Chulu West, one step at the time
Let's get this one out of the way first. Unfortunately my climb did not end up sumiting Chulu West. Strong winds forced us to turn back cca 70 vertical meters from the summit. It was very frustrating being so close, but I guess Ngima, my Sherpa guide made a wise decision. His experience is unquestionable and I trusted his judgement. So I had to swallow my pride. We turned back and returned safely. It was still excellent trip and I enjoyed every minute of it
I didn't have any special preparation during the days leading to this trip. Actually I was not meant to climb anything. My initial destination was Mustang, The last "forbidden kingdom" of Nepal. Mustang area is very specific and requires a special (quite hefty) trekking permit. Also it is important to note that trekking permit application can be submitted only for two or more people. Single travelers have only two options. To join a group or pay the price for two permits. Initially I have found a group to join, however after tragic events in November 2014 where many tourists perished in avalanches and bad weather, the group members cancelled the trip. Since I have already paid the deposit for the trip I was urged to find alternative destination. I went for climbing again. This all happened less than 3 weeks prior the departure and I had very little time to do any training and physical preparation. Unfortunately this showed up later while I was on the mountain.
Compared to Mera Peak, Chulu West was completely different beast and much harder mountain to climb. Although Mera is few meters higher, it is just "walk up" mountain where little climbing is required. Chulu West is also not the most technical mountain in the world but it has significantly more challenging sections than Mera had. The base camp is also little more remote and less accessible. We spent 3 nights in the tent before summit attempt eating just instant noodles which quite depleted the energy levels. Usually this climb only requires 2 nights in the tent before actual climb, but due to the strong winds we decided to wait one more extra day in hope that winds will calm down a little. I recall tent was shaking during the night like crazy. I though it would be blown away any second. It held but i had no sleep at all.
Altitude is a strange thing. It requires considerable effort to get up there. One would think that after hard work getting high sleeping and eating would be a natural thing to do to replenish and recharge. However the opposite is the case. People in high altitude usually cannot sleep well and their appetite is gone with the wind. Heart has to work much harder to supply the body with oxygen thus burning more calories. Personally this time I had no real problem with appetite. Unfortunately instant noodles is just enough to keep you going and replenish the lost energy. I was loosing weight quickly just by being up there. When it comes to sleep I didn't get much of it at all. High altitude, noise from shaking tent, lack of oxygen. All these were contributing factors to the sleepless nights.
After day waiting for calm morning we were disappointed. Winds were as strong as day before but with no more days to spare I decided to give it a go no matter what. We expected the wind to calm down after sunrise. After gearing up with climbing boots, crampons, ice axes and headlamps we left the camp about 4am. Quite late actually. Right from the very beginning we walked on mixture of surfaces. Ice, snow, rock you name it. Most of the time the snow was hard and easy to walk on with crampons but occasionally I was fighting for every step buried waist deep in a soft snow. With rising sun we were waiting for calmer weather. There was the cloudless sky but wind gusts were still pretty strong. I took of my gloves to take some photos but my fingers went instantly numb. Operating the camera in thick gloves is almost impossible. Just taking of the lens cap was hard. After few shots I put the gloves back on but my fingers never really recovered from cold. Even my GoPro went dead. Not sure what happened. Card was freshly formated, battery charged. Probably it just got depleted in extreme cold. Changing battery with numb fingers was not an option. I started to realize that I will not get the shots I wanted on this climb. My idea was to do a video, same as I did for Mera Peak. But with GoPro gone and my fingers frozen enough i said goodbye to moving pictures. I still hoped for some photos though. This was proving quite difficult as well. I was not able to hold the camera still in that wind. That's how strong it was. Soon I realized this will became a purely struggle for the summit.
Unfortunately wind gusts got stronger. We stopped our advance every time it blew. I remember small tiny ice crystals cutting into my face. It also wasn't my strongest climbing day ever. Quite frankly I was slow, gasping for breath every 10 meters. I was never good at any endurance sports. But I want to challenge myself, know my limits. I refused to quit and carried on. At some point Ngima pointed ahead. "Summit". As I looked at my watch to check the altitude a particularly strong wind gusts hit us both. We had to crunch down and wait till it was over. Altimeter read something like 6370m (+- I calibrated the watch but these are not 100% accurate). With that much vertical difference I estimated we had about 70-100m to go. Another wind gust. At this point Ngima said it was too dangerous to continue and we should go down. I am not entirely sure if it was really that dangerous or he just concluded I wouldn't have necessary strength to reach the summit and more importantly come down safely, I trusted his judgement. His climbing resume is quite impressive and I would be crazy not to listen to him. It is very frustrating, Almost humiliating but I turned back and we slowly made our way down. Few hours later we reached the safety of our tent. After quick meal we packed everything and descended down to the lower base camp down in the valley. We set up the tent again for 4th and last nigh. Well, Ngima and Nurbu did as I was quite wasted. We met another group who were about to go for climb but I learned one of the two "would be" climbers was seriously sick. After brief chat to the other one it was clear they are not going to make it either. Dude didn't even have boots that could be fitted with crampons. Knowing how dangerous some of the parts were up there, there is no way to go there without proper equipment. Well, I believe Ngima and Nurbu would be able to do it, not western dudes without experience like one I was talking to or myself. Anyway, later I learned the sick guy had to go down quick and the other one didn't even attempt to get to the higher base camp.
I felt defeated. Not that I didn't make it to summit but I also failed to fulfill my creative ideas I had in my mind for this trip. Well, I better come back down to Earth. What was I thinking? Not every mountain I set to climb will be conquered. That is just plain fact. But I am determined to continue my climbing adventures as long as health and financial situation allows me to do so. There is still lot to look forward to. Manang valley is just breathtakingly beautiful. Manang has also nice German bakery and also the best coffee I ever had in Nepal.
Over next few days we came down to Chame where we hired a 4wd to take us to Besinsahar. This drive is CRAZY. The road if you can call it that way is a mix of dirt, mud, loose rock surfaces. Average speed is less than 20km/h. Car is stuffed with passengers to the maximum, mostly exceeding it's capacity. I felt like i was put into the shaker for 8 hours. This was the second time in a few days. Of course on the way up we went the same way. At some point I counted 15 people stuffed in Indian made Mahindra 4WD. I have to give lots of credit to these cars. The amount of abuse they go through is quite unbelievable. And they just keep going. also skill of the drivers is quite high. Sometimes 2 cars passing each others in the narrow road create quite dangerous situation with wheels rolling just centimeters from edge of the road and huge 100 meter drops. On the way back it started raining so road became slippery. Also after 6pm we drove in complete dark with headlight only enough to see few meters ahead. Finally we reached Besinsahar. We stayed overnight there in quite shabby hotel and next morning we took a bus to Kathmandu.