Thursday, 11 September 2014

Ours are the Journeys that take us to the Unknown – Unclimbed Peak 2014

On the 9th of November 2014 a team of 6 intrepid adventurers will set off to Nepal, where we will embark on an incredible journey to climb an unclimbed peak.

Located in the Lost Valleys region of the Himalaya, the previously unclimbed peak ‘Nar Phu’ stands at approx 5921m in the far eastern Chulu range. This is an area that is home to snow leopards and the isolated Tibetan villages of Nar & Phu. It is relatively unexplored by both climbers & trekkers.

This really is a once in a lifetime trip for many. How incredible to explore an area where few have been and to be the first to stand on a summit overlooking the Himalayas, with views across to Pisang Peak (6,091m)  with the Annapurnas beyond and the main peaks of the Chulu range to the west.

Four of the NarPhu Team in Snowdonia
From our research studying maps and Google Earth, Nar Phu  Peak is more of a ‘Trekking’ peak.  Therefore, the ascent should not be overly technical like a climbing peak but we will all be prepared with the right kit and will have fixed ropes to be used if needed.

The Nar Phu Team members look at the route on the map 
There are many obstacles to overcome and things that could affect whether the team are able to successfully summit the virgin peak. These include injuries on route, altitude sickness, unknown territory, poor weather conditions, stomach bugs, and a whole host of other things. There’s also the issue of whether we will be granted permission to climb the mountain from the village Lama as many of the peaks are seen as deities by the local Tibetans in Nar village and it may be that they would find westerners climbing it disrespectful. We require the Lama to give us permission so that we can carry out a Puja, a Buddhist blessing ceremony, as otherwise, our Sherpas would not accompany us. It would be both disrespectful and dangerous to continue on without them and in essence, our Unclimbed Peak Expedition could end right there before it had really begun.

It is these elements of the unknown that makes an expedition such as this all the more intriguing and exciting and indeed challenging. Perhaps it would be a less attractive adventure if it involved following a well known path, climbing a much ascended mountain and following in the footsteps of many trekkers who have stood on the summit.

From our first day of trekking, it will take 7 days to reach the virgin territory where NarPhu Peak stands and the truly unknown meets us. Here we will have left the main trekking path having spent a tough day ascending Kang La at 5,306m and need to explore the area to source a suitable Base Camp. Standing in the Chulu range, the ever present view of the mountain will be a constant reminder of why we are there.

 Once Base Camp is set up, we plan to spend the next day resting, acclimatising and discussing possible routes to the peak. As the east end of the Chulu range is relatively unexplored, our route planning so far has evolved from looking at maps and Google Earth images of the peaks. It is only when we are actually at Base Camp that we will be able to determine what route would be best to take to the summit and evaluate the conditions on the ground and high up on the ridgeline. Again, poor weather conditions could now abruptly bring this expedition dead in its tracks as it could be that the snow conditions are too dangerous to ascend.

All being well in terms of weather conditions, acclimatisation and general health, our plan is to spend the next day ascending a neighbouring unclimbed, unnamed peak at 5890m. This will allow the team to experience the type of climbing we will be doing on the main ascent, testing our ascent skills, getting comfortable with our kit and surroundings and ultimately building our confidence ahead of the main summit attempt a couple of days later.

With another day of rest and preparation for the main climb the next day, the team will no doubt be experiencing mixed feelings that often arise prior to such a challenge. Here it will be important to pull together and work together to ensure everyone is ready to go for the summit. It will also be a time to reflect as to why we are here, take in the stunning scenery and appreciate that moment of being in unexplored territory, for many a once in a lifetime experience.

Fingers crossed everyone will be in tip-top condition, well acclimatised, feeling strong, determined and ready to go. Though nervous I am sure we will be, we must eat and sleep well for tomorrow we will begin our ascent of Nar Phu.

Summit Day: It will be 15 days since we left the UK to embark on this adventure, with 10 days of trekking to lead us to this point. After an early start, we will attempt the ascent of the mighty Nar Phu Peak, with hopes of great conditions and a safe and successful summit bid. Here we will also be able to accurately measure the true height of the mountain.

Nar Gate on the route to Nar Phu Peak

If all goes well, we will then stand on the summit of Nar Phu Peak as the first people to climb this mountain. After months of planning, training and dreaming about the expedition we can only hope that we achieve what we came to do and more, to climb the mountain, to experience the unknown and to achieve the amazing.

What if we don’t? Nothing good has come from negative thinking so we try to not focus too much on the ‘what ifs’ at this point. If it is meant to be it will be and if not, nothing is wasted and we will be thankful for everything experienced on this truly remarkable expedition.

Hopefully our team’s story will be one of success and a safe descent back to Base Camp where we will take a moment to reflect on our achievement before trekking down to the village of Ngawal, looking back every now and again for our last view of NarP hu Peak where we stood only hours before. Here we will stay overnight to be met the next day by our helicopters that will fly us out to Pokara. What better way to end this incredible adventure than to fly through the Himalayas, passing 7000+m  snow capped mountains as we go.

Once the helicopter lands in Pokara we will then take a commercial flight to Kathmandu where we will have time for a shower (the first in a long time!), enjoy a celebratory meal and sleep in a proper bed! The next day we will visit the Ministry of Tourism where we will have to take all our documentation and evidence to prove we actually did reach the summit of Nar Phu.  This is quite a detailed affair which includes showing the route we took, photos of us at the summit and GPS/Altimeter readings at the summit. We will also need to meet the famous Elizabeth Hawley who has been officially recording all new summits and new routes for the last 50 years and is a legend in the climbing world.  As her decision is final, this could make or break the success of the Unclimbed Peak Expedition. Sure, we will know did it but if it isn’t in the log book it isn’t seen as a first ascent!

Team Training weekend on the hills of Snowdonia

In between now and November (which really isn’t far away at all) the Team will continue to train, as well as sort out all the administration needed for such an expedition including visas, purchasing final bits of kit, Travel Insurance, Mountain Rescue cover etc.

Practising rope techniques on the Team Training Day

There’s a lot to think about and to prepare for such a trip, but all the hard work will be worth it to stand on the summit of NarPhu, knowing that we are the first people to do so.

Good Luck Team NarPhu & safe travels!