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Felix Berg – Annapurna Update (English below)

„Am Tilicho konnten wir unsere erste Akklimatisationsrunde absolvieren, 6150m Höhe erreichen und dort übernachten. Am gestrigen Ruhetag las ich Elias Caneti und bei „Essi percipi“ – Sein ist Wahrgenommen werden – blieb ich hängen. Louis und Adam kümmerten sich derweil um Bildmaterial und einen ausführlichen Bericht, den Rick auf Englisch ausformuliert hat.

ENGLISH – 1. Expedition report:

Everyone  would say it was a completely bad start. The advent of a disastrous adventure. Packing gear the evening before in a tornado of family and professional engagement, missing flights, missing luggage full of crucial, high altitude equipment, on top of a denied entry into Tibet because our passports contained visas from Pakistan. Our dream expedition in the highest country in the world ended  before it had started. Our goal for spring 2017 was to open a new route on the almost unexplored North face of Cho Oyu but apparently some days before our arrival in Kathmandu, the Chinese introduced a new regulation barring entry to Tibet to travellers with recent Pakistani visas. As mountaineers, we had all travelled in Pakistan before, Louis had 5 pakistani visas but luckily had just received a new passport. Rick also had a visa from his ascent of the legendary Mazeno Ridge of Nanga Parbat in 2012 but that was apparently not recent enough to be a problem. Felix  also had a  recent visa from his 2016 attempts on The Mustagh Tower but was able to secure a new travel document at very short notice from the German embassy. For Adam, with recent Pakistani visas and no Polish embassy in Kathmandu, we hit a serious problem. He would need to travel to New Dehli, itself requiring a visa, and with no guarantee of a quick turnaround, we had exhausted our options. Ultimately, it was an easy decision, climbing together was more important than any dream line. The next evening we sat in the hotel garden with our laptops, looking for a new line which would inspire us. Dhaulagiri ? – Rick had already climbed a new line in 1993 with a Russian team; Makalu ? – Adam had climbed it in 2011; Lhotse or Everest ? – too crowded (!); Manaslu ? – maybe some potential for a new line; Annapurna? – what about the accident statistics, it is most dangerous 8000m peak. However, what about the NW flank, steep, mixed ice, snow and rock but relatively safe? That is the one, this famous mountain, the first 8000er to be climbed has inspired a new generation of climbers to explore its mysteries and off we go with big smiles and fresh spirit and the dream of Cho Oyu fades into the background. Annapurna is the new goal, but we needed a peak on which to acclimatise if we were to achieve our aim of an true alpine style ascent of our objective. So, we looked at the map for a 7000m peak near our main goal, a gentle mountain where we can exercise our ice axes and crampons and multiply those precious red blood cells to prepare for climbing at altitude. Maybe Tilicho Peak, 7200m, with a ridge rising to 6200m and then a safe continuation to the summit snows. This was to be our preparation for Annapurna.

14 – 19 April

It was a relief to leave Kathmandu for the mountains with our new plan. We reached Bise Shahar after 10 hours of bumpy bus ride, the original starting point for the popular trek which circumnavigates the Annapurna massif. These days, the track is motorable beyond Manang and we continued by jeep, making the bumps of yesterday pale into insignificance and walking seemed like a better option. Nevertheless, we appreciated the car as time was precious for us and we could reach Humde at 3280m in one day. Finally, on the 16th we  could start walking and enjoy the mountains around us. After 7 hours, we reached the last permanent settlement of the valley, Kangsar at 3735m. The next day, we gained another 400m and spent the night at the Tilicho Base Camp Lodge which was to be our home for the next two nights. One the 18th we walked up to Tilicho Lake, which the locals call the highest lake in the world, now completely ice covered. From here, we had a good view of our first goal, Tilicho Peak and admitted it was quite impressive, dominating the NW skyline. The next day, we left the comfort of the lodge and set out to reach the far end of the lake to establish our true base camp for the next 10 -12 days. Thinking of ourselves as strong climbers, we underestimated how hard, regular trekking in Nepal can be as it took a lot of effort to cross the Eastern Tilicho pass at 5340m with heavy packs in worsening weather. Finally, after 8 hours we reached a fine spot by the Northern end of the lake, close to the foot of our intended objective. We have huge respect for our porters who crossed the pass with heavier loads. We may be well equipped and technically skilled but we shall never be as tough as they are.

20th April was a resting and organising day at our minimal base camp comprising kitchen tent and personal tents but still it feels good to be alone in these beautiful surroundings. Ram and Janga are proving to be excellent cooks and base camp managers. On 21st April we finally did what we really came for, we went climbing. The initial steep scree and snow slopes led to the first broken, rocky pillar, which we climbed quickly without touching the old, faded and unreliable fixed rope, indicating this line had been followed by previous teams. At around one o’clock, Rick reached the ridge which was our aim for the day and searched around for a camp site. Descending around 80m, on the other side of the ridge, we were able to find a comfortable and safe site on top of a line of seracs (ice cliffs). After a relatively comfortable night, we continued up the ridge to reach a second rocky pillar, composed largely of cornflakes (Rick) or kitty litter (Louis) and Felix was comfortable to continue unroped over the last steep, icy section and was first to gain the start of the main North ridge of Tilicho Peak at about 6100m.

The windy ridge was not a hospitable place for our next camp but Adam found a apparently sheltered canyon formed by a crevasse amongst the seracs. It seemed we could not have asked for a better end to a good day, but during the night, our crevasse became a wind tunnel and we battled incoming snow in our prototype high altitude tents and the effects on our bodies of a first night at 6150m. After sleepless hours and with little cooking gas left, we decided to descend, having accomplished our initial acclimatisation aims.

At first, the best descent of the steep terrain we had climbed the day before  was not clear but we made good use of the pitons abandoned by previous expeditions and collected thoughtfully by Louis the day before. Rappelling proved to be the best and safest way to descend and we made good progress as Adam navigated the complex terrain and efficiently set up fresh anchors.

We reached base camp safe and sound in time for a late lunch, tired and happy. Sleep came easily.

Today, we are enjoying our rest day and a newly arrived mess tent finally provides a venue for playing chess.“



(c) Adam Bielecki
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