Success on Cholatse

 

Editor's note: Nancy Hansen is an Alpine Club of Canada Ambassador who has recently returned to Nepal to attempt a summit of Cholatse with her partner Ralf Dujmovits. Follow their story on our blog, and read some of Nancy's previous adventures here.


Springtime in the Himalayas

My partner, German alpinist Ralf Dujmovits, and I climbed the south-west ridge of Cholatse (6,440m/21,123') from April 7 to 14, 2017. It is a beautiful peak in the centre of the Khumbu area of Nepal. When Cholatse is climbed, it is normally in the autumn, but we decided to give it a try in springtime. Overall, we found good conditions with some challenges thrown in—penitentes for miles (see photos of these mini-but-relentless obstacles below), bottomless crevasses, and one pitch of mostly unprotected slab climbing with crampons. Our camps were all memorable and comfortable, and the views were spectacular. As is normal in the spring season, we had blue skies every morning, followed by cloud and mist in the afternoon. Unfortunately, on our summit day, the cloud and mist arrived early, and turned to snow by the time we were on the summit. We were not rewarded for our efforts with any views, but it’s all about the journey, right?

 Cholatse (left) and Taboche (right). Cholatse is climbed infrequently, and Taboche even less so. Our route went up the glacier between the two peaks and directly up a steepish snow slope to the col. From there, we climbed rock for several pitches before camping at a notch (hidden in the photo). The summit day was technically easier, but long because of the many penitentes and crevasses.

Cholatse (left) and Taboche (right). Cholatse is climbed infrequently, and Taboche even less so. Our route went up the glacier between the two peaks and directly up a steepish snow slope to the col. From there, we climbed rock for several pitches before camping at a notch (hidden in the photo). The summit day was technically easier, but long because of the many penitentes and crevasses.

We had the mountain to ourselves. Technically, it is supposedly a bit harder than Ama Dablam. In North American terms, I would say it is about equivalent to the Harvard Route on Mt. Huntington, but with Denali’s height.

 Ralf climbing the steepish snow slope below the col at 5,650m. To acclimatize, we climbed most of the mountain twice – carrying a load up to the next camp before moving there to sleep. It worked well, and we both adjusted to the altitude without too much trouble.

Ralf climbing the steepish snow slope below the col at 5,650m. To acclimatize, we climbed most of the mountain twice – carrying a load up to the next camp before moving there to sleep. It worked well, and we both adjusted to the altitude without too much trouble.

 Ralf surveying the rest of the route from the col between Cholatse and Taboche. We spent two nights at this col (5,650m). Our route went up through the penitentes, then up the almost-unprotectable slab, wrapping around to the other side of the ridge. We came out at the obvious notch and scratched out a tiny camp at 5,800m. From there, many penitentes led us to the summit ridge and then the summit (just out of sight on the left).

Ralf surveying the rest of the route from the col between Cholatse and Taboche. We spent two nights at this col (5,650m). Our route went up through the penitentes, then up the almost-unprotectable slab, wrapping around to the other side of the ridge. We came out at the obvious notch and scratched out a tiny camp at 5,800m. From there, many penitentes led us to the summit ridge and then the summit (just out of sight on the left).

 The penitentes all leaned to the right, and we had to do some funny leg contortions to move amongst them. Climbing through them was not difficult, but it was awkward, time consuming and important not to slip! Penitentes are members of a religious order famous for self-flagellation. We could relate to this.

The penitentes all leaned to the right, and we had to do some funny leg contortions to move amongst them. Climbing through them was not difficult, but it was awkward, time consuming and important not to slip! Penitentes are members of a religious order famous for self-flagellation. We could relate to this.

 As we moved higher, the penitentes got bigger and more challenging to get through. Neither of us had experienced this type of “extreme penitente-ing” before.

As we moved higher, the penitentes got bigger and more challenging to get through. Neither of us had experienced this type of “extreme penitente-ing” before.

 I have to say that this was one of the scariest sections of rock I’ve climbed. I had four pieces of protection in 40m. The first two were no good, and they were both in the first 10 metres (the partially-exposed tri-cam just below me is one of them). The climbing was not terribly difficult, but it was insecure and the consequences were very high. I was really happy to reach the top of that pitch!

I have to say that this was one of the scariest sections of rock I’ve climbed. I had four pieces of protection in 40m. The first two were no good, and they were both in the first 10 metres (the partially-exposed tri-cam just below me is one of them). The climbing was not terribly difficult, but it was insecure and the consequences were very high. I was really happy to reach the top of that pitch!

 Around the corner, the rock became really fun! We climbed several pitches to the notch at 5,800m, but found an easier, faster (and way less aesthetic) gully/ramp system for coming back down. I think this was my favourite day of the trip – rock climbing in the warm sun at ~5,800m!

Around the corner, the rock became really fun! We climbed several pitches to the notch at 5,800m, but found an easier, faster (and way less aesthetic) gully/ramp system for coming back down. I think this was my favourite day of the trip – rock climbing in the warm sun at ~5,800m!

 Our campsite in the notch was pretty cool! Ralf had attempted a winter ascent of Cholatse in 2005, and had vague memories that we might be able to squeeze in a tent near the notch. It was scenic and well protected.

Our campsite in the notch was pretty cool! Ralf had attempted a winter ascent of Cholatse in 2005, and had vague memories that we might be able to squeeze in a tent near the notch. It was scenic and well protected.

 We are climbing above our 5,800m camp in this photo, checking out the first 150m before the next day’s summit attempt.

We are climbing above our 5,800m camp in this photo, checking out the first 150m before the next day’s summit attempt.

 I love magic moments like this, when you get to see unique mountain art in its most natural form. The mountain behind is Cho Oyu (8,188m), with its summit just hidden on the left.

I love magic moments like this, when you get to see unique mountain art in its most natural form. The mountain behind is Cho Oyu (8,188m), with its summit just hidden on the left.

 Summit day! It was a cold start, and we were looking forward to the sun catching up to us.

Summit day! It was a cold start, and we were looking forward to the sun catching up to us.

 To avoid massive crevasses which seemed to stretch across the entire west face, we had to climb on both sides of the summit ridge. Here we are on the eastern side of the mountain, enjoying the crazy exposure and wild country. We were less excited about the thick clouds coming in, although they did add a rather interesting atmosphere.

To avoid massive crevasses which seemed to stretch across the entire west face, we had to climb on both sides of the summit ridge. Here we are on the eastern side of the mountain, enjoying the crazy exposure and wild country. We were less excited about the thick clouds coming in, although they did add a rather interesting atmosphere.

 Here is Ralf, about to step on the final snow bridge just below the summit. It was the only way across this big gap. When I went first, Ralf said, “Just run!”, to which I replied, “No way!” I crawled on my hands and knees in the hopes of distributing my weight. He ran (gently). It held.

Here is Ralf, about to step on the final snow bridge just below the summit. It was the only way across this big gap. When I went first, Ralf said, “Just run!”, to which I replied, “No way!” I crawled on my hands and knees in the hopes of distributing my weight. He ran (gently). It held.

 The summit white-out photo. We could be anywhere. Only our laboured breathing let us know that we were on a peak higher than anything in North America. The summit of Cholatse is small and somewhat fragile – like stacked ice cubes. If it were clear, Everest, Nuptse and Lohtse would be over my right shoulder, and Ama Dablam and Makalu would be to my left. Needless to say, we did not stay long.

The summit white-out photo. We could be anywhere. Only our laboured breathing let us know that we were on a peak higher than anything in North America. The summit of Cