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,
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