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Eric Gilbertson

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  1. Trip: Choral Peak - North Face Trip Date: 05/05/2024 Trip Report: Choral Peak First Ascent of North Face (WI3 M3 Steep Snow, 300m) May 5, 2024, 12:30am – 6pm 18 miles, 5kft gain Nick and Eric Starting up the first pitch In late April 2020 I was skiing Choral and Gopher, two top 200 peaks in the Entiat River drainage, and I noticed a big ice line on the north face of Choral. I was going solo and didn’t have climbing equipment, but I vowed to return again and try to climb it. The route Access to the area is a bit difficult when the ice is in season. The road is generally either snowed over or gated during ice season, adding many miles to the approach. On that trip patchy snow had started on the road 10 miles before the trailhead. I’d skied in partway then road walked the rest in my ski boots, then hiked farther in to get to snow line to start skiing. Usually between December and early April the entiat river road is a snowmobile route for the last 10 miles to the trailhead. Then sometime in April when the snow partially melts the road is gated 6 miles before the trailhead until sometime in May. I have a snowmobile now, but I’ve been prioritizing Bulger peaks in the winter and never got around to the climb. Finally in November 2023 I decided to give it a try. The road was still snow-free to the trailhead but I was hopeful maybe enough ice had formed for the route to be climbable. Francis and I were able to drive to the trailhead and skin from there. We got to the base of the route, but the ice was extremely thin and sketchy looking. So we bailed and instead skied Gopher. Closeup of route I again prioritized Bulgers this winter, and by early May I thought I’d give Choral another try. I suspected this would be the time of year with the thickest ice. The ice is between 7,000ft – 7,500ft on a shaded gully on a north face with a snow bowl above feeding it. That likely won’t start melting down until mid May in a normal year. Based on recent satellite images the road was snow-free to the trailhead, but I expected it to be gated 6 miles before the trailhead (as it has been in previous years in early May). So we planned to bring bikes for the road section. The satellite image showed the trail mostly snow-free. I’ve previously biked that trail, and it could save a lot of time. It’s popular with dirt bikers to access Myrtle Lake, so gets cleared semi regularly. So the plan was to bike as far as possible, maybe to the wilderness boundary near Myrtle Lake, then bushwhack straight up to Choral. This was the route I’d taken in November and it had worked well. The route viewed from Gopher Peak Because less than half of the approach was snow we decided to leave the skis at home and snowshoe. We would do a car to car trip to avoid carrying the extra weight of overnight gear. Sunday looked like perfect weather for the trip – cloudy and cool, with just a slight chance of afternoon snow showers. Biking up the trail Saturday evening we drove to Entiat River Road, and were surprised to find the gate open! We drove the whole way to the trailhead, and it looked like the road had recently been logged out. We got a few hours of sleep then were up and moving by 12:30am Sunday. Amazingly, the trail was completely logged out too! The area is in a recent burn zone so every year many trees fall over the trail. But it appeared some dirt bikers had just gone in and cleared it out. We had fun biking up the low-angle trail. I was occasionally stopped by my chain getting stuck in the front derailleur (I had forgotten to lube it before). But we soon made it to patchy snow at the Myrtle Lake turnoff. Bushwhacking to Choral The dirtbike tracks turned off, and bikes no longer made sense in the snow with blowdowns likely. So we locked them to a tree and continued on foot. We hiked another mile to the wilderness boundary, then cut up right into the woods. I found an easy open route and we made fast progress up the slope. Around 3am near snowline we stopped to rest and I noticed my headlamp light reflecting off two eyes about 50 ft away. We both turned our headlamps to full power and it was a cougar sitting there looking at us! I wasn’t too thrilled to have it following us, so I chucked a snowball at it and it bolted back away. Luckily we never saw it again. Approaching the climb Around 5,500ft we hit continuous snow and switched to snowshoes. Skis would have been nice, but I appreciated not having to carry the extra weight on the approach. We made fast time to a flat bowl at 5800ft, then topped off water in Choral Creek. We then continued to the north face of Choral Peak by sunrise. This time the ice was nice and fat, even better than the time I had first seen it in April 2020! Maybe a few extra weeks of spring melt-freeze cycles got more ice forming. We ditched snowshoes and one pack at the base then cramponed up the snow to the base of the ice. Nick on the first pitch We built a rock anchor on the wall on the right and I took the first lead. I climbed up over a fun ice bulge, then followed a snow ramp to the base of the main flow. From there I had several options. Straight up the middle or up the left looked steepest, probably WI4. The right side was lower angle and went through an interesting constriction/chimney between the ice and rock. That looked fun, so I continued that way. Following the second pitch I got a few rock pieces on the wall then the ice steepend. I ran out of gear and rope at the base of the chimney and built an anchor there. As I was belaying there was occasional spindrift flying down the face and covering me in powder. I guess it had snowed a few inches of fresh powder on Saturday and that was now blowing down. Luckily it wasn’t enough to be conerning. Nick followed up then took the next lead. He wriggled up through the chimney and found a nice ice ledge shortly above for a two-screw anchor. I followed, and the chimeny was pretty fun. I could lean my butt against the rock and kick my crampons in the snow. It was easy to take breaks. The rock made swinging the tools a bit trickier though. The third pitch After reaching Nick I continued on the next pitch. I followed the line of least resistance, which was traversing left to the middle of the face, then climbing up over another bulge. I then traversed to the left side of the face and got in a nut in a crack. I had three screws left and it looked like just enough to reach the top of the ice. From there I expected I would reach trees or have cracks in the rock on the side. I put my last screw on near the top of the final ice bulge, then found good rock pro on the side. I ran the rope out to its end and found a nice tree to build an anchor. Nick followed, and from there we unroped and continued up the steep snow. The snow was surprisingly powdery for May, and trail breaking was challenging. We definitely should have brought our ascent plates. We took turns, and when I was in front I had to clear snow with my hands, then with my knee, then pack down with my foot, then step up. It took a while. Climbing up the steep snow Finally I reached the rocky headwall and traversed up and left on a good ledge. The ledge ended at some small trees and the terrain above us steepened. We decided to rope back up there. Pitch 4 Nick took over and led up, climbing what turned out to be the crux of the route, an M3 mixed pitch. I followed up and there were a few interested rocky sections partially covered in snow. I had fun hooking ledges, torquing some cracks, and balancing my frontpoints on small rock features. Mixed Pitch I met Nick at a rock anchor then I led the final short pitch. I climbed snow and rock and managed to get a hex in a good crack. Finally I topped out just left of the summit cornice and slung a tree. Nick soon arrived and we unroped there and made the short snow scramble over to the summit by 1pm. On the summit We were treated to amazing views of snowy peaks in all directions, and it looked very wintery. The afternoon snow showers were still holding off, but it was nice and cloudy so the sun wasn’t warming things up to much. We soon returned to the rope, packed up, and headed down. I kind of wished I had skis then, but they would have been challenging to carry up the climb. We plunge stepped down the east ridge to Choral Lake, then wrapped around the north face back to our stashed gear. We made quick progress back down to the trail and soon reached our bikes. Biking out The bike ride out was amazing, and I got some practice with taking gopro footage through some stream crossings. By 6pm we were back to the truck, just as a light rain started, and we were soon driving home. Gear Notes: 60m rope, ice screws, hexes, double rack of cams to 2", ice tools Approach Notes: Bike to Myrtle Lake turnoff, bushwhack to base of route
  2. Trip: Kangchenjunga - SW Face Trip Date: 06/01/2023 Trip Report: Kangchenjunga (28,169ft/8586m) Highpoint of India Third highest mountain in the world June 1, 2023 Eric Gilbertson On the summit (photo by Anna Gutu) May 27 – Heli from Kathmandu to Lukla, delayed by bad weather in Lukla May 28 – Heli to Tapethoke village, delayed there by bad weather May 29 – Heli to Kangchenjunga basecamp May 30 – Climb to camp 2 May 31 – Climb to camp 4, start for summit 7:30pm June 1 – Summit 5:30am, descend to basecamp June 2 – Heli to Taplejung, jeep to Suryodaya June 3 – Jeep to Bhadrapur, flight to Kathmandu June 4 – Flight to US Location of Kangchenjunga Kangchenjunga is the third highest mountain in the world and straddles the border between Nepal and India. It is officially the highest mountain in India, but is closed to climbing from the India side for religious regions. So it is only climbed from the Nepal side. The name means “The five treasures of the high snow” and indeed the peak has five sub summits. This very often leads to confusion with climbers taking routes to a summit that is not the true highest point. Aside from routefinding issues, the normal route to the summit is technical with steep rock and snow sections. I was in Nepal for the spring and my goal was to climb Mt Everest and Kangchenjunga. I’m working on climbing country highpoints and this would theoretically get the highpoints of China, Nepal, and India. The normal climbing season for both peaks is mid/late May, and it is difficult for me to get time off this time of year due to my teaching schedule. So if I could get time off for one peak I might as well try to squeeze them both in. The route I officially got time off to climb Mt Everest, so I needed to go for that one first. Then if I happened to finish that climb early enough, was still feeling ok, and the monsoon and high winds hadn’t yet started yet, then I could give Kangchenjunga a shot. I would theoretically already be acclimated so Kangchenjunga should only take a few extra days to climb. I arranged logistics with the cheapest company I could find, Seven Summit Treks, and paid for basecamp services for each peak and helicopter transportation between basecamps. I was planning to climb both peaks without supplemental oxygen and without personal sherpa support, just on my own above basecamp. This was mostly to save money so I could afford both peaks in the same season. I had previously climbed K2 this way in the summer of 2022, so the strategy seemed feasible. Climbing with supplemental oxygen and personal sherpa support significantly increases the price. Flying out of Kathmandu Three partners – Matthew, Steven, and Darren – would join for Everest, but I would be on my own for Kangchenjunga. On May 22 I made my solo no O2 summit attempt on Mt Everest, but had to turn around at 8500m after showing signs of HACE. I had been troubled by a dislocated shoulder in the Khumbu Icefall, two weeks of being sick from a respiratory infection, and not enough time for all the rotations I had intended. Unexpected wind had then delayed my summit push making me spend 40 hours above 8000m without oxygen and pull two consecutive all-nighters before moving up from camp 4. It seemed like luck was not on my side that attempt, though I did make it back down unscathed to basecamp with just a bit of sunburn on my nose. The Khumbu Icefall was effectively closed a few days after I descended (ie all ladders across crevasses were pulled), meaning there was no time for another attempt, unfortunately. After hiking two days down to Lukla I caught a late-morning flight to Kathmandu May 26 and considered my options. Flying to Lukla I was using weather forecasts from professional meteorologist Chris Tomer, and he told me there was still a summittable weather window on Kangchenjunga in late May and early June. It appeared the weather on Kangchenjunga was a bit different than on Everest, since the Everest season effectively ended May 26 due to increasing winds. I had already paid for permits, transportation, and logistics support for Kangchenjunga. And I was already acclimated. The elevation I had reached on Everest was approximately the elevation of the summit of Kangchenjunga. The only potential reasons not to go were that I was still exhausted from Everest and the hike out, and I might end up being alone on the mountain. But I had heard that a group from Elite Expeditions was planning to head from Everest directly to Kangchenjunga, so I wouldn’t be alone. And perhaps if I rested a few days I could regain some energy. I met in person with Dawa and Thanes from SST shortly after landing. It turned out there were currently two solo no-O2 clients of SST in trouble on Everest and Kangchenjunga and rescue teams were being sent to help. Suhajda Szilard, who I knew from basecamp and some of my rotations, had attempted to climb Everest solo with no O2 two days after me on May 24 but had not made it down. He was last seen laying down below the Hillary Step. SST was scrambling to send a rescue team to find him (the search would end up being unsuccessful). Also, skier Luis Stitzinger had failed to return from his solo no-O2 summit bid on Kangchenjunga also on May 24. SST was currently organizing another rescue team to look for him (he didn’t survive and his body was later found at 8300m). With this situation unfolding, understandably SST did not want another solo no-O2 client up on one of those mountains. I was told I needed to go with sherpa and supplemental oxygen. I was confident I was acclimated enough to summit without oxygen, but it appeared my options were to either summit with oxygen and personal sherpa or go home and lose all the money I’d already spent on permits and logistics. Grounded in Tapethoke village It would cost another $11k to hire sherpa and oxygen for Kangchenjunga, and I could just barely afford that if I zeroed out my bank account. That would be cheaper than losing all the money I’d already invested and then paying more a future year to come back, so I reluctantly agreed. Dawa made some calls and indeed a team of four clients and eleven sherpas from Elite Expeditions was planning to helicopter to basecamp the next morning and start a summit push. I would have the highest chance of success if I went on the same schedule as that team. I would go with Pemba Sherpa and he would bring three oxygen cylinders for me to use on summit day. He would bring a spare regulator and he knew how to fix any issues with the system. Approaching basecamp So I had that afternoon and evening to quickly cram in some resting and eating before heading out at 5am the next morning. Most of the SST climbers were back from Everest now and everyone was at the Fairfield or Aloft hotels. It appeared I was one of the few cheapskates who hiked out and most other climbers helicoptered back from basecamp. I met up with Matthew and Steven for a big Indian lunch, then Steven and Elena for a buffet dinner at the Aloft hotel. I tried to cram in as much food as possible since I’d lost a lot of weight on Everest, but it’s not possible to make up for all that in just two meals unfortunately. Made it to basecamp After dinner I quickly repacked one duffle worth of gear for Kangchenjunga. Unfortunately one of my bags of gear was still stuck at Lukla, but Steven lent me crampons, harness, and helmet just in case I couldn’t recover my gear. May 27 The next morning I left the hotel at 5am and met up with Pemba and a three-man rescue team at the airport. We would all head to Kangchenjunga together. We crammed our packs and gear into a helicopter and soon took off. The plan was to stop at Lukla, which was on the way, then change helicopters and continue. It was a scenic one-hour flight, and we soon made it to Lukla in increasing clouds. I found my duffle in a pile of bags under a tarp outside the airport, and switched out my crampons/harness/helmet from the bag for Stevens. I was soon ready to go again, but the weather had different plans. The clouds got thicker and it started raining. I hung out in the helipad terminal with a bunch of other climbers killing time. I’ve found that basically all expeditions are characterized by the “hurry up and wait” situation. That morning I had rushed to make an early morning flight, only to wait and kill time the rest of the day. Indeed, the weather never improved, and I spent the whole day milling around the terminal killing time. In basecamp By 4pm Pemba made the call that it was too late to fly out and we needed to spend the night in Lukla. We walked over to the Everest House Hotel, ate dinner, and soon went to bed. I was instructed to be back at the terminal ready to go by 5:30am the next morning. May 28 I got to the terminal a bit early at 5:15am, and was of course the only one there for the next hour. The weather was still socked in, and I suppose I could have easily slept in a lot longer. Over the next few hours some climbers trickled in, until the terminal was full by 11am. The clouds gradually started lifting and a few helicopters flew in and out. By mid afternoon the SST helicopter made it to the helipad. It had to make a few trips before it could take us last, though. It made a shuttle trip to Namche first. Then they removed all the seats to save weight and headed up to Camp 2. The rescue team looking for Szilard on Everest had made the summit but found no trace of him, unfortunately, and had descended back to Camp 2. The Khumbu Icefall had been closed by then with all ladders removed, but the team got extracted by the helicopter from Camp 2 back to Lukla. By mid afternoon it was our turn. I loaded up with Pemba and the rescue team and we finally took off. We headed due east in marginal weather, zipping above jungle and villages. We went for around an hour, starting to head up valleys to the northeast, but then the pilot suddenly descended and landed on a small helipad at Tapethoke village. The pilot had been on the radio with a pilot from an Elite Expeditions helicopter up ahead of us and the weather was too bad to make it to basecamp. The other helicopter had been stopped at Tseram, so we decided to stop there. In basecamp A few locals got out to help direct the landing, then they showed us to a small guest house. The village was pretty small and I bet they don’t see too many outsiders. There was a very rough jeep track going through, so it is accessible, barely, by road. They killed a rooster and we had chicken soup with dahl bat that night. The sherpas tried to convince me to eat sherpa style with my bare hands but I managed to find a spoon to eat with. It seems a lot cleaner to eat rice with a spoon to me. May 29 The next morning the skies were clear and we took off at 5:45am. It was a short and scenic flight up the valley to the edge of treeline at Tseram at 3700m. The helicopter couldn’t go fully loaded all the way to basecamp at 5400m so had to make shuttle runs from there. We unloaded everything, then Pemba and I got in with our gear while the rescue team waited. We helicoptered up to 5400m and landed on a small pedestal of rock sticking up from basecamp. The view from basecamp The basecamp location was amazing. It was a peninsula of rock jutting out between two glaciers and sticking up enough that it was sheltered from any avalanches from above. Even at its height there were small patches of grass growing on it. Kangchenjunga loomed above behind camp, and yellow tents were scattered all over the peninsula. It appeared only Seven Summit Treks and Elite Expeditions still had camps there. A handful of climbers were milling around, having recently successfully summitted. I got out and soon ran into Flor, whom I’d met on K2 last year. She’d summitted a few days earlier and had known Luis, the climber the rescue team would be looking for. There were a half dozen climbers all getting ready to fly out on the same helicopter. Lots of Sherpas would stay to run the camp while we were there. I was ushered into the dining tent and served a great breakfast. I stuffed as much food down as possible since I was still kind of in recovery mode from Everest. The helicopter did one more shuttle run and got the rescue team in, then shuttled a bunch of climbers out. More basecamp views The rescue team quickly packed up and started up, but it didn’t seem like Pemba was in much of a hurry. It was only 7am and there was plenty of daylight left, and the weather was perfect. My forecast from Chris was for great weather today, and sunny for the next four days, but increasing summit winds each day. It seemed to make the most sense to me to summit as soon as possible before the winds got too high. I told this to Pemba and he went and talked to the Elite Expeditions team, which had just arrived. Their plan was to take a rest day in basecamp and start up the next day. This didn’t make any sense to me. All packing could be done within an hour and we would have plenty of time to make it up to camp two or three. We had just rested the past two days with the bad weather delays. The rescue team had just started up and they were planning to make it to camp 3 that night. But since the Elite Expeditions team wasn’t going up we had to also wait. This is one reason I like going unguided, so I can make all decisions on my own. But I was basically obligated to go with everyone else. So I reluctantly unpacked my gear, found a tent, and tried to nap the rest of the day. I suppose one good thing about all these delays was that I actually got three unexpected rest days, which I probably needed anyways. And the delay in Tapethoke village gave me another night at low elevation, which probably helped with recovery. Hiking up to camp 1 The Elite Expedition Sherpas were planning to move to camp 2, then camp 4, then summit June 1. Chris’s forecast was for summit winds 25-35mph on June 1, which seemed marginal. Generally I want winds less than 20mph for summitting without O2. With O2 I’ve heard a common threshold is 30mph. Supplemental oxygen warms the body up so you can tolerate more extreme wind chills. So June 1 would be marginal while May 31 would have been acceptable in my view. But the Elite Expedition Sherpas said the route up the southwest face is generally sheltered from the winds, so you really just experience them briefly on the summit ridge. Chris confirmed the winds were indeed from the WNW and that ought to leave most of the route sheltered. The sherpas had done this mountain plenty of times so I had to trust they knew the conditions. May 30 The next morning we got ready early and by 8:30am the Elite Expedition team started up. So we started up behind them. Pemba and I split the group gear (tent, stove, fuel) and he said the rescue team had taken up a few extra oxygen cylinders. Still, my pack was around 65 pounds with the down suit, -20F sleeping bag, and tent strapped on. Nearing camp 1 I noticed the clients with Elite Expeditions didn’t seem to be quite as loaded down. They just had small day packs. It appeared there were a lot more sherpas in that team to help carry gear. There was even a professional photographer along and a few guides! I’m quite certain I paid a lot less than they did, though, and I was fine with carrying all my own gear. Despite this, Pemba and I still somehow managed to pass most of the climbers and ended up near the front of the pack. We started out hiking through a talus field, then went up a gradual snow slope and eventually hit a set of fixed lines. The slope was steep enough that you didn’t want to fall, so I was happy clipping my ascender on. It made me a little nervous that most of the sherpas tended to just clip a beaner on but not their ascender. This meant if they slipped nothing would stop them and they would run in to the climber below. In fact, I’d heard on Dhalguiri earlier this season a sherpa in this situation had slipped, crashed into the climber below, and broken his leg! Traversing to camp 2 Luckily no incidents like that happend on this trip. We made steady progress up the snow slope, which eventually got quite steep. We then made a long traverse and hit camp 1 at 6100m on a ridge. I’ve heard camp 1 is really just used on early acclimation rotations, and indeed there was no evidence left of a camp there. We stopped briefly for a snack break, then continued. From that ridge the route actually descends a bit to the glacier below and very soon reached camp 2. We dropped down the opposite side of the ridge and arm-wrap descended a gradual slope. I rappelled one short and steep dirt section down lower, then made a short and flat hike to camp 2 around 2pm. It was only about an hour between camps 1 and 2, so I can see why camp 1 soon gets skipped. Camp 2 was on a large flat section of glacier at 6200m and looked very safe from any rock or ice fall. There were already three tents set up there from Satori Expeditions and 8K, and I think Elite Expeditions had arranged for those to be left there for them. The other climbers jumped in those tents while Pemba and I set up ours. I’m glad we brough the SST tent because it weighed about the same as mine but was 50% bigger! Camp 2 We soon threw our stuff inside and Pemba started melting snow. A steep icy headwall loomed above between us and the summit and I could make out an orange tent on a bench near the top. That was camp 3, where the rescue team had made it the previous night. Higher up in the distance we could make out a snow gully leading up towards the summit, and there were a few climbers in it. That appeared to be the rescue team searching for Luis. We rested the remainder of the afternoon, and after an early dinner went to bed at sunset. May 31 The sun woke us up at 4:30am and we were soon packed up. This time we all started out in down suits and I left some extra gear to try to save weight. Pemba advised that I could just wear a base layer under the down suit and leave my jacket, snow pants, and extra layers behind. On Everest I had worn absolutely every layer and been barely warm enough, but I guess breathing supplemental oxygen would take care of keeping me warm. Climbing up to camp 3 The thought had crossed my mind to just hang the oxygen mask off my neck and not use it so I could still get a no-O2 ascent. But the more I thought about it the worse that idea seemed. We were already planning to go up in conditions that were too windy to safely go without O2 in my mind. Pemba said the group planned to start at 7:30pm that night to summit at sunrise. That gauranteed going mostly at night, when I was at most risk of getting frostbite with no O2. I would really want to start more like 1am to minimize time at night, but I had to go with the group so that was not possible. Also, I would be carrying two oxygen cylinders, which each weighed 10 lbs. It would be silly to carry 20 lbs of unneccessary and unused weight on my back if I didn’t use the O2. I couldn’t just leave the O2 and go on my own schedule because SST had told me I was required to go with O2 and sherpa. So I was basically cornered into going with the group with the O2. At least it increased chance of success, even if a bit less honorable than I had hoped. So I ditched the unneccessary gear, and since I wore my down suit my pack was considerably lighter. I kind of wanted to leave my sleeping bag too, since we only planned to rest a few hours in the daylight and not sleep at camp 4. But based on my experience on Everest pulling all-nighters at camp 4 there without a sleeping bag I figured it was wise to bring it just in case plans changed and we ended up needing to sleep at camp 4. Above camp 3 By 5:30am we rolled out of camp and started up the flat glacier. As before, Pemba and I soon found ourselves near the front of the pack. As we reached the base of the steep headwall we saw the rescue team of four sherpas coming down. They were dragging something in the snow and that didn’t look good. As they got closer I could tell it was the body of Luis wrapped up in a tarp. It had been nearly a week between his accident and them arriving due to the weather delays, so I suppose it had always been unlikely they would find him alive, unfortunately. We jugged up the steepening ice and snow slope, and it soon leveled out just below camp 3. A small ice avalanche had wiped out part of the fixed lines there, so we had to unclip briefly. Higher up I took a few ice screws from a sherpa and built some new anchors for the rope and did some re-directing to make improvements. We soon reached the small bench that is camp 3 and took a break. By this point some of the Elite Expedition clients had already started using oxygen, I think starting around 6500m. The plateau at 7100m There was a single tent there and some Elite Expedition sherpas took it down to move it to camp 4. They had really planned things out well, having tents left on the mountain for them so they didn’t have to carry as much from basecamp. The route got quite steep just above camp 3, but then did some traversing and climbing over small shoulders. Eventually Pemba, I, and Dawa were far in the lead and Pemba took over breaking trail. The rescue team had been up there that morning but the wind had drifted their tracks over. When we hit 7100m the slope leveled out to a big bench and I mistakenly thought this was camp 4. But Pemba said it was the next higher bench. We took a brief rest then continued. The route dropped down into a small valley then ascended up a steep ice slope. There were no steps kicked in and we took turns on the rope. Just around the corner from the ice slope we finally arrived at camp 4 at 7300m by 2pm. The short descent before camp 4 As before Elite Expeditions had an 8K tent already set up waiting for them. Dawa jumped inside while Pemba and I kicked out a platform and set up our tent. The slope wasn’t too steep, but it did still take a lot of effor to kick out the platform without ice axe or shovel breathing the thin air at 7300m. More Elite Expedition crew soon showed up, and everyone except me, Dawa, and Pemba was breathing supplemental oxygen. I was feeling pretty good at that elevation. I’d already spent about 48 continuous hours above 8000m without oxygen on Everest a week ago so 7300m wasn’t a problem. Dawa had been very generous to melt us some snow while we were making our tent platform, so we threw all our gear in the tent and laid down to rest. Pemba put his oxygen mask on and started breathing, but I thought I should save any oxygen for summit push emergencies. And I was breathing fine anyways. Arriving at camp 4 Pemba then gave me a lesson in how to use the system. I’d never used oxygen before so had no idea what was going on. He had brought a third regulator as backup, which comforted me. We tested that two cylinders fit in my backpack with the pressure valves visible. He showed me how to put the mask on, and said I shouldn’t wear a helmet since that made taking the mask off to eat or drink difficult. I said I didn’t care and I was definitely going to wear a helmet. There’s always risk of rockfall or icefall in the mountains. I said if I was thirsty I’d just take the helmet off then take the mask off. The regulator went in increments of 0.5L/min up to 4L/min flow rate. I’ve heard more expensive setups go up to 8L/min and lots of Everest climbers use that flow rate. But that means they need to have more cylinders brought up. Pemba said 2L/min would be a good rate and that should last 6-9 hours. We would start that immediately and that would probably get us to the summit. Then we would switch to a second bottle for the descent. I would carry both bottles, and he would carry a third as spare just in case. Then he would just use two. I think the plan was each of us would just use two but the third was a spare for either in case of emergencies. Testing out the mask I’ve had multiple friends have their regulators break on summit push on Everest. I also heard Darren had his oxygen run out before his sherpa noticed on his Everest push and he was feeling pretty crappy and starting to black out before it got switched. These stories make me nervous about relying on a mechanical system like that when unacclimated. I was comforted by several facts, though. I was already acclimated enough to summit without oxygen, so would be perfectly fine if the system didn’t work. I just might move slower and get colder. Pemba had a spare regulator that we verified worked. And, we were with a big group so among all of us there were plenty of spare components and cylinders. We took naps in the afternoon, then had an early dinner. I had a very strong appetite and had no problem finishing my two packs of Ramen noodles and quarter pound of extra sharp cheddar cheese. I don’t often have that strong an appetite above 7000m, so this tells me I was in fact very well-acclimated. By 7pm the sun set and we started getting ready, and by 7:30pm we were out of the tent and moving at the back of the big pack of 15 other climbers. Starting out just after sunset This was the first time I had breathed supplemental oxygen, and I was very curious how it would affect me. I’ve heard people say it lowers the apparent altitude by a few thousand meters, so I expected to feel like I had down at basecamp. It was still kind of hard work walking around down there with a pack so my expectations weren’t too high. Maybe it would help an extra 20%. What I actually experienced felt like an extra jolt of energy with each breath. After a few steps I’d get a little tired, then I’d suck in a breath and instantly be back up to full strength with energy ready to power forward. I kind of thought of myself like a cyclist on EPO in the Tour de France. I basically had unlimited energy, and something felt not quite right about that, like I hadn’t earned it. Hiking up with the EE team I could basically go twice the speed as I could without supplemental oxygen, and never got tired. And this was on a modest 2L/min. Could people on 8L/min on Everest be getting 4x the extra energy boost as me? I’m not sure if it scales that way, but no wonder oxygen use is common 8000m peaks. I think the only people that truely understand this advantage are the ones that have climbed 8000ers without oxygen and also tried it with oxygen. (I’d previously climbed Broad and K2 without O2 and gotten to 8500m on Everest without O2). As an added bonus, my fingers and toes never got cold. Not even a hint of being numb. If I was without O2 like on Everest I’d have to be stopping every 10 minutes to warm things up. But now I could just go continuously for hours, never needing to rest or warm up appendages. In my experience it is an order of magnitude easier to climb with supplementary oxygen than without. For better or worse, I was definitely going to make the summit this time. Looking back towards Jannu in the moonlight We generally stayed together as a big 17-person group down low, and I commend the sherpas in the front for breaking trail. Fortunately the tracks from the rescue team were still around so I don’t think it was quite as bad breaking trail. As we got higher the team started spreading out, with two EE sherpas and client in the front, then me, Pemba and Dawa all making up the lead group. Behind us the remaining climbers started slowing down more. Progress was slow and steady, and we didn’t stop for any breaks for the first five hours. That’s the power of supplemental O2 for you. By 1am we took a 5-minute break to eat some snacks, and then a few hours later we stopped again for a quick water break at the base of the rocks. Navigation can sometimes be problematic on Kangchenjunga I’ve heard, but an advantage of us coming at the end of the season was that other climbers had already figured out the route and left the fixed ropes there for us. We just had to jug up them. Sunrise on Yalung Kang June 1 The steep snow slopes got a bit tedious but then around 3am the climbing got more interesting when we hit the base of the rock band. There was a little bit of a traffic jam going up but when I got to the rocky section it just seemed like fun scrambling to me. Maybe that’s since I do a lot of mixed climbing in the winter in washington that I knew exactly how to wriggle up the features. We crested one rocky section, then started a traverse. We were then stalled a bit as the three lead climbers figured out a way up a tricky section. By then it had been 8 hours and I was worried about my oxygen canister running out at in inconvenient spot. Since we were already stopped I asked Pemba to check, and indeed it was about empty. He quicky switched the hose to the other canister and we continued up. Hiking up the final snow slope We scrambled up one final rock section then topped out on a snowy ridge just as the sun was coming up around 5am. From there it was a short snow traverse, then climbing up another short steep snow slope to the final summit pyramid. We traversed on rocks around the base of the pyramid, passing one old dead body lower on the rocks. Up until that point the wind had been mercifully light, but above us on the summit it looked like it was ripping very fast. Maybe Chris’s 25-35mph forecast was actually an underestimate! Though he did say it would be at its lowest at 6am, and it was almost that time. The group of three in front of us crested the ridge and I soon followed. Amazingly, once I poked my head up over the ridge the wind seemed to die down and was almost calm! I had feared it would be a knife-edge rock ridge but, while my side was all rock, the other side was a gentle snow slope. The final rocky bit before the summit I easily marched up the snow slope and reached the summit at 5:30am, ten hours after starting. I was the second one up there. The photographer for Elite Expeditions had gotten their first and was waiting to take pictures of the clients. Conditions were perfect. Only partly cloudy with great views around, almost no wind, and not even too cold (probably because I was breathing the oxygen). I got a few pictures and a brief video, then Anna Gutu from EE made it up and I took some pictures of her. She returned the favor for me, but then my camera froze and wouldn’t turn on! I thought keeping it warm in my inner pocket would help, but I guess it was actually kind of cold up there (forecast -15F) and it had gotten too cold. The only way to salvage it in this situation I’ve found is to plug it in to an external battery. But I didn’t want to fool around with that on the summit so I called that good enough for pictures. I yielded the top to the other climbers coming up and stood off to the side admiring the view. But I soon started getting a little nervous. More and more climbers were trickling up and it seemed risky somebody would knock another person over the edge with all the jostling for pictures. So I told Pemba I was good and we should head back down. On the summit Ten minutes had been plenty up there to admire the view, plus if we were the first ones down we could rappel all the steep lines and not have to wait in a queue. This would be especially important if the weather turned sour, and it was indeed supposed to get windier over the day. We made fast progress down, and took turns rappelling the steep lines and arm wrap descending the others. Pemba was much faster so he went first, and we soon spread out enough that I didn’t have to wait at all to rappel. At the base of the rocky section I noticed a pack sitting by itself in the snow with a set of skis sticking up next to it. This must have been from the climber Luis that the rescue team found. Way lower on the slope I had seen a few stuff sacks earlier, also likely from him. I arm wrapped down the snow slope, though managed to rappel a few of the steeper sections. By 8:30am, three hours after summitting, we both staggered back into camp 4. It felt good to pull off the oxygen mask and finally be breathing normally. It turned out we had a lot of extra oxygen. I had only used a little over one canister and Pemba the same. So we had a few extra canisters. There was no need for any oxygen going down, and empty canisters are much lighter, so we opened the valves and released the extra gas. It felt kind of wasteful, but didn’t make sense carrying so much extra weight down. Back at camp 4 Pemba proposed a two-hour break, then we would descend back to basecamp. So I repacked everything, then laid down for a brief nap. We had just pulled an all-nighter so both appreciated the rest. By 10:30am we got out of the tent and started taking it down. There had been a suggestion that we just leave the tent there, but there were no other teams coming up that season that could use it, and it would just become trash. I volunteered to take it down since I’d carried it up. By 11am we were all packed up and heading down. My pack was now monstrous again since it was too hot to wear the down suit and I had to put it in the pack. By then some of the EE team had made it back, but most were still working their way down from the summit. I think our time of 3 hours down was kind of fast. Descending back down We made good time down from camp 4, again enjoying the benefits of being first since there were no queues to wait in and we could rap down any line we wanted. (For reference, two people can climb up a rope at the same time but two cannot rappel down a rope at the same time – they must take turns, which can slow things down descending). We passed through camp 3, then took an extended break at camp 2. It was getting hot and I was out of water by then. The rescue team had been in camp 2 the previous day and was hoping for a helicopter extraction, but for some reason conditions weren’t good and the helicopter couldn’t land. So they had moved everything to camp 1 and would get extracted from there. Meanwhile, they had generously melted a pot of water and left it for us, and left a bag of coke bottles for us! Last look at the upper slopes I chugged the water and Pemba cracked open some cokes. I don’t really like carbonated beverages, but I was low on energy and liquid and figured the sugary beverage might help. Pemba passed out more cokes to EE sherpas coming down and everyone was in good spirits. Some clients came down and took naps in the three tents remaining there, and Pemba and I soon packed up and headed out. I really was not looking forward to the uphill to reach Camp 1 after already putting in a big day. I think the coke didn’t agree with my stomach since I don’t usually drink carbonated bevereages. At any rate I was not feeling 100% approaching that hill, and it took me twice as long as it should have to make it up. Descending below camp 1 I eventually made it and caught up to Pemba resting at Camp 1. From there it was easy arm wrap descending down. A few sections of the route had been hit by small loose wet avalanches, likey earlier that day. It was indeed kind of hot there in early June. But by the time we got there evening clouds had built and the slopes were stable. We dropped back down and eventually staggered in to basecamp around 530pm for a 22 hour day. We had an excellent chicken and spaghetti dinner, and I even got to take a warm bucket shower before bed. June 2 Back to basecamp for dinner An Elite Expedition helicopter arrived at 6am and immediately started shuttling climbers out. That would be the only helicopter and it had to service everyone. I quickly packed up and took my turn to shuttle down to Tseram. There we all waited for a few hours drinking tea at the local teahouse. When all the climbers and sherpas were out the helicopter then started shuttling us all to the Taplejung air strip. This was the closest village with a paved road to basecamp. I had been told the whole SST crew would get flown to Kathmandu that morning. This was important since I had purchased a flight out of Kathmandu for that evening. I had purchased it just before heading in to Kangchenjunga, and thought building in four buffer days would be enough. But with the weather delays and the delay in starting out of basecamp it had eaten into my buffer time. The flight could still work, but then Pemba told me we would not in fact be going to Kathmandu that day. The one helicopter would take the elite expedition clients back, but the sherpas and I would be taking a 10-hour jeep ride to the nearest major airport at Bhadrapur and taking a scheduled fixed wing flight to kathmandu the next day. Flying out That was a little frustrating, but I guess it was my fault for not building in enough buffer days. I called up the airlines and it turned out the flight cancellation fee was almost exactly the price of the flight. So I basically lost $1000 by that mistake. However, I decided I’d rather stick it to the airline and just not show up instead of cancelling. That way they couldn’t resell the ticket to make more money. I lost an extra $30 or so but it felt worth it to me. I figured I basically gained $1000 by hiking out of Everest basecamp instead of flying out, so maybe now I was even. That afternoon Pemba and I hopped in a jeep with the rescue team and we started the long, windy drive out. We crossed mountain passes and dropped way down to cross river valleys. Basically the whole way was blind turns on the side of cliffs down in the jungle. Eventually we reached Suryodaya eight hours later and stopped there for the night. June 3 The next morning we drove two more hours to Bhadrapur, then got on the 9:30am flight to Kathmandu. In Kathmandu I took a taxi to the Fairfield Hotel, and Thanes brought over my bag that SST had gotten from Lukla. I had enough spare time to meet a friend Sandro for dinner, then made my 2am flight back out for Seattle. Gear Notes: Standard 8000m gear Approach Notes: Helicopter to basecamp
  3. Thanks! Yes I wrote a report for kangchenjunga. I wasn't sure if it met the bar to be posted on cc since they made me go with sherpa and oxygen. I posted it here though: https://www.countryhighpoints.com/kangchenjunga/ Eric
  4. Thanks! My favorites so far are definitely the ones in the chilliwacks I've gotten this winter (Hard Mox, Spickard, Custer, Rahm). I guess that's four. It feels kind of like an Alaska expedition to get in there by boat up Ross Lake then bushwhack in and find glaciated peaks. It's amazing WA has places like that!
