Wednesday, 21 November 2018

5 years of Unclimbed Peak Expeditions - The highs & lows of First Ascents

On Sunday 11th November Brian, Director of Expedition Wise Ltd, flew to Nepal with a team to attempt a previously unclimbed mountain in the Rolwaling Valley. This will be Expedition Wise’s 6th Unclimbed Peak attempt since we started running them 6 years ago. Quite an achievement!

It all began in 2013 and as a way of celebrating the past 5 years of Unclimbed Peak Expeditions we thought it would be a great time to reflect on each one of these expeditions and what was involved.

2013: Chhubohe (5,640m) & Kaloche

Since Brian (Director of Expedition Wise Ltd) was 8 years of age he had always dreamt about being the first person to climb a mountain. It was a dream that lay dormant for a long time as he never thought it would be possible. Surely it’s only famous Adventurers and Explorers that have the opportunities for these types of endeavours? Surely all the mountains have already been climbed, especially in the Himalaya?

As the years passed by, he was extremely fortunate to travel the world leading charity challenges and expeditions. In doing so he helped many people achieve their dreams of climbing Kilimanjaro or trekking in some of the most breath-taking places on the planet. But for Brian, that one dream of doing a first ascent still niggled away.

In 2012 he made the decision to take the first step in achieving his dream. By 2013, along with some friends he successfully reached the summit of both Chhubohe and Kaloche in Nepal, in doing so they became the first people to stand on their summits.

Dream achieved, he returned to the UK where another dream began to form. Through conversations with others it soon came apparent that, not only did others share his dream of climbing unclimbed mountains, but he could help others achieve it. The wheels set in motion as he began researching other unclimbed mountains, possible places and feasible routes. Fast forward to the current day and Brian was helped many people achieve the unclimbed mountain dream.

Here we take a look at each one of them:

2014: Nar Phu Peak (5,930m)

In 2014 Brian led a team of 6 to attempt to complete a first ascent of Nar Phu Peak in the Nar Phu Valley, Nepal. This was certainly a roller-coaster of an expedition as there were many times when their summit dream was not looking possible. 

The approach started on the Annapurna Circuit and over the coming days they were accompanied by the most incredible views of the Annapurna massif itself. After a few days trekking they were about to head off the circuit towards the Nar Phu Valley where they were to climb to the high pass before making their way to Base Camp. 

Their plan hit a stand point as they heard that this route was impassable due to 6ft snowdrifts. A couple of weeks prior to their expedition the area had been hit by a terrible snow storm, unusual for the time of year and unexpected. Suddenly the summit dream seemed to fade. However, after much time spent poring over the maps a new route to basecamp was found. 

They continued on the circuit before leaving the beaten track up to a newly created intermediate camp before a huge day of ascent up to Kang La Pass (5320m). From here the walk to base camp was incredibly hard due to deep snow but they got there and what a stunning place it was.  

After a day of rest, the Sherpas headed toward the mountain to see if they could spy a route past a huge hanging glacier. Watching them through binoculars, the team’s hearts dropped as they watched them stop in front of the glacier and begin to walk back. It looked like they were unable to find a route. It became apparent to the team that they wouldn’t even be able to get anywhere near the mountain, never mind the summit.

They waited for the Sherpas to return with the bad news but spirits soared as they were told a clear route has easily been spotted and should pose no problem. The first ascent of Nar Phu Peak was underway!

Summit day brought with it incredibly cold temperatures of -23 as they set out in the early hours to start their climb. It was an incredibly long day, with tough conditions. 

The wind began to pick up dropping the temperatures to -45 as they ascended, not to mention the affects of altitude. Still, the team continued with steep gradients, false summits and crevasses. It was only when they could just about see the top of the summit that once again the attempt was stopped in its tracks. A snow bridge with a huge drop either side was all that stood between them and the last 100 metres to the summit. 

Would it be passable? After much deliberation, reading of conditions, structure etc. it was decided that it looked safe enough to cross. Fortunately it was and within the hour the whole team had reached the summit of Nar Phu Peak (5930m)! They looked across the stunning mountain that covered the landscape of Nepal and in to Tibet. A safe ascent and an incredible helicopter flight back to Pokhara before flying back to Kathmandu was the cherry on the cake for this successful unclimbed peak expedition.

2015:Expedition Postponed

Brian was due to lead a team on another Unclimbed Peak Expedition in November of 2015 but sadly this was not to be. In April 25th  an earthquake that was measured at 8.1 on the Richter Scale struck Nepal, causing absolute devastation. The quake caused landslides and avalanches on the mountains, including Everest. 

Many people lost their lives and communities suffered loss and destruction to their homes and land. It was heart-breaking to hear. In September 2015 it was decided that the best thing to do would be to postpone the Unclimbed Peak Expedition and instead focus on ways to help the people of Nepal recover from the terrible event. Brian started fundraising for ShelterBox who deliver aid to those who need it in times of disaster and whom were pivotal in working with the Nepalese communities who had been hit the hardest.

