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Lobouje East

Sat 30 Oct 2010 16:40 » Jon

Wow.

What a climb.

After setting off around 02:30, we hit the false summit at about 08:00 then Dowa, Mark, Andy and I reached the real summit at 08:35.

After another incredibly clear and starry night, the wake-up call found us warm and cozy. Despite the clear skies, it was surprisingly warm – below zero, but not as uncomfortable as sometimes.

I’d slept well so it wasn’t too hard getting up, but somehow I still managed to be the last one ready. The porridge arrived at 01:30 and all I has to do was eat, get dressed, clean my teeth, squat over some rocks behind the tent, then get my kit ready, but this seemed to take longer than everyone else so I set off at the back of the group near Thomas and Nima Temba.

The first couple of hours was spent climbing up some amazing slabs of rock, which were covered with more snow and ice as we got higher. This time there were no other groups on the mountain so the only light was the 12 head-torches of our group: 8 clients, Andy and 3 Sherpas. The only noises were the crunch of feet on either rock or snow, the clanking of climbing equipment, and the chanting of Tam Ding and Nima Temba’s prayers.

It was still dark when we reached the glacier at about 04:30. We seemed to get organised more efficiently this time, and the first group to set off was Andy, Mark, Rich and me.

The glacier crossing didn’t seem as circuitous as on Island Peak, but it felt like there was more height gain. By this stage I was feeling the altitude (~5600m) and wasn’t really enjoying having the pace dictated. The back of a rope-group is an unfortunate place to be, as the leader (who sets the pace) will finish a section of ascent and speed up for the descent while the guy at the back is still climbing, and quite happy with the slower pace.

As we’d been crossing the glacier the sun had started to appear, and there’d been some amazing views across the Himalaya. Unfortunately being roped to three other people isn’t conducive to photography (especially when the batteries are kept separately in a chest pocket to keep them warm), so I don’t have any photos from that part of the climb.

Apart from a brief climb near the beginning, most of the height gain came from a sustained ascent towards the end of the glacier, as we approached the start of the fixed ropes. The slope got steeper and steeper until Andy eventually came to a stop at the line that Dowa had set up. When we’d arrived at the glacier I’d dumped my poles, attached my crampons and tied into the end of the rope with a retied figure of eight. Mark and Rich had clipped into knots at intervals along the rope, and the three of us were reeled in by Andy. We attached our Jumars to the line and set off, leaving Andy behind to speak to the next group, and hoping we’d meet Dowa somewhere higher up.

There were a couple of anchors in the first section, and we generally caught each other at these, as there’s a slight delay while you clip your safety karabiner to the anchor and transfer the Jumar to the next section of rope. Andy was far below, I paused at one of the anchors, put a battery in, and started taking photos.

I was travelling at about the same time as the other two but all three of use were going slowly and stopping regularly. By the time we reached the top of the first section Andy had caught up, and wasn’t best pleased when he saw Mark unattached. There was a 10m gap between ropes and Mark was halfway across the gap, but luckily Dowa was there to explain.

At the top of the second section we reached a little plateau and clipped into an anchor, as the third and final section of fixed ropes wasn’t yet in place. We crossed another short unroped section then Dowa appeared, abseiling down his latest creation. Once he was off we clipped in and began our climb to the false summit.

We clipped into another anchor at the false summit and were soon joined by the second rope party – Dave, Martin and Jo. At this point Andy asked if anyone was interested in carrying on to the main summit but there wasn’t much enthusiasm – only Mark and I showed any interest. Although the fixed lines hadn’t been as steep as Island Peak, they’d been way longer – Andy reckoned 400m of ascent compared to 100m on Island. Climbing this far at 6,000m had taken it’s toll.

Luckily the views were incredible. In one direction we could see Everest poking above the Nuptse-Lhotse ridge, with Makalu slightly off to the right, and in front of Makalu was little old Island Peak.

The summit party was lead by Dowa, with me second, followed by Mark and Andy. The route was alond a very sharp, steep ridge, and Andy reminded us to keep the rope tight and concentrate on every single footstep, ensuring we had our axes in the snow before moving our feet.

It took about 30 minutes to reach the summit (6,119m). The journey was exhilarating, exhausting and at times downright terrifying. The steep drops on either side of the ridge sometimes ended at a vertical cliff only a few metres away.

At the summit there were hugs and high fives, and a few minutes for photos. The skies were still clear and the views were even better than from the false summit some 100m lower. There were a few small clouds in the distance though, and Andy said the weather was about to change so we should head down. He gave us another reminder of how dangerous the ridge path was, then we re-traced our steps to the false summit and began abseiling down the fixed lines.

Abseiling is beginning to feel a bit more natural. I hadn’t done much before this trip but I’m getting used to it now, and switching over at anchors is becoming more efficient too.

At the bottom of the fixed lines we roped up for the glacier and I lead Mark and Andy back down to the rock section. We caught up with several others there, but they were just setting off as we stopped for some food and drink, as well as re-arranging our kit and switching from ice-axe and crampons back to poles.

Mark had felt quite unwell after Island Peak and had put this down to keeping his down jacket on too long, so I’d been gradually shedding layers. Once the sun had appeared it was too hot for a down jacket so I’d stowed that at the false summit then lost my Primaloft jacket as we reached the rock.

We slowly dropped down across the enormous slabs back to the little lake where high camp was perched and I suddenly began feeling dehydrated and absolutely exhausted. We were given hot lemon then soup to help us rehydrate, then I crashed out in the tent for a bit. Unfortunately the porters wanted to move everyone down to base camp as soon as possible, so the rest of the team began packing up and shipping out. Rich and I were last, but finally got our kit sorted out and slowly plodded down to base camp, where we were fed more hot lemon while the tents were put up, then we all crashed out again.

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