  5. Trip: Argonaut Peak - East Ridge/NE Couloir Trip Date: 03/09/2024 Trip Report: Argonaut Peak (8,455 ft) March 9, 2024 East Ridge/NE Couloir 18 miles skiing/climbing, 10 miles snowmobiling, 8300ft gain 73/100 Winter Bulgers Eric and Nick On the summit The weekend looked to be stormy but the Enchantments zone seemed to be getting hit the latest. I’d previously bagged all the Bulgers peaks in the Enchantments in winter except Argonaut, so we decided to go for it. The route I’ve previously climbed Argonaut twice via the south face route (May, August), which ascends a steep gully to the summit ridge followed by a class 3/4 scramble to the summit. This is not necessarily the best winter route, though. In February 2022 Nick and I had been camped near the base after climbing Sherpa and planned to climb the south face route, but my updated NWAC forecast on my inreach made us too nervous about snow stability. So we bailed that time. Our East Ridge/NE Couloir route (drawn on picture taken by John Scurlock from the north) This weekend the snow stability conditions didn’t look great for that route either. But Argonaut has many different route options, generally all technical. I noticed we could ascend gentle slopes up the Porcupine Creek drainage on the south side to gain the Argonaut-Colchuck col at 7700ft keeping the slope angle low. From there we could climb one of the technical routes up to the summit. The routes might require crossing short snow slopes, but we would be roped up clipped in to gear in the rock so would be protected. We would bring a 60m half rope, hexes, nuts, cams, and technical tools. I would bring one technical tool with a hammer (for the hexes) and one ultra-light corsa straight shafted axe with a custom 3D-printed adjustable pinky rest Nick had just printed. This would allow me to plunge in snow and save some weight. We’d also each bring our custom carbon fiber ascent plates Nick had CNC milled. Unloading the sled The main route options from that col appeared to be the East Gully, the East Ridge, and the NE Couloir. Neither of us had done any of these routes but we figured we could see what looked the most reasonable based on conditions and climb that. The first record I could find of a winter ascent of Argonaut was via the NE Couloir (Lurie, Feb 2006, NWMJ). But climbing the full couloir seemed too risky with the snow conditions since it’s a ~3,000ft long snow gully and I wouldn’t want to be in the bottom if it slid. Worst case we would just cross the top of it, roped up, which would be much safer. At the Beverly Creek trailhead The shortest approach would be from the Beverly Creek trailhead, which is accesible by snowmobile. In order to beat the incoming storm we wanted to summit by noon, so that meant leaving very early. We decided to do a car-to-car push to avoid carrying overnight gear over the fourth creek pass. Friday evening we got to the Twentynine Pines staging area on Teanaway River road, unloaded the sled, and went to bed. Saturday we were up and moving by 12:30am. The road had just been groomed and we made excellent time, hitting 40mph in places. The Beverly Creek turnoff was a bit rougher, but we reached the trailhead 20 minutes after leaving the truck. Interestingly, there was a nice skin track already going up from the trailhead. This is very unusual for winter Bulgers trips. Crossing Bean Creek We followed the tracks across Bean Creek, but then they diverged west after a few miles. It looked like they might have been heading for Iron Peak. We then broke trail up to the Fourth Creek saddle, and transitioned to ski mode. We had fun turns going down fourth creek, then transitioned to skins as it flattened out. We skinned down to Ingalls Creek, trying to set a good track for our return trip. Ingalls Creek The creek was too high to rock hop across, but we found a nice fallen log across near the trail crossing. It was 8″ wide with a foot of snow on top and lots of branches sticking out. I strapped my skis on my back and started over au chaval. I karate chopped the icy snow off the top, then used an ice tool to bang off the branches. Progress was slow but this worked and made for a nice smooth crossing on the return journey. On the other side we skinned up to the Ingalls Creek trail, followed it east for a half mile, then left the trail heading up the Porcupine Creek drainage. The slopes were nice and mellow angle and the forest was mostly open for easy travel. As we got higher to more open areas the snow had a firm sun crust. We started on the west side, then crossed over to the east side and ascended into the large bowl flanked by Argonaut, Colchuck, and Dragontail. Conditions were pleasant with no wind and great views of the summits. We knew that would change by afternoon, though. Approaching Argonaut in the upper Porcupine Creek drainage We noticed the East Gully route looked like it might go, though was kind of steep. We decided to head to the Argonaut-Colchuck col to scope out the East Ridge and NE Couloir to see which one we preferreed. As we crested the ridge the wind picked up from the south, and we noticed the north side would be much more sheltered. It looked doable to ascend the East Ridge then cross over the top of the NE Couloir to gain the upper north face of Argonaut. That sounded appealing given the wind direction, so we went for that route. At the col We ditched skis at the col, then roped up. Nick started first and we shortened the rope to 30m and simul climbed. The East Ridge started getting steep soon so we dropped onto a snow ramp which we traversed across to enter the NE Couloir. We got good gear in the rock to protect a fall in case the snow slid. On the opposite side of the Couloir Nick built an anchor and we swapped leads. I kicked steps up the right side of the couloir for 30m then when the couloir dead ended at a rock face I exited up and right. Crossing into the NE Couloir This section was the crux of the route. The snow got thin and steep on a rock slab except for a thick wind deposit about 3ft deep. I had to tunnel through it Cerro-Torre-style, digging down to the thin icy layer on top of the slab to get good purchase with my front points. I kind of wished I had the custom wings on my ice tools. Eventually I excavated out an old rap anchor, clipped it, and tunneled the last bit up to the low-angle north face snowfield. In the upper NE Couloir I belayed Nick up there with a solid hex anchor and we swapped again. Nick led up the left side of the snowfield, getting a few gear placements in the rocks on the side. We eventually simul climbed up to the summit ridge, and swapped leads again. I traversed the ridge, weaving the rope around horns and getting a few intermediate pieces in. I had to make a few mixed climbing moves getting over one rock step. At last, I saw the famous tunnel under the summit boulder, and luckily it had a big enough gap to squeeze through. Nick on the summit By 1pm I made the final short mixed scramble to the summit. I belayed Nick up off the summit horn, and we were soon both on the summit. It was windy, but luckily not snowing yet. It appeared the storm was coming in a bit later than forecast, which was great news. There was no view in the whiteout, so we soon regrouped and headed down. I led the way back as we simul downclimbed the ridge and retraced our exact track back down the snowfield. We regrouped above the crux, and we decided to simul downclimb that as well. Now that the snow was excavated and good steps were kicked it wouldn’t be too hard. I put the exact same gear placements in as on the way up, and we simuled back down to our previous anchor point. There Nick took over and led back across the ramp to the Argonaut-Colchuck col by 2:30pm. Descending the summit ridge Now the storm had hit with full force, and it was extremely windy and snowy. I was jostled off balance a few times. Back at the skis we put goggles on, and decided to crampon down in the whiteout until it got more sheltered. I followed the track on my watch since our up tracks were drifted over. After 10 minutes we got back into intermittent trees and the wind died down. Unexpectedly, it then cleared out and was partly sunny! It appeared to be a brief break in the storm, and came at the perfect time. We switched to skis and had fun turns down the big open slope. Though, lower down we hit sun crust which made skiing challenging. Hiking down in the storm We switched back to crampons and descended down into denser trees. Back in the trees the sun crust disappeared and we again skied back down. The icy lower sections had changed to a small layer or corn and made for excellent skiing. We eventually reached the Ingalls Creek trail as the sun gave way to heavy graupel and snow. There we skinned back to Ingalls Creek and scooted back across the log. Last view of the south face of Argonaut We then followed our tracks back up fourth creek as darkness set in. At the pass we switched back to ski mode and made a high traverse back down the Beverly Creek drainage. Interestingly, we encountered a set of snowshoe tracks that had followed our tracks up to 5000ft. This appears to be a relatively popular area in winter! I guess the road approach is only five miles, so a snowmobile isn’t really necessary. Though I certainly appreciated being able to sled in and out instead of walk. Sledding out It was fun cruising down the drainage, and we made it back to the sled by 8:45pm. We then strapped our gear on and got back to the truck around 9:15pm for a 21-hour push. Gear Notes: Snowmobile, 60m rope, skis, technical tools, hexes, nuts, cams, ascent plates (unused but we probably should have used them) Approach Notes: Sled to Beverly Creek TH, ski to Argonaut-Colchuck col
  6. Trip: Boston Peak - West Face Trip Date: 02/10/2024 Trip Report: Boston Peak (8,883 ft) First Winter Ascent West Face (steep snow/rime, 5 pitch) Eric Gilbertson and Nick Roy Feb 10, 2024, 12:30am – 5:30pm The last pitch to the summit (photo by Nick) I’d recently been climbing in the area around Cascade Pass the previous weekend to bag Buckner, Horseshoe, and Sahale peaks. On that trip I’d taken some pictures of Boston Peak from Sahale and Horseshoe, and thought about tagging it on as a bonus point. But bonus points almost never happen on winter bulger trips, and we didn’t have enough time. The route Interestingly, the snow and weather conditions looked to be stable again for another weekend. I’ve found the highest chance of success on winter bulger trips often happens when revisting the same area after a recent trip, when conditions and approach beta are known and will likely remain the same. This sounded like a good recipe to attempt Boston Peak. As far as we researched Boston had not previously been climbed in winter. This is probably for good reason. All routes are loose, exposed, and at least 4th class (in summer, at least). According to Beckey “The US Geological Survey party of 1898 believed the summit inaccessible and applied the name to the present Sahale Peak.” That's why the survey marker on Sahale says "Boston." The west face route (drawn on photo by John Scurlock) There are four routes I’m aware of that have previously been climbed on Boston Peak. The Southeast Face is the standard route and involves steep, loose, exposed 4th class climbing. Nick and I had each previously climbed Boston twice via this route. We remembered there were basically no protection options. We expected in winter it would likely be steep thin exposed snow on rock for several pitches and sounded sketchy to essentially solo. The South face is the standard rappel route and has steep rock of low quality. This sounded like the most technical winter route, and would be tough with questionable protection. The North Ridge was climbed in 2018 by Sam Boyce and Kyle Willis in their Boston Marathon trip. This would likely be corniced in winter with prevailing west winds, and also sounded sketchy. The West face was climbed in September 1956 by Anderson and Shonle. The exact route up the face is described by Beckey as starting at the lower of two prominent gullies, then “begin from the gully and climb the west face.” Unfortunately even their original trip report doesn't give any more details. Loading up at the Eldo gate I’d been in Boston Basin in January 2022 climbing Forbidden and had gotten some good pictures of the west face of Boston then. It appeared like there might be some steep snow gullies on the face with rock walls in between. Based on topo maps the face appeared lower angle than the south face. We suspected the gullies might be protectable with the rock faces on the sides, and this face could be the best option in winter. It wouldn’t be under any cornices most likely since it was on the side of prevailing winds. The route would definitely require stable snow, which was in the forecast for Saturday. The weather looked clear Saturday but a storm was coming in Sunday, so we decided to go for the climb as a car to car push. Rigging up the bike tow (photo by Nick) Luckily I had very fresh beta about the approach for Boston. I had just driven and logged out Cascade River Road to the Eldo gate the previous weekend, and there hadn’t been any lowland snow or big storms since then. There’s unfortunately some inaccurate information online about the road conditions. The national park service website says the road is gated at the park boundary at MP 18, but that gate has been open all winter. The Eldo gate at MP 20 is locked though. My main resource for predicting snow depth, NOHRSC, had been showing deep snow starting at MP 18, but I found in reality the road is melted out all the way to MP 22 around 3000ft. With this in mind, I planned to leave the snowmobile at home, but bring the big chainsaw and bikes. Nick has an e-bike, and we planned for him to tow me up the road with a rope to save energy. I’ve done this before on cascade river road, and the best strategy is to tie the rope to the front bike’s seat post or back rack, then the follower holds the other end of the rope in one hand. Boston creek washout For the route we planned to take the Cascade Pass trail all the way up to the last switchback, then cut up and left following the same route as I had taken the previous weekend. We would traverse around sahale, drop through a low-angle gully to gain the Soldier Boy drainage, then continue to the Quien Sabe glacier. I know skiers often ski up Midas Creek or Soldier Boy creek directly from the road to access this area in the spring, but those drainages were all melted out last weekend and would be tough alder bushwhacks. Friday evening we started up cascade river road, and there were only two minor blowdowns to clear all the way to the Eldo gate. I was a bit disappointed to not get to use the chainsaw, but there was still hope for the drive out that something would need sawed out. We were the only ones at the lot. Approaching the Quien Sabe glacier We got a few hours of sleep then were up and moving by 12:30am. One car was in the lot by then. We strapped the skis to the bikes, then tied the rope to Nick’s rear rack. I pedaled a bit so he didn’t spin out but it was nice to get the boost on the uphills and save some energy. We had to carry the bikes over a few blowdowns but overall it save time and more importantly increased fun. Crossing the glacier Around MP 22 there’s a huge washout at Boston Creek. We ditched the bikes there, walked a bit higher, then hit snow and started skinning. We made fast progress up the road, then continued following the trail. This time there was a few inches of fresh snow on the icy snow, but we could still barely make out my ski tracks from the previous weekend. We topped off water halfway up at a stream, then left the trail at the highest switchback. Looking up at the west face gully system (photo by Nick) This time there was enough fresh powder to leave the skis on with ski crampons. We angled up to 6400ft, then dropped down a low-angle face into the Soldier Boy drainage. We descended with our skins on making low-angle switchbacks for our future use when skiing out. From there we made a rising traverse all the way to the northwest corner of the Quien Sabe glacier by sunrise. I’d never been on this route before, but Nick had crossed the Quien Sabe in July last summer and remembered some big crevasses. But there had been a safe summer route across the northern end of the glacier, which we planned to follow. We roped up and skied across the glacier to the base of Boston. The West face looked promising with a few gullies leading up to the summit ridge. It looked like the snow was likely deep enough to be supportive and there were also exposed rock bands on the sides for protection. We decided to give it a shot. Nick leading up the west face In the summer there is a large bergschrund directly below the col south of the summit, and with this low snow year we were worried the schrund might not be well-bridged. So we cut up and right to the outcrop just righ of the schrund area. There we ditched skis and switched to crampons and tools. Nick led kicking steps up the snow to the right of the outcrop. Then we traversed left acrosst the snow face. We didn’t have pickets, but Nick buried one ski pole as a deadman anchor. We simulclimbed to the base of a large gully that trended up and left across the face. Nick got a few pieces in, then belayed me up to an anchor. Me leading up the second pitch (photo by Nick) I took over from there, kicking steps up the steepening snow. I spent some time excavating out a rock face and smashing off rime ice to find a crack. For some reason the rock on boston doesn’t have many cracks, but if you look hard enough you can usually find one. The snow had a thin layer of wind slab but it was unreactive. Still, I felt happy to have running pro in on the steep face just in case something slid. We simul climbed on a shortened 30m section of rope from there so we could be within earshot of each other. I soon crossed over into an intersection of one gully going very steeply directly up and another going more gradual up to the left. I had to excavate out a wind lip to cross, and did a bit of downclimbing on steep snow. The direct gully looked like tough mixed climbing, and I decided to try my luck sticking to snow. The anchor under the overhanging rime face (photo by Nick) I got a few more pieces in as the gully continued up and left. Then I found a nice rock overhang with a flat snow bench underneath. I banged off 1ft long rime feathers and eventually found a few good gear placements to belay Nick up. From there we decided to leave the main gully and follow a subsidiary gully directly up to the north ridge. Nick led the next pitch, even managing to get a piton in at one point. In general I’ve found cams tend to slip out of icy cracks but hexes, nuts, and pitons can be more solid. With the terrain steepening we lengthened the rope to 60m and decided to pitch out the terrain instead of simul climbing. Nick on the summit Nick belayed me up a pitch of steep snow and rock, then I took over. The snow got icier and filled with more rime. I got a few pieces in and climbed all the way to the north ridge. The wind picked up there and I probed around and luckily there were only small 1ft cornices on the ridge. The summit was close! On the summit I banged off the cornices, got a directional piece in, then followed the direct ridge crest towards the summit. I soon reached a wider area with good gear and built an anchor. Nick then took over the last lead. He downclimbed a short bit to the final notch, then followed the narrow snowy ridge to the summit. There were no gear options the whole way, and the wind pickedup the rope and blew it pretty high off the ridge. Luckily there were no cornices for it to snag on. The summit register (photo by Nick) Nick was able to bury a ski pole as a deadman anchor and belayed me up by 1pm. Conditions were hard to beat. Only occasional gusts of wind, but not too cold and partly sunny with great views around. I peered over to the steep southeast face and was very happy to have not tried that route. It was very exposed, with no protection, and would have been super sketchy. I think our route was the best option for winter. I had brought my shovel up and we decided to find the summit register. Nick remembered its approximate location, and this is one of the largest registers on any Bulger peak. It is a huge aluminum rectangular case containing a full-sized notebook. Signatures go back to 1968, when it was first placed. I recalled leafing through it in 2016 and 2018 and not seeing any winter sign ins. We hoped to change that. Climbing back down We took turns digging down through 2ft of snow and I eventually managed to find the register! We cracked it open and signed in. This was the third Boston summit for each of us. After 45 minutes on the summit we decided to head back down. Our original plan was to descend the standard rap route, but that didn’t seem like such a good idea any more. There would be three anchors that would each need excavated out, and that could take a while if they were buried as deep as the summit register was. We might not be able to find them, and it would be a lot of work excavating out our own anchors. Climbing down (photo by Nick) We had already confirmed the snow stability on our ascent route, and had already excavated out plenty of cracks in rocks. It was low enough angle that we decided to just simul downclimb our ascent route. Nick already had all the gear so he started down first. Climbing down (photo by Nick) I belayed him to the end of the rope, then started down the ridge. It took careful balance with no protection on the ridge and occasional wind gusts. I crossed to the notch, climbed back over the gendarme, then downclimbed. I carefully followed our up tracks and eventually met back up with Nick at the overhang. From there the slope was low-enough angle that we put the rope away and just downclimbed facing in. The sun came out by then and warmed the snow enough to glop on our crampons. But we carefully made it back to our skis as the clouds rolled back in. By then the summit started getting socked in. It appeared the Sunday storm system was approaching. Biking out For the descent we scoped out a crevasse-free route more directly down, and we had fun turns down the southeast edge of the Quien Sabe glacier back to our up tracks. We had to briefly change to skins to cross out of the Soldier Boy drainage, then skied back to the trail. With the fresh powder we skied down the switchbacks, cutting the last five or so in a big snowfield on skiers left that led back to the trailhead. From there we skied back to our boots, walked a short ways back to the bikes, then biked back to the Eldo gate by 5:30pm. 68/100 Winter Bulgers Note: it's hard to know for sure if we followed the same route as the Sept 1956 ascent or did a different route. Their description isn't too detailed. Gear Notes: Bikes, two tools, 60m rope, single rack to 2", pitons, hexes Approach Notes: Road still clear to Eldo Gate and bikeable beyond to the Boston Creek washout
  7. Trip: Buckner, Horseshoe, Sahale - Standard Trip Date: 02/03/2024 Trip Report: Buckner Mountain (9,111ft), Horseshoe Peak (8,480ft), and Sahale Peak (8,680ft) Winter Ascents First Winter Ascent of Horseshoe (SE Face, M3) Feb 3-4, 2024 Eric and Francis Rapping off Horseshoe (photo by Francis) The weekend looked like a rare alignment of stable snow and weather in the west north zone, and we decided to tag some peaks along cascade river road. This road is difficult for access in the winter. It’s not officially maintained in winter, and it is at a critical elevation where sometimes it is snow covered and sometimes not. One thing is guaranteed in the winter, though – there will be lots of blowdowns. In mid January it was snow covered and I was able to drive to MP 15, then snowmobiled from there to the Eldo gate, sawing out a few trees en route. This weekend looked to be a bit warmer, but NOHRSC was still showing deep snow starting at MP 18. The route Our goal for the weekend was to climb Horseshoe, Buckner, and Sahale, with the trailhead starting at MP 23 near Cascade Pass. I expected to be able to snowmobile the last 5 miles of road, as I had back in December on a road clearing mission. The road is gated at MP 20 at the Eldorado trailhead, but a snowmobile can squeeze under the gate. I also expected a lot of blowdowns, and I have a 25″ chainsaw for this purpose. Logging out a few trees I’ve previously climbed each of these peaks two or three times, which is very helpful for times savings in the winter. On one trip in 2022 I had hauled up my theodolite to measure the double summit on Buckner and concluded the SW summit is 18 inches +/-3 inches taller than the NE summit. This was valuable knowledge for a winter ascent since we wouldn’t have to bother making the sketchy traverse to the lower NE summit and could save time. Last winter, 2023, I had tried to bag these same three peaks, but was thwarted by law enforcement. Ryan and I drove up to MP 13 on cascade river road before we were stopped by blowdowns. We got out the saws and started clearing, but USFS law enforcement showed up and told us we couldn’t be there. They never came up with a clear reason why we had to leave, and seemed reluctant to stop us from clearing the road, but they still kicked us out. I’m still a bit confused about that encounter. Starting up This time I hoped would be different. Friday evening I drove up Cascade River Road, and logged out six new trees up to a foot diameter. I was a little disappointed there weren’t any bigger or more difficult trees to clear. As my friend Paul says, this is just a bad year for blowdowns. Surprisingly, the road was snow free all the way to the Eldorado gate! The NOHRSC model had been very inaccurate. I jogged up the road another half mile past the gate and there was still no sign of snow. This was a bit disappointing, since it meant I wouldn’t get to use the snowmobile and would instead have to walk that road section. My general rule of thumb is to not snowmobile more than about 1/2 mile on gravel loaded down with two people and overnight gear since the sled will overheat. A few big washouts Back at the trailhead another car pulled up and the climber was planning to snowshoe up Eldorado the next morning. I gave him my beta about where the good stream crossing was three weeks earlier. Francis soon arrived and we got to bed around 8pm. Saturday we were up and moving by 1am. The goal was to climb Horseshoe and Buckner that day, then Sahale on Sunday. We would prioritize Horseshoe since it was the only one previously unclimbed in winter and was the most difficult, with a short technical pitch at the summit. Skinning up in the twilight Amazingly the road was completely snow-free all the way to the Boston Basin trailhead at 3200ft! NOHRSC had predicted at least 3ft of snow at that elevation. There was a huge washout at Boston Creek, and I suspect that, as usual, that upper portion of road will stay gated well into the summer as they repair the road. Climbing up Sahale Arm with Johannesburg in the background Snow started just after Soldier Boy creek and we skinned up to the Cascade Pass trailhead. From there we followed the trail up to the last switchback before it traverses to the pass. The snow was icy but a thin dusting of snow started at that elevation and we were hopeful that it might be skiable higher up. We cramponed up a few hundred feet through open trees, then hit a clearing and continued skinning. We angled up and left around a cliff band and eventually popped out on Sahale Arm just at sunrise. The views were amazing of Johannesburg Mountain across the valley sticking up through and undercast. We could also see the Ptarmigan Traverse opening up to Dome Peak in the distance. Skiing down the SE face The snow got softer all the way to Sahale Camp, where we stopped to take a break. Here we had a few decisions to make. First, we decided to bring our overnight gear down to Horseshoe basin instead of leaving it at Sahale Camp. That way if the climbs took longer than anticipated we wouldn’t be obligated to make the 1000ft climb back up to camp at the end of a long day. Second, we decided to ski the SE bowl down to Horseshoe Basin instead of downclimbing the SE ridge. I’ve always downclimbed the ridge in summer and fall, but there would be one 4th class step that would be sketchy with big packs and skis sticking out. Nice views across to Ripsaw Ridge and Buckner On the shaded relief map we noticed a route down the bowl that appeared to avoid cliffs. I found that Tim Gibson had posted a video on Turns All Year of skiing this route in May a few years ago, so we knew it could work with enough snow coverage. We had intentionally timed our departure to hit this section after sunrise so we could assess the route before committing to it. We leap frogged each other skiing the bowl, and there was just enough powder on crust to make for fun and safe skiing. We cut down hard skiers right, found the weakness through the cliffs, and successfully made it to the base at 6500ft. Scrambling up to the base of Horseshoe There we traversed around to a flat sheltered area at the base of the SE ridge and ditched our overnight gear. Above us Ripsaw Ridge looked very intimidating with countless gendarmes plastered in rime ice extending all the way from Boston Peak to Buckner. Horshoe was one of those gendarmes, though luckily I knew it was easier than it looked from afar. We skinned across the basin, seeing lots of evidence of old avalanches from the atmospheric river the previous week. We cut through the old mining site, then zig zagged up to a bench at 8200ft below Horseshoe. There the snow turned icy so we ditched skis and put on crampons. Me leading up the summit block (photo by Francis) We kicked steps steeply up the snow, then scrambled over a small ridge to the gully at the base of the SE face of Horseshoe. This area is easy to get slowed down by route-finding issues, and I was happy to have already climbed Horseshoe twice before to have the route dialed. We kicked steps up the gully then ditched gear at the large notch just east of the summit. Here is where the ramp leads up and left to another notch just next to the summit. It looked a lot harder than I remembered, with a foot of rime ice plastering all the rocks. The first time I’d climbed Horseshoe I’d rope soloed it in the summer and it wasn’t too hard. But this time I was happy to have two tools, a partner, and a good climbing rack. On the summit (photo by Francis) There was a nice horn at the notch we rapped the rope around a few times for the anchor. Then Francis belayed me up. The ledge got narrower and narrower and I had a bit of trouble finding gear. I remembered some good cracks above me, but when everything was covered in rime ice they were hard to find. I kind of just gold-mined around, clearing rime ice off of everything until I eventually found a crack that worked. The cracks were all icy and I wanted to pound hexes in like I usually do in winter. This works well in vertical cracks, but not so will in horizontal cracks under an overhang. So I ended up just using cams. Both on the summit (photo by Francis) I was very careful with feet placement on the ledge since I didn’t want to kick all the snow off and be left with a thin slab, but I also couldn’t necessarily trust the snow on the slab. I managed to get solid hooks with the tools before trusting my feet. Finally I reached the last notch and hooked a good jug with the tool. I then pulled myself over and clipped onto the rap anchor. I went over and tagged the summit, then belayed Francis up by 2pm. We had great views all around of Sahale and Boston above an undercast and Lick of Flame looking intimidating covered in rime. We took turns rapping down, and I was happy to have brought the full 60m rope. It comfortably reached the gully below, but a 30m rope definitely would not have reached. Rapping back down We collected our gear, then returned to the skis. It looked like there would be plenty of time to climb Buckner before sunset, which would be a treat. The slope was icy so we strapped skis to our pack then traversed over to the SW face of Buckner. I had brought ascent plates for the climb, but we only sank in to our ankles in the snow so they weren’t necessary. There were a few isolated pockets of 6″ wind slab, so we stuck to the edge of the face climbing between flattish areas below cliffs and minimizing exposure. Climbing up Buckner We took turns kicking steps, then reached the SE ridge where we ditched our packs and skis. From there we scrambled up the thickly rime-encrusted summit block, topping out at 4:30pm. I peered down the steep north face and was happy to not be skiing that. We had talked about it, but I bet it was risky with wind slabs. The traverse over to the NE peak look tricky, and I was glad I’d put in the effort to measure that we were indeed on the true summit. On the summit We soon downclimbed back to the skis and started skiing down. The skiing was fun, and we hugged the side of the gully following our up tracks. We soon reached the base of the face and traversed back to our stashed climbing gear at the base of Horseshoe. From there it was more fun skiing down to the old mine, then skinning back to our stashed overnight gear by 6pm, just as the sun set enough to need headlamps. We were still feeling strong and that campsite seemed a bit windier than I would have preferred. We decided to do our future selves a favor and climb back up to Sahale Arm that night, to make our Sunday a bit easier. Campin at Sahale Camp The slope up the bowl was too steep for skinning, but the snow was too deep for booting. Luckily I had the perfect solution – ascent plates. They are like mini snowshoes specifically for going up steep snow faces. I have a strong aluminum pair and an ultralight carbon fiber pair I made. Francis took the lead with the aluminum pair and I followed. We made must faster progress with the plates than bare booting, and by 8pm we popped out on the Sahale Camp shoulder. We traversed over to a semi-sheltered area, then set up the mega mid and melted snow. It had been a 19-hour day and we appreciated the rest. Skinning up Sahale Sunday morning we just had to climb Sahale and ski out, which would be a much shorter day. So we decided to sleep in a bit so we could make the climb when it was a bit warmer. We were up and moving by 8:30am. We roped up for the Sahale Glacier and zig zagged up the slope. Once on the SE ridge we packed up the rope, ditched the skis, and cramponed up the icy slope. Climbing up Sahale I’ve previously climbed Sahale twice by two different routes, and appreciated this knowledge. One route goes directly up the south face and has a short bit of 5th class climbing. I recalled a good rap anchor at the top of this route on the summit. The other route raps around the east face the climbs the north ridge. This route is exposed 3rd class. We got to the base of the south face route and it looked easier than I remembered. But I suspected the rime was still masking the 5th class step, and it would be tricky. So we instead decided to go for the exposed third class route. The east face was covered in snow and rime now, with 2000ft of exposure to the Davenport Glacier below. We would definitely rope up. Even if the snow climb were easy, we didn’t want a small wind slab knocking us off our feet. Looking down the east face I built an anchor in a rock outcrop on the SE ridge and led out. I traversed across onto the face, got some gear in a rock outcrop, then kicked steps straight up. I hugged the cliff band to my left, getting in a few more pieces as the slope steepened considerably. As before, the rock was plastered in rime ice and it took me a while banging the ice off before I could find good cracks for gear. On the summit (photo by Francis) I eventually popped out on the North ridge, then made the final moves to the summit. I dug out the summit block, finding the “Boston Peak” USGS marker and then the rap anchor I remembered around the summit boulder. I could now see Francis directly below, and I yelled that I’d put him on belay. He soon climbed up and we spent a few minutes enjoying the view. Boston Peak popped up out of the clouds briefly, and we got great views of Forbidden and Eldorado in the distance. It was 11:45am and was not too cold or windy. We hung out taking pictures, then rapped down. The 60m rope just barely reached our lower anchor, and I was again happy to have brought the 60m instead of the 30m rope. Skiing out We cramponed down to our skis, than had an amazing ski down. We made dollar signs across our up tracks, then picked up our overnight gear and continued down. The snow got a bit icier down low, but was still skiable. In all we got a continuous ski run from 8500ft to 5000ft, which was fun and fast. Back in the trees we booted down the trail, then took a shortcut in an open snow slope to bypass the lower five switchbacks. Back at the road we skied down to our stashed boots at snowline near soldier boy creek, then hiked back down to the Eldo gate by 3:45pm. There were no other cars there, which meant the hiker climbing Eldo must have made it down safely. That was good news. As we were packing up a hardcore Jeep drove in, and this made me a little disappointed since it meant there wouldn’t be any fresh blowdowns to clear. We made it out no problem and got home at a reasonable hour. 67/100 Winter Bulgers Movie of the trip: Gear Notes: Single rack of cams to 2", nuts, hexes (very important), two tools, chainsaw Approach Notes: Road melted out/logged out to Eldo gate. Melted out to around 3000ft. Bad washout at Boston Creek (MP ~22). Road bikeable to MP 22. Note: I wouldn't advise going up cascade river road without a big chainsaw this time of year. A few weeks ago I got blocked in by a 3ft tree but was able to saw it out. There are always new blowdowns on that road every week.