2016: Omi Tso Go (6,332m)

Whilst researching unclimbed peaks for the past expeditions one name kept popping up. It was a mountain called ‘Omi Tso Go’ in the Rolwaling Himal. At 6,332m and previously unclimbed, it looked like the perfect challenge. In April Brian and his climbing partner returned to Nepal to attempt a first ascent. Arriving in Kathmandu they saw the destruction that was left by the earthquake but also saw the resilience of the Nepalese people as they rebuilt their lives. 

Walking through the mountain villages the destruction was even more apparent as they past evidence of landslide, ruins where homes once stood and people still living in tents. However, further evidence of their resilience shone through as they were greeted with warm hospitality and saw how they were rebuilding their communities bit by bit. 

Unfortunately, a successful summit was not meant to be on this occasion as weather and conditions prevented them from reaching the summit of Omi Tso Go. Although disappointed, the great news was that Brian had managed to raise a fantastic amount for ShelterBox to give back to the Nepalese community.

2016: Karbu Ri (6,010m)

Following the expedition in April, Brian headed back to Nepal the following November to lead a team of 13 on their Unclimbed Peak Expedition. The objective this time was a mountain called Karbu Ri. It was a great group with a real mix of mountain experience, but they got on famously. This is extremely important when you are on these types of expeditions. You might never know when you need gentle words of encouragement and support, or a really good laugh! 

After many days trekking through the valleys and up into the mountains some people began to struggle with illness. Snuffles experienced at home can be exacerbated with altitude and unfortunately some of the group’s conditions worsened to the point that they had to retreat to Kathmandu to recuperate. 

There was a slight moment of panic when a helicopter was spotted flying through the valley and landing nearby. The initial thought was that it was a rescue helicopter, a sombre moment for the team. However, communications through the radio suggested that this was not the case, it was collecting a team who had been climbing on the mountain range nearby. In fact, they had been collected from the team’s Base Camp!

Rumours started spreading like wildfire. They must have climbed Karbu Ri! Had the team been pipped to the post! Following communications proved that this wasn’t the case and they had just used the base camp as a pick-up point having climbed another mountain nearby! There was a shared sigh of relief amongst the team before they continued the approach to the aforementioned base camp. 

For the next few days they trekked over rocky moraine until they reached Base Camp, surrounded by mountains that stood like giants. Here they received their first sighting of Karbu Ri. The snowy peak itself stood around the 6000m but they would not know the accurate measurement until they recorded the altitude at the summit. 

By torch light they set off from base camp in the early hours of the morning. It was a long ascent over some tricky snow conditions, but they put 100% into it and were awarded when they reached the last section snow slope to the summit. 

One by one they arrived at the summit and were met by the most spectacular views across the Himalaya. They could see Everest, Cho Oyo, and Shishapangma to name a few. The team were soon stood together on the summit of Karbu Ri as they checked the altimeter showing a height at 6,010m! 

Although of the 13 only 10 were able to summit, it did not take away from what an absolute team effort the whole expedition was. Many of the participants where raising money for some fantastic charities showing that it’s not just about getting to the summit.

2017: Korlang Pari Tippa South (5,738m)

This year’s Unclimbed Peak Expedition was a mountain in the Rolwaling Himal called Korlang Pari Tippa South (5,738m). This mountain, sat on the border of Tibet, was a bit different to the snowy peaks of previous expeditions, as it had more of a rocky profile. This was always going to be a slightly more technical climb in terms of the rock, but the team were going to give it a go nonetheless.

From the outset the trekking was tough as they left the beaten track and on to a non-existent path. Machetes were used to cut through the overgrown vegetation on this path that was once used to get to the Tibetan villages found on the other side of the valley. It was clear from the start that no one had used this path for years. 

Trekking up a very steep gorge was challenging for the team but when they got higher into the mountains the views were phenomenal. Making their way to the high plateau, the effects of the altitude were stating to take effect. The trekking literally took their breath away but they continued on slowly, allowing time for the body to adapt to the thin air. 

Once at base camp they had a couple of days to rest, prepare kit and take in the spectacular surroundings in the wilderness. Once Advanced Base Camp was in situ they had a good view of the mountain they were to attempt to climb. It was incredible rocky with tall rock towers and long scree slopes. They knew this was going to be a difficult climb.

In the morning they woke to their advanced base camp to the surprise of it being surrounded by snow! Not unusual for the location or time of year but the first snow they had seen on the mountain since they arrived. 

Summit day soon arrived, and they set out to attempt Korlang Pari Tippa South. The team, with its wonderful Sherpas, climbed the scree covered slopes before heading onto hard rock. This was a long and technical climb but the team encouraged each other and worked together. After lots of focus and determination they finally reached the summit! 

After a safe descent and much deserved rest the team began the long walk out, accompanied by the view of the mountain they had summited days earlier.

2018: Unclimbed Peak Expedition

We currently have a team out in Nepal who will be attempting to reach the summit of their unclimbed mountain on Sunday 25th November. We will be following their progress and hope to hear the once they have safely descended back to base camp.

As is the nature with these types of expedition, you never know what will happen. Weather, tricky condition and illness can prevent a successful summit. For now, we wish them the best of luck and safe ascent.

One thing these expeditions have taught us over the years is that although it’s an incredible achievement to climb a previously unclimbed mountain, it’s more about the people and the journey.

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