Day 16 Base Camp- Lobouche East (6119m)- Thukla

23/01/13

So today was the day we were made our summit attempt on Lobouche East.  The snow must have stopped pretty much as soon as it started because there was no noticeable coverage when we woke. The alarm went off at 02.30 as we had intended to have a 03.00 start, an impossible task to get ready in that time normally let alone in Aashman time. We eventually left around 0400 and the following 2 hours before the sun came up involved some of the sketchiest climbing I’ve ever done, climbing across blank slabs in snow covered boots, crossing icy rocks and climbing gullies filled with scree or snow (or both on a couple of occasions).

At first light (06.00) we stopped to enjoy the sunrise which was incredible, to this day it is possibly the most amazing sight I have ever seen, just watching the first fingers of sunlight creep across the vast Himalayan expanse was breath-taking.  Unfortunately we couldn’t stay there forever as it was well below freezing and we still had another 30 minutes climbing before we needed to put crampons on. Well I say we, I put my crampons on and Aashman put his Yaktrak like things on (designed for walking on icy pavements, not for high altitude mountaineering). When I questioned his choice of equipment his reply was “its only blue ice, easy”.

We set off with ice axes in hand and hit the ice roped up via 10m of climbing rope. I had a sling harness (2 slings larksfooted together and joined by a karabiner, not something I wanted to fall on); we were roped up so we could easily place climbing gear as protection if it steepened and if one of us fell we would have a greater chance of stopping the other. After about 30 minutes climbing with Aashman leading he slipped (a fall anytime when ice climbing is bad but at 6000m it’s very bad).  I was looking up at the time and saw him fall so braced myself in the arrest position but unfortunately once he had slipped 10m past me his momentum ripped me off the ice too. I was battered about but still kept my weight behind the axe and my grip firm on the axe shaft and head.  We fell about 70m (although it felt much further) before I managed to stop us with an ice axe arrest.

If I hadn’t been able to stop us we would have plumeted down a 300m gully just 20m further down. Once we had stopped I was shaking violently from the adrenaline, I called to see if Aashman was ok but there was no reply, worried I looked between my legs and thankfully saw him standing there and seeing I was looking at him he made his way up to me. When he got to me the first thing he said was “my axe wasn’t working”, more likely he didn’t know how to use it. I was furious, he didn’t offer a word of thanks or apologise which you would have expected after almost killing someone and them saving you. The closest he came to either was saying that we were very lucky.

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The ice I got dragged over
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Taken on the way down from where I was ripped off and we fell beyond the point where Assman is (gully on Left).

Unsurprisingly this was certainly the scariest thing ever to happen to me and also one of the most painful. I can assure you that having 2 men’s body weights pulling you down a rough icy face for 70m takes its toll on you, it hurt to sit down and was so painful to carry a rucksack as my hips were in pieces, my right elbow was also heavily bruised and I couldn’t put any weight on it.  Aside from physical damage in the process of stopping over 20 stone I managed to tear both my gloves due to the force I was exerting on the axe to embed it.

After that we (me) decided to unrope to prevent the same accident happening again and headed to the summit independently. I was so fuelled by adrenalin/rage I made it first by about 15 minutes but we were both on the summit at 09.23. We had almost 20 minutes on the top taking photos (you wouldn’t guess by looking at them what had just happened) and then we made our way down.

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Tying prayer flags
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Lobouche West in the background
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Assman (‘lucky’ to be alive)
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The down jacket hides my bruises

Aashman had a dodgy looking 200m rope which he started lowering me on, it was very painful and very slow and I didn’t trust him so it didn’t long before I untied and soloed the rest; I had had enough troubles with rope for one day already. We made a fairly rapid descent and arrived back at base camp at 13.30.

We packed away quickly and we were off again.  Aashman raced ahead which wasn’t that uncommon for him but today he didn’t stop like usual to let me catch up and have a break, instead he just kept going. I was trailing behind with a bruised back, bum and leg struggling with the weight of my bag after a mentally and physically exhausting day and there he was striding away like there was no tomorrow. Then we came to a hill and because he was so far ahead I thought perhaps he was going to go to the top and drop his pack then come help me with mine, but no, when I got to the top he was just finishing his cigarette. I had been there no more than 30 seconds before he set off again. Literally no words past between us as we made it to the lodge, only once inside did Aashman say anything and it was just to say that we were lucky again.

At this stage I was thoroughly annoyed at him so I decided distance was good so introduced myself to 3 guys (an American called Max and a Dutch father and son, Bob and Jasper). We ended up playing cards and eating together which was cool and when I told them about Aashman they too couldn’t figure Aashman’s attitude.

**After speaking to English missionaries in Nepal when back in Kathmandu I found out that it was a huge cultural thing.  To admit that he was wrong and it was his fault would have been the most embarrassing thing in his life.  The reason he didn’t speak to me was because he was so ashamed.**

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