  8. Interesting information about coming in from Canada. It appears there is conflicting information out there, and different experiences for different people. For reference, this is the sign at the Depot Creek trailhead when entering from BC. It says "You are at the International Boundary and are about to enter the United States of America. Please be aware of the following: US and Canadian cusoms require that you obtain prior approval before crossing. The closest Customs offices from both countries are located at Sumas/Huntington." In the past I have called the NCNP ranger office in Sedro Woolley to ask how I could get prior approval. They said "We don't know. North Cascades National Park is only responsible for you when you are in the park, and not responsible for how you enter the park." I have never heard of anyone obtaining prior approval from customs for the Depot Creek trail. I have a friend who bushwhacked from Quebec into Maine a half mile to hike a peak. He got caught by US border patrol and given a $10,000 fine and 10-year ban from the US. I have heard of hikers who have been caught by border patrol entering Washington from BC in the Pasayten area to hike peaks. I don't remember what the consequence was, and I don't know if anyone has ever gotten in trouble at Depot Creek. So, to be 100% legal I'm trying to climb these peaks in winter from the US side. Plus, it makes it much more of an adventure that way.
  9. Trip: Winter Hard Mox and Spickard - West Ridge, South Face Trip Date: 12/29/2023 Trip Report: Hard Mox (8,504 ft) and Mt Spickard (8,979 ft) Winter Ascents Eric and Nick Dec 27 – Jan 2, 2023-2024 First Winter Ascent of Hard Mox, Second Winter Ascent of Spickard On the summit of Hard Mox Dec 27 – Double carry zodiac boat and gear from Ross Dam trailhead to Frontage road, drag boat to Ross Lake, motor to Little Beaver, hike to Perry Creek shelter Dec 28 – Bushwhack to upper Perry Creek basecamp Dec 29 – Climb Hard Mox via Perry Glacier to West Ridge route (M5 WI2 5-pitch), return to basecamp, 18 hours camp to camp Dec 30 – Bad weather day, rest in camp (rain all day) Dec 31 – Climb Spickard via south face Jan 1 – Bushwhack down Perry Creek, hike to Little Beaver, paddle 9 hours down Ross lake when motor doesn’t start, drag boat up Frontage road, triple carry up trail to truck by 3am Jan 2 – Drive home The route Hard Mox is considered the most difficult of the Washington Hundred Highest/Bulger peaks, and had previously never been climbed in winter. I’m working on climbing all the Bulgers in winter and this peak is the crux of that list. Hard Mox has numerous elements that make it uniquely challening in winter. 1. It is very remote. The nearest road on the US side of the border is 15 miles away line of sight (Hannegan Pass trailhead), and the second closest 18 miles away (Ross Dam Trailhead). Hiking mileage from these trailheads is close to 30 miles, and the trails are likely snowed-over and unbroken in winter. Note: I’m following a rule that ascents must be made legally, so I don’t count roads or trails on the Canadian side of the border. One way to shorten the approach is to take a water taxi run by the Ross Lake resort. These don’t operate in winter, though, so that isn’t an option. Detailed route view 2. The peak is technical. The easiest summer route is 4-pitch 5.6. It was unclear if this was the best winter route, though, since the peak hadn’t been climbed in winter. 3. The weather is unstable in winter. Hard Mox is in the West North zone of the cascades, which generally has more precipitation and less stable weather than other zones. This also means the avalanche conditions are more likely to be unstable in this zone in winter. 4. There are no trails to the peak (on the US side). Bushwhacking is required, and this can be very challenging in the North Cascades, especially in winter. Climbing Hard Mox in July 2018 (photo by Steven) I first climbed Hard Mox in July 2018 with Steven Song, and we entered and exited via Canada. We followed the standard Depot Creek approach, crossed the ridge of Gendarmes to the south face of Hard Mox, descended to the base of the south gully, then climbed up the gully and to the summit via the West Ridge. This is the route that nearly all climbers take to climb Hard Mox. In 2020 I started considering how to climb Hard Mox in winter. I’m following a rule that all winter ascents must be completely legaly (no sneaking in from Canada), so I needed to find an alternative approach. I considered three approach options, and made scouting trips to determine the feasibility of each in winter. Over the next three years I would make a half-dozen scouting trips and two unsuccessful winter attempts on Hard mox. Scouting the Ross Dam approach and paddling Ross Lake in November 2020 First, I considered the Ross Dam trailhead approach. This route is to start at the Ross Dam trailhead, hike up the lake to Big Beaver, then hike to Redoubt Creek and bushwhack up to meet the summer route. This route is 30 miles one way. It has the advantage that the first half is mostly low elevation and often snow-free in winter, though it requires crossing Beaver Pass, which would likely be snow covered. In mid November, 2020 I did a trip where I hiked this approach to Redoubt Creek, then continued to Little Beaver and packrafted back to Ross Dam in a big loop. That approach would probably take two days in good conditions in winter. Scouting the Hannegan Pass approach in December 2020 I next considered the Hannegan Pass approach. This would require hiking or skiing in from the Hannegan Pass trailhead to the Chilliwack River, bushwhacking up Bear Creek, then meeting up with the standard summer route at the Redoubt-Easy Mox col. It would be about 28 miles one way. In December 2020 I drove up the road towards the Hannegan Pass trailhead and found a sign that the road is groomed for skiing in winter and closed to snowmobiles. This meant there would be an additional 5-mile approach in winter, making the approach 33 miles. I skied up the trail to near Hannegan Pass, but progress was slow. That approach would probably take at least two days. Those approaches would be too long for me to squeeze Hard Mox in a regular weekend or even a 3-day weekend. Ideally I could find a one-day approach so Hard Mox could be possible in one of my two long holiday weekends of the winter (presidents day weekend and MLK day weekend). I’m a teacher so can’t take vacation days, meaning these holiday weekends are my options in winter. I next considered a boat approach on Ross Lake. I have a packraft, but I discovered it can take most of a day to paddle between Little Beaver and Ross Dam. I really needed that to take on the order of a few hours so the rest of the day can be used for hiking and bushwhacking in. For that to be feasible the boat really needed to be motorized. Ross Lake is in the unique situation that motorized boats are allowed on the lake, but there is no road access for the general public. It is possible for workers at the dam or at the Ross Lake resort to drive to the lake by taking a vehicle ferry from the town of Diablo to upper Diablo lake, then driving up Frontage road connecting the two lakes. This service is not available to the public, meaning Frontage road is not reachable by vehicle from other roads. There exists a road on the north end of Ross Lake – the Silver Skagit Road – and this theoretically allows the public to drive to the lake and launch private motor boats. However, that road was washed out in November 2021 and it is unclear when it will ever reopen. It is possible that the road might be passable to a snowmobile in the winter, and an intriguing option might be to drag a boat behind a snowmobile to access the north end of the lake. I haven’t been able to test this, though, and I’m not sure if it would technically be legal to come in from canada that way if the road is closed and there is no official checkpoint open at the border along the road. There are currently two options to get a personal motor boat to Ross Lake. The first is to carry it down the 0.6-mile trail from the Ross Dam trailhead to Frontage Road, and then take it 0.5 miles down the road to the lake. The other is to put the boat in at the boat launch at Diablo Lake, ride to Frontage Road, then somehow carry or drag the boat up Frontage Road (1.5 miles, 600ft gain). From talking to friends with experience boating I settled on two main options. The first was to use a canoe with an electric outboard motor. This could theoretically be carried down the trail in multiple loads. It could also theoretically be dragged up Frontage road on a dolly, though only if Frontage road were snow-free. However, the canoe has several disadvantages. First, it is not very stable. I have friends who’ve tipped over in canoes on Diablo lake. That would be dangerous in winter, and winter is when the weather is generally worse on Ross Lake. Also, the biggest motors I could find for canoes were electric trolling motors that would struggle to get 15 miles up to Little Beaver, even at a very slow speed. Plus, an electric motor is not as reliable in cold conditions as a gas motor. The zodiac boat’s maiden voyage on Stave Lake during a climb of Mt Judge Howay in BC The other option was a zodiac-style inflatable boat with gas or propane outboard motor. This vessel is much more stable than a canoe and very difficult to tip over. It is made of durable thick material with multiple chambers. It has a much higher capacity than a canoe, and can go much faster and farther with the gas or propane engine. It deflates, so is portable. They even come with retractable wheels that can be deployed to drag the boat along frontage road. This appeared to be the optimal solution. My friend Matt had such a boat and we went on a test trip together in September 2022 in British Columbia to climb Mt Judge Howay (which requires a boat approach up Stave Lake). The boat had a 4-stroke propane motor, which is very clean and reliable and meets the strict environmental requirements for personal motor boats on Ross lake. That trip went well, and I ended up buying the boat from Matt. The boat as a 5 horsepower motor that is about 60 pounds, the boat itself is 70 pounds, and a full 5-gallon propane tank is about 50 pounds. A duffle bag of accessories (wheels, oars, life jackets) weighs about 40 pounds. Each one of these items is manageable to carry, which makes this a good solution. The motor allows the boat to go a max speed of 5.7mph fully loaded, but this is actually a perfect speed for Ross Lake. Taking the boat for a test run on Lake Chelan with my dog Lily, October 2022 Through multiple tests I’ve found that a fully loaded boat and full tank of propane has a range of 40-50 miles. Little Beaver is a 30-mile round-trip journey, so the propane tank is just the right size with a little bit of safety factor. One problem with Ross Lake is that in the winter the lake level drops and submerged tree stumps stick out in seemingly random and unexpected locations. In winter it is likely that boating on Ross Lake to approach Hard Mox will need to be at night, and it is thus dangerous to go too fast in the dark for risk of hitting the stumps. That’s particularly risky in an inflatable vessel. A speed of 5.7mph is slow enough that stumps can most likely be avoided. To make a trip safer, though, I called the Ross Lake resort and had them mail me a map with general stump locations marked. I also found a fishing depth map of the lake and charted a GPS course to follow the deepest section and avoid known stump areas. I would load this track on my GPS watch before boating up Ross Lake in the dark. First test run of the boat in Ross Lake boating to Little Beaver, October 2022 In October 2022 I did the first test run of the boat in Ross Lake. The goal would be a thorough simulation of the entire Winter Hard Mox approach and climb. My friend Ryan Stoddard recommended the Perry Creek approach to Hard Mox based on his approach to the Chilliwacks the previous year. He said the bushwhacking was difficult, but it would give direct access to the south face – west ridge route without requiring a traverse from the ridge of gendarms that might be sketchy in winter. I first wanted to test the Diablo lake + Frontage Road method. Talon joined, and we decided to climb Hard Mox in a weekend. Saturday morning we put in at Diablo Lake, motored through zero-visibility forest fire smoke in the dark, then reached Frontage road. The takeout was tricky to get the boat up the dock, and dragging the boat and gear up Frontage road was very difficult and time consuming, even with the nice deployable wheels. On the summit of Hard Mox in October 2022 with Talon We made good time up Ross Lake moving at 5.7mph, and got to Little Beaver after 2.5 hours on Ross Lake. We then hiked to Perry Creek shelter. To get up Perry Creek I’d seen on an old quad that there used to be a trail up the north and east side of the creek in the 1940s, but it was long-abandoned. Other groups, including Ryans, had followed that side of the creek and it sounded tough. We decided on a different approach. We went straight up the creek, scrambling on boulders on the side. It was actually fun and basically no bushwhacking. Then we hit old growth forest and followed that on the south side of the creek all the way to the edge of treeline. This showed the Perry Creek bushwhack was actually not bad at all! That was valuable information for winter. In the basin below Hard Mox in October 2022 We camped at the basin below Hard Mox, then the next morning climbed up the Perry Glacier. We were unsure if there would be easy passage from the glacier up to meet the standard summer route, but were surprised to find an easy 3rd-class gully connecting to the route. From there we climbed the standard west ridge route, and it was useful to refresh my memory of which of the lower gullies is the correct one (many teams lose time route-finding in that area). We ended up topping out by 9am, then descended all the way back to the boat, rode out, and I got home Monday morning 4:45 am, barely in time to make it to catch a nap before my morning lecture. This scouting trip successfully showed that basecamp could be reached in a single day with the zodiac boat, as hoped for. I also was able to test my new custom offroading headlights with motorcycle battery that I’d velcroed to the front of the boat. This allowed for boating in the dark, which would likely be necessary in winter. Ross Lake was foggy, though, so visibility wasn’t perfect. However, the approach had the one disadvantage that if Frontage road were covered in snow, then dragging the boat up would likely be very difficult. So that approach might not be ideal. Carrying the boat and motor down the trail in late October 2022 Talon had a friend that worked at Ross Dam, but unfortunately they didn’t have anywhere I could store the boat securely for winter access. We contacted the Ross Lake resort, but they didn’t want to store the boat. So, I would have to get it to the lake on my own and store it at home. I next wanted to test the second option to get the boat to Ross Lake, via carrying it down from Ross Dam trailhead. In late October Nick and Talon joined for another mission. My main goal was to test that boat approach, but a secondary bonus goal was to go survey East Fury. I suspected it might be high enough to be a Washington Top 100 peak. To get the boat down the trail I researched different methods hunters use to transport animals on trails. One way is a single-wheeled device with handlebars and a brake, with racks on the side. I bought materials and hatched a design to modify my mountain unicycle into a boat-transporting device. Nick had another idea to strap the boat to his e-bike and wheel it down the trail then use power-assist to wheel it back up. The boat loaded up with survey gear and the new offroading headlights Saturday night we loaded up the bike and strapped the motor to a pack (upside down, since that seemed most stable). Unfortunately the trail was so rocky and uneven that the bike didn’t really work well. We decided that just carrying the gear in multiple trips made the most sense. With a double carry we got all the gear down to Frontage road and inflated the boat. We then slept a few hours back at the truck, then Sunday at midnight dragged the boat and survey equipment down to ross lake. We put in and boated to Big Beaver. We then hiked up to Luna peak with my theodolite and surveyed East Fury (which I discovered is tall enough to be a new WA top 100 peak). We returned to the boat, motored back, dragged it up the road, and double carried back to the truck. Carrying the boat back up the trail From this trip I determined that it is actually a bit faster and easier to get the boat to Ross Lake via the trail than via Diablo Lake. It also works even if Frontage Road is snow covered. So this would be my preferred method to get the boat to Ross Lake. I now had all the pieces in place to mount a winter attempt on Hard Mox. I had figured out an approach that could get me to basecamp in one day in winter, I had verified that the climbing route worked from my planned basecamp, and I had figured out the optimal method to get the boat to and from Ross Lake. Next, it would be a waiting game. I needed many stars to align for a winter Hard Mox trip to be successful, even with all the logistics already worked out. 1. I had to have a partner available on a holiday weekend (my only holiday weekends were MLK day and Presidents day three-day weekends) 2. Weather had to be stable on the Sunday of the weekend, with minimal precipitation 3. Snow had to be stable on the Sunday 4. Wind had to be low for boating on Ross Lake and for keeping snow stable 5. Ross Lake had to be ice-free 6. Snow conditions have to be manageable on skis if skiing 7. The lake level has to be high enough to cover submerged tree stumps if boating at night. Boating up Ross Lake in January 2023 In January 2023 it looked like all stars would align on MLK day weekend. Satellite images had shown ice a half mile south of Little Beaver on the upper end of Ross Lake, but it was forecast to be warm and rainy for the week leading up to the weekend. We expected the ice would melt then, but as a backup we decided we could walk a half-mile along the shore if needed to Little Beaver River, then cross the river one at a time in my packraft, towing it back with paracord or rope. We planned to ski to increase speed. To ensure we knew about up-to-date snow conditions on the route I wrote custom python software to scrape the NWAC avalanche forecast website every evening and send a message with the forecast to my inreach. This would ensure we had the most up-to-date forecast before deciding to go for the summit. Stopped short by ice, January 2023 Saturday morning we successfully got the boat to Ross Lake and boated up, but we discovered that the ice had not melted. We parked the boat on shore a half-mile line-of-sight from Little Beaver, but unfortunately the shore had many impassable cliffs. This was not obvious from the satellite images. We had to bushwhack around the cliffs, then packraft across Little Beaver, and it took us 6 hours to cover just 0.5 miles line-of-sight distance. The next morning we skinned up to Perry Creek shelter, but above that the snow was too icy and crusty for skiing to be safe. Postholing up Perry Creek would be too slow and difficult. Plus, the additional 6-hour deproach to the boat would leave us too short on time. We bailed back to Little Beaver. Crossing Little Beaver with packraft and skis, January 2023 To get back we were able to do what I call belayed packrafting to get around the cliffs in melted-out sections and avoid bushwhacking. The first person would packraft around trailing our climbing rope. Then once around the cliff they would yell and the second person would pull the packraft back, then paddle around the cliff. This way we could inch worm around the cliffs and avoid bushwhacking. We managed to make it safely back to the zodiac and get back to Ross Dam that night. From that trip we learned that the lake absolutely has to be ice-free the whole way in order to attempt the trip. We also decided that snowshoes are a better choice than skis. With snowshoes we wouldn’t really have to care about snow conditions in the Perry Creek basin. Speed might be slower in snowshoes, but it was more likely we could reach the basecamp than with skis. Packrafting back between the cliffs and ice, January 2023 In February it looked like all the stars would align over Presidents Day long weekend. Nick and I decided to try again. This time the satellite images showed no ice on the upper lake. We decided to go with snowshoes. The only marginal star was the weather. It looked like snow and conditions were stable Friday through Saturday late afternoon, but then a storm was supposed to come in. If we could summit and get back below treeline before the storm, we would be ok hiking out in the rain and boating back in stormy conditions. This time we first carried the boat down to Frontage Road Friday night, then slept back at the trailhead. Early Saturday we carried the gear down, inflated the boat, and dragged the boat down the road. We started boating just at sunrise. In February the lake level is lower and more stumps stick out, so it’s more important to boat in the daylight. Days are a bit longer than in January, though, so this is not as big of a problem to wait until sunrise to boat. Successfully reaching Little Beaver, February 2023 We made it all the way to Little Beaver in 2.5 hours, then hiked up to Perry Creek. We were able to bushwhack up Perry Creek in snowshoes. Snow coverage was good, and we could mostly stay in the creek on the lower sections. Once we reached the old growth we made quick progress, reaching basecamp just at sunset. The next morning we left camp at 2:30am following my GPS track from October on my GPS watch. Pit tests showed the snow was stable, though deep, and we made slow progress. By a bit after sunrise we reached the bottom pitch of the route. The wind started increasing then, almost knocking us off balance. Nick led partway up the first pitch, but my route from October was not the best winter route. It had required crossing one sloping slab down low, which was easy in rock shoes but tough in crampons. Bailing on the first pitch when the weather deteriorated, February 2023 Also, it was difficult to find any cracks to stick gear in. Nick tried a few variations, then lowered down. I gave it a go, but couldn’t find gear placements. By then the storm was intensifying and we decided to bail rather than keep trying. We were concerned the increasing wind might start forming dangerous wind slabs down low. Indeed, as we descended the Perry Glacier we triggered a few small slabs. They were no problem, but given a few more hours they would likely get dangerously deeper. We descended all the way down to the trees as it got windier and started raining. We bailed all the way out to Little Beaver that night. The next morning the storm was raging and we started boating out into whitecaps and heavy wind. The boat took on lots of water and I had to navigate through a stump forest in the waves to get to shore and bail it out with my helmet. We then hugged the shore and made it safely back to Ross Lake. Bailing out water with my helmet on the ride back after navigating through a stump forest and heavy wind and waves, February 2023 From that trip we learned that the stars of weather and snow conditions absolutely have to align with the weekend. High wind is not good on Ross Lake, even with a stable zodiac boat. In October 2023 I did one additional test trip on Ross Lake. I bought yellow fog lights to replace the off roading headlights to make it safer to boat at night, when it is usually foggy on Ross Lake. For that trip Matt Lemke and Mike Black joined me to bring survey equipment up Castle peak. We boated up and back in the dark 10-miles up lake, and the new lights worked much better in the fog. This increased my confidence about boating on Ross Lake in the dark on a future Hard Mox attempt. We ended up surveying that Castle peak is over 30ft taller than the quad-surveyed height, so is solidly on the WA top 100 list. In October I started strategizing about how to try for Winter Hard Mox again. With so many stars that needed to align it seemed like relying on only two long weekends the whole winter was not a high chance of success. That only gave two possible summit days all winter. My only longer break was the Christmas-New Years break. I usually leave the country to work on climbing country highpoints during that window, but decided to stick around this year and prioritize a winter hard mox trip. Testing the new yellow fog lights on Ross Lake, October 2023 I would be available for a full week between Dec 26 – Jan 2. In October Nick and I coordinated that we would both be available, and if all stars aligned we’d give Hard Mox another shot. It helped that enough time had passed since our last attempted that we had sort of forgotten all the hardships we’d encountered. That’s always important before attempting a difficult peak again after an unsuccessful attempt. For this third attempt we would try to make further improvements but stick with some methods and gear that had worked before. We would again go by snowshoes, and would carry the boat down from the Ross Dam trailhead. For the boat I would use an aluminum propane tank instead of a steel tank. I had previously gotten myself stranded on Blake Island in Puget sound when the motor wouldn’t start and I had to row back through 5 miles of ocean. I later took the motor to the shop and the issue was that the steel propane tank had rusted on the inside and debris had clogged the fuel system. Hopefully that wouldn’t happen with an aluminum tank. Dragging the boat up Frontage Road, October 2023 For the Perry Glacier we would bring ascent plates. These are small mini-snowshoes that sandwhich between the crampon and boot and are ideal for ascending steep snow slopes where postholing and snowshoeing are inefficient. This would have saved us time on our February ascent. We each machined custom carbon-fiber plates for the trip. For climbing gear, in addition to a single rack of cams and a few pitons and nuts we’d brought before, I’d also bring a set of hexes. I’ve found these can be hammered into icy cracks where cams and pitons won’t stick. Duncan and I had used hexes to protect Forbidden Peak during our winter ascent in January 2021 and they worked very well. We’d also bring a second set of cams up to 2 inches. For technical tools this time I would bring two BD vipers instead of a viper and a venom. The venom is a hybrid with a straight shaft that is good for plunging, but it’s a bit harder to use dry tooling than the curved shaft. The viper is a curved shaft and better for mixed climbing. I decided it was unlikely I’d need to plunge the tool for an anchor. Nick would bring a Beal Escaper device which would allow for full 60m single-strand rope rappels. This would increase efficiency descending. For crampons Nick converted his petzl Lynx to monopoint to make the mixed climbing easier. I intended to convert my Petzl Lynx to monopoint also, but forgot to do that. For boots I would again bring my Olympus Mons 8000m double boots. It’s important on a weeklong winter trip to have a double boot so the liner can be dried out overnight in the sleeping bag. It’s also important to have a built-in supergaiter, since a separate gaiter easily gets frozen with ice and snow and is difficult to deal with. My 8000m boots were a bit overkill with warmth, but those are the only double boot with built in gaiter that I have. Nick had a similar but lighter boot that was a bit more appropriate. For the tent we would bring a modified mega-mid. Nick sewed on special skirts along the edges to anchor down with snow and increase space on the inside. This would be lighter and more spacious than the ultralight 2-man mountaineering tent we’d brought previously. We would each bring vapor barrier liners for our sleeping bags. This would ensure the bags would stay drier than before over multiple nights in potentially wet weather. Nick would bring a dry suit for the boat ride. I already use one every boat ride and it is much warmer and safer than a rain jacket and snow pants in choppy conditions. I would bring a new SUP hand pump for the boat that would make inflation faster. Plus, this would give us a backup pump in case anything went wrong with the primary pump. In the fall we also got a bit more serious about training for mixed climbing. We did a practice trip together dry tool climbing at Wayne’s World crag off I-90, and Nick did a bunch of additional dry tooling sessions. By mid December it looked like the stars might finally align for the trip. December had been unusually warm and satellite images showed Ross Lake ice free. The weather forecast looked favorable and there was a good chance there would be a window of stable snow. Ross Lake was 15ft higher than it had been in January (based on publicly-available USGS height data), so stumps were unlikely to be problematic. The first potential summit window looked like Friday Dec 29. We decided to give ourselves two full days to get in, to give buffer time for having heavier packs with more days of food. Then we’d establish basecamp at upper Perry Creek as before. We’d have three or four potential summit days, then a day to get out. Hard Mox was the top priority, but if we somehow managed to climb it we’d use our other days to climb other Bulgers in the area. To make our plan completely legal we emailed North Cascades National Park and got a permit for the trip. I flew back from visiting family on Dec 25, then Dec 26 spent the day packing and preparing. I took the zodiac boat out for a short test run in Lake Washington and everything worked fine. Finally we were ready to give it another go. Dec 27 Carrying the boat down to Frontage Road, December 2023 (photo by Nick) I picked up Nick in the morning and we drove up to Ross Dam trailhead by 9am. In our first load I carried the boat motor and propane while Nick carried climbing gear. I think it’s important to bring the motor down in the first load since that is the item most likely to get stolen if left unattended at the trailhead. Next I carried the boat while Nick carried remaining boat accessories and climbing gear. We got the full load down efficiently in two hours. Once all the gear was at Frontage road we pumped up the boat, which went twice as fast with the new hand pump as with the old foot pump. I mounted the wheels, mounted the motor, then we loaded all the gear as far back as possible to be as directly over the wheels as possible. Nick rigged up the rope on the front, then we each put the rope over our shoulders and started dragging the boat. We made sure to keep our steps in synch to minimize bouncing of the boat. Dragging the boat down to the lake We soon got the boat towed down to the lake edge. As usual, a truck from one of the resort workers was parked at the edge of the water. Luckily there was just enough space to squeeze the boat around to get to the water edge. There we each changed into dry suits, water shoes, and put on our life jackets. We loaded the sharp objects wrapped up inside packs or duffles. We placed a tarp on the bottom of the boat, loaded two climbing packs and one accessory duffle on top, then wrapped the tarp over everything and bungied it to the boat. This would protect the gear from waves splashing over and filling the boat with water. Starting the motor (photo by Nick) I pushed off in the boat, wading slightly into the water, while Nick went to the nearby dock. I then retracted the wheels and rowed over to pick up Nick. This allowed him to keep his feet dry. He then pushed off, and I rowed a bit deeper into open water. I connected the propane tank, turned the motor to neutral, plugged in my key, pulled out the choke, turned the handle to start, and gave the pull cord a pull. On the fourth pull the motor started, which is really good for starting cold. Usually it starts on the tenth pull. I then depressed the choke and we started off by 11:45am. Boating up lake I went at half speed to the water gate, a small gap in the floating log fence that protects the resort buildings from waves. We found the gate at the far end of the lake, marked by green cones, Once through I cranked the motor to max speed and we cruised along at 5.7mph. I’d gotten pretty familiar with Ross Lake after all the scouting trips and attempts and knew all the landmarks. We cruised around Cougar Island to the east, avoiding the temptation to cut the corner in the gap with the coast, since I’ve found this can be deceptively shallow. We passed close to Roland Point, but not too close since I recalled a few stumps in that area. Taking out at Little Beaver After passing Pumpkin mountain we rounded rainbow point and on to Devils Creek. That’s the site of a big stump forest which was luckily submerged today. From there I crossed to the west side following my memory of the lane of deepest water. We passed tenmile island, which was still an island at this water level, and then passed Lightning Creek, which surprisingly had deeper water coverage than in October. Loaded up and hiking up the trail (photo by Nick) Cat Island was barely an island, and I hugged the west coast. I was careful, though, since I recalled a few rogue stumps across from Cat Island on the west side. This time they were submerged. The only issue we encountered was a big floating log just past Cat Island. That would have been hard to spot at night, but I easily steered around it in the daylight. By 2:15pm we cruised up to Little Beaver Camp. The upper lake was ice-free as expected. The water level was not ideal for docking, though. The regular dock was high and dry, and the lower bench of shore was submerged, so the whole shoreline was kind of steep. We found one boulder that was kind of flat and were able to deploy the boat wheels and drag it up there. We tied it off on a stump, raised the motor, raised one wheel so the boat could rest level, and removed the gear. At the Perry Creek shelter We double carried the gear all up to the Little Beaver Shelter and took a short food break. We then ditched the boat gear in a bear box, packed up our climbing gear, and started up by 3pm. The trail was snow-free so we started hiking in light hiking boots with extra gear strapped on the packs. After three miles we hit deep snow, and switched to double boots and snowshoes as it started to rain lightly. I was happy to have my waterproof hyperlite pack to keep the gear dry. We continued to the shelter shortly after sunset around 5pm. It was very nice to get out of the rain in the shelter and not have to set up the tent. We each threw out bivy sacks and sleeping bags, cooked up some dinner, and were soon asleep. Starting up Perry Creek (photo by Nick) Dec 28 We got up at sunrise the next morning and were moving by 9am. It seemed unwise to be bushwhacking in the dark, so we wanted to be sure to start the bushwhack in the daylight. We ditched our hiking boots in the cabin and proceeded in mountaineering boots and snowshoes. I had loaded my October GPS track on my garmin Fenix 6 watch to help with navigation, but I pretty much remembered the whole route since I’d already done it a few times. From the shelter we stayed on the left side of the creek, and the snow soon got thin enough that we ditched the snowshoes. In general we tried to stay as close to the creek as possible, only bushwhacking around cliffs and waterfalls. Often there are good open lines next to the creek that allow for fast progress. Scrambling up the creek (photo by Nick) This time the creek was flowing much higher than it had been in October, while the snow coverage on the side was much less than it had been in February. This seemed to be a sweet spot that made the creek as difficult to follow as possible. If the flow was lower and the sides drier, it would have been easy to walk on sloping slabs on the side. If the slabs had been covered in a foot of snow, it would also have been easier to walk on them. But this time they were usually covered in a thin sheet of ice. That meant we had to bushwhack around more often than my previous two times. Navigating a slide alder thicket One time the bushwhack around verglassed slabs required crawling up through steep slide alder with slippery mud underneath. I pulled up with my right hand at an awkward angle and slipped in the mud. Immediately I felt a painful pop and realized my shoulder became dislocated. Ever since I dislocated it in the Khumbu Icefall on Mt Everest last spring it’s been more vulnerable, and the heavy pack with awkward fall was enough to pull it out. I howled in pain, but luckily I knew a trick to get it back in on my own. I immediately clasped my hands, relaxed my right arm, and pushed my knee through my clasped hands and pushed. The shoulder popped right back in and the pain soon subsided. It had only been out for about 5 seconds. I vowed to be extra careful going forward with pulling with my right arm. Finally into the old growth forest (photo by Nick) This and a few other detours slowed us down a bit. Higher up we had to pass through one slide alder thicket I hadn’t remembered. I think in October I’d stayed in the creek, and in February it had been covered in snow. That was the only memorably tough section, though. By 3400ft after rounding the corner we hit the old growth forest, which was a welcome relief. I knew it would be smooth sailing from there all the way to basecamp. It had been drizzling all morning and we were both soaked, but at least there would be fewer bushes to brush against in the old growth and our body heat might start drying things out. We ascended steeply up into the forest, and soon the snow got deep enough to warrant snowshoes. From there the woods were nice and open and progress was fast. It was fast until we started having snowshoe issues, though. One by one each of the four snowshoes failed in some way. The metal supports under each of my feet cracked, making the rotating part of the snowshoe detach. I ended up using ski straps to strap the part back on, and the stretchiness in the straps allowed my foot to rotate. First view of Hard Mox (photo by Nick) For Nick almost every individual strap ripped off. He ended up using a long ski strap to strap one foot to the shoe, and some spare cord to tie the other shoe in. I guess this is normal for an expedition to improvise when gear inevitebly fails. Finally we resumed our fast pace through the old growth. I recalled in February we had strayed a bit too high to the south, which forced us into side hilling to maintain elevation. This time I made sure to stay closer to the creek, and the terrain was nice and flat. As we got closer we started looking for a good stick for the middle of the mega mid. Usually on single-night trips I strap to ski poles together for the middle pole. But if we were using the tent as a dedicated basecamp I would want those poles on day climbs. I had a separate carbon fiber pole for the middle support, but wanted to save weight so left it in the truck. Nick managed to find a perfect stick on the way, and we took turns carrying that up through the woods. Basecamp at 4500ft By 6pm we reached the edge of treeline at 4500ft on the edge of the talus field. The snow coverage was much lower than in February, and many more trees and slide alder patches were sticking out. This time the bushwhack took 9 hours instead of the 6 hours it had taken us in February. This slower time was likely because of the unfavorable creek level and snow conditions, necessitating more side bushwhacks. Also the heavy packs, shoulder injury, and broken snowshoes slowed us down. But we successfully reached camp approximately on schedule. We had considered the possibility of pitching camp at 6700ft on the Perry Glacier that night to make summit day shorter. But the snow conditions were not stable that day, and getting up to 6700ft required crossing avy terrain. So we decided to pitch camp at the same place as before at 4500ft. This had the advantage that we knew there would be running water there, which was indeed true. Moving up the next morning We leveled out a spot, mounted the stick, and pitched the mega mid tent. Nick’s skirts on the tent worked great for piling snow on the outside while maintaining space on the inside. We dug out a ditch for our feet and cooked up dinner. At 7pm I got my inreach messages with the updated avy forecast. Friday looked like stable snow conditions and dry weather, as expected. So we decided to go for it. We ideally wanted to get to the base of the rock climbing at sunrise to be able to climb in the light. We expected our speed to be a bit faster than in February with the more consolidate snow and the ascent plates. Also, sunrise was later (8am), so we decided to start up at 4am this time. Dec 29 Looking down to Perry Creek basin It drizzled into the evening but eventually ended. I was unfortunately still wet from the approach hike, and made the unwise decision of putting my wet socks and wet liners in my sleeping bag to dry them out for summit push. This indeed dried them out, but left me damp all night and I ended up getting very little sleep. The 3am alarm came way too early, and we reluctantly started nibbling on bars and getting out of our sleeping bags. The drizzle had stopped, the skies had partially cleared, and a nearly-full moon illuminated the sky almost enough to not need headlamps. This was much better than in February when it had been blowing snow and low visibility as we had ascended. This time was much warmer also, which would be nicer for climbing. On the upper Perry Glacier We were suited up and moving by 4am. I had my October track loaded on my watch, but navigation was easy even without that in the moonlight. The east face of Lemolo loomed above us, with the true summit of Hard Mox just hidden behind. We alternated leads breaking trail in 15-minute shifts up to the cliff below the Perry Glacier, then right into the lower-angle gully. We hiked up some old avy debris that had more consolidated snow underneath. After reaching the first shoulder we hooked left, then found a weakness in the upper steeper slopes. We eventually reached a flat area at the toe of the Perry Glacier. Switching to ascent plates At this point in October I had continued directly up slabs to avoid the glacier, and in February we had continued left onto the glacier with lower angle terrain. This time we decided to avoid glacier travel and ascended right of the slabs. The snow was well-consolidated and travel efficient with the heel risers lifted on the snow shoes. We crested the flat area above the slabs, then ascended higher onto the Perry Glacier. We soon reached a cliff at the top of the glacier and decided to ditch the snowshoes there. It was getting too steep for them to be efficient, so we switched into ascent plates. Looking up at the climb Nick led the way and travel was again very efficient. Each step required only one kick, unlike in February with snowshoes when we had to clear snow with hands, then knees, then double kick to make progress. We made it up the snow gully to the point where the summer route descends and traverses climbers right to the final gully. The terrain got briefly icy, but the ascent plates allow the crampon frontpoints to stick out, so this was not a problem. Nick leading up the first pitch We continued up with our whippets for protection until we reached the based of the first pitch. Here Nick put a cam in a crack, then we clipped in and kicked out a nice platform below the shelter of a rock wall by 10am. Nick is the stronger climber so he took all the gear while I took the pack with a little bit of food, water, and warm clothes. We ditched our remaining gear at the platform and pulled out the technical tools and clipped them to our umbilical cords. The summit was socked in the clouds, but it wasn’t very windy and this time the weather was predicted to improve throughout the day. I always like climbing into improving weather rather than racing to beat a storm that might come in early. Nick at the first crux Nick optimistically started up into the chockstone gully to try to climb directly up. This appeared to be full of ice, which might make it easier than the rock slab. However, he found the ice was hollow and not safe to climb, so backed off. He then climbed directy up the rock wall to the right, where I had climbed in October. He got a piece in down low, then got above the lip, reaching the same highpoint as before. This time he was able to excavate out a crack on the left that took a hex pounded in. That seemed to be the key to getting past this lower crux. He continued up to the bench above the chockstone, and made an anchor slinging horns. Me leading the gully pitch I soon followed, and manged to get decent sticks in thin neve above the lip, and a few good hooks. Of course, I had the advantage of a top rope, so felt much safer. At the anchor Nick handed over the remaining gear and belayed me up the gully. In October I had soloed the gully since it wasn’t too steep or exposed, but in winter it’s fully of ice and you wouldn’t want to fall. It’s kind of long, but not hard, so we decided to simul climb it. I got a few pieces in on each sided, including a good hex hammered in a crack that wouldn’t take a cam. I soon reached the col above and clipped on to the rap anchor at the horn. Nick leading out of the col I belayed Nick up, then handed the gear back over. I recalled the next pitch had been the crux in October, and I was happy Nick was OK leading it. Getting out of the col was a little tricky, and I pushed Nick’s back as he pulled on the lower moves. He got good pieces in going up and right on the face. The next move was to cross over to the right into a gully and ascend. That ended up being the crux. I suppose in summer I’d frictioned up slabby bits in my rock shoes with no problem, but that’s hard in crampons. Nick somehow managed to bang a hex in a crack and excavate out a key micro ledge for the front points. This allowed passage, and he climbed all the way up to the pedestal anchor above. I was yelling out directions from below since I was familiar with the route, having climbed it twice before. Me following the first pitch I followed, and was starting to get a bit nervous about our speed. We really wanted to top out by sunset, but the days were short and sunset was around 4:15pm, which wasn’t too many hours away. So I tried to climb up as fast as possible. Since Nick had already excavated out the good footholds and tool hooks I was able to make fast progress up to the pedestal. The pedestal anchor is kind of awkward since it requires a semi-hanging belay. To increase efficiency we decided to swing leads again. This was kind of nice that I didn’t have to stay at the awkward anchor, but the pitch above looked kind of tricky. I took all the gear and started up. Me leading up the next pitch above the col The rock was interesting since it was all plastered in tiny white rime ice feathers. This made it very slippery, but that wasn’t a problem with crampons and ice tools. I delicately hooked ledges and got a few cams in until I reached a vertical section. There I traversed up and left to a good ledge climbed on top. Above me I could see a nice bench on the ridge, but it looked like an unprotectable slab for 20ft to get to it. I optimistically started digging and clawing around with my tool and luckily found a few cracks under the snow. With cams in I continued up getting good sticks in the neve and hoooking ledges until I reached the bench. I recalled the next rap anchor was just above this bench, but it was a 15ft tall vertical wall that looked tricky. I was running low on gear and Nick was far enough below to not be able to see me there. It seemed like the kind of section where you want good pro and an attentive belayer, so I decided to make an anchor there and bely Nick up. Nick at the pedestal anchor Nick soon climbed up and said he was OK leading the next bit. I told him the anchor was just above, and this should be the last pitch up to the summit. Nick got in three solid pieces on the upper step, then pulled himself over. He made steady progress above that, topping out almost exactly at sunset. Meanwhile, I was admiring the amazing view opening up below me. The clouds were gradually clearing revealing the pickets to the southwest, Easy Mox and Redoubt to the west, and Custer and Rahm to the north. Climbing the last gully to the summit Nick put me on belay and I carefully surmounted the vertical bit. Luckily there were very solid hooks at the top I trusted to pull myself over. I walked past the rap anchor, brushing some snow off, then walked through the low-angle bowl section to the final gully. I was impressed to see nearly every piece of pro was a hex! I had brought six hexes and they all got used on that pitch! And to think, those hexes almost never get used on any other occasion. They really are the right tool for the job in icy cracks, though. Summit panorama I made the final pull over the upper chockstone and reached the summit ridge at 4:35pm. From the anchor it was On the summit a short walk over to the highest little pedstal, which we both did unroped. Our timing was perfect just around sunset with the last rays of sun lighting up the surround peaks, which were passing in and out of thin clouds. That was probably the most scenic time of the whole day. We took turns posing for summit pictures and taking videos and panoramas. It felt amazing to finally reach this point after so many scout trips and failed attempts. I spent a few minutes trying to dig around for the summit register, but couldn’t find it. That’s usually the case in the winter on peaks like this. Nick on the summit After 10 minutes on top we decided to head down. I recalled the main anchor is a small slung boulder on the edge of the cliff that doesn’t inspire much confidence. In October I’d backed it up to a bigger boulder, and saw that was still in place. We backed it up another time and I rapped down first to the next anchor. Nick soon followed by the time it was dark enough to need headlamps. Rapping off the summit At the next anchor I knew a 60m rap would reach the col. We rigged up Nick’s Beal Escaper and planned to do a single-rope 60m rappel. The device is kind of like a chinese finger trap wrapped around the rope. The way it works is once you’re at the bottom you do about 20 pulls and releases, and it gradually releaseas the rope from the trap. I was a little skeptical since I’d never used it before, so I went first and had it backed up. By now the wind really picked up and it was hard to lower the rope down without it blowing away to the side. The rappel is a little awkward to begin with too, since it kind of goes down a ridge. I somehow managed to keep the rope untangled and safely reached the col. I then tugged twice on the rope to make sure it would start passing through the escaper device. Rapping down Nick assessed that conditions were not good for the Beal Escaper to work properly, so he pulled the rope up and made a standard 30m rappel to the pedestal, then another 30m rappel to the col. The wind had really picked up and it was started to get pretty cold, so I was happy when he arrived down safely. At the col we attached the beal escaper and I made a full 60m rap down the gully. I had recalled seeing an intermediate rap anchor on a slung horn, but by the end of the rope I was still 15ft above that anchor. Maybe someone with a 70m rope made that anchor. Luckily I found some cracks in the wall and was able to make an anchor with a few nuts and a girth-hitched constriction. At the col Nick came down and we did 20 pulls and the beal escaper magically released. That was pretty nice to get the full 60m rappel in with the 60m rope and save some time. I next rapped off my anchor and easily reached our platform and gear. It felt great to finally be done with the technical section. Nick followed and did the same trick with the 20 pulls until the beal escaper released. This time, though, the rope got stuck on something just above the chokstone. We tried flicking the rope all directions, and finally pulling down as hard as we could. It was no use, though. The rope was officially stuck. Downclimbing to the snowshoes At that point we had two options. First, one of us could lead back up the lower crux on the other strand of rope and get the top end unstuck, then build another rap anchor and rappel down. That sounded dangerous. It would be tempting to just prussik up the stuck end, but that was also dangerous since we didn’t know how much weight it could bear. Second, we could cut the bottom of the rope off as high as possible and leave the remaining piece. Both of us were planning to return to Hard Mox the coming summer anyway (I wanted to take my differential GPS up to get an accurate elevation reading), so we decided to cut the rope and retrieve the other end in the summer. Descending the Perry Glacier That was the safe decision and felt like the correct decision. So we cut the rope at the middle marker and packed it up. We were soon all packed up and downclimbed back to our snowshoes. We then packed up the snowshoes and continued down our tracks in our crampons. The tracks were nice and visible and not drifted over, which was a good sign that no new wind slabs had formed. We made good progress all the way off the glacier and back down to camp by 10pm for an 18 hour day. Descending the Perry Glacier We checked the latest avy and weather forecast on my inreach and the next day was supposed to be stable snow also, but rain and snow and socked in all day. Sunday was supposed to be better weather, though. So we decided to take a rest day the next day. I definitely needed one anyways. Dec 30 I slept in to 10am, which felt great. It had started drizzling around 3am and would continue on and off throughout the day. Indeed, it looked like a bad day to be above treeline. I stayed drier that night by not putting any wet items in my sleeping bag and diligently staying inside the vapor barrier liner. Rainy rest day in camp We soon discussed objectives for the rest of the trip. Hard Mox had been the primary objective, but we wanted to Resting in the tent tag any other Bulgers nearby that made sense. From the summit of Hard Mox we realized that Redoubt and Easy Mox would be very difficult to access from our camp. We had optimistically hoped to be able to cross over col of the wild to access these peaks. But the glacier north of Hard Mox was heavily crevassed. It looked like steep slabs to gain the col, which had a huge cornice overhanging to the east. That option would not work. The only remaining Bulger accessible from our camp was Spickard. We decided to go for Spickard Sunday, then hike and boat out Monday and Tuesday as originally planned. Rain was supposed to end around 5am, so we would start up at 6am to give a bit of buffer time. Starting up Spickard We spent the rest of the day eating and drying out clothes and socks using body heat. Dec 31 The rain ended as schedule and we were up and moving by 6am. We had planned a route using shaded relief maps to minimize exposure to steep slopes. We took turns breaking trail, and now the once-slushy snow had firmed up with an icy crust on top. This was good news for stability. Good views of Hard Mox We followed the left-most and largest of four snow gullies to our north, soon reaching a low-angle shoulder at 6000ft. From there we traversed right to a big drainage, then hiked up to the toe of the Solitude-Spickard glacier. By then the sun came out and we were treated to great undercast views below. We met up with the standard Spickard route I recalled from my previous ascent, and traversed right on a ledge between two cliff bands to gain the south face of Spickard. Spickard started out socked in the clouds but they gradually cleared and we could see a route up. We ascneded low-angle slopes almost to the ridge, then traversed right below a steeper band. The snow was stable with only a thin unreactive wind slab in a few isolated places. Climbing Spickard Below a small saddle we ditched the snowshoes and switched to ascent plates. From there we easily marched straight up to the saddle, then continued along the ridge until we were blocked by gendarmes. There we noticed a nice snow traverse on the north face. We ditched the ascent plates and got out our ice tools. One by one we traversed the icy face, reaching the summit by noon. The undercast views were amazing, and with no wind and sunshine it was actually kind of pleasant. This was a rare treat to be able to spend more than a few minutes on a winter summit. We took tons of picture and admired the views. On the summit I recalled last year Stu Johnson and Max Bond had climbed Spickard via the NE ridge in what was likely the first winter ascent. I peered over the ridge and it looked way more difficult than what we had done. I think the south face is the easiest way to go in winter if the snow is stable. We soon dropped back down, traversed the north face, and took a food break in the sun on the south side. We downclimbed back to our snowshoes, packed them up, then cramponed back down of the face. We made excellent time retracing our route back down, reaching camp a bit before sunset. It felt great to get both Bulgers bagged from the Perry Creek drainage. I still have four left in the Chiliwacks in winter, but I’ll have to figure out a different way to access those. Summit panorama Leaving camp in the moonlight Jan 1 Our goal was to get all the way back to the trailhead the next day if possible, so we were up and moving by 6am. We made good time following our snowshoe tracks through the old growth, and switched to boots back at the creek at 3400ft. The bushwhack and scramble down went smoothly, and we reached the Perry Creek shelter by 11:30am for a 5.5 hr descent. There we switched into our stashed hiking boots and made fast time back to Little Beaver shelter. Nearing Ross Lake It felt really cold down there, and that may have been associated with the clear weather that day. By 3pm we were bundled up in dry suits and down jackets and soon had the zodiac boat loaded up and pushed off into the lake. For some reason, though, the motor wouldn’t start. I fought with it for 30 minutes before finally giving up. I suspect it was related to the cold. I’ve never taken it out in this cold of temperature, so some possible problems are that the propane was too cold or the motor oil wasn’t rated to the cold temperature. I’m working on debugging that issue still. Trying to get the motor running The boat has a set of oars as a backup, and we started rowing. It would be a 15-mile trip back to Ross Dam and we would try to be efficient. I’d previously packrafted from Little Beaver to Ross Dam and that had taken all day, even with a tail wind. This time luckily the wind was calm, though generally it comes from the south in the evening on Ross Lake. The zodiac oars seemed more efficient than packraft paddles, luckily. We measured that pulling hard and fast we could get up to 3.5 mph, but pulling at a comfortable pace was closer to 2mph. Broken oar lock fixed with bungee cord We took 10-15 minute shifts, rotating out when the person in the bow got too cold. Every shift I would play around with the motor trying to get it to start. We even dunked the propane tank in the water to try to warm it up, but that didn’t work. It soon got dark and we were paddling by starlight. Our strategy was the person in front would give directions until the heading was appropriate, while the roarer would pick a point in the distance to the north and keep the back of the boat pointed at that to maintain heading. Back at Ross Dam When we were near Rainbow Point, a bit over halfway, one of the oarlocks broke so that the paddle was no longer connected to the boat. This looked like bad news. It would be very tough and slow to row out with just one paddle, or even to detach both paddles and row out like a canoe. The oar orientation was way more efficient. Luckily I was able to jerry rig a solution with bungy cords to reconnect the oar to the boat, and we continued on at our normal speed. By 11:45pm we finally reached the takeout at Ross Dam. We pulled the boat out of the water, deployed the wheels, and dragged it up Frontage road. From there Nick immediately took a load of climbing gear up while I packed up the boat and motor. I then hiked up with the boat. Nick came down and got my climbing pack and the propane tank while I returned to get the motor. Finally, Nick made one more trip to get the boat accessories. So it was a 2.5-carry up while it had been a double carry down. I think if the propane tank had been empty as it would have been if the motor had worked, we could have gotten it up more easily in a double carry. By 3am we were loaded up back at the truck. We slept a few hours until sunrise, then drove back to Seattle. 62/100 Winter Bulgers Movie of the trip: Gear Notes: Technical tools, double rack to 2in, hexes (very useful), pitons (unused), 1 stubby screw (unused), ascent plates, zodiac boat, dry suit, double boots, NWAC-scraping-to-inreach python script, beal escaper, single 60m rope, avy gear Approach Notes: Carry boat to Ross Lake, boat to Little Beaver, hike to Perry Creek shelter, bushwhack up Perry creek
  10. Trip: Mt Everest No O2 Attempt to 8500m - SE Ridge Trip Date: 05/22/2023 Trip Report: Mt Everest No O2 Attempt to 8500m Eric and Matthew Gilbertson, Steven Song, Darren V May 22, 2023 Me and Matthew on Kala Pattar with Everest in the background March 26 – Depart Seattle March 27 – Flying March 28 – Arrive Kathmandu March 29 – Fly to Lukla, hike to Phakding 2800m March 30 – Hike to Namche Bazaar 3400m March 31 – Hike to 3800m, sleep Namche 3400m April 1 – Hike to Tengboche 3850m April 2 – Hike to 4600m, sleep at Dingboche 4350m April 3 – Rest day at Dingboche 4350m April 4 – Hike to Lobuche 4900m April 5 – Hike to Gorak Shep 5190m Map of the route April 6 – Rest day Gorak Shep 5190m April 7 – Hike to BC 5300m April 8 – Hike Kala Pattar 5640m, sleep BC 5300m April 9 – Rest BC 5300m April 10 – Hike to Pomori BC 5720m, sleep BC 5300m April 11 – Rest BC 5300m April 12 -Rest BC 5300m (khumbu icefall closed due to accident) April 13 – Rest BC 5300m (khumbu icefall closed due to accident) April 14 – hike to Lobuche high camp 5200m April 15 – Climb Lobuche East false summit side slope 5950m, sleep Lobuche 4900m April 16 – Hike to BC 5300m April 17 – Rest BC 5300m April 18 – Rest BC 5300m (khumbu icefall still closed) April 19 – Hike to C1 6100m April 20 – Hike to C2 6500m April 21 – Rest C2 6500m April 22 – Rest C2 6500m Flying to Lukla April 23 – Hike to C3 7100m, descend to BC 5300m April 24 – Rest BC 5300m April 25 – Rest BC 5300m (got sick, respiratory infection) April 26 – Rest BC 5300m (sick) April 27 – Rest BC 5300m (sick) April 28 – Rest BC 5300m (sick) April 29 – Hike to C2 6500m, throat constricted, lost voice, descend to BC 5300m (sick) April 30 – Fly to Namche 3400m (sick) May 1 – Rest in Namche 3400m (sick) May 2 – Rest in Namche 3400m (sick) May 3 – Fly to BC 5300m (sick) May 4 – Rest BC 5300m (sick) May 5 – Hike to Pheriche 4200m (sick) Approaching Lukla May 6 – Rest Pheriche 4200m (sick) May 7 – Hike to BC 5300m (finally recovered) May 8 – Rest BC 5300m May 9 – Hike to C2 6500m May 10 – Rest at C2 6500m May 11 – Bad weather, Rest at C2 6500m May 12 – Move to C3 7100m May 13 – Hike to South Col 8000m, descend to BC 5300m May 14 – Hike to Pheriche 4200m May 15 – Rest Pheriche 4200m May 16 – Rest Pheriche 4200m May 17 – Rest Pheriche 4200m May 18 – Hike to BC 5300m May 19 – Hike to C2 6500m Trekking to Phakding May 20 – Hike to C4 8000m May 21 – Bad weather, stay C4 8000m May 22 – Summit attempt, Bail 8500m with signs of HACE, descend to C2 6500m May 23 – Descend to BC 5300m May 24 – Hike to Namche 3400m May 25 – Hike to Lukla 2800m May 26 – Fly to Kathmandu 1500m Mt Everest is the highpoint of both Nepal and China, so we had to go for it as part of our country highpoints project. I wanted to save some money and climb it as honorably as possible, so planned to go without oxygen or personal sherpa support. I’d previously climbed K2 this way so figured it was possible. Matthew, Steven, and Darren would climb the more conventional style with supplemental oxygen and personal sherpa support to increase chance of success. Namche bazaar I started planning the trip about a year in advance, in March 2022. Mt Everest is not a mountain you can just show up and climb on your own. You basically have to go with a company, at least for logistics support to pay for permits and permission to use fixed ropes. There are two main climbing routes, the south col route from the Nepal side and the north ridge route from the Tibet side. China was still not issuing climbing permits this year so the only option was to climb from Nepal. The Nepal side has one advantage that there are no major bottlenecks on summit day. The Hillary Step basically fell off in 2015, and that was the major bottleneck. The upper route is south facing so it is generally warmer and sunnier. Unfortunately the lower route passes through the Khumbu Icefall, which is dangerous due to constantly shifting ice blocks. The route from the Tibet side does not have any dangerous lower section like the Khumbu Icefall, but does have three bottleneck ladder sections on the upper mountain that can lead to traffic jams on summit push. First view of Everest I found a list compiled by Alan Arnette of all the companies guiding on the Nepal Side along with median prices. I contacted the cheapest four companies, to ask for 2023 prices, and then tried a little bit of negotiating. I would bring a few other climbers along (Matthew, Steven Song, Darren), and I also wanted to climb a second peak, Kangchenjunga. Kangchenjunga is the third highest mountain in the world and the highpoint of India. I figured I could potentially take advantage of my Everest acclimation to make a quick ascent of Kangchenjunga afterwards. It is illegal to climb Kangchenjunga from the India side, for religious regions, and it is thus only climbed from the Nepal side. By asking for a deal including multiple climbers and multiple mountains I was able to haggle the price down from multiple companies. The cheapest was seven summit treks. They also had the resources to helicopter me directly from Everest to Kangchenjunga. They could also offer me basecamp services for each peak, which is what I wanted. This meant they would take care of permits, permission to use fixed ropes, getting all my gear and myself to basecamp, and providing food and tent in basecamp. But above basecamp I’d be completely on my own with carrying gear. And I wouldn’t have any oxygen. Yaks near Namche They could provide full service for my climbing partners Matthew, Steven, and Darren for Everest, meaning supplemental oxygen and personal sherpas. In June 2022 I paid a 20% deposit, then I paid the full remaining balance in February 2023 as a wire transfer. In the summer of 2022 I actually met Dawa, one of the owners of Seven Summit Treks, at K2 basecamp, and I met many of the sherpas working for the company on the upper slopes of Broad Peak and K2. Everyone seemed super friendly and it seemed like a great company to go with. For training for Everest for the year in advance I didn’t really do anything different than normal. In summer of 2022 I spent two months in Pakistan climbing Broad Peak and K2. Then I rested a bit in the fall before continuing my normal weekend warrior routine of mountaineering trips in the Cascades. In the winter I generally climbed one of the WA top 100 bulger peaks every weekend in Washington. These generally involved 20-30 hour continuous pushes breaking trail and climbing technical peaks over one or two days, and I figured this was excellent training for 8000m peaks. Often summit pushes on 8000m peaks can be around 24 hours I’ve found. By mid February I stopped skiing and instead only snowshoed for approaches, since skiing has a higher risk of injury. I then tapered down my activities the last two weeks of March. Snowy morning in Namche My plan for acclimation on Everest was to exactly replicate my acclimation strategy for K2. Everest is only about 240m taller than K2, so I figured a similar acclimation schedule should work. Everest is farther south, which lowers its apparent altitude (based on air pressure at summit), but the season is earlier (May instead of July) and cold temperatures raise a mountain’s apparent altitude. It would still likely feel higher than K2, but not by too much. The spring climbing season on Everest is generally dictated by when the jet stream moves off the summit making winds low enough to allow safe climbing. This generally happens for about a week in mid/late May. It’s a short season and you must be ready to push for the summit whenever this happens. My plan was to finish all my acclimation rotations by the beginning of May. This would give me at least a week to rest at low altitude to recover before summit push. If I applied my exact K2 acclimation itinerary and worked backwards this meant arriving in Kathmandu late March. I assumed (incorrectly) that I would be able to do the exact same acclimation schedule on the south route on Everest in this amount of time. I paid professional meteorologist Chris Tomer to give me daily weather forecasts for Everest sent by satellite to my inreach. I’ve found having an accurate weather forecast is perhaps the most important element for success on big peaks like this, and Chris has also forecast for me for big peaks like K2 (2022) and Pobeda (2021). Tengboche March 28 Matthew, Darren and I arrived in Kathmandu March 28 in the morning. Steven planned to arrive 10 days later. He was going with supplemental oxygen so didn’t need to do as many acclimation rotations as I did. Darren and Matthew would also go with oxygen, but figured some extra time at altitude would still be helpful. We got a pre-arranged taxi from the airport to the Aloft Hotel. There we met Dawa, Thanes, and Tashi, who were in charge of Seven Summit treks. We sorted out last minute details and arranged to fly to Lukla a day earlier than scheduled since we didn’t have any delays to make us need our built-in buffer day. March 29 Yaks at Tengboche We shuttled to the airport at 5am and got the first flight out to Lukla. The flights to Lukla are very often canceled due to poor visibility. The airport at Lukla has been rated the most dangerous airport in the world. It is at an 11.7% grade on the side of a mountain and visibility is often bad from clouds and rain. Conditions have to be perfect for it to be open, and I’ve heard stories of it being closed for up to two weeks straight! Thus it is important to take advantage of good weather to get on a flight when possible. Our flight landed no problem and we soon got started. We had left most of our gear at Kathmandu to be shuttled by helicopter or yak to basecamp. That would be much faster than us hiking so didn’t need to go as soon. When we landed we met Kami and Raj. Raj would be a porter to carry some of our gear and Kami would be our guide. The Nepal law was set to change April 1 that a local guide is required for any treks in Nepal. Though, there was some confusion whether the everest basecamp trek was an exception or not. Either way we were covered having Kami as our guide. Nearing Dingboche From Lukla we made an easy trek a few hours downhill to the village of Phakding at 2800m, where Kami arranged a hotel for us for the night. I discovered the whole trek to Everest Basecamp is full of tea houses and hotels every few miles. So you can get by bringing practically nothing, just buying food and staying at hotels along the way. Hotels are only around $5-10 a night, so very cheap. I actually am not sure if it is legal to camp. I didn’t see any tents. March 30 The next day we hiked along the river and officially entered Sagamartha National Park. We then made a steep climb up to Namche Bazaar, the largest village along the trek at 3400m. Along the way we crossed one of the highest swinging bridges along the route over the Dudh Koshi River. I later heard a porter was crossing at the same time as a yak train and one of the yaks got startled and pushed the man off the bridge! But luckily some rope on his pack got hooked on the side and he survived without falling. Acclimating above Dingboche In Namche most buildings in town are hotels so it wasn’t hard to find a place for the night. We stayed at the Mountain View Lodge, arriving around lunch time and resting the rest of the day. Hiking to Thukla March 31 The rule of thumb for acclimation is to ascend at most 400m per day and take a rest day after ascending 1000m. For the everest basecamp trek this generally means taking a rest day at Namche and at Dingboche. Another good rule of thumb is to climb high and sleep low. So this day we hiked up to 3800m where there’s a good view of Everest at a restaurant. This restaurant at the Everest View Hotel is popular with people helicoptering from Kathmandu. They heli up there, stop for lunch, then heli back. After stopping for lunch we hit a few peakbagger dots as side trips (Lapcha and Chhorkung Ri) then hiked back to Namche and spent the night. April 1 Gorak Shep with Kala Pattar and Pumori in the background We got fresh snow the next morning but slept in enough that some yak trains had already gone out and broken trail. We descended down to the Dudh Koshi River at 3300m, stopped there for lunch, then climbed steeply back up to Tengboche at 3850m. The snow was deeper there and we stopped there for the night. Unfortunately the famous monastery there was closed for tourists. Maybe it was still early season. I think we were a week ahead of the main trekking crowd. This was kind of nice because no hotels were crowded yet. Kami said a week later it would be hard to find a room. April 2 The next morning we had more fresh snow and we hiked back across the river a few times, eventually reaching Dingboche at 4350m by lunch time. After lunch we went on a short acclimation hike behind the hotel up to 4600m along the way to Nangkartshang Peak. It was a bit ambitious to go up to the peak, so we turned around at a good viewpoint and returned to the hotel. Everest Basecamp April 3 As recommended, we took a rest day at Dingboche, reading in the hotel and walking around the small village. April 4 We next had a short day hiking to Thukla for a hot chocolate break then up along the toe of the Khumbu Glacier to Lobuche village at 4900m. There we stopped at the Himalaya Eco Resort for lunch and to spend the night. April 5-6 From Lobuche it would make sense to hike all the way to basecamp, since it’s only a few hours. But we were very early in the year and SST hadn’t yet completely set up basecamp. So we just hiked to Gorak Shep at 5200m and spent the night and the following day there. April 7 Looking at Everest from Kala Pattar Basecamp was finally set up, so we were able to finish the last leg of our trek. After a few hours we reached the start of everest basecamp and saw a huge tent city in the process of being built. There was a huge boulder at the entrnace of camp with “Everest Basecamp” spray painted in red. All the trekkers were getting pictures there and we waited in line to get ours. Then we proceeded to hike a full mile through camp to the Seven Summit Treks area at the far end. This location was nice for moving up the mountain since it was the closest to the start of the route through the Khumbu Icefall. They had individual tents set up for each of us, and the tents were large enough to stand up in and had thick mattresses. All our gear had made it in on helicopter and we soon got set up. We were the first clients in camp, though more would be trickling in over the next few weeks. On Kala Pattar April 8 In order to replicate my first K2 rotation I needed to tag 5600m and return to BC. There was a peak called Kala Pattar near Gorak Shep that was an easy hiking peak and was at around 5600m. So the next morning we made the hike back down to Gorak Shep and then up to Kala Pattar. There we got a nice view of Everest. We saw a lot of helicopters landing on the side of the peak, and I think people fly up from Kathmandu to there to get a view of Everest. They are unacclimated, though, so can only stay a short time before flying back. April 9-10 We rested the next day in BC, and then my next rotation would ideally be to drop a cache of gear off at camp 1 on Everest at 6100m. But we weren’t allowed in the Khumbu Icefall yet because the sherpas had not yet done a special Puja ceremony believed to allow safe passage. We would need to wait a few more days. Sunset over basecamp So after resting a day we decided to do the one other remaining easy acclimation hike, to Pumori basecamp. Pumori is a 7000m peak behind everest basecamp, and has an easy trail up to 5700m before the route becomes technical. After breakfast Matthew and I hiked up with an SST sherpa to 5700m just before the route turned 4th class. Supposedly I later learned to go any higher we would need a Pumori climbing permit, but that location was permitted. We took in a nice view of Everest before returning down in time for lunch. April 11-13 At Pumori basecamp looking down the khumbu glacier We rested one day, then were hoping to hike up to camp 1 to drop a cache of gear and tag 6100m. But we learned on the morning of April 12 that a team of three sherpas had been killed in the Khumbu Icefall when a serac collapsed on them. The plan was search and rescue teams would be going in to look for them, then the route would be modified to avoid that zone. All of that would take time, and no climbers would be allowed up the icefall for a while. We decided the best way to still acclimate would be to climb Lobuche Peak. The peak is around 6000m and is a common way for climbers to get in a rotation while avoiding a trip through the dangerous Khumbu Icefall. Unfortunately Lobuche is tall enough that it requires a $700 permit. I was also told you must have a sherpa accompany you, and if you make the summit you must pay them a $300 summit bonus. This is much more expensive than just hiking up and tagging camp 1, but appeared to be the only option short of waiting perhaps up to a week killing time in basecamp. Looking back towards Everest By this time Matthew had gotten sick in basecamp (something that would happen to all of us at various times). He decided to descend to Pheriche to recover while Darren and I would go to Lobuche. Steven had just arrived and would take a few rest days first. April 14 Darren and I with sherpas Mingma and Pasang hiked down after breakfast to Lobuche village and stopped there for lunch. We then continued outside of town to hike steeply up to Lobuche high camp at 5200m by mid afternoon. There we stayed in some SST tents overnight. April 15 Ascending Lobuche That night at 3am we left camp going for Lobuche. The route involved steep icy snow slopes down low for which we used crampons and ice axes. Up higher we encountered some fixed lines and passed a group camping around 5600m. We then started jugging up the fixed lines as the sun rose. By 7am we reached the end of the fixed lines, though we weren’t quite at the summit. My watch read 5950m and we were on the slope on the side of the false summit of Lobuche East. Near the false summit of Lobuche East We had great views of Everest and Mingma and I topped out at the same time as a Chinese climber Carmen and another sherpa. We soaked in the views for a while as Darren caught up. If I had brought my 30m rope and a few pickets we could have made it to the false summit of Lobuche East, but getting to the true summit would have been more technical. It was just an acclimation hike anyways, so we considered that spot good enough. Note: I would be skeptical of anyone claiming to have climbed Lobuche East. Most likely they just went to the spot I went where the fixed lines end on the side slope of the false summit. We made quick time back down and had a late morning meal back at high camp. We then descended to Lobuche village that afternoon. I had originally thought of hiking back to basecamp, but it was probably actually best to stay lower in town like we did. That allowed our bodies to recover better from the new highpoint reached. Descending from Lobuche East April 16-18 The next morning we made the leisurely hike back to basecamp, and then took two rest days. April 19 The re-route through the Khumbu finally got completed and regular climbers were allowed to enter. Seven Summit Treks still hadn’t done the official Puja ceremony, though, so no sherpas would agree to go through. Most climbers paying for the full service trip were thus not permitted to go up yet since they needed a sherpa accompanying them. Since I had just paid for basecamp service and was on my own above basecamp, though, I was allowed to move up. Starting up through the Khumbu Icefall I convinced SST to allow Darren to accompany me as long as he didn’t need a sherpa helping him carry gear. They agreed it would be safer if I weren’t solo, so Darren and I were allowed to start our first rotation. We were told it was safest to pass through the icefall at night, so started out at 2am that morning. The plan was to stay up above the icefall for around five days, sleeping at camp 1, then camp 2 a few nights, then tagging camp 3 and returning. This would combine several of my K2 rotations into one rotation, but that is important on everest to minimize trips through the icefall. In fact, for climbers using oxygen that is the only rotation needed before summit push. Though, I would try for a few more since I was going without oxygen. Sunrise looking back at Pumori As we left camp we saw a string of lights already going up the icefall. It was likely sherpas ferrying loads up. They generally go up to camp 1 or camp 2 then come back down to basecamp shortly after sunrise. Some sherpas even manage to get two loads hauled up to camp 2 in a day! We walked through some morain, then put on crampons at the base of the icefall. At the bottom was a near-vertical ice section we jugged up. From there it was continuous fixed lines the entire way. The route wove around quite a bit avoiding crevasses and weaving around seracs. There were a few places we had to cross ladders bridging deep chasms, but I heard these were pretty infrequent compared to previous years. I ended up being a bit faster than Darren so got a bit farther ahead. I would occasionally get passed by sherpas going up or down, but never saw any non-sherpas. Tough wall to jug up with a dislocated shoulder At one point the rope above me was wrapped around a serac on the side. I tried flicking it off but had no luck, so I ventured over to the serac to remove it. This required walking briefly off the main track on some big ice blocks. They appeared stable and frozen together, but when I stepped on one it slid out from underneath me. I got flipped over and landed hard on my right shoulder. I felt instant pain throughout my arm. I quickly tried to wiggle my fingers and found I still had sensation in all my fingers and my hand. But I had excruciating pain throughout my arm. I was solo and wasn’t sure what to do. My arm was no longer useful for holding any rope. I really needed help, like from a doctor, and I was pretty sure the expedition was now over for me. I was mostly through the icefall and it was already light out, so I figured it was safest to go up to camp 1 and look for help than to retreat. Rappelling down with one hand seemed riskier than jugging up with one hand. So I tied my lame arm up across my chest to get it out of the way and continued jugging up. It was kind of tricky with the big 50 lb pack on with my non-dominant hand (I’m right handed and had injured my right arm). Approaching camp 1 I slowly made progress, and eventually caught up to a sherpa and western client. I told them my situation and the client said it sounded like my shoulder was dislocated. He said he had personal experience with that and could help reset it. But he wanted to wait until we got to a nice flat area. I really wished he could have helped right there, but didn’t want to argue. Above us was a near-vertical wall to get up that looked very difficult for me one-handed. I had him hold the rope taught below while I jugged up one handed. At the top I was in a lot of pain but it was indeed a large flat area. I untied my arm, threw my pack down, and laid on the ground in pain. The climber then made it up and had me stand next to him. He held my arm and started twisting it as I nervously bit a wad of shirt in my mouth anticipating excruciating pain. But I felt a small pop and then the pain went away! He indeed knew what he was doing and had popped the shoulder back into place! At camp 1. Not too crowded It was amazing how the pain instantly went nearly back down to zero. It still felt very sensitive, though, and he advised me it was at a high risk of popping out again since the muscles were all loosened up. So I made sure to not touch any fixed ropes with that arm again. I waited around for Darren to catch up, told him what happened, and then proceeded onward. After one more tough steep section we soon made it to camp 1 in late morning. There was nothing set up yet, but regions were roped off for various operators. I found the SST region and we set up my Nemo Tenshi tent there off the side of the trail after probing for crevasses. We melted snow, ate some food, and hung out in the tent acclimating until dark when we went to bed. Camp 2 April 20 The next morning we were packed up and moving a bit before sunrise. Lots of sherpas had already passed us hauling gear up, and we’d heard it could get very hot between camps 1 and 2 once the sun came out. We each moved at our own speed and made good time up the trail. This section was much easier than the khumbu icefall and was mostly flat with only a few steep sections requiring jugging up ropes. I continued to jug up one-handed. The first section had fixed ropes to clip onto on the flattish glacier, and a few ladders over crevasses. But then the route mellowed out and the fixed ropes ended. I made good time up the route, reaching camp 2 after 2.5 hours. As in camp 1 nothing was set up yet from SST. I had some trouble locating their roped off section, but eventually found it and set the tent up. Darren arrived a bit later and we finished getting camp set up. We melted some snow, ate and rested. April 21 Camp 2 We took a rest day in camp but noticed the two other clients we’d seen in the khumbu were moving higher with their sherpas in the late morning. We went out to talk and they said they were going to try to tag camp 3. That seemed very ambitious. I definitely didn’t feel acclimated enough, and I’d read the normal schedule was to take a rest day. We watched them proceed, and the wind picked up and it started snowing. They all soon turned around, probably having just tagged 6700m, barely above camp 2. But I’ve heard this is actually sufficient for climbing with supplemental oxygen, so their rotation was likely complete. Darren and I hung out in the tent reading through the bad weather. Starting up for camp 3 April 22 The next morning we felt like we still needed more time, so decided to take one more rest day. The weather was nice, though, so we went up to scout out the route. Unfortunately the wind had blown over the previous days tracks. We went up as high as we dared, but at the edge of the glacier outside camp we couldn’t find any tracks or rope or wands. So we turned around. Our plan was to head up the next morning to tag camp 3, but without being able to find the route in the daylight we were nervous about being able to find it at night. Darren had brought his paragliding wing and was hoping to fly back from camp 3 to avoid descending through the khumbu icefall. The best flying conditions would be in the early morning, so he needed to leave before sunrise. I advised him not to fly since he didn’t have a permit and could get in trouble, but he said it was unlikely anyone would see him, based on his experience. To get help navigating we walked over to the 8K camp and found some sherpas going up the next day. Darren paid them a bit of money to leave early and let us tag along. Most requests are possible for the right price on everest, we found. Climbing up to camp 3 April 23 The next morning we met up at the 8K tent at 4am and after some tea and porridge were moving up by 4:30am. The sherpas expertly led the way and we soon clipped onto some fixed lines on the glacier. We made our way up, crossing a few ladders, until we reached the bergschrund around sunrise. From there it was fixed lines all the way to camp 3. In fact, they had just been fixed a few days earlier. The sherpas went off ahead there, since navigation would be easy. I was getting very cold fingers and toes so went off ahead also at my own speed. It was a little tricky getting over the steep bergscrhrund, but above the slope eased to a nice snow slope. There was an up rope and a down rope there to help ease traffic jams in the future. Though this day it was just me, Darren, and a few sherpas above. I climbed up the snow slope, and then the ropes went steeply up an ice slope. This early in the season there were no steps kicked in yet and I had to do a bit of tiring frontpointing. Finally the sun hit the slope and my cold toes warmed up. After about 3.5 hours I eventually popped out on the tiered snow slopes where camp 3 is placed. Windy camp 3 The slopes were icy and steep, and it looked sketchy to me to dig out a tent platform. I saw the remains of a few old tents frozen in ice lower in the camp. There was a small platform in the middle with two tents set up and sherpas standing outside. It was extremely windy and I saw a few sherpas at upper camp continuing up ropes towards south col. They said they were working on fixing ropes up to the col and might finish that day. It was very windy and cold and I didn’t want to stay long. The purpose of the day was to merely tag camp 3 and descend, so I snapped a few pictures and soon turned back around. I rapped back down the down line and met up with Darren part way down. Cold camp 3 I told him it was too windy to hang out and I would wait for him down at camp. Or he would text me on the inreach if he flew down. I gave this a very slim chance of happening given the wind, though. I soon made it back down, and spent some time hanging out in the 8K camp drinking tea before going back to our tent. I think Darren and I were about the only non-sherpas there. It was still very early season and camp was just getting set up. Back at camp I happened to glance up and saw Darren flying down! Apparently the wind had calmed at camp 3. That looked like an amazing way to descend. He would be back in basecamp in 30 minutes and completely avoid the dangerous icefall, while I would take hours and have to go through the icefall. Darren flying down I texted Matthew that he was coming, then I quickly packed up. I locked up the tent and headed down by noon leaving most of my gear at camp. It took me an hour to get down to camp 2, and then I met up with a group of ten sherpas going down the icefall. They said it was random when the ice shifted and afternoon was about as safe as night as long as you moved fast. So I descended with them and made it down in about 3 hours, reaching camp by 4pm. Unfortunately Darren had gotten caught by the nepali army when he landed and was now in trouble for flying without a permit. He would eventually be required to helicopter down to kathmandu to meet with the tourism ministry in person. Matthew was back from Pheriche by then and feeling better, and a lot more climbers had made it to basecamp. April 24-28 Hiking back down I planned to rest for three days before moving up for my next rotation. The next planned rotation was to sleep at camp 2 one night, then sleep at camp 3, then tag camp 4 and retreat. This would be approximately in line with my K2 acclimation schedule. Also, the sherpas said if I did this one more rotation I would be ready for summit push. I found a few other rotation schedules for climbers doing Everest without O2. One of my friends had his highest rotation as sleeping at C2 and tagging C3, which I had already done. David Goettler did his highest rotation as sleeping at C3 and tagging C4 once. Rasmus Kragh did more rotations and tagged C4 twice, sleeping at C3 multiple times. It was apparent different schedules worked for different people. Rasmus’s schedule was closest to my K2 schedule and I’d ideally like to tag C4 multiple times, like I had before K2. Crossing a few ladders Unfortunately on April 26 I started feeling sick. I later heard there was a respiratory infection going around basecamp, and most people in basecamp got it. It didn’t help matters that each meal for SST was held in a big 30-person tent that was full, and trekkers were passing in and out each day sharing meals. That was basically a recipe for disaster with most everyone eventually getting sick. I delayed my next rotation a few days, hoping to improve, and the camp doctor said I would probably be ok if I tried going up. So I decided to give it a try. I left camp 11pm April 28 heading up. April 29 I left before midnight to avoid crowds in the icefall, but unfortunately that meant I didn’t get much sleep. I started out the only one in the icefall, but soon groups of sherpas caught up to me and passed. They were all very fast. Climbing back up with a team of sherpas As I got higher I noticed my throat getting drier and eventually I lost my voice. I would try to say namaste to passing sherpas but couldn’t. I was feeling ok, though, so continued up. I made it to camp 1 in 4.5 hours, then to camp 2 two hours later, a bit after sunrise. Matthew and Steven were already there, having arrived the previous day on their first rotation. The SST camp was now set up and a bunch of other climbers were there. I met one other solo no-O2 climber, Roland, in camp and we exchanged ideas on which rotations to do. I then talked to the camp manager and he told me to move my tent to a different location. I was starting to feel crappy then and still could really only whisper to talk. Matthew helped me move my tent and all my gear over to the other spot, then I laid down to rest in the tent. After an hour I went to the big dining tent and hung out with the other climbers. I drank some water but was still feeling bad and it seemed like it was getting a bit harder to breathe, like my throat was getting constricted. Descending back down I had originally planned to move my tent up to camp 3 that afternoon, but that seemed like a bad idea. If I’m ever feeling bad, then moving up will only make things worse. I hung out for another hour and debated just sleeping there that night and seeing if things improved. But I knew I wouldn’t get a good sleep if my breathing was difficult like it was. I suspected the crappiness was related to me being sick, and I decided the best course of action was to descend. That was the only way things would improve, and there was a good chance things would get much worse if I stayed up high or tried to move even higher as intended. I told everyone I intended to descend that afternoon, then the camp manager told me he’d changed his mind and I needed to move my tent back to its original place. I got pretty frustrated since I was already feeling bad and low on energy, but Matthew said he’d make sure some people up there would do it for me. Someone offered I could helicopter down but I didn’t want to pay $3000 for that when I could walk fine on my own. Retreating to Namche to recover But I needed to get moving, so soon headed out by 2:30pm. I made good time to camp 1 and started descending the khumbu solo. By then my throat was getting worse and breathing was getting more difficult, so I tried to move fast. I managed to hack up some junk that cleared my throat a little as I got lower, and drinking lots of water seemed to help a bit. By sunset I made it back to camp, and people were surprised to see me. My voice was gone but I could whisper that I needed to see the doctor. The doctor gave me a shot in the butt and some medication and said that would help me breathe until morning, but then I needed to go down to Namche to recover. The loss of voice and trouble breathing had been caused by my respiratory infection plus going to higher altitude with drier cold air. Indeed the butt shot helped and I was finally able to breathe and talk that evening. April 30-May 2 The next morning I got on a helicopter out of basecamp. I made it to Pheriche but then had to wait for a transfer to a different helicopter. The weather turned bad and I ended up hanging out in a restaurant for a few hours. By late afternoon there was a brief clearing and I quickly got in a helicopter and took off. But it only made it to Phungi Thenga before the clouds closed in. We stopped at a small helipad on the edge of the cliff over the river and waited. We had tea at the trail crossing but then just before sunset the pilot motioned for us to get in. The weather still looked bad to me but he pushed through the clouds and soon emerged at Namche. They dropped me off and continued down to Lukla. I quickly walked down the trail in the waning light and found a room in the Mountain View hotel for the night. I stayed in town the next few days coughing a lot in my room. I took time to go down to the medical clinic the next day and the doctor gave me a bunch of medicine for the respiratory infection. He said I would have it for 7-10 days and a lot of people were getting it in the region. But the good news was I’d be immune to that particular strain once I got over it. May 3-4 It had been seven days since I’d started being sick and I was finally starting to cough less. I’d by then finished all the medicine the doctor in Namche had given me. The BC doctor had recommended three days in Namche and it had been three days. So I decided to fly back up. The hotel owner arranged a helicopter and I went out to the pad with him to wait. The best he could do that day was get me on a helicopter scheduled to go pick up some tourists from Kala Pattar. That was close enough and a little cheaper than a flight to BC so I agreed. I soon got on and we made a very rapid trip up the valley to land on the slope of Kala Pattar. It’s amazing how fast those helicopters are. I jumped out and a bunch of trekkers jumped in. I quickly hiked down the trail and made it back up to basecamp. I rested the rest of that day and the next, but unfortunately I was still coughing up a lot of junk at night and wasn’t yet feeling 100%. Based on the forecast there was a potential weather window starting May 10 and I really really wanted to be feeling 100% for that. I consulted with the doctor and decided to go down to Pheriche to rest a few more days. I could hike there and back so didn’t need to pay for the expensive helicopter. I was getting a bit nervous about summitting, though. With all the time lost being sick it was unlikely I’d be able to get two rotations to 8000m before summit push. I considered just going with oxygen and not needing any more rotations, and asked about the price. I could pay $3500 to have four oxygen cannisters deposited for me at camp 4, though I’d be on my own carrying them all up above camp 4 and operating them. Each weighs 10 lbs so it’s not a trivial weight for each. Supposedly I’d use one to sleep at camp 4 and have to carry up the other three for summit push. I got a lesson in how to operate the regulator, but that made me really nervous. If that regulator broke higher up and I didn’t have a spare and wasn’t acclimated I’d be pretty screwed. I’ve had multiple friends tell me about their regulators breaking on Everest in years past. The only safe way to use oxygen, in my opinion, is to go with a sherpa who is an expert at fixing mechanical issues with the regulator and brings a spare regulator. That would add $9000 to the price, so $12,500 total. I also wanted to give myself a possible chance of summitting Kangchenjunga after Everest. I talked to some sherpas and they said if I could summit Everest by around May 20 I’d probably still have time for Kangchenjunga before the monsoon came. Apparently the Kangchenjunga season lasts a little bit longer than the Everest season since it’s shorter and in a different location. It looked like there would be a summit window from around May 11 for at least a week or two on Everest this year. The sherpas said one rotation tagging 8000m should be sufficient to climb without oxygen in their experience (maybe that means sherpas can do that but not necessarily other climbers). I figured if I could tag 8000m at the beginning of the window, then rest down low, I could maybe summit at the end of the window and still have time for Kangchenjunga. More recovering in Pheriche It seemed feasible enough that it was worth going for and saving the $12,500 that I couldn’t afford anyways. So that was my plan. Attempt Everest without O2 still with the minimum acclimation that might possibly work, and still give myself a potential shot at Kangchenjunga. May 5 -6 After breakfast I packed up a few items in my small day pack and started out. It was a relatively easy hike down past Lobuche and Thukla and after four hours I made it to Pheriche. I decided to stay at the Pheriche Resort, since that’s where I’d hung out waiting for the helicopter. I spent the next day completely resting in town, having some good meals at the local bakery. Finally it had been over ten days since my respiratory infection started and I at last felt like I was over it. I was getting good nights sleeps with no coughing and feeling normal. May 7-8 I left town after breakfast and started slowly hiking back up. The doctor advised hiking up slowly would be better for acclimtion than helicoptering back up quickly. After five hours I got back to camp and was still feeling good. I was nervous about getting sick again, though. One climber announced during dinner time that he’d heard a lot of people around basecamp were getting sick and having to leave. Some teams had people with COVID. Others were quarantining sick members away from healthy members (SST was not). This made me eager to minimize time in the dining tent and get up the mountain as soon as possible. The forecast was for a potential weather window with low wind starting May 11. So I decided after one rest day at BC I’d head up. I’d wait out bad weather in camp 2 and continue up whenever it improved. This would get me out of basecamp as soon as possible and minimize chances of getting sick again. I preferred the risks of the mountain over the risks of basecamp. May 9 This would likely be my last rotation and I wanted to sleep at camp 3 and tag camp 4. I left camp at 2am and encountered a mostly empty khumbu icefall as usual. I made good time again, reaching camp 1 in 4.5 hours and camp 2 two hours later. By then it was extremely windy. I dropped my gear in the cook tent and went out to scout out my tent. Unfortunately the sherpas had done a very poor job moving it after I’d left. The vestibule wasn’t even staked out, and was instead limp in the front and frozen under a bunch of ice. I couldn’t even unzip it. The main tent was only partly staked out and the poles were poking out the corners. It was in tough shape. Reading a lot of books to kill time in camp 2 I didn’t want to work on it in the wind and in the frozen state since that would just make it worse. Luckily the camp manager saw my predicament and I think he realized it wasn’t really my fault. The camp was basically empty since all the climbers had gone down in the bad weather, so he offered I could stay in one of the vacant tents until the weathe improved and I could fix mine. So I threw my gear in a big Kailas tent, which was actually more comfortable than mine anyways. The manager very generously offered me some breakfast in the dining tent, even though I had only paid for basecamp services. I met Roland up there, and he was heading down to wait for better weather. I also met a German guy going for Lhotse and he was also heading down. Soon I was the only climber up there in the SST camp, and probably one of the few in any camps. That sounded like an excellent way to avoid getting sick! Interestingly, the camp manager said sherpas had been ferrying loads of oxygen to south col the past few days, even with all the wind. Unfortunately quite a few had gotten frostbite on their fingers, and some had gotten frostbite on their eyes from going without goggles at night! I saw a few sherpas being short roped back down, presumably with bad vision after the ordeal. The storm finally clearing at camp 2 May 10-11 I spent the next two days up in camp 2 riding out extreme wind that destroyed quite a few tents. Luckily my Kailas tent remained unscathed. I hoped spending so many nights at 6500m would help with acclimation. Indeed, the health stats on my watch (HRV, respiration, pulse ox, heart rate) all improved over those days. Eventually the wind died down enough that I went over to take my tent down. I brought it in the Kailas tent and used most of my gorilla tape to repair it. Later in the day Sajid from Pakistan made it up to camp 2 and he was planning to go for the summit the next window. He had already acclimated by climbing Annapurna in April so was a bit ahead of me. We agreed to move up to camp 3 together. Dr Jon also came up on an acclimation rotation and we hung out in the dining tent a while. May 12 Heading up the Lhotse face With my tent repaired I packed up and headed up at 7am. I had overnight gear for one night and my pack was pretty heavy. I slowly made progress up towards camp 3 and by this time there were excellent steps kicked out of the ice from some many climbers doing their rotation to tag camp 3. I noticed a lot of sherpas above camp 3 that morning and I think they were ferrying loads of oxygen to south col in preparation for summit pushes. Unfortunately some of them were also kicking rocks down from the geneva spur section. This was extremely dangerous. Rocks would come whizzing down like bullets and we’d yell to climbers below to watch out. There were a few sherpas behind me that were obviously faster than I was. I offered to let them pass but they never wanted to. It was clear they wanted to be below me in case rocks fell they would hit me instead of them. In Camp 3 with Sajid I did notice later in the afternoon one sherpa got hit in the arm and had to be helicoptered out unfortunately. After four hours I finally reached camp 3 and stopped for a rest on a small platform. Sajid soon caught up and sat next to me to rest. We hung out for an hour, then started trying to plan where we would dig platforms for our tents. There were a lot of sherpas from different companies already digging platforms, and we didn’t want to mess up their plans by digging one in the wrong spot. We asked the SST sherpas where we were allowed to make platforms, and they said there would actually be a bunch of empty SST tents there that night and we should just sleep in one of those. That was great news! We gladly accepted and threw our gear in a tent. It wasn’t super level but we made it work. We melted a bunch of snow and Sajid graciously gave me some lentil soup for dinner. His plan was to move to camp 4 the next night and summit on May 14, assuming the rope fixers finished the summit ropes on the 13th as planned. Sherpas digging platforms at camp 3 He offered for me to join, but I didn’t think I had enough rotations yet. I know one friend who summitted with no O2 after just touching camp 3, but I thought that was too risky for me. I at least wanted to touch 8000m and do a russian rest before going for summit push without O2. May 13 The next morning I stashed my overnight gear in my pack and went up light with just my down suit at 7am. I clipped one nalgene in an insulator to my harness and stored another in a pocket, then stuffed another pocket with snacks. That would be sufficient to just go up, tag south col, and return. The route was steep right out of camp, but then eased up a bit. There were good steps kicked in the ice, likely from all the sherpas carrying oxygen to south col. I don’t think there were too many non-sherpa climbers that had made it above camp 3 by that point. Approaching the yellow band I passed a lot of sherpas coming down after dropping off loads, but I was one of the few climbers going up. I did pass one climber on oxygen going really slow, and I think he was moving to camp 4 to get ready for a summit push. The route eventually cut left and I scrambled up the yellow band. Above that I caught up to another climber in just a down suit, and it turned out to be Szilard, also from SST. Like me he was also planning to climb solo with no O2 and no sherpa. He was doing the same rotations as I was and was also planning to tag south col that day before returning to basecamp. I told him I’d wait for him at the col. Looking down the geneva spur I continued on ahead a bit faster and made good time up to Lhotse Camp, which was still just the remains of last year’s abandoned tents. I then cut across a rock band and was very careful not to dislodge any rocks. The route traversed around and eventually went steeply up to the edge of the Geneva Spur at 7800m. After cresting the spur the route turned to complete rock and I took off my crampons. I traversed easy ledges until eventually reaching the south col proper at around 7950m by 12:30pm. There I got a great view of the upper route and even saw the rope fixing team