Early morning in advanced basecamp. The East Face of Baruntse is visible behind the Mountain hardwear tents.
Josh Butson covers ground on the morraine leading to basecamp and finds this beach.
The crew hiking up,over sround through and under ridges along the uncharted morraine to advanced basecamp.
Imagine the outer shell of a golfball laid out flat, running for miles and placed in between two angled walls of rock and dust that melt in front of your eyes and drop boulders from 600′ above at 60 mph. Now navigate this dimpled surface hopping from one ridge to another staying away from the walls. Each lowpoint is filled with ice cold glacial meltwater…or is a sinkhole. This a dynamic landscape constantly shifting and moving,each ridge is not always passable,sharp fins of ice and teetering one ton boulders render most impassable. Now do this for six hours. Sound like a video game? You’ve just reached advanced bascamp!
We’re taking it easy here at 17,500′ advanced basecamp today. When the rest of our gear arrives we will begin climbing…finally. Just getting close is a great feeling. The East face is quite active, wisdom put us here to observe and chart the safest path. We must look and listen before we commit. Thunderous masses of ice cascade down the mountain at any time,we have to know where they are going before we know exactly where we go.
We will likely begin by climbing a 20,000′ peak just above us and then suss out the access on the East ridge to get to the NE face. Sometime in the next two weeks we will summit! For new photos of our position,check out wwwskithehimalayas.com Live the dream,
The gentle hiss of propane stirs over the cries of ravens and the mumbles of our cook staff. I’m up early,warm and cozy in mind and body…it is a real rest day. I don’t take many of these but now that we know where we are and what the mountain looks like, I can rest.
The last two days were supposed to be somewhat restful but I’m a Himalayan climber, 7 years in, it’s in my DNA. When these mountains surround me I’m basically helpless, I see them and I go to them. Breathing hard doesn’t even register to me any more…nor do the countless times I stumble through uneven shifting blocks tilted in sand,produced by nothing more than the gaping stare stuck on my face while joyfully staring upward. The Himalaya will do that to anyone, I caution you to wear boots if you visit.
The first “rest” day, I took a short jog into a valley on our map that appeared to lead to a saddle that would allow us to pop up and over to Baruntse around Peak 4. Yea, it does, but you have to climb over some pretty steep technical ground and the peaks aren’t pretty or fun looking. This was a valley I had hoped would give us access back to the basecamp where we currently sit, after the summit. Doesn’t look like a fun or efficient ski descent and would likely wipe out half the vertical we were hoping to ski. So I was wrong. A second “rest” day led me alone and across the valley on a tired but persistent quest to figure out our routes and access.
Climbing to Makalu advanced basecamp across valley was an adventurous experience. The 1/2 mile wide morraine that splits the valley is a jagged and rolling landscape that eats time. When we arrived, Josh and Jon decided it was best to stay there while I climbed to an 18,000′ spur and traversed a 2 mile long bench across the valley from Baruntse. Tired now from having moved everyday for 12 days,persitence and uncertainty drove each step forward; “Where would we go to climb these routes?” “Is any of it safe? So many thoughts crossed my mind as the one photo image I had and the three maps that mislead us this far slowly became memories replaced by the here and the now. More precisely defined as the East face of Baruntse.
Staring around the corner, tears mixed with sand streamed from my eyes in the constant gale and I could now see what no map or no photo could tell us. We are in for an even better and more fun time than I thought. Alone in the dusty environ I smiled a smile like many I’ve known. There is something so unbelievable and satisfying about tracing ones eyes on a mass that before was just a dream, a visionary project. I believed we would find a way to ski it, that’s why I put all my eggs in one basket this year…belief is big part of pioneering. The other part is showing up, if you actually show up, more often than not the steepness in the photos begins to become lower angle and this year, a real treat is awaiting our fresh tracks. I sure hoped it would, I laid my job, my retainers from sponsors and my time on the line…and now I can have that rest day…because I know what a photo couldn’t tell us, I know we can safely climb and ski a route on Baruntse. I’ve seen it, hell I’ve tasted the gritty granitic sand that blows from it’s faces.
