October 7, 2010

Why Mt. Abi has Few Ascents

By Graham Desroy

The description to climbing Mount Abi (6097 m), a trekking peak in Nepal's Khumbu region, painted a picture of accessible 45°- 50° snow slopes up a straight-forward ridge to the summit at about AD but as a footnote mentions that it hadn't seen many ascents. Perhaps we should have paid more attention to that last detail.

As it was it sounded ideal to combine with a high passes trek, all based around Tom's 50th birthday celebrations in May. Perfect for the team's first experience of a Himalayan peak - the team being Tom Hutton, Steph Duits, Al Vincent and myself (Graham Desroy).

However, nothing is quite as simple as it sounds - as is often the case on expedition. The first clitch was the trekking company that was organising the trip bailed out with three weeks to go. Fortunately my contact in Kathmandu, Loben Expeditions, came good within two days and all was back on track until volcanic ash, flights in chaos, stranded holiday-makers and so on.

But the dust clouds parted on the right day and we landed in Kathmandu on schedule and right into the middle of a major Maoist strike: no public transport, no shops, no restaurant, no usual hustle and bustle.

To our surprise, the flight to Lukla was still running - in between the rain clouds - and so against the odds we were duly deposited at the start of the trek, porters all organised, with the yaks, climbing gear, camping kit and climbing sherpa scheduled to meet us at the base camp in seven days time.

A week later suitably acclimatised by ascending a minor summit, Gokyo Ri (5480 m), we arrived at base camp just-off the Cho La where our peak gear was ready and waiting, tents all erected and the cook team serving up three cooked meals a day and the luxury of 'bed-tea' in the morning. Time to get stuck-in.

But what's this? Nobody mentioned a significant ice-fall to be negotiated up to the col. Where was the nice easy slog up a snow slope? Tamling, the climbing sherpa and I spent a nervous afternoon in the maze below tottering seracs and shooting galleries of stonefall finding a 'safe' route up through it and fixing 400 metres of polyprop rope to speed the subsequent summit day.

Except that it wasn't subsequent - Steph was not on top form - the polite way of describing a dose of Nepal's finest. Sadly for her she was no better the following day, the final day of our 'window' to go for the top.

So it was Tom, Al, Tamling and I that made the pre-dawn stumble up the ice-fall. Massive detours round gaping cevasses on the col gobbled up the time. It was late as we left the col. The views over Cho Oyo and Tibet were stupendous. Our ridge was threatened by another serac barrier. Snow slopes turned into hard blue water ice, somewhat steeper than 50 degrees: time to start pitching, calf muscles burning, and gasping for air. Progress slowed. Another full-pitch and it was crunch time. The clock said it all as stones started to whizz and whine. The clouds had rolled in and the summit was still 300 metres higher than we were. The decision was inevitable. Down for tea and sympathy.

The rest of the trip involved the Cho La Pass, up the Khumbu Valley, views of Everest from Kala Pattar, stunning scenery, Tom's 50th in Namche Bazaar, and three days loafing by the pool and drinking beer in Kathmandu.

We'd discovered there is a reason why Mount Abi doesn't get many ascents and the commercial trekking companies don't really do it. It's too hard for a simple summit. Why? Because in the last ten years global warming has had a dramatic effect on the region: snow slopes have become ice-falls, stonefall has increased and seracs have become more unstable. And I'm sure the air has got thinner, the ridge steeper and gravity stronger...

Graham Desroy

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