descending from the south summit. It appeared they had indeed fixed the ropes to the summit that day. In the col were lots of remains of old tents, and just three tents set up by seven summits club. I noticed a few pyramids of oxygen cannisters, and that’s where all the loads had been dropped off. Though, interestingly, along the way nearly every anchor for the ropes had a bundle of oxygen cylinders tied to it also. This made passing the anchors quite difficult while staying clipped to the rope, and was pretty annoying. I think this means the sherpa ferrying those cylinders couldn’t quite make it to south col as intended so just tied them off as high as they got. Camp 4 with summit in the background I spent about 10 minutes taking pictures at south col but then headed back. I usually like to minimize the time I spend at a new high elevation since the longer I spend there the more likely I am to get altitude sickness. I made good time back to the Geneva Spur and then met Szilard there. He was taking a break and I think he was calling that good as his high point for the day. It was about the same elevation as south col anyways. We each took pictures of each other with Everest in the background and then descended down. On the way we passed a group of ten oxygen climbers on their way up, and they planned to camp at south col that night and summit the next day. Sajid was in the group going without oxygen and I wished him good luck. At the Geneva Spur with the summit in the background (photo by Szilard) I soon made it back to camp 3, packed up my bag, and continued down. By then camp 3 was extremely crowded with new climbers coming up. I think it was going to be a big summit push for May 15 and I was happy to not be a part of that. When going without oxygen it’s very bad to be stuck in a line up high since it’s much easier for fingers and toes to get cold if you’re not moving and thus much easier to get frostbite. (This is not a problem is you’re breathing supplemental oxygen since that warms your body significantly). My big goal for the whole trip was to be out of phase with the crowds, and I had so far achieved that. It looked a little weird for me to be the only person going down with a fully loaded pack and everyone else going up. A few sherpas asked me about this and I told them I had just done my last rotation for going without oxygen, and then they understood. I made good time rapping back down, and made it to camp 2 just before dinner time. By then more SST climbers were in the cook tent and I stopped to have dinner with them. I poured hot water in my mountain house, but then the sherpas offered me a hot dinner of dahl bat. I told them I had only paid for BC services but they insisted so I of course agreed. Killian Jornet was there and he was planning to also tag camp 4 the next day for his last rotation before descending. A few SST climbers were heading up to camp 3 on their summit push the next day. Looking back down towards the yellow band I wanted to get low as soon as possible to start resting up for summit push. So after dinner I continued back down solo in the dark. As usual I had the entire Khumbu icefall to myself, and I made it to basecamp a bit before midnight. May 14-17 The next morning after breakfast I packed a small day pack and hiked the four hours down to Pheriche. I’d read that most no-O2 climbers prefer to rest down there before summit push since it is low enough for the body to recover better. This time I stayed at the Edelweise Hotel, which appeared to be the nicest hotel in town and also the only one that accepted credit cards. This was important since I was starting to run low on cash. I also wanted to make myself as well-rested as possible before summit push. Descending one of the sketchier ladders I spent the next three days relaxing at the hotel and eating at the bakery across the street (that also accepts credit cards). Killian and his friends also stayed at that hotel, and we exchanged information from each of our weather forecasts. I was paying Chris Tomer to give me custom forecasts daily and Killian had a french meteorologist giving him forecasts. They seemed to agree that May 21 was a good summit day. May 18 I debated helicoptering back up to basecamp to save energy, but then considered that the doctor had advised hiking up slowly for better acclimation. So I ended up hiking back up to basecamp over five hours. People had been summitting every day starting May 14, and Sajid had already been the first to summit with no O2. Darren had summitted May 17. I was eager to get on the bandwaggon and reach the summit also before the window closed. Hiking back up from Pheriche Chris forecast the last summit window days would likely be May 23-24, and I’d read some big teams like Madison were targeting those days. Chris said May 20 and 22 were bad but 21 was good for summitting. It sounded to me like very few big teams would go for the 21 since it was between two bad days. Thus I planned to target May 21 to potentially avoid crowds. If the weather was a little bit windier but there were no lines to get stuck in that would likely still be safer for me going without O2 since I could keep moving. It’s an unfortunate reality that one of the main difficulties of climbing everest is dealing with other climbers, whether it be avoiding getting sick or avoiding getting stuck in lines. My schedule would thus be to move to camp 2 May 19, camp 4 May 20, and summit May 21. I usually skip camps like this on summit push on 8000m peaks, and this was consistent with what other no-O2 climbers had done. Though the more conventional guided schedule is to hit every camp and even take a rest day at camp 2 on summit push. One advantage of skipping camps is in theory I would only need to know a good weather window three days in advance instead of five or six days in advance. May 19 Moving up to Camp 3 That morning Matthew would make his summit push, though unfortunately he encountered very high winds when he reached the Hilary Step before sunrise and would have to retreat around 8800m, just shy of the summit. I left camp at 3am and soon caught up to a group of other SST climbers, including Steven. They were targeting May 23/24 for summitting on a conventional schedule. I managed to pass most of the climbers, tailgating behind some fast sherpas, and made it to camp 1 after four hours. Even getting stuck in traffic jams this was my fastest time yet, and I hoped this meant my rest down in Pheriche had been helpful. I soon reached camp 2 1.5 hours later and the manager let me stay in an empty tent. Darren was on his way down after a successfull summit, and Matthew soon came down describing his trouble with the high wind at the Hilary Step. Chris gave me the updated forecast and it no longer seemed like a slam dunk for the 21. The 22 sounded bad but the 23 and 24 sounded ok. The problem with those days was there would be crowds, and that would definitely be too late of a summit to give me a chance for Kangchenjunga. The 21st sounded almost as good as the 23 and 24 so I decided to go for it. Windy camp 4 May 20 I left camp 2 at 6am going light with just food, stove, and warm layers. Dorche said there would be empty SST tents at camp 4 that night and I could stay in one. That was another advantage of going for the 21 to summit – I didn’t have to carry a tent up. I just planned to rest a few hours then start up in the evening, so decided to save weight and not bring a sleeping bag. I made it up to camp 3 in three hours, again beating my previous times and giving me hope that I was well-acclimated. I stopped for a rest and saw my friend Paul heading up. He would be going for Lhotse without O2. I soon headed up also and made good time up the slope. It was a little windy but that was true to the forecast. I even passed some oxygen climbers, which also gave me confidence I was well-acclimated. The route wasn’t very crowded and I hoped that not too many groups would be going for the summit the next day. I knew no SST groups were targeting the 21, but I had heard a few other teams were, so I wasn’t the only one thinking the weather would be doable. I made it through the yellow band and then up to Lhotse camp 4. On the way I passed one no-O2 climber with a sherpa moving slowly, but I’m not sure which peak they were going for. I was moving a little slower there than the previous time, but that was likely since I had a pack that time and not the previous time. I caught up to a pair of elite expedition oxygen climbers and kept up with them most of the rest of the way. I eventually traversed over to the Geneva Spur then climbed up to and over the crest. By 3pm I rolled in to camp 4, taking seven hours from camp 3. This was an hour slower than before, likely because I was carrying a pack. It was extremely windy in South Col and I was happy to have a tent waiting for me. In fact, there were about eight SST tents and I chose one that appeared to have nothing wrong with it – no rips, no snow inside, good condition. I threw my gear inside and was happy to get out of the wind. I soon got my stove out and melted some snow, then cooked up some dinner of ramen noodles. That’s one meal I’m certain I can eat at altitutde even if not acclimated, since it tastes so good. I had brought a few very light items to help me stay warm – my inflatable pad and my vapor barrier liner for my sleeping bag. I inflated the pad then crawled in the liner and tried to relax. Chris said the wind would start dying around 8pm and I hoped it would eventually get low enough that I could start up. The general strategy for oxygen climbers is to leave camp 4 around 7:30pm and hope to summit around sunrise at 4:30am. A nine hour summit push is pretty standard. This allows most of the climb to be at night when winds are generally lowest, and gives enough time to descend back to camp 2 before dark. However, the schedule needs to be a bit different for no-O2 climbing. The problem I’ve found is before sunrise above 8000m my fingers and toes get cold very easily when going without O2. I have to be very diligent to stop frequently to rewarm them. This is much harder for the feet than for the hands. Sunset at camp 4 I’ve tried to modify my setup to improve the situation over what I had on K2. For my feet now in addition to Olympus mons boots I brought overboots and electrically-heated socks. For my hands I had trigger finger electrically heated liners and an extra pair of overmitts to go over. I’d tested this setup in the winter in washington and it seemed to work. But I still wanted to maximize time in the daylight when I don’t have a problem with my fingers and toes. So, instead of targetting summitting at sunrise I would target summitting at noon and getting back a bit before sunset. Then descending from camp 4 in the dark would be ok since it’s below 8000m by then. I’d read other no-O2 climbers generally take around 12 hours to summit. So I would start at midnight, summit around noon, and be back by sunset hopefully to camp 4. Sajid had said he started at 1:30am and summitted at 1:30pm, then was back by sunset. However, the forecast was for the wind to pick up by mid afternoon on May 21 and I wanted to beat that. So I would hopefully just have a few hours in the dark and most of the time in the daylight. I put on all my layers, crawled in my liner, and tried to take a nap after sunset. Though, I couldn’t actually fall asleep. Aside from nervous anticipation, the air was too thin. My breathing rate would drop and I would just about fall asleep, but then it would drop too low and I would jolt up momentarily gasping. I tried this for a few hours but then gave up. The highest I’ve actually legitimately slept before was at about 7600m at camp 4 on K2 where I managed to take a 2-hour nap before summit push. But I was now at about 8000m, which was too high, and I was less acclimated than on K2. I think the only way to sleep at that elevation is to breathe supplemental oxygen. May 21 Eventually midnight rolled around but it was still very windy. I had seen a few oxygen groups leave earlier moving up, and I saw their lights high on the route. But they could tolerate colder windier conditions using oxygen since that makes the body much warmer. I needed low wind. I said I could at latest leave at 1:30am like Sajid had but after that it was too late. I waited until 12:30am and poked my head outside again. It was still super windy and by now one of the groups had bailed and was returning to camp. If it was too windy for them it was definitely too windy for me. I was worried if I made it up a few hundred meters and bailed then I’d expend too much energy to give it another shot, since moving up high without O2 takes so much energy. I texted Chris and he said the models showed the wind should be dropping, but it wasn’t. By 1am another group bailed and by 1:30am the last group I’d seen also bailed. It appeared the forecasts were wrong that day. By then time was getting too tight to squeeze in a summit before the afternoon winds picked up. I really don’t like rushing to beat a storm in the mountains. It can end up bad if the storm comes in early, which often seems to happen. Trying to stay warm with my legs in my pack So I reluctantly gave up for that day. This was unfortunate since I hadn’t really come prepared to sleep at camp 4, and indeed spending a lot of time at camp 4 at 8000m was not super beneficial without oxygen. There’s a reason they call it the “Death Zone.” I bundled back up in my liner and laid back down. It was pretty cold for the next few hours and I got through it with forced shivering and situps. I occasionally ate some snacks since sugar also helps me keep warm. Finally the sun came up around 5am and things started to warm up. I ate some more bars then walked around outside. I talked to some sherpas and they said it was too windy last night, though a few sherpas had continued up. I think they might have been depositing oxygen bottles at the balcony and not going completely to the summit. As the sun got higher the tent warmed up a bit from the greenhouse effect and I tried again to sleep. This time I took off my boots and just kept my liners own. I then crawled in the vapor barrier liner and stuck my legs inside my pack, pulling it up to my chest. This setup was actually warm enough that I could theoretically fall asleep. I tried again, but annoyingly could never completely fall asleep because I would always wake up when my breathing rate got too low. I eventually ran out of snow to make water so took a bag outside and harvested some nearby freshly-drifted snow that looked clean. Of course, just after I finished a climber walked over and pooped right there in the snow. There are plenty of snow-free places around camp 4 so it’s pretty inconsiderate to go to the bathroom in one of the few places people can harvest snow for drinking water. Luckily I had harvested enough for the rest of the day. Hanging out in camp 4 I spent the rest of the day melting snow, eating, and trying unsuccessfully to sleep. I texted with Matthew and he suggested descending to camp 3 and then climbing back up to climb with Steven. But that would take way too much energy and I’d probably have to bail on the summit bid. Chris said now the 22nd looked like acceptable weather. He double-checked with another of the top everest meteorologists and they concurred. Also, I knew one SST team was planning to go for the summit that day. So I figured if I stayed at camp 4 into the evening I could get one more shot at summitting. That would be my very last chance. The forecast for the 22 was decreasing wind throughout the day into the evening, which I liked. There would be no race to beat the weather. A few more teams arrived that evening, but the SST team was ok with me staying in that tent. I wanted to stick with my same plan of starting at midnight to minimize time in the dark and cold. May 22 I shivered in the tent until 11:30pm, watching a few other teams start up. Then I started packing up. I considered going up with just my down suit, but my nalgene clipped outside on my harness would likely freeze too easily. And two nalgenes in my down suit was too much. So I brought my pack and put inside it my extra nalgene and a spare pair of mittens. I stuffed snacks and a primary nalgene in my pockets. Then I turned on tracking on my inreach and put that in my pack. I switched on the batteries in my socks to the lowest setting and hoped this would last five hours until sunrise. By midnight the wind had calmed as predicted and I headed out. I saw a string of lights up the route all the way to the balcony. As expected I was the last one up. I followed fresh tracks through the snow and soon located the red rope at the bottom of the route. There happened to be a frozen dead body right there, and I’m not sure if it was from this year or a previous year. I clipped on and started up. The bottom section was icy but there were snowed-over tracks kicked in the ice and progress was no problem. Sunrise below the balcony I soon crested the first hill and the terrain leveled out. I started catching up to a group ahead of me, and then got passed by a sherpa from behind. He caught up to the group ahead and then five climbers turned back around. I asked and they said “no problem,” so I’m not exactly sure what happened there. By then the terrain started to get steep again and my fingers started getting cold. I switched on the battery packs and tried putting my overmitts over top. But it was too annoying to deal with the ascender and the overmitts. So I ended up pushing the ascender up then pulling up on the rope to avoid touching the metal. I’d wrapped the ascender in duct tape to make the metal less cold, but it was still cold. In the end I had to stop every ten minutes and ball up my hands to skin-on-skin inside my mittens to warm them up. Luckily my feet were doing fine inside the overboots with the battery packs going. I made steady progress this way, though slowed down a lot by warming my fingers. I was breathing fine, though. A few more sherpas came down, and I suspect they had dropped more oxygen at the Balcony. Everyone but me was breathing supplemental oxygen. As I got higher one client and sherpa came down, and I suspect they had bailed on a summit bid. The client warned me I was still very far from the balcony and I wouldn’t summit until the afternoon. That was basically my plan anyways, so I’m not sure why he was telling me that. I’m also not sure why he thought he could estimate my speed. I was still feeling fine and told him thanks. Eventually a group of seven oxygen climbers caught up to me and passed, and then I got in line behind them. It was kind of nice to have them breaking trail, since the descending climbers had all destroyed the up track. In general I kept up pace with that group, though was slowed down every ten minutes to warm my hands and they sort of pulled ahead. The team of seven passing me below the balcony By 5am the sun started popping out, but by then my sock batteries had worn out and my feet started going numb. It’s unfortunately much harder to warm up toes than fingers, but I knew I had to try to avoid frostbite. I’d previously gotten frostbite on my fingers on Peak Pobeda in Kyrgyzstan and didn’t want to repeat the experience. For my feet I would kick them out for a few minutes, then shake them back and forth, and this usually momentarily helped. Luckily the sun eventually got higher and I gradually had less and less trouble with my toes, until I stopped worrying about them at all. Up higher I had to scramble through some rock sections, and I got through one section where the fixed ropes had been cut. Then I reached a final long slope below the obvious balcony. I was slowing down by then but still making good progress up the tracks from the previous team. But then a group of sherpas came down and destroyed the up tracks. That was demoralizing, though one of them was nice and gave me a fist bump. Progress got much more difficult when I had to kick my own steps up, but by around 8am I at last reached the balcony and stopped for a break. I took a swig of my tang water from my pack and forced down part of a cliff bar. I was surprised I was able to hold the food down this time, since I usually have trouble eating above 8000m. That’s why I brought the tang. I can actually injest calories if I drink them. There were a few oxygen canisters laying around and I could see the seven-person team making slow progress above me. I could clearly make out the South Summit above and it didn’t look too far away. If I could just get there it seemed the true summit would be close. I was starting to slow down, but this was consistent with how I had felt on K2 at 8400m, which was the elevation of the balcony. There was still plenty of daylight left and conditions were breezy but manageable. I slowly started up the ridge from the balcony making steady progress. A few sherpas came down, and I steadily started catching up to the seven person team. By about 8am I reached a level part of the ridge at 8500m just before it started climbing steeply up to the south summit. The big team seemed to be taking a break and a few more climbers came down. I wasn’t sure if they’d bailed or just summitted very early. By then I had slowed down a lot more and stopped to try to eat part of a cliff bar. I drank some water and then continued. But something felt off. My balance didn’t seem quite right and I felt much slower than before. I knelt down again, forced some more food down, and tried again. But I again had trouble balancing even on the flat terrain. This was very troubling, and hadn’t happened to me on K2 at that elevation. This wasn’t just a symptom of fatigue. It seemed like a symptom of HACE (high altitude cerebral edema). Looking up from the balcony to my highpoint near the south summit in the background I recalled my friend Ben had tried to climb K2 without oxygen and had collapsed around 8400m and only made it down because a sherpa had given him his own oxygen. I didn’t want to get to that stage, and I already knew there was a chance I hadn’t done enough rotations to be fully acclimated. Rather than wait until symptoms got worse I decided to bail. If something happened to me up there when I was solo I knew most likely nobody would help me and I’d be totally on my own. So if things weren’t going perfectly I basically needed to bail. And it seems the only way to get a no-O2 ascent of a peak this high is for everything to be going absolutely perfectly. By that time I had already spent 40 continuous hours above 8000m without O2 and had pulled two consectuive all-nighters up there. It’s not clear to me if this contributed to the HACE, or if it was purely since I hadn’t done enough rotations. But the sleep deprivation and extended time in the death zone certainly didn’t help matters. I quickly took a dexamethasone tablet out of my chest pocket, swallowed it, and descended. Dex is the medication of choice to treat HACE. I stumbled a bit going down but took my time and eventually got to the balcony where a group of climbers was taking a break. For some reason right then my breathing got more labored and I started breathing quickly and forcefully. That was definitely a bad sign, and I was happy that hadn’t happened higher up. I popped in another dex tab, then quickly started rappelling. The safest course of action was to get down as quickly as possible. Luckily for me the next section was steep. I quickly rapped down 100m and symptoms started gradually improving. I finally got my breathing back under control. I carefully downclimbed the section with the cut rope, then continued rappelling. The sherpas and clients caught up to me and we took turns rappelling, eventually making it to the flat section at 8100m. Then I slowly arm wrap descended back to camp 4 and staggered back to my tent by early afternoon. By then camp 4 was very crowded with climbers coming up for the May 23 push. That was the crowd I had successfully avoided, though I hadn’t made the summit. I found some sherpas had taken my liner and gear out of the tent, and somebody had stolen my stove! They would have had to untie my liner, sift through all the gear inside, and consciously steal the stove from my stuff. It definitely wasn’t a casual mistake. But that meant I couldn’t melt snow for water. Matthew had paid to have a sherpa carry his spare sleeping bag up so I could use it to sleep that night if needed, and it had supposedly arrived that morning. I asked around but the sherpas told me there was no sleeping bag for me. They also said there was no available tent space and I needed to descend. I was worn out and really wanted to sleep there, but I knew it was not possible for me to fall asleep at 8000m without supplementary oxygen, and it would be bad to pull a third consecutive all-nighter. So going down seemed like the only option. But I didn’t have water left and couldn’t make any since my stove got stolen. I finally convinced one sherpa to give me a half liter of water to get me down. Then I packed up my remaining unstolen items and started down slowly. Many climbers were still trickling up, and I anticipated a lot of traffic jams the next day. I met Dorche coming up and told him what happened. He said there was a tent with sleeping bag and stove available for me at camp 3 and I should sleep there. That sounded great and I told him that was my plan. I had to wait for some traffic jams to clear but eventually rapped off the geneva spur and arm wrapped down farther. It started snowing below the Lhotse camp 4 and that wiped out most of the tracks. I rapped down the yellow band, and by then the fixed lines were covered in new snow and the route invisible. I was able to rap down some sections and arm wrap descend others, and eventually reached camp 3 shortly after sunset. An SST sherpa caught up to me then and showed me the SST tents. He said I should just knock on tents until I found an empty one, then he went on to descend to basecamp. Of ten tents only the very last one was unoccupied. But it didn’t have any sleeping bag or stove, just an empty tent. Apparently somebody had taken the sleeping bag and stove Dorche had told me about. I guess I wasn’t too surprised at that point. I took a break and considered my options. I ate a snack, took a last swig of water, and rested a bit. If I stayed there I would have no water and would basically have to pull another all nighter since I probably wouldn’t get any sleep without a sleeping bag. A third consecutive all-nighter did not sound appealing. I was a little concerned that the fresh snow had covered the tracks below Camp 3. That section didn’t have ropes or wands but wound through crevasses. That sounded dangerous with no tracks to follow going solo. However, the other sherpa had already headed down and I presumed I could follow his tracks. And there would likely be other sherpas coming up since it was still a super popular time on the mountain. So I decided to head down. If I could make it to camp 2 I could reach my stashed sleeping bag there and there would likely be leftover water in the dining tent of SST. I soon rapped down and made quick progress. I saw two climbers coming up and the one sherpa going down and was confident I could follow tracks back to camp. When I reached the bergschrund I noticed a headlamp up on the west ridge of Everest making its way down. That had to be Killian, and it appeared he had delayed his summit push a bit like I had but was now retreating. When I got lower another climber caught up to me and it was Bertrand, who was planning to film Killian from camp 4 and down. He said Killian had gotten caught in an avalanche in the Hornbein Couloir and was retreating, unfortunately. Bertrand was much faster than me and cruised down to camp 2 quickly. I eventually caught up, reaching camp around midnight for a 24-hour day. Killian arrived shortly after and we all split the small amount of remaining water in the dining tent. I munched on my few remaining bars and then we all found empty tents to crash in for a few hours until sunrise. I guess it was a little comforting to know I wasn’t the only one to not complete my objective that day. I sent an inreach message saying I was ok, and realized that the inreach had been off. Apparently it got too cold after about an hour of being in my backpack on my ascent and hadn’t sent any signals all day. In the future I now know to store it in an inside pocket of my clothes so it will stay on. May 23 The next morning we all packed up our gear and headed down. My pack we enormous but everything just barely fit. I was a little slower than usual but managed to make it down to basecamp by mid afternoon. I heard Steven and sherpa Nima made the summit around 3am that morning and descended back down to camp 2. Basecamp was already getting dismantled since the season would be over in a few days. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to give Everest another shot, even with oxygen. The last summit day would be the 25th, in two days, and then the ladders would all get removed from the khumbu icefall and the mountain would effectively close down. The window is really only at most a bit more than a week, so there’s really only time for one summit attempt. I packed up all my gear and went to bed early, exhausted from two consecutive all-nighters followed by a night with only a few hours nap. May 24 Hiking out from basecamp The next morning Matthew took an early helicopter back to Kathmandu and I was the only one left in camp eating breakfast. At that point I figured the season for Kangchenjunga was probably also over, and I was too worn out to think about trying it anyways. The helicopter flight to Kathmandu was $1000, but hiking out to Lukla and taking a fixed wing flight from there would be free since I’d already paid for that cheap flight. I was exhausted but really did not want to lose another thousand dollars. I figured if someone told me they’d pay me a thousand dollars to do the everest basecamp trek out in two days I’d gladly accept. So I decided to tough it out and hike out to save the money. Then I’d see if I could get some portion of my Kangchenjunga payment refunded (unlikely) and just fly home. I packed up all my bags and they got sent to Kathmandu on helicopter (this had already been paid for in advance). Then after breakfast I packed up a small day pack and headed down. I made it to Pheriche for lunch at the bakery, then continued all the way to Namche by sunset for a 22-mile day. The small up sections were exhausting and I clearly hadn’t yet recovered yet from my summit push. But I powered through and made it to the Panorama View hotel. Hiking out below Tengboche May 25 The next day I hiked down to Phakding for lunch and decided to check the weather. It actually looked like sunny skies and low wind on Kangchenjunga for the end of May and beginning of June. It looked like very summittable weather, surprisingly. I texted Chris to see what he said about the forecast. Then I messaged Dawa from SST on whatsapp to ask if I was still able to try for Kangchenjunga. I started thinking it would be a shame to be in Nepal, at the right time of year, with a summittable weather forecast, fully acclimated, with permits already purchased and logistics arranged, to go ahead and bail on Kangchenjunga. Sure, I was still exhausted from Everest, but maybe after a few days rest I could go for it. I remembered reading that Grace Tseng, a mountaineer with Elite Expeditions, was planning to climb Kangchenjunga after Everest. So maybe there would still even be other people there to help break trail even very late in the season. If I could get Kangchenjunga that would still make the whole trip a success. Some people spend two months and just get that peak. Back to Namche I continued hiking and made it to Lukla by noon and messaged Thanes to see if I could get on a flight. But by then the weather was socked in and it was raining. I would need to wait until the next morning to try to fly out. I found a room at “The Nest” hotel, with a view of the airport just in case planes started coming, and slept there for the night. May 26 The next morning I managed to fly back to Kathmandu and set up a face-to-face meeting with Dawa and Thanes to discuss possible Kangchenjunga logistics. If possible I really wanted to salvage the trip by getting at least one of my two objectives. I knew I would eventually return to try Everest again, and if I could get Kangchenjunga on this trip it would make the next one logistically much simpler to just be going for one mountain. I met in person with Dawa and Thanes from SST shortly after landing. It turned out there were currently two solo no-O2 clients of SST in trouble on Everest and Kangchenjunga and rescue teams were being sent to help. Suhajda Szilard, who I knew from basecamp and some of my rotations, had attempted to climb Everest solo with no O2 two days after me on May 24 but had not made it down. He was last seen laying down below the Hillary Step. SST was scrambling to send a rescue team to find him (the search would end up being unsuccessful and his body is still up there). Also, skier Luis Stitzinger had failed to return from his solo no-O2 summit bid on Kangchenjunga also on May 24. SST was currently organizing another rescue team to look for him (he didn’t survive and his body was later found at 8300m). With this situation unfolding, understandably SST did not want another solo no-O2 client up on one of those mountains. I was told I needed to go with sherpa and supplemental oxygen. I was confident I was acclimated enough to summit without oxygen, but it appeared my options were to either summit with oxygen and personal sherpa or go home and lose all the money I’d already spent on permits and logistics. It would cost another $11k to hire sherpa and oxygen for Kangchenjunga, and I could just barely afford that if I zeroed out my bank account. That would be cheaper than losing all the money I’d already invested and then paying more a future year to come back, so I reluctantly agreed. I would later go on to summit Kangchenjunga in the last window of the season in early June. In retrospect, I’ve thought of some recommendations for a no-O2 ascent of Everest from the Nepal side (I’ve heard it’s illegal from the Tibet side now): 1. Acclimate on a different 8000er first. Maybe Dhaulagiri since it gets climbed in April. Too many factors make acclimating on the Nepal side of Everest difficult. The Khumbu icefall is often closed, the khumbu icefall is very dangerous (I dislocated my shoulder there and three sherpas died there in a serac collapse), winds at and above camp 3 are often too high for rotations there, sickness is basically gauranteed in the crowded basecamp (I lost 2 weeks being sick), and sleeping at 7000m at camp 3 is sketchy/exposed/dangerous. 2. Tag 8000m twice before summit attempt. It's unclear if once is enough for me or not. The only data I have is that before climbing K2 with no O2 I had tagged 8000m twice (on Broad peak). Maybe my acclimation on Everest was sufficient, but spending 40hrs in the death zone with no O2 and pulling two back-to-back all-nighters was just too much for me to then push on to the summit. (I don't think this has been done by too many other climbers, so not much data out there). 3. Minimize time in the death zone. This was my plan, but the weather didn't cooperate. On K2 I was in and out of the death zone in 8 hours and my body did fine. That was the goal on Everest, too, of course. 4. Avoid going solo above south col if possible. Nobody will help you if you get in trouble. Maybe this means highering a sherpa with oxygen to accompany just in case. Or finding a climbing partner to accompany. 5. If possible leave any gear at south col with another climber who is staying there. Otherwise it will likely get stolen. 6. Find a higher-capactiy battery for the lenz heated socks. This setup with the overboots worked well to keep my toes warm, until the batteries ran out. 7. Find a warmer glove setup. This could be a slightly bigger overmitt over the trigger finger mitts, and a higher capacity battery for the lenz heated liners. 8. Use a plastic or better-insulated jumar. The cold metal, even insulated with duct tape, caused my fingers to go numb. Gear Notes: Standard 8000m gear Approach Notes: Flight to Lukla, hike to BC
  11. I can put TRs up for those too if there's interest. I was trying to get everest solo no O2 but had to bail at 8550m after spending 40 hours in the death zone waiting out high winds at south col. I think that contributed to me not being 100% up there.
