September 17, 2009

The Journey Begins

We’ve touched down. Talk to you soon!

Ingrid, Giulia, Kasha, Jimmy

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September 17, 2009

Lijiang

Kasha, Giulia, and Ingrid checking out the ancient city of Lijiang.

Ingrid, Giulia, Kasha, Jimmy

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September 18, 2009

And the Magic Starts

Boarding the flight from Chengdu to Lijiang, after 48 hours of travel, it was all I could do to open one eye. I napped standing up on the bus TO the plane. And, took the escalator in the airport. I NEVER take the escalator in airports.

But the second I stepped out onto the cobblestoned lantern lit streets of the ancient city with Kasha, Jimmy and Giulia, the vicious jet lag evaporated for a magical couple hours in which we wandered and gaped at the shops, the streams and the glowing temple on the hill. Then, we were all out for eight hours.

We’re all so stoked to be here!

Ingrid, Giulia, Kasha, Jimmy

September 18, 2009

Day 5

Friday morning our fifth day of travel. Finally heading up to the Tibetan bordelands. Ingrid caught up with us in Lijiang late last nite. And we dragged her through the magnificent ancient walled city. Fueled with street food and instant coffee, we have a long drive today to the Kawa Karpo mts.

Ingrid, Giulia, Kasha, Jimmy

September 18, 2009

In Search of…

Kasha and Thupten,our Tibetan guide, looking over maps of the Kawa Karpo Mountains.

Ingrid, Giulia, Kasha, Jimmy

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September 30, 2009

Quick and Dirty Update

Short on power, so here is a quick and dirty update….Wish us luck.

After two days of following our gear laden horses, jumping streams and wandering through high alpine meadows, the sharp peaks of the Minya Konka range began to emerge from behind the foothills. Ingrid was stopped in her tracks as she peered up at one of the first snow and ice covered spear shaped peaks. We gained stoke and momentum over the next few hours as the mountains gradually revealed themselves.

When we finally glimpsed Redommaine, we stopped to stare. The northwest face looked incredible, steep with snow spines draped across its flanks. The entire face was guarded by a massive hanging serac…..The west ridge looked promising and we scanned it for an entry point. Cracked glaciers and icefalls surrounded the bottom of the mountain. We continued on for a few more hours trying to get our Tibetan horseman to take our gear as close to the peak as possible. We rounded a bend and found a gleaming lake nestled below our peak. Amazing, an alpine lake reminiscent of the high Sierras, but with a massive glaciated 20,000+ft peak on the other side.

So far the weather had been cooperating. We set up basecamp around 14,500ft and planned our next few days. Today, after a major gear explosion and laughing at the absurd amount of gear we had in tow, we sorted and packed sleeping bags, tents, skis, crampons, ropes ice screws etc, we headed up towards the mountain to scout a route and carry gear to a drop off point below the real climbing. We’re in full charging mode trying to get up before the weather turns. Not much time to acclimitize….We have an alpine start tomorrow to begin the climbing.

The route looks exciting and the skiing will be real. We’re hoping to set one camp on the ridge and make a big push while the weather holds. Keeping our fingers crossed that the splitter weather stays for a couple more days.

Ingrid, Kasha, Giulia and Jimmy

Photography: ©Jimmy Chin

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October 2, 2009

Shangri-La: The Expedition Life

Embracing the rhythms of the weather is part of expedition life.  When the weather suggests you stay curled up in your sleeping bag, you listen.  Needless to say, we didn’t end up heading up the mountain.  The two days we’ve now spent in base camp due to unsettled weather have been a welcome rest after much travel and also given us a chance to observe the mountain…a good thing, considering one of the faces we talked about climbing and skiing ripped out to the buried rock below.  Our days have passed catching up on sleep and getting glimpses of the mountain between pulses of rain, snow, and graupel.  It’s always helpful and interesting getting to know the moods and personality of a new mountain in a new range.  The weather has been shifting hour to hour, powerful and beautiful.  The Italian (Giulia) has been cooking up tortellini and making friends with the local fauna; Jimmy has been busy eating all of the cookies; Kasha is practicing yoga between her quick sunbathing sessions during the short bursts of sunshine, and Ingrid is catching up on a backlog of New Yorkers.

Ingrid, Giulia, Kasha, Jimmy

October 11, 2009

Living for the Half Hour

After staying in camp for three days, observing the weather patterns, the only information we could glean for certain was that the weather here changes every half hour. We hadn’t seen anything super nasty yet, just unsettled waves of rain, hail, snow, thunder and an occasional blast of sunshine. So, on the fourth day, when we woke up to high gray skies and no wind, we headed up towards the mountain. Our plan was to grab our gear stash, carry it up to the ridge and establish camp at around 17,000ft. With light packs, we had reached our cache at noon, loaded up our packs (and I mean LOADED our packs) and set off to put in the boot pack up the 1500ft face up to the west ridge. Once on the ridge, shouldering our cumbersome and awkward packs, we climbed and carefully navigated the knife edge ridge of snow and rock. There was huge exposure on either side. The snowy hanging glacier at 17,000ft seemed like the best place to set our high camp. With a steller sunset and approaching full moon, we chose to spend the night, hope for clear weather and go for the summit in the morning. We cozied up in our tent and started melting water for the following day. We set our alarms for 4am, hoping for a clear day.

