and after 1 very long jeep ride, a gnarly river crossing, multiple days of exhausting heat, monsoonal thunderstorms, muddy trails, wet tents, dank tea houses and 7 days of walking – we saw our first view of Manaslu this morning! It didn’t last all that long as the ever-present cloud buildup quickly obscured it, but the quick view we did have got us all pretty excited!

Manaslu – early morning from Lho
Manasluy from Lho

Just after we had posted our last update at Khorlabeshi, we were sitting down drinking a cup o chai when everything started to shake! We quickly realized that it wasn’t a heavy footed Sherpa but instead a earthquake. It was quite strong for about 30 seconds and then still noticeable for about 2 minutes afterwards. About 10 minutes later the creek that we had crossed to get to Khorlabeshi turned into a huge raging torrent – filled with boulders crashing their way down the stream – it was probably the result of the earthquake shaking loose a dammed lake higher up on the mountain. The roaring jet like torrent lasted for hours and had made the river rise at least 5 meters! There was a small bridge that Sophie and Ben had crossed a few hours before that was now nowhere to be seen. News slowly filtered into our group about the earthquake which was about a 6.3 and centered near ?Kathmandu. All our staff were able to contact their families which are all ok although we’ve again heard unsubstantiated rumors of large scale damage in various areas of Kathmandu.

Before the Earthquake
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After the Earthquake

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Right now our equipment if being transported up to basecamp and we’ll be following along behind soon. A number of teams have already been to camp 3 and are now waiting for the right weather window for their first summit attempt. All going according to plan we’ll be at camp 1 on the 29th of September for our first cycle on the mountain, with as summit date now set for near the 17th or 18th of October.

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We're heading north to Mt Cook Village this afternoon to get an early flight into the head of the Tasman.  The images below show you what our PLAN A is – we do however have a slight modification that will make a good start to the trip.  It all depends on tomorow's weather!



Making the team for this mission is

Pilots
Mal, Dugald and Zac
Skiers
Cameron, Cory
 
Film
Zac, Cameron