  12. Trip: Pik Communisma/Ismoil Somoni - Snow Leopards Completion - Borodkin Spur Trip Date: 08/16/2023 Trip Report: Pik Kommunizma/Ismoil Somoni (24,590ft) - Snow Leopards Completion Highest Peak in Tajikistan Aug 14-17, 2023 Eric, Andreas, Ian, Reuben, Paul Aug 14 – climb from basecamp to plateau (5900m) Aug 15 – move to peak dushanbe camp (7000m) Aug 16 – summit (7495m), return to plateau Aug 17 – descend to basecamp On the summit There are five 7000m peaks in the former soviet union and they are collectively known as the snow leopard peaks. Since soviet times mountaineers have worked on the peakbagging objective to climb all five peaks. If you climb all five you are recognized as a snow leopard, which was a great honor in soviet times and is still so today. The names of the peaks have changed over the years but the most commonly used names by mountaineers are Lenin, Khan Tengri, Pobeda, Korzhenevskaya, and Communizma. Pobeda is by far the hardest, even harder than K2, and mountaineers joke that becoming a snow leopard is 60% climbing Pobeda and 10% climbing each other peak. I would agree with this distribution of difficulty. While there are only five peaks on the list, climbing all five is still very difficult. To date around 550 people have completed the list of all five peaks. Note: there are officially around 700 snow leopard mountaineers, but many of these finished during a period in the 1980s during a border dispute with china when Pobeda was removed from the list. Pobeda is by far the hardest peak on the list, so a distinction is made between completers with or without Pobeda. The official up-to-date list of completers is found at http://www.russianclimb.com/snowleopard/table.htm Interestingly, just two other Americans are Snow Leopards, both from Washington State. Will Garner and Randy Starrett II completed the list in 1985, the first westerners to do so (maybe they are on the cascade climbers forum?) The route Three of the snow leopard peaks – Lenin, Khan Tengri, and Pobeda – are on country borders and are generally climbed from Kyrgyzstan, and the other two – korzhenevskaya and kommunisma – are completely within Tajikistan. Andreas and I had previously in 2021 climbed the three snow leopard peaks in Kyrgyzstan – Lenin, Khan Tengri and Pobeda – but had to cancel plans for the remaining two that summer after I got frostbite descending from Pobeda. In 2022 we planned to finish the list and use broad peak in pakistan for acclimation in advance. But at the last minute after climbing broad peak we decided instead to stick around and climb K2. That meant we missed the helicopter into basecamp in Tajikistan. In 2023 we decided to finally finish off our remaining two peaks in Tajikjstan. The standard way to climb Korzhenevskaya and Kommunizma is to helicopter from the town of Jirgital to Moskvina Glade basecamp located at 4300m between the two peaks. However, over the previous few years the helicopters have been very unreliable. A company called Pamir Peaks used to run the basecamp. Generally there are a handful of days in july and august when helicopter shuttles are scheduled to and from basecamp. In 2017 the helicopter schedule was altered at the last minute, though. Rumor has it there was only one helicopter in the country then and the president decided to use it for a personal hunting trip. In 2018 the helicopter crashed in bad weather while transporting climbers out of basecamp, killing several climbers and pilots. Soon after that Pamir Peaks went out of business and a new company Tajik Peaks took over. In 2019 just before the mountaineering season started all helicopter flights were abruptly cancelled for unknown reasons. Some climbers had already flown to Dushanbe, Tajikistan and had to fly back home. In 2020 the mountaineering season was closed due to covid. In 2021 ak sai started taking care of logistics coordinating with Tajik Peaks as a new basecamp building was constructed. Supposedly helicopters would be running every few days to bring in supplies. However, by August only a few trips were scheduled for the whole month. In 2022 the helicopters were more reliable, but near the end of the season several mountaineers got frostbite on communisma and needed evacuated. So the season was cut short by a few weeks and all climbers flown out early. Based on all these data points I reached the conclusion that the helicopter shuttle in 2023 would likely be unreliable. I still wanted to try for the peaks, so decided a backup plan would be to hike in and out of basecamp. That would take about a week each way and likely require hiring porters, but would be possible as a last resort. Other mountaineers have done that to save money over the helicopter shuttle. The schedule for 2023 published by ak sai was four helicopters to moskvina glade basecamp – july 13, 29, aug 8, and aug 26. If all went well both peaks could usually be done in 4 weeks. The most conservative option would be to go in on the first helicopter to maximize time on the peaks. However, I had just gotten back from an expedition to Nepal climbing Everest and kangchenjunga in early june, so wanted a bit more buffer time between expeditions. So the plan was to go in on the july 29 helicopter and out on aug 26. Climbing Bazarduzu, the Azerbaijan highpoint, our first acclimation peak Andreas, Ian and Reuben would join. Paul would fly in on the first helicopter and we’d meet him there. It was important to have a big group to help with trail breaking. I’d heard in some previous years there were no successful summits on communisma in part because of tough trailbreaking conditions. One potential problem with the plan was that moskvina glade basecamp is at an elevation of around 4300m. That is very high to fly to unacclimated and is a bit risky for getting altitude sickness. It would be much safer to pre acclimate first on a lower peak. Andreas noticed that the cheapest way for most of us to fly to Tajikistan was with a connection in Azerbaijan. The country highpoint of Azerbaijan – Bazarduzu – is 4466m. That would be a perfect height to pre acclimate on, plus it would get me a new country highpoint I needed. Loading up gear in Dushanbe Andreas, Ian and I met up in Baku, Azerbaijan on July 24 and did a two day climb of Bazarduzu. We slept at 3000m the first night, then the next day climbed the peak and returned to Baku. The next day we flew to Dushanbe, Tajikistan. There we met representatives from ak sai and paid cash for the helicopter rides and basecamp services (a lot of hundred dollar bills were exchanged in that hotel room). Ak sai has three options of service. The small package includes just the helicopter rides with no basecamp service and you are limited in the amount of gear to bring, paying extra per kg. The optimal and full packages include helicopter and basecamp services like meals each day and a high allowance of gear weight to bring in. Loading up the helicopter in Jirgital Most people choose the full or optimal packages. It’s nice if you are spending a lot of time in basecamp resting or waiting for a weather window to have meals cooked for you. We chose the optimal package which meant we would sleep outside in ak sai tents instead of inside the basecamp building in bunks. Outside would likely be much quieter and we could save some money. Amazingly, the helicopter was flying in as scheduled. We spent one night in Dushanbe then the next evening our team and a dozen other climbers from around the world crammed into a small bus and drove 8 hours through the night to the town of Jirgital. That is the closest major town to the peaks and is the staging area for helicopter shuttles. Loading up the helicopter We started loading our gear onto the helicopter, then all got on. There was a bit of confusion though as the pilots told two climbers to get off since the load was too heavy. There was some debate and eventually the pilots let everyone stay on. The helicopter was huge, probably big enough to drive a car into, and it fit 15 climbers and gear. The flight was amazing over the Pamir mountains, and within 45 minutes we landed at Moskvina glade. Climbers quickly ran over and helped us unload while some people got on to fly out. The helicopter stayed running and soon took off. We then carried our gear inside and checked in with Zlastov, the basecamp manager. Our plan over the next days to acclimate for Kommunizma involved first climbing two intermediate peaks: Chetyrekh (6300m) and Korzhenevskaya (7105m). Attempt on Chetyrekh peak To plan our ascents we had professional meteorologist Chris Tomer sending daily weather forecasts by satellite text to my inreach. Our schedule: July 29 Hike to 4800m on Chetyrekh, return to BC July 30 Carry load to 5100m, return to BC July 31 Hike to 5200m, sleep at 5100m Aug 1 Attempt Chetyrekh, turn around at 5500m when conditions too icy on upper peak. Return to BC Aug 2 Rest at BC Aug 3 Rest at BC Aug 4 Carry load to 6100m on Korzhenevskaya, camp at 5600m Aug 5 Move to 6100m Aug 6 Summit Korzhenevskaya (7105m), return to basecamp On Korzhenevskaya with Communisma in the background (photo by Reuben) After climbing korzhenevskaya we wanted at least three rest days, which is what I typically take between high altitude peaks. I was actually very tired after deep trail breaking on korzhenevskaya, so suspected I might need a few more days. Luckily for us there was a big guided group of 20 people climbing Kommunizma, so there was a good chance the trail would be broken and ropes fixed in key areas. Looking up at Communisma from Moskvina Basecamp The general timeframe for climbing kommunisma is 6-8 days basecamp to basecamp. The route is long, going up and over Grudi peak to a large plateau, then up and over Peak Dushanbe, then finally reaching the summit. The return involves climbing up and over Peak Dushanbe and Grudi Peak again. The problem with such a long timeframe is that a weather forecast more than about 3 days out is not always reliable on big peaks like that. It’s likely you could get up to the plateau but by then the forecast changes and you have to either retreat or ride out the storm. I've heard this is common. Our strategy was to do a faster ascent so we could be likely to summit in a forecasted weather window. With expert meteorologist Chris Tomer giving us daily forecasts we could be quite confident in a window three days out. All other mountaineers were using mountain-forecast.com weather forecasts from the satellite wifi in basecamp, but I’ve found those to not be particularly reliable. Our plan was thus to summit on day three from basecamp when the forecast was still reliable. We would climb to the plateau on day one, then to peak dushanbe on day two, summit day three, then descend day four. Other climbers told us that was ambitious, but it seemed comparable to or easier than other itineraries on other peaks we’d climbed like Pobeda and K2 where we’d come acclimated and skipped camps on the way up. For most of our rest days Kommunizma was completely clear all day, but the main problem was wind. My general cutoff for big peaks is the wind should be less then 25mph on the summit. There was a brief window aug 10/11 but that was too early for us. The big 20 person group summitted in early august and a seven-person russian group summitted Aug 11. Eventually it looked like Aug 16 would be the next window. Paul and Ian decided to head up a day early to spread out the ascent while Andreas, Reuben and I would wait until the last minute to ensure the forecast didn’t change. We told guide Pavel and his client Olga our forecast and they also decided to start a day early and likely summit with us or the next day when winds were supposed to be only slightly higher. It would be nice having so many people up on the mountain to help with trail breaking if needed. Playing lots of ping pong in the old abandoned basecamp during rest days By the night of Aug 13 after Chris’s evening forecast we decided we were good to go. Winds were forecast for 15-20mph in the morning increasing to 20-25mph in the afternoon of aug 16. Temperatures were -7F low and 5F high. That was surprisingly warm, much warmer than we had on korzhenevskaya, and it looked like it would be about the best summit weather we could hope for. We planned to start early the next morning. The normal route up the borodkin spur requires traversing a snow ramp on the lower mountain below some hanging seracs. Empirically we had observed just two large serac releases over the past three weeks and they were each around sunset. This could possibly be because during the day in the sun the ice starts melting, then around sunset it starts refreezing. Water expands when it freezes and if this happens in cracks it could cause ice chunks to become dislodged. This is what some people theorize happened in the 2008 k2 disaster when the hanging glacier above the bottleneck released large seracs. So we definitely didn’t want to cross late in the day. But we’d also observed occasional small releases during the middle of the day. These were probably caused by the sun melting the ice and snow. The best time to cross seemed to be at night or early morning before the sun hit, so that’s what we planned to do. I’ve heard sometimes people climb a direct rock route that avoids the ramp completely. But nobody was doing that this year and that would require us pitching out a lot of rock climbing. I’d heard the rock was very chossy and loose and it was questionable if that route was actually safer. So we decided to take the standard ramp route. Aug 14 We were up at 230 am and ate some boiled eggs, cheese, and meat that the BC staff had left out for us. By 3am we were up and moving. Our packs were filled to the max and mine weighed in at 50lbs. For the first hour we hiked in hiking boots on a good dirt trail to the helipad location, the last flat rocky area where a rescue helicopter could land. Ak sai had left a tent there and we stopped to switch into our big mountaineering boots and stash our lighter shoes in the tent. Approaching the ramp We had timed this so we could have a bit of daylight to cross the lower glacier to the ramp but still cross the ramp before the sun hit the seracs above. The glacier crossing was surprisingly easy. The flags in the rocks and ice had fallen over but we had no problem navigating to the left end of the ramp in the morning twilight. At the base we put on crampons and started up. We decided to go unroped since the glacier was melted down to ice exposing all crevasses and we thought speed up the ramp was critical for safety. Being roped together would slow us down. We wove around a few crevasses down low and generally tried to stay on the right side of the ramp where we would be out of reach of smaller serac releases. We moved quickly over old ice and snow debris and were soon across. We spent around 10 minutes in the danger zone, so not too bad. Hiking the rock portion of the Borodkin Spur On the other side we reached a scree slope with a handful of old fixed lines that seemed unnecessary. We took off crampons then walked up to the crest of the rocky ridge. I think this is where the direct rock variation would have met our ramp route. We followed the ridge up which involved a bit of fun 3rd class scrambling including one short tunnel section. Then we hit a scree trail and a longer steep chossy slope with a fixed line that was helpful. At the top of the rocky slope and the base of the glacier on the borodkin spur we encountered a handful of rocky tent platforms that was the official camp 1 at around 5300m. The upper Borodkin Spur Here we put crampons on and jugged up fixed lines on the icy slopes above. The abalokov anchors were starting to melt out but were still holding. As the slope eased the lines ended and we reached an intermediate camp location where paul, ian, pavel, and Olga had spent the night. It was 8am by then and all four had just recently started up. We caught up to paul and Ian at a steeper section above camp with fixed lines. We continued together up the fixed lines and then encountered a party descending. It was the seven-person “tourist” group. This is what they called themselves, though the English translation I think has a different connotation than in russian. In reality they were way more hardcore than us. They had hiked all the way in from Jirgital, climbed korzhenevskaya and kommunisma, and were planning to finish a big traverse hiking out to another village over 35 days total. The view towards BC and korzhenevskaya I think it’s kind if like ski touring in the US but this is a separate category of mountaineering in russia where passes are categorized by difficulty and the overall traverse is categorized on a 1-6 scale based on overall difficulty. I think their trip was at the upper end of the scale. They said heading up from moskvina the girls carried 28kg packs and the guys 40kg. One guy even carried up a watermelon! Unfortunately one of them had slipped descending from kommunisma and got pretty banged up and frostbitten. So they decided to descend back to moskvina and call a helicopter evacuation. They soon all made it past and we continued up. Around 5800m we passed a flat spot below a serac that serves as another intermediate camp. Above that we jugged up a steep set of fixed lines on a snow slope and caught up to pavel and Olga taking a smoke break. One of the steeper ice steps We continued above them alternating between low angle slopes and slightly steeper slopes with fixed lines and eventually topped out on Grudi Peak, the top of the Borodkin Spur. From there we could see the plateau below us and kommunisma and peak dushanbe on the other side. The plateau was surprisingly large and flat. I’ve heard years ago Russians helicoptered snowmobiles up there and used them for surveying trips. We had to descend about 300m to the plateau, which unfortunately meant we would have to ascend that on the way back. It appeared the tourist group had camped near the summit the previous night. The start of the descent was easy on gentle snow slopes but it soon got steeper and icier. We soon downclimbed facing in but then it turned to steep glacier ice with only a dusting of snow on top. It was exposed and too risky to descend without a rope. Andreas and I waited for Ian and Reuben to catch up with our two 30m ropes. Meanwhile pavel and Olga caught up. Pavel just tied Olga to him on a 5m piece of cord and they started down climbing together. It looked risky to me – if either slipped they’d pull the other down. I guess the strategy is by short roping a client you make them more confident and less likely to slip. Though it seems like a false sense of security to me. Crossing the plateau They made it down ok. Once ian and Reuben caught up I built an ice screw anchor, tied the rope in, then diagonal rappelled down and fixed the other end at another ice anchor. It barely reached the end of the sketchy section and we decided to keep the other 30m rope in case we needed it somewhere else. We would leave that rope fixed for use by other friends coming up and for our own use on our return. We all rapped the line, then hit safer snow and descended to the plateau. We found a nice place to pitch our tents, and soon paul caught up to join us for the night. Aug 15 We had a relatively short day upcoming so slept in till sunrise and then started up. We roped up to cross the plateau then ascended the steep ridge of peak dushanbe. Looking down the ridge on the way to peak dushanbe Progress was slow with our huge packs but luckily it hadn’t snowed in the past week and we could easily follow the descent tracks from the tourist team. The snow was also very well consolidated and we hardly sunk in at all. We climbed steep snow slopes to the base of rocks and found a few tent platforms halfway up around 6400m. This is another typical intermediate camp though we planned to skip it. Eventually by late afternoon we crested peak Dushanbe, officially at 7007m. On the map this just looks like a ridge coming down from kommunisma but from the plateau and from basecamp it is obviously prominent enough to be a separate peak. We soon reached the campsite just below the summit on a large flat bench. Three climbers were there – Dima, Constantine, and their guide (I can’t remember his name). They had started up four days before us and ridden out some nasty wind a few days before successfully reaching the summit that morning. They gave us valuable beta about the route. They had left camp at 3am, summitted 11am, and just returned at 5pm shortly before we had arrived. They would spend another night there before descending. The view of Communisma from Pik Dushanbe camp Andreas and I pitched our tent near there’s and soon Ian, Reuben, and Paul caught up. Pavel and Olga would camp at the intermediate camp below and summit the day after us. Based on Constantine’s advice we decided to start in the daylight to make navigation easier. It was only a 500m ascent to the summit and the weather was supposed to be good all day, so it didn’t seem necessary to start super early when it was colder. Aug 16 We were up at sunrise and Andreas and I were moving by 6am. The rest of the crew started about an hour later. Sunrise from peak dushanbe camp We first followed the ridge out of camp then descended 50m or so to the col. From there we followed the boot track traversing left below the rocky north face of kommunisma to the base of the broad snow slope. From there we continued following the boot track steeply up the right side of the face. The conditions were very firm and icy and it seemed like it would be impossible to self arrest. Indeed, I believe this is where one of the Russians slipped and got badly banged up. It would have been really nice to have fixed lines there but there weren’t any. I had two tools (my hybrid ice ax and whippet) so was reasonably secure but still not super happy about conditions. I recalled looking through the telescope at the 20 person team in early august and they had traversed left farther and zig zagged up the face to gain the summit ridge farther left. The face looked much lower angle to the left and much safer. On the north ridge of Communisma So about a third of the way up we cut left and started traversing across the face. I later heard that people in basecamp watching through the telescope were concerned and wanted to contact us to tell us we were off route. But we were intentionally seeking a safer route and we succeeded. The snow on that side of the face was softer and the slope lower angle so that self arresting would actually be possible. We took turns breaking trail up and eventually reached the ridge at the col two left of the summit. From there we followed the snow and rock ridge over to the main col and met up with the boot track. The detour had cost us a bit of time and we could see paul, ian, and reuben nearing the notch on the boot track. The final ridge to the summit The final ridge to the summit was a steep icy knife edge ridge that was very exposed with apparently no ropes. I was again happy to have two tools. We proceeded carefully in the boot track on the right side of the ridge. At times I faced the ridge traversing sideways so I could get my tools in the icy snow. Halfway up we encountered a steep icy step and there was a short fixed rope there. We jugged up, then followed a bit more ridge to finally reach the rocky summit at 1130am. This was our final snow leopard peak and it felt great to be nearly finished (I considered us finished when we safely reached basecamp). We took a bunch of pictures and admired the view. It was a bit windy but not too bad, probably the best conditions that could be hoped for on that peak. There was an interesting metal pole and a metal sign in russian I took pictures of. The knife edge summit ridge We soon started down, passing ian and Reuben as they ascended. It would have been great to all be on the top together but was a bit too cold and windy for us to hang out there waiting. They said there were now good steps kicked up the direct route, so we decided to descend that way. I passed Paul at the notch and then started down. For the most part I downclimbed facing in so I could always have one tool in the mountain. It was pretty secure that way. Partway down i had to downclimb a 5m ice section and was happy to have my hybrid tool to swing into the ice. On the summit. Andreas with his trademark Snickers bar nose guard. Finally at the traverse I could face out again. The climb back up peak dushanbe was tough, but by 2pm we reached camp for a short break. Pavel and Olga had just arrived and we drank some tea together. They would summit the next morning, which was forecast to be slightly windier but still doable. We packed up and started heading out just as Ian arrived. He would take a break waiting for reuben and paul and catch up later. The descent went by fast and we reached the plateau a few hours later just as a snow squall rolled in. Visibility dropped but we were able to follow our tracks all the way to our previous campsite by 5pm. Coincidentally our friends thomas and martin were just skiing down Grudi peak then and met up with us at our campsite. They had previously skied korzhenevskaya and would go on to ski kommunisma from nearly the summit all the way to the rocky ridge. Descending to the plateau After dinner ian messaged on the inreach that he and Reuben were on there way down late and paul planned to sleep at peak dushanbe another night. We went to bed early that night around 7pm. Aug 17 We started moving at sunrise the next morning. Ian and Reuben had set up camp early at the base of Dushanbe and planned to sleep in a bit more. The climb back up Grudi was tough but luckily we had our fixed rope to get through the icy section. Above that was easier snow climbing back up Grudi. The descent was fast, rapping the fixed lines and booting down the lower angle sections. Halfway down around 1130am we witnessed a massive serac release onto the ramp below. That was surprising given the time of day, and I later heard from Zlasko the BC manager that it was the biggest release of the season. We knew Constantine, Dima, and their guide were somewhere below us and we hoped they were ok. Hiking down the Borodkin Spur Around 5300m at the bottom of the Borodkin spur we passed a guided team coming up with three clients and two guides. I later learned one guide and one client would later summit and the others would turn around. We arm wrap rappelled the last icy ropes, which were too tight to rappel, then scrambled down the rocky ridge to the edge of the ramp. Debris covered the entire ramp with no tracks visible. I later learned our friends had crossed 2 hours before the serac release and were safe. I was nervous so after we put crampons on we raced across as quickly as possible. I think we were only in the danger zone for 5 minutes, so not too bad. Helicoptering out of basecamp Safely on the other side we descended to the rocky glacier then crossed back to the heli pad. It felt great to change back into our light hiking boots stashed there, though our packs got a lot heavier with the mountaineering boots strapped on. Within an hour we made the hike back to basecamp, just in time to catch the tail end of lunch. Ian and Reuben caught up a few hours later in time for dinner. Paul ended up taking his time down, returning two days later. Pavel and Olga summitted aug 17 and returned a few days later. The tourist team ended up arranging a helicopter to come aug 19 for medical evacuation. Luckily there was enough extra space that they let Andreas and I catch a ride out with them directly to Dushanbe! (We still had to bribe the pilot to agree even though insurance from the climbers covered the full cost of the helicopter ride). That saved us a week of waiting around for the scheduled aug 26 helicopter. With the extra week we were able to move on to our bonus objective – making the first ascent and survey of Alpomish (4668m, 7 pitch 5.8), the true highpoint of Uzbekistan. Link to more pictures: https://www.countryhighpoints.com/pik-kommunizma-ismoil-somoni-24590ft/ Gear Notes: Standard glacier gear, two tools, 4 screws, pickets, standard 7000m boots Approach Notes: Helicopter to Moskvina Glade Basecamp
  13. I still need to figure out who I would contact about that. I was thinking maybe if AAJ accepts a writeup first then I could send that to the proper Uzbek agency and it might look more official.
  14. Trip: Uzbekistan - Alpomish - New Highpoint of Uzbekistan Trip Date: 08/23/2023 Trip Report: Alpomish (4668m, IV, 7 pitch 5.8), Highpoint of Uzbekistan, and Khazret Sultan (4643m, III, 2 pitch 5.7), Second Highest Peak in Uzbekistan Aug 21-26, 2023 Eric Gilbertson and Andreas Frydensberg First Ascent of Alpomish Andreas near the summit of Alpomish Aug 21 – Taxi to Sarytog village, hike in Aug 22 – Hike to base of Alpomish Aug 23 – Climb Alpomish (7 pitch 5.8) Aug 24 – Hike to base of Khazret Sultan Aug 25 – Climb Khazret Sultan (2 pitch 5.7) Aug 26 – Hike out, taxi to Dushanbe Until now it was widely accepted that Khazret Sultan Peak was the highest peak in Uzbekistan. I’m working on climbing country highpoints so it was on my list to climb. On this trip we discovered that Alpomish, a previously unclimbed peak, is in fact the true Uzbekistan highpoint. Khazret Sultan is located on the border with Tajikistan in the Gissar Range and is not a popular peak. It was most likely first climbed by Soviet mountaineers in the 1930s or in 1961, possibly a surveying team. It was first named Peak of the 22nd Party Congress, but this name was dropped after Uzbekistan gained independence. The peak was next climbed in August 2005 by Ginge Fullen and Tajik guide Tolic, climbing the northeast ridge from the Tajikistan side. This was Ginge’s third attempt to climb the highpoint and he discovered extremely valuable beta about the route and logistics. This would make it much easier for future climbers like me. The route On the summit they found the cairn left by the first ascent team. At that point the peak was officially unnamed and just referred to by its elevation, Peak 4643. This was the elevation measured on the most recent ground survey, the 1981 soviet topographic map. Based on the 1981 soviet topographic map, the most accurate map of the area, this was considered the highest peak in Uzbekistan. There were no higher peaks on the map and no subsequent ground surveys after 1981 of the area. In June 2010 a team of Uzbek climbers climbed the peak also from the Tajikistan side and later gave it the officially-recognized name of Khazret Sultan Peak. They officially recognized it as the highpoint of Uzbekistan. This unfortunately has led to a bit of confusion because there was already another peak named Mount Khazret Sultan in Uzbekistan at an elevation of 4083m. That is considered a holy mountain and is frequently climbed by pilgrims. It is not the country highpoint. Since 2010 there was one other known ascent, by Pat Bauman (solo) in August 2018 via the northeast ridge. Pat gave me excellent beta, saying the route was mostly 4th class with one or two pitches of 5.7 (which he soloed up and down). He also gave me a few GPS coordinates of key locations on the route. The 1981 Soviet topo map. Khazret Sultan is labeled 4643.3 but Alpomish is not surveyed I’ve been planning to climb Khazret Sultan every summer since 2019, but it never worked out. I always planned to tag it on at the end of another expedition but usually ran out of time. Finally in 2023 I again planned again to tag in on at the end of another expedition. I would climb my remaining snow leopard peaks Korzhenevskaya and Kommunizma in Tajikistan, then afterwards if I had time I’d go in with Andreas to climb Khazret Sultan. Since I’d already be in Tajikistan and the best route was from the Tajikistan side it should be straightforward. Before the trip, though, Andreas noticed open street map showed a peak called Alpomish with a higher elevation about 6km south of Khazret Sultan on the Tajikistan-Uzbekistan border. I found Gaia had similar results. I researched all topographic maps based on ground surveys of the area and purchased the relevant maps from mapstor.com. The 1981 soviet map was the only one with enough detail to show both peaks and appears to be the last ground survey conducted in the area. Interestingly, while the map had a spot elevation of 4643m on khazret sultan, there was no spot elevation for Alpomish. The topo lines for Alpomish showed it slightly shorter. But with no spot elevation for the summit that means the summit was not directly surveyed and the topo lines for the peak are just approximate. We then looked at satellite based measurements (SRTM) from google earth. The highest elevation points on each peak were exactly the same to the nearest meter. SRTM can have high errors up to 16m or more on sharp peaks, so this meant the two peaks were within error bounds of each other based on SRTM. Google maps terrain view had both within the 4600m contours but Alpomish was within a bigger contour. That usually, but not always, means the peak is taller. I believe the open street map, Gaia, and google terrain elevations are using digital elevation models (DEMs) to approximate elevations in between point measurements taken by satellites. They use different models so get slightly different elevations. The problem with the DEMs is that they are just approximations. Unless the satellite measurement sampled the exact summit of alpomish (very unlikely for a sharp peak), then there will always be unknown error in them DEM elevation. This seemed like a very interesting problem to solve. Which peak – Alpomish or Khazret Sultan – is the true country highpoint of Uzbekistan? Based on all existing information it was too close to know for sure. I could think of two ways to figure out the answer. The first was to fly a plane over Alpomish taking Lidar measurements which should be accurate to the nearest foot. That flight is unlikely to ever happen. The second is to go in and take ground measurements of alpomish. That I could do. Over the past year I’ve been acquiring survey equipment and skills that would be perfect for such an expedition. Just this july I finished an extensive survey project to find the true 100 highest peaks in Washington (results available at https://www.countryhighpoints.com/washington-top-100-peaks-updated-list/ ). I’ve conducted over a dozen ground surveys using sight levels, a theodolite, and a survey grade differential gps unit. I could apply those same skills and equipment to survey alpomish. My plan was to bring the differential GPS unit and sight levels to the summit of alpomish. The theodolite would be too heavy. The gps with a one hour measurement should give me an absolute elevation accurate to the within 3cm. As a backup I would use my 5x and 1x 10-arcminute sight levels to measure the angular inclination or declination looking from alpomish to khazret sultan. I could find the horizontal distance between them from Google earth and use trigonometry to find the relative height. I could then add the relative height to the known soviet-surveyed height of khazret sultan to find the absolute height of alpomish. To get more measurements to increase confidence I would then climb khazret sultan and repeat the whole process. I’d take an absolute height measurement with the differential GPS and also take angular measurements from khazret sultan looking back to alpomish. I could again calculate a relative height and use this to find the absolute height of alpomish. Also, if there were any intermediate locations of known elevation from the topo map I could use the sight levels to measure angular inclination up to alpomish and again find an absolute height. Finally, I would bring my handheld garmin 62s GPS for another independent source of height measurements. This has higher error than the differential GPS but could help increase confidence in whether alpomish is taller than khazret sultan or not. Ideally all measurements would agree. The more measurements I take that all agree the more confident I am in the final result. I usual am only comfortable if at least three independent measurements all agree before reporting a summit elevation. This was all a nice plan for surveying alpomish, but the more difficult part would likely be actually climbing it. I spent a lot of time trying to research if there had ever been previous ascents and I couldn’t find any information. We even had russian friends search in russian databases and they didn’t find any reports of ascents or attempts. This was intriguing. The peak had apparently never been surveyed accurately enough to know if it was the country highpoint and had never been climbed. This expedition sounded like true exploration. For better or worse with no beta or even pictures of the mountain I decided to come prepared for the worst. I would bring a full climbing rack with doubles of the intermediate pro, rock shoes, 60m rope, crampons, ice ax, and screws. I knew khazret sultan had a bit of rock climbing and was nearby so it was a good guess that alpomish might also involve rock climbing. We could make out glaciers at the base of alpomish from the satellite images so there was a good chance there might also be snow and ice climbing. Satellite images couldn’t really show if the peak was technical or not, though. With so much uncertainty in the route we decided to build in quite a few buffer days. We decided on one day to circumnavigate the peak to assess the best route and two days to climb the route. Then we gave ourselves two days to climb khazret sultan in case that had difficult route finding. We knew from Pat’s beta the best way in to khazret sultan was starting in sarytog village. However, it was unclear what the best way was to get from there to alpomish. I researched that there exists a trail over Mura pass nearby. That connects to an adjacent valley which would eventually lead up to alpomish. But it was very indirect – about 20 miles from khazret to alpomish. I played around a lot on Google earth and it looked like there was another option to climb up to a glacier up the valley from khazret sultan and cross a pass above that. Then we could try to stay high and cross one more glacier pass to get to the base of alpomish. That route was half the distance but there was more uncertainty in whether it would work. We decided to go for it, though, to save time. We probably had enough technical gear to make it work. So the full itinerary with all the buffer days added up to nine days. With all the climbing gear, survey equipment, and nine days of food that would make for very heavy packs. To help a bit we planned to climb alpomish first and cache extra food on the way in at the turnoff for the khazret sultan valley. I would bring an ursack so animals couldn’t get into our cached food. I liked going for alpomish first because it was the biggest prize, was the main objective for the trip, had the most uncertainty, and was the farthest away. Thus it made sense to prioritize. If we managed to climb alpomish, then khazret sultan would be easy to finish on in comparison. With the trip fully planned we started out on our primary expedition to finish the snow leopard peaks. We started by acclimating on Bazarduzu, the Azerbaijan highpoint, then flew to Tajikistan and moskvina glade basecamp in late July. Over the next few weeks we successfully climbed Pik Korzhenevskaya and Pik Kommunizma/Ismoil Somoni, finishing the snow leopards on Aug 16. Pik Kommunizma/Ismoil Somoni, Tajikistan highpoint and final snow leopard peak The next helicopter out of basecamp wasn’t scheduled until aug 26, but it turned out a group of climbers had arranged for a medical evacuation flight on aug 19. One of them had taken a fall and needed to go to the hospital. Helicoptering out of basecamp They were nice enough to let us squeeze on the flight, though we had to bribe the pilot to accept (even though the flight was completely paid for by the climbers’ insurance). We were lucky enough to fly all the way to dushanbe on aug 19, a full week ahead of schedule! This gave us plenty of time for our bonus objectives of alpomish and khazret sultan. The climber ended up being ok after visiting the hospital. Back in town with internet access we bought flights home for early september and took a full rest day to buy food for our next trip and repack. Then we were ready to go. Aug 21 After two nights at the Green House Hostel we left our extra gear stored and headed out in a taxi at 8am. Lucky for us our trailhead town Sarytog is located near Iskanderkul, a big lake in the mountains that is a popular tourist destination. So transportation would be easy. We paid $80 for the ride which went due north of dushanbe into the mountains. We stopped for an early lunch of sashleek along the way and made it to sarytog by noon. The road on our intended route appeared to continue past the village, but it was rough and our taxi driver was not interested in proceeding. So he dropped us off at the edge of town. We took down his WhatsApp number in case we wanted to call for a ride back, but didn’t want to arrange anything in advance. There was too much uncertainty in the trip timing. We could get lucky and finish early (unlikely) or need more time and stretch our food and get back late. We figured most likely we could just ask around in town whenever we got back and someone would be happy to make some extra money and drive us to dushanbe. Andreas stashed some flip flops in the bushes (a good idea I should have also done) then by 1230pm we started walking. For the first hour we walked along a gravel road out of town along the south side of the Capomok river. The road would be passable to a normal car most of the way. Halfway we passed a set of buildings and volleyball net that was labed Camp Archa the meadows on Gaia. I think this is a popular weekend destination for campers from Dushanbe. Hiking up the valley from Sarytog The road ended at the confluence with the Mura river and we stayed on the east side going up river on a decent trail. It got narrow in a few places on steep side slopes but was generally very good. We stopped for a brief break at the small village of Sarikhodan. This was at the turnoff for Mura pass. The village was only six small rock structures and I think the villagers are mostly shepherds in the area. From there we continued on good trails on the east side until we reached the dikondara confluence. On our map it looked like the west side was easier travelling, so we decided to cross. It wasn’t too bad – we just took of our shoes and waded through the shin deep cold water. Crossing the Dikondara river On the other side the river edge cliffed out but we hiked high on sheep trails and mostly had easy strolls through meadows. After the cliff section I noticed a wood bridge down at the river. We would keep that in mind for the return if needed. We continued through easy meadows on sheep trails until 6pm when we reached our planned cache location at the turnoff for the khazret sultan valley. There we waded across to the south side of the dikondara and found a good boulder to cache our food under. It would be easy to identify since there was a sheep carcass next to it. We continued a little farther to a nice flat meadow and pitched our tent there for the night. I boiled water in a tea kettle we’d bought in dushanbe since our reactor stove had gotten left at moskvina basecamp. The evening was surprisingly windy and we hoped it wouldn’t be like that for the summits. Camp at the turnoff for the khazret sultan valley Meteorologist Chris Tomer was continuing to send us daily forecasts to my inreach as he had done for korzhenevskaya and Kommunizma and it looked like the next few days would be good summit days. Aug 22 Our objective for the next day was to make it to the base of alpomish, about 10 miles away. It didn’t seem like a long day so I didn’t set an alarm. Around 7am we were woken up by a big dog poking his nose inside the tent! He soon left and I stuck my head out to see a shepherd on a donkey heading up the khazret sultan valley. He soon tied up the donkey and continued on foot. I suspect he was checking on some cows that we would later see grazing up there. Hiking up to the grassy cirque above camp He just happened to tie up the donkey next to our cached food and I was a bit nervous the dog might smell it and dig it out of the rocks I’d piled up. So I walked up there and moved the ursack to a different boulder closer to our tent. I figured the shepherd would assume it was related to the people in the tent and not mess with it. We soon packed up and continued up the valley. We followed sheep trails into a big basin with glaciers visible above then headed steeply up the right side. We found as long as there was grass there would be trails to follow, so we stuck to the grassy slopes as much as possible. We eventually ran out of grass and followed talus to the toe of the westernmost glacier in the basin, closest to the Uzbek border. The pass above the glacier is labelled pass 2 on gaia (but in russian/cyrillic). The glacier crossing to access the next valley The glacier was low angle enough and the ice/snow soft enough that we were able to continue all the way to the pass above around 4000m without putting on crampons. Interestingly I saw what looked like old sheep poop in some places and the pass had a small cairn. It appears shepherds must occasionally use that pass as a shortcut between valleys without needing to go all the way down to Mura pass. That’s pretty much exactly what we were doing too. It was very satisfying that all my research on Google earth had been accurate and the route had worked to the pass so far. The other side was low angle as I expected and we easily descended the scree and talus slopes to the next basin below. From there we traversed around the base of a ridge on 3rd class ledges to gain the next basin to the south. We crossed talus fields there to reach the toe of the largest glacier on the west end of the basin. The next glacier pass to cross This glacier was a bit steeper than the previous one and would likely require crampons to walk directly over. But there was a scree slope on the right side that looked doable. I was a little lazy about putting on crampons so opted for the scree slope. We made good progress and were soon at the pass. Surprisingly there was another cairn there. Perhaps shepherds use that pass too to get between valleys. We took a break at the pass and I noticed a formidable looking peak looming above to the southwest. It was composed of four steep spires like fingers sticking up from a hand. It was in the general direction of Alpomish. Andreas was skeptical that it was alpomish and I was hopeful it wasn’t since it looked really hard. We decided to get to our planned basecamp before worrying about it. From camp we could be certain which peak was alpomish. First view of alpomish From the pass we descended scree slopes then traversed around the ridge extending east from alpomish. We crossed some talus fields and eventually reached the small tarn at 3975m I had planned as our bacamp. The camp was perfect, and one of the most scenic I can remember camping at. The toe of a glacier ended in a tall ice cliff with waterfalls pouring into the tarn. The tarn had icebergs floating inside and was surrounded by boulders except for the southwest side which had a sandy beach next to the outflow. We pitched our tent on the beach by 6pm. Above us loomed Alpomish at the head of the unnamed glacier, as we verified on our map. For better or worse it was the same four-finger mountain we’d been intimidated by before. Now it looked even steeper. At basecamp for Alpomish It reminded me a lot of the east face of Mt Whitney in the Sierra nevada mountains of california. There was a huge granite face for each of the four spires. The left most (southern most) spire clearly looked the tallest, and I verified this with my sight levels. There was no obvious easiest way up and I was happy to have brought all the climbing gear. We would certainly need it. The next day was a planned scouting day and I hoped we could find some weakness in the peak once we walked closer for a better look. It was too late in the day to get any meaningful scouting in before dark though. But, I could get our first altitude measurement. I knew the altitude of the tarn from our topo map and could calculate the distance to the peak from gaia. Nice campsite by the tarn I measured angular inclinations using my 5x and 1x sight levels and got consistent results of 19 deg 50min. I calculated that alpomish was then between 4660m – 4670m tall. (There was a bit of uncertainty in the exact distance to the peak based on the topo lines on the map and this translated to uncertainty in altitude). That was significantly taller than khazret sultan! It was an intriguing result and already consistent with altitudes on gaia and open street map. I hoped I could get more measurements to increase confidence in the results. Sunset soon came and we went to bed. The forecast was for a sunny morning but slight chance of afternoon snow showers the next day, so we see our alarms to get up early. Approaching the east face of Alpomish Aug 23 We were up at sunrise and moving by 6am, ready for a potentially big day. The official plan was to do a scouting trip circumnavigating the mountain to look for a good route up. But we would bring all our climbing and surveying gear just in case we saw a good route to try that day. From camp we immediately got on the glacier and started walking towards the peak. As we got closer the features became easier to make out. The direct east face looked like good rock with cracks but would be very long. A gully went up to the left skyline which might work. There was a saddle to the right we could possibly use to get around to the back side of the peak. The rightmost spire looked like the easiest and maybe we could traverse from there to the summit. But that would require climbing the two intermediate spires which looked tough. Looking back towards camp There was a big gully leading up to the notch between the summit and the next spire to the right. From the notch to the summit looked short and doable. If that gully was scree or third class maybe the peak actually wouldn’t be too tough. We decided to go for the gully since it seemed like a reasonably high chance of success. Of course there could have been an even better way on the back side but we decided to gamble and try to go for the summit then instead of continuing scouting. This also had the advantage that we wouldn’t have to sneak over to the Uzbek side of the border, though I’m pretty sure that part of the border doesn’t get patrolled. Looking up at the east face We found an icy snow ramp at the base of the gully and cramponed up until the snow ran out at a slabby construction. We made a somewhat sketchy scramble up to scree slopes then traversed left onto third class blocks. The gully wrapped around to the left above us and we thought it looked all melted down to scree, so we ditched crampons and ice axes there. We continued up on third class blocks on the left side then met chossy scree up higher. We soon met a split with the left gully blocked by a huge chock stone. I guess that wasn’t too surprising in these kind of gullies. A right gully looked open and it was tempting to think it provided a way around the chockstone, but in my experience I judged that extremely unlikely. That gully most likely just led up to the notch between the next two spires. Climbing the east gully We climbed up to the chockstone and I saw light underneath, but it was too small of a hole to wriggle through. We would have to climb around. I changed into my climbing shoes and stashed my boots and poles and racked up. Luckily there was a crack on the face to the right that looked doable. Andreas belayed me up the face as I zippered it up with gear. At the top it turned into an overhang and I traversed left delicately on a steep slab to at last reach the top of the chockstone. I continued a little higher on scree to build a good anchor on the wall on the right. The pitch was about 5.7. Looking down from above the chockstone pitch Andreas didn’t bring rock shoes so climbed in hiking boots. I think the traverse was a bit trickier but he made it up fine. Above us we scrambled a little ways up chossy rock then encountered a constriction with a small waterfall in the middle. That was nice there was water to drink, but it meant there was probably ice and snow above us we hadn’t planned on. The constriction was steep and exposed so we decided to pitch it out. I led up again, managing to mantle up on the right side of the water to stay dry. Above it I climbed another small steep bit to an anchor on the left wall where the terrain turned back to scree. The pitch was 5.7. I belayed andreas up and then we noticed above us was a huge mass of ice filling the gully all the way up to the notch. If we could reach the notch the summit looked attainable. But we had ditched our crampons and ice axes. We would have needed technical tools and technical crampons and more ice screws anyway to make it up that. Ice leading up to the notch We optimistically scrambled up to the base to get a better look anyway just in case we could climb rock on the edge. But it was no use. We’d have to find a different way up. It looked like the only option was to move onto the face on our left and climb the remaining distance. Fortunately the rock looked protectable and climbable. Climbing the east face We descended back to my previous anchor on the left wall and I started up. I was able to follow ramps and ledges up to a nice ledge above for a 5.4 pitch. Andreas soon followed. Above that I tried to continue on ledges facing the gully but they got steeper and I needed to make a few stemming moves with an overhang to my left. I surmounted the overhang but then opted to traverse left to a ridge crest with a good belay ledge. That pitch was 5.7. Climbing the east face It looked like staying on the rock facing the gully was not going to work and we’d have to move farther left onto the main east face. The next pitch would be the crux of the route. I climbed a steeper 5.8 crack directly up the ridge crest. I poked my nose over to the right but it looked tough. So I instead made a delicate traverse left into a cleft. Shortly below me the cleft led to an overhang with extreme exposure but above looked doable. I made a few more moves to a ledge and belayed Andreas up. I think the delicate traverse was again tricky in hiking boots. Starting the final pitch From that belay I could see the summit, but the direct east face looked smooth and tough. I continued up the cleft and managed to cross back right to the rock facing the gully. There I found nice ledges and ran the rope out to its end for a 5.5 pitch. Finally the summit looked attainable! From that ledge I climbed directly up to the summit ridge behind a spire and crossed to the other side. I wove the rope around horns and followed the final knife edge ridge to at last reach the summit at 4pm. The final pitch was 5.5. Andreas on the final knife edge ridge to the summit ‍ I tagged the summit, which was a sharp bit on the knife edge. Then I downclimbed to a small boulder notch below. I slung the boulder and belayed Andreas up. Our route up alpomish Miraculously the predicted afternoon snow never materialized and we were treated to partly cloudy skies, warm temperatures, and no wind. It was a perfect summit day. We took a bunch of pictures and I looked over to the west side of the peak into Uzbekistan. Interestingly, it looked like glacier ice extended all the way up to the notch from that side. The rock between the summit and notch just looked like a few pitches and not too steep. So in theory if climbers came early season from the Uzbekistan side maybe they could just walk up snow to the notch and climb a few rock pitches to the summit. On the summit I soon brought out the survey gear and started setting up. I first made a quick verification with the sight level that all nearby spires of the peak were shorter, which was indeed true. We were definitely on the highest point. Then I got out the tripod, mounted the antenna and plugged in the differential GPS. I had a bit of trouble mounting the antenna somewhere so it could stand vertical and i eventually put it as high as I could between a boulder and the knife edge ridge. It needed to stand vertical for ideally one hour, so it didn't make sense for me to just hold it. I started logging data but it had trouble acquiring satellites for some unknown reason. I turned on my garmin 62s handheld unit and it was able to acquire satellites in the same location. Perhaps the boulder obstruction was an issue, but there weren't many options up there for mounting the device. Setting up the differential GPS unit near the summit I played around with settings a bit and finally decided to just let it take whatever measurements it could and I would try to process them later. I cursed myself for not taking test measurements on the way in, but it had worked fine on my last trip in Washington. It's possible the issue was related to me being outside the US. I was happy I had backup measurement equipment though, which would still suffice for measuring the altitude of alpomish in case the differential GPS didn’t work. I then took out my 5x and 1x sight levels and pointed them towards khazret sultan as verified by gaia. With each sight level I measured 10-20min angular declination looking down at khazret sultan. Clearly khazret sultan was shorter. Andreas on the summit I also noted altitude measurements from the garmin 62s and from my garmin fenix 6 watch after gps calibration. We hung out on top until 5pm taking measurements but then had to get down. I hadn’t found any evidence of anchors or cairns or any human presence so it seemed very likely we had made the first ascent of alpomish. Anyone else climbing such a technical peak would likely have rappelled off, but we saw no rap anchor evidence. I had come prepared with a lot of rap gear, though, and was experienced making rap anchors from my big wall climbing expeditions in the northwest territories, canada. View from the summit I slung a rock horn near the summit, backed it up with a cam, and started down. We only had a 60m rope so would need to make a lot of rappells (I wished then that we’d brought twin ropes, but that would have been heavier to hike in with). I planned to rap directly back into the gully since that would be shorter than our ascent route and hopefully require leaving less gear on the mountain. We couldn’t rap directly to the notch, though, since it looked too sketchy to then get down the steep ice without crampons. So I planned to do diagonal rappels until we were clear of the ice, then rap straight down. It’s a little bold to rap down a face we hadn’t climbed up, but it looked featured enough that I could probably make enough anchors. Looking at khazret sultan I rapped down diagonally and found another good horn at a good ledge to sling. I built the next anchor, then Andreas followed. I again made another diagonal rappell on ledges and again found another good horn to sling. Horns are great because I just have to leave some cord as an anchor. I’d brought 30m of 5mm cord for this purpose and it was relatively cheap. Unfortunately one problem with diagonal rappells on loose non vertical terrain is the rope pulls aren’t always smooth. On that pull the rope got caught on a rock and when I yanked it the fist sized rock dislodged from about 20ft above us. It grazed Andreas on the rear end but he said he was ok. Rapping down I next rapped into an icy gully and over to a ledge on the side. Unfortunately there were no horns. My second choice rap anchor is a two-nut anchor. Nuts are cheap – about $10 a piece – so it’s not too bad to leave a few. And they can be very solid. We were still over the ice so did another diagonal rappell on ledges. Again there were no horns so I had to leave another two-nut anchor. Finally we appeared to be nearly clear of the ice. I next rapped straight down to a ledge just above the ice and found a good horn to sling. Andreas joined and by then it was finally dark enough for headlamps. I think we were pretty efficient at 30min per rap. At the last rope throw the ends reached the bottom of the ice and we were soon safely back on scree in the gully. But we werent quite off the technical section yet. We walked down to the top of the waterfall pitch and I slung another horn. That pitch had seemed long, but by rapping directly down and relying on some rope stretch we just barely reached the scree below the waterfall. Rapping down the final chockstone pitch We then walked to the chockstone and slung a boulder above. That had been a long and indirect pitch too. But, by rapping directly over the chockstone we again barely reached the scree below. Finally by 9pm we were off the last technical section. I switched back to boots and we carefully hiked and scrambled down the chossy gully. After retrieving our stashed crampons we decided to try to avoid down climbing the sketchy slabs to the snow ramp. We instead continued scrambling down the blocky 3rd class stretch. It eventually cliffed out, but we were able to traverse onto the snow ramp at a safe spot. From there we cramponed down in the dark following our ascent route. We finally staggered back to camp at 11pm for a long 17 hour day. Last view before leaving basecamp Aug 24 We were several days ahead of schedule, but Chris forecast bad weather coming in Aug 27 that might leave a foot of snow on the summits for a long time. So we didn’t want to take any rest days to delay things. We allowed ourselves to sleep in, though, and were up and moving by 10am. The goal for the day was to move camp to the base of khazret sultan. All measurements had so far indicated alpomish was significantly taller, but we still wanted to be thorough and get final measurements from the summit of khazret sultan to be absolutely certain with our conclusion. View of alpomish from the hike out. Summit is the left spire We followed the exact same high route crossing the two glaciated passes. At the last pass we started getting snow flurries and by the time we reached our food cache at 430pm there was intermittent drizzle. We were very fortunate that hadn’t happened the previous day on alpomish. Crossing the first glacier pass We took a short break, got a little but of food out of the cache, then started up the khazret sultan valley at 5pm. We had earlier seen the shepherd go up the left side of the river so we stayed on that side too. The trail started good but soon deteriorated. We made slow progress along the steep sidehill full of talus. The light rain made the boulders slippery and we had to be extra careful. Finally we were able to cross to the right side and travel eased. We hiked a chossy slope up to an upper basin then hugged the right side on cow trails in the grass. Ascending the valley towards khazret sultan We reached the end of the grass by sunset and pushed on to a small tarn at 3970m a little farther up where we leveled out a campsite. I had hoped to reach the basin at the base of the khazret sultan route that day so we could scout the route, but it didn’t make sense proceeding in the dark with unknown water source locations. So we slept there for the night. Aug 25 The next day was forecast to be sunny until 11am then increasing chances of snow up to 1 inch on the afternoon. We expected khazret sultan to be mostly 4th class so would hopefully go much faster than alpomish. Starting up the valley at sunrise We were up and moving by 6am, and unfortunately the rocks were all icy. The evening rain had frozen on the rocks overnight. We hoped the sun could de-ice the route by the time we got on it. At the base of khazret sultan We hiked up talus to eventually reach the basin at the base of the southeast face of khazret sultan. From there Pat’s route was to hike up a gully to gain the east ridge, the follow that to the northeast ridge, then follow that to the summit. Hiking up to the northeast ridge This looked pretty circuitous and the ridges looked tough from below. But we optimistically trusted Pat that it was mostly 4th class and went for it. (For reference, Pat has free-soloed big wall routes on half dome in yosemite, so I suspected his 4th class was a bit stiffer than mine). I racked up at the bottom of the gully and we hiked up easy scree and talus to a big notch on the top. From there we turned left and continued up another wide choss gully all the way to a col at the intersection with the northeast ridge. I was amazed how much progress we could make on easy terrain and still not need to do any scrambling. That was not at all obvious from below. Good ledges on the north side. Summit in background We peered over the col at the northeast ridge and were met with a big cliff dropping of to the north basin. The route definitely didn’t go there. Staying on the ridge crest looked technical so we dropped back 10m and traversed across a good ledge below the ridge. We could soon scramble back up to the ridge crest. The crest looked 4th class from there so we scrambled a bit along it. We then moved to the left side and had to wriggle down a chimney to some dirty ledges that dead ended. Looking back along the ridge The terrain looked steep above but that was the only way forward. I switched to climbing shoes but this time kept the boots, crampons, and whippet. I didn’t want to get turned around by snow and ice. I ended up placing just one cam, then crossed the ridge and found a huge ledge system. I belayed andreas up and we packed up the rope. The crux technical section up from the notch From there we scrambled either on ledges to the right of the crest or exactly on the ridge crest. Any rock in the shadows was a bit sketchy since the ice hadn’t yet melted off. So we had to be very careful. We eventually reached a deep notch in the ridge and the terrain above looked technical. The right side of the ridge looked loose, chossy, and icy. I chose to climb directly up the crest from the notch. It was technical but at least not icy. Looking across the north basin I climbed some loose rock below then made a few low 5th class moves to a nice ledge. I noticed a slung boulder there so it appeared we were on the same route others had taken. I don't think this peak sees many ascents, though. I only know for sure of four ascents. I belayed andreas up then started up the next pitch. There was a piton down low, then I climbed a fun 5.7 corner. I eventually pulled myself up onto a pedestal and clipped an existing rap anchor that was a big black 11mm static line. This may have been left by Ginge. Climbing along the northeast ridge at the top of the 5.7 pitch That was the last technical section out of the notch. Andreas belayed me farther on 4th class terrain until I reached a chossy ridge. There we put the rope away and descended slightly to another notch with some snow in it. On the broad foresummit I switched to boots and we continued up choss, then talus, then 3rd class blocks on the other side. We eventually walked up loose slopes to a broad summit. A horn was slung and a sign saying Ucell and a bunch of Russian text hung from it. Slightly farther along the ridge we saw a huge cairn with a bamboo pole sticking out. That looked like the summit. Unfortunately it was along a technical ridge. So I put my rock shoes back on and Andreas belayed me one more pitch to the summit, which I reached by noon. Our route up Khazret Sultan I built an anchor, belayed him over, then we stopped to take in the view. Glaciated rocky technical looking peaks surrounded us. Far below were grassy valleys where sheep likely grazed. It was very scenic. The final pitch to the summit of khazret sultan I looked over towards alpomish and the four spires were meshed into one ridge because of the angle, but the peak location was obvious. I took out my sight levels and measured 10-20 minute angular inclination up to alpomish. This was exactly consistent with my previous measurements and confirmed alpomish is indeed taller than khazret sultan and is the true country highpoint of Uzbekistan. Taking sight level measurements from the summit I also took measurements with my Garmin 62s handheld GPS and my gps calibrated garmin fenix 6. Both measurements had khazret sultan lower so all measurements (ten in all) were consistent that alpomish was the true highpoint. Both on the summit I hadn’t bothered to take up the differential GPS since i hadnt been able to figure out which settings to change to allow it to start acquiring satellites. And khazret sultan already had a very accurate ground survey elevation from the 1981 soviet map. The next spire along the ridge that is the true summit I next took sight level readings of the different spires in the summit area and noticed the sharp spire with bird poop on top farther along the ridge was perhaps a few inches taller than the cairn summit. We each went over to tag it just to be sure. Hiking back from the summit After taking all the measurements and writing them down in my field notebook I belayed andreas back across the ridge. I had instructed him to leave all the pro in on the way over so he could easily reclip on the way back. I changed back into boots and quickly started back down the route. We could see rain in the distance towards Sarytog and a few snow flurries were starting to hit. This was just as Chris had predicted. I knew if the 4th class rock got wet it could get sketchy so we needed to get down asap. Rapping down the notch We scrambled down to the snowy notch then up the choss on the other side. This time we continued scrambling the fourth class ridge along to the top rap anchor. I backed it up then rapped down to the intermediate ledge. We then used the existing anchor there, backed up, and rapped to the notch. It was so much faster with these existing anchors than it had been descending alpomish! Scrambling back along the northeast ridge in deteriorating weather At the notch we packed up the rope and started scrambling. Luckily by then the ice had melted off the rocks on the north side so it felt a bit more secure. But the snow and wind started picking up and the rocks started to get wet. We got to the end of the fourth class section and I built an anchor to rap off the first bit we had pitched out. With the wet rock I decided to pitch out the final fourth class section also. I climbed up the chimney, across the steep ridge, and was finally back to a third class ledge. Final scramble section I belayed Andreas up and we finally packed up the rope for good. It seemed like we’d gotten off the steep part of the route just in time before it got wet. From there we descended easy 3rd class ledges to our stashed hiking poles then scree surfed back to the basin below. We hiked back on talus, reaching our camp by 430pm. The clouds looked very dark down towards Sarytog and it looked like we’d missed the brunt of the precipitation, but the summit still looked windy and snowy. Good views of the dikon glacier below We quickly packed up and headed down. This time we stayed on the left (north) side of the river and were able to follow nice animal trails down. We actually saw a few cows grazing up there. By 7pm we waded back across the river to our previous campsite. We picked up our cached food, set up the tent, and were asleep by sunset. Hiking back to camp Aug 26 The next morning by 630am we waded back across to the west side of the river and followed our ascent route down. Progress was fast and this time we used the bridge to cross back to the east side among a herd of cattle. We had to wade across a few tributaries but mostly followed good trails. At one point a shepherd caught up to us and he seemed amused we were walking instead of riding horses. Camp down in the lower valley He turned off at Sarikonda village while we continued back to Sarytog by 11am. We found the Dornish Guest House there that fed us lunch and one of the owners was able to provide a taxi ride back to Dushanbe. We made it to Dushanbe that afternoon and returned to the Green House Hostel. I was glad we had made it out ahead of schedule since all the next day it rained and thunderstormed in town with widespread flooding nearby. The power was out and running water cut off to the entire city! I heard in the mountains they were getting a foot of snow! The routes up alpomish and khazret sultan probably would be out for a while. Hiking out I later processed my measurements and, based on the angular measurements I took and the known distance between alpomish and khazret sultan, I calculated alpomish is 25m +/-8m taller than khazret sultan. So given khazret sultan has a surveyed elevation of 4643m from the soviet map this means I measured alpomish has an elevation of 4668m +/-8m. This is consistent with the measurements taken from the tarn. This means Alpomish is the true country highpoint of Uzbekistan. After we got back to Dushanbe we had just barely enough time to climb Ayrybaba, the Turkmenistan highpoint. This completed our five-year project to climb the Highpoints of the Stans – the country highpoints of Afghanistan (Noshaq 7493m), Pakistan (K2 8611m), Kygyzstan (Pobeda 7439m), Kazakhstan (Khan Tengri 7000m), Tajikistan (Ismoil Somoni 7495m), Uzbekistan (Alpomish 4668m) and Turkmenistan (Ayrybaba 3139m). Link to more pictures: https://www.countryhighpoints.com/alpomish-uzbekistan-highpoint/ Gear Notes: Standard rack to 3", doubles of intermediate sizes, 60m rope, lots of tat and nuts for rap anchors, glacier gear, survey equipment Approach Notes: From Sarytog village hike up Dikondara river, cross two 4000m glaciated passes near Uzbekistan border, access valley east of Alpomish.
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