We will be setting an advanced basecamp up in front of the East face of Baruntse. (new photos have been posted at www.skithehimalayas.com) This camp gives us greater access to our ascent and descent routes and will let us see them in realtime top to bottom. This changes a few things,one; we will access the NE face via the East ridge and can monitor it safely before commiting to the first ascent. Two: we can see our entire ski descent from the summit back to camp, it bypasses Peak 4 and drops us into the East face 500′ from advanced basecamp. This variation of the SE ridge route has only 2 recorded ascents due to a typically unnavigable icefall. For now…we lucked out, we still have to climb it.
What a relief. Showing up and diving into a process as committing as pioneering a new route on one side of the mountain and skiing terrain that has never been skied down the other side of the mountain is a serious gamble to take off of one photo. We showed up, I scouted the lines and now we are that much closer to realizing an unprecedented and amazing adventure. Even if we fail, we made it here to try. I hope everyone finds time in their lives for moments like these. Live the dream,
On our reconnaissance, we discovered that the icefall that tumbles into the East face is in great condition,far better than any photos we had ever seen. This will make for a very special first descent, as this variation of the SE ridge route has only been climbed twice due to it’s typically ugly nature. We will be better off for approaching the NE face as well,the icefall leading to it was inveresely terrible and not safely passable. Isn’t that the beauty of pioneering? You never know what you get until you show up and see it with your own eyes.
Jon, Josh and I went on a reconnaissance hike today and have agreed on a safe and adventurous route to accomplish our goals of climbing Baruntse’s NE face on the right skyline and skiing the SE ridge on the left skyline. We will base in front of the East Face in the photo.
Ben Clark fluffs up his 0 degree sleeping bag at Baruntse basecamp with Lhotse and 29,029′ Mount Everest behind.
Ten days, Twenty two thousand feet of elevation gain and loss, 3 pounds less but no blisters, no porter strikes and now…nowhere to go since leaving the house in Telluride on 4/11. We are perched in the most magnificent basecamp I have ever resided in since first coming to the Himalaya seven years ago. Our view; three peaks over 27,776′ including Makalu,Lhotse and the Mother Goddess of the Earth as they call her in Nepal and Tibet, Everest. This is amazing,it’s supposed to be a rest day to acclimatize but with views like this, ones heart never stops pounding.
Traversing a “U” shaped granite valley as it wound deep into the heart of the southeastern end of the Nepali Himalaya, waterfalls over two thousand feet high moistened the mossy walls and led our eyes toward the snow capped peaks that fed them. At last, we all agreed, there are mountains here after all. Foggy days had drenched our bodies and soaked our boots. Slipping and sliding up and down over rhyolite, formica and muddy white granite our well heeled souls wanted to trek softly on the silty surface that slithers alongside glaciers.
On day 9, we travelled from 13,000′ to just over 16,000′. This day was amazing, as vegetation waned, views of 20,000′ peaks began to fracture the deep blue sky…our spirits gently lifted with the fog. Strangely,when we arrived at our camp that night,we slept on a bed of sand. That sand leads all the way up valley to where we are now camped at 17,000′, our permanent base for the next few weeks. It is here, in this formidable valley of enormous granite and three of the worlds highest peaks that our steep and remote climb on 23,390 Baruntse stands.
Josh, Jon and I are all feeling great. Today we will unload our duffels, separate and organize our gear and food and hydrate. We will stay here for three days before beginning any serious climbing. Our plan is to hike across the valley and make a reconnaissance of the access to the Northeast face as well as to find a route above our cold icy drainage that will lead us to 22,000′ Peak 4. We will climb and ski Peak 4 first to acclimate and scout our ski descent on the southeast ridge of Baruntse. Once we have surveyed these two aspects we will return to our basecamp,rest for a couple of days and then begin pioneering a new route on the NE face that will lead us with full packs over the summit and to ski down the SE ridge and around Peak 4 right back down to base. Pretty sweet huh?
As we solve this puzzle over the next few days we will continue to upload photos to www.skithehimalayas.com There are currently 6 new photos I just posted of the ascent to basecamp and the view from here so check back regularly if you want to see the process as it unfolds. As always, we are thrilled to be here and welcome any correspondence as my goal as always is to share the adventure with everyone!
Live the dream!