More soon.
Ingrid, Giulia, Kasha, Jimmy

Photography: ©Jimmy Chin

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October 17, 2009

Summit Dispatch

(Click on images to view full-size)
Photography: ©Jimmy Chin

Jc_101709-1 We slept amazingly sound for being sardined head-to-foot, four people in a three person tent. The good night’s rest helped us put an optimistic spin on the (again) mixed bag of weather in the morning.  The climb started with an open snowfield for a bit, and then proceeded to a series of rocky ridges—the combo of loose rocks, exposure, and deep sugary snow quickly slowed us down, and halfway through the first ridge we were setting anchors, both ropes in use.  After the rocks, the pitch mellowed out a bit into a long, snowy ridge, bordered on the left side by a sharp overhanging cornice, and thousands of feet of exposed slopes on our right.

Jc_101709-2 The weather steadily got worse as the few blue holes turned into just the lighter grey patches against the dark of the rest of the sky.  Snow was blowing sideways—but the limited visibility may have been a boon mentally in that we could no longer see the exposure so much—out of sight, out of mind, right?! Jimmy led up and over a small steep pitch topped with a cornice, then belayed the rest of us up.

We took our first real rest at a rock outcropping and decided that, given the worsening weather and limited visibility, the wise thing to do would be to turn around, so we did.  For about 200 feet.  Getting ready to belay back down the corniced pitch, suddenly we were all like those old guys that sit on the balcony in the Muppets, totally changing our tune. “Well, the weather has never really been that good since we got here, but it’s never really been THAT bad, either.  It’s snowing, but not really accumulating. The winds aren’t too terrible, and we’re all feeling pretty good.  We should keep going!”  About face!   Jc_101709-3

We roped up in teams of two to negotiate the wide, crevasse-striped slopes, and the next several hours were a blur of one foot in front of the other. The trail breaking was fairly brutal and we switched out positions from time to time. There were a predictable series of wider, flatter, crevassed slopes where the deeper snow made for slower going, followed by shorter, steeper, icy humps.  Kasha was wanded the route with zen-like precision, marking any holes and significant spots, and Giulia took waypoints on her GPS every so often.  We stopped every hour or so for water, Clif Bloks, and some particularly tasty organic pop-tarts, but never for more than a few minutes because we had momentum–we could all feel that without even having to discuss it—and we didn’t want to break it.

Jc_101709-4 After what seemed like an eternity of trail breaking, our altitude was finally reading over 6000m and we knew we had to be getting close.  It was snowing and daylight was fading fast. The steep but manageable snow slope we were on suddenly gave way to a steeper, icy bulge. We knew we had to make up time for all the slow trail breaking in deep snow. So, we decided to unrope and punch for the top, each soloing, using both tools to clear away the rotten ice on top and get a solid bite in the watery ice beneath.  You just couldn’t go too far left (steep overhanging cornice), and you really didn’t even want to look down right (ice cliffs, Exposure with a capital E), which made it easy to focus on getting every point solid before moving the next one.  Thankfully that part wasn’t too long, and a few hundred feet later we were back on deep, lower-angled snow, and then on top of a flat knob. Beyond that was a huge crevasse, separating our bump from another bump like a big wide butt crack bisecting the two massive butt cheeks that made up the summit block—we were there!

Jc_101709-6 At this point, visibility was really poor. We couldn’t really see anything, so a photo or two and we had clicked into our skis, made the glory few pow turns at the top and then side-slipping, side-stepping, one tool and one whippet, not saying a word to each other, down the ice bulge.  What had taken us 12 or so hours to climb up took less than three to ski down (very carefully in the low visibility and now dwindling daylight). We basically skied by Braille and scanned the white out landscape in front of us for crevasses, major drop off’s and wands. A little sketchy for sure. We eventually made it most of the way down the ridge with some clever route-finding, one skis-on rappel, and a short rocky section where we had to take our skis off and downclimb for about 150 feet or so.  The further down we got, the more the weather abated until there was only a haze in the sky and still air all around us.

Jc_101709-5 As a bonus, on the way up we had seen a potential ski route that would allow us to avoid the longest section of rocky ridges—on belay we sussed the one part where we didn’t know if it went or not, and then once we knew it did, we skied pow under a full moon on the open snowfield right to the tent.  A celebratory meal of Italian cheese and salami put everyone out cold—and the next day we downclimbed one more rocky section and ripped mushy turns over the barely covered talus all the way down to 15,500 feet.

Jc_101709-7 That evening, after hauling our huge packs back to base camp, we were eating tortellini in chicken broth, in disbelief that everything had gone so smoothly.  And of course, the next morning as if to taunt us, the top of Reddomaine showed her face for a sunny half-hour.  The summit block looked far far away and tiny compared to what it felt like when we were on top. Then she went behind the clouds for the remainder of our stay. After a day of rest and packing, we got the horses loaded. We eventually shouldered our packs and hiked slowly down valley towards civilization, always looking back over our shoulders towards Redommaine and smiling.

Ingrid, Giulia, Kasha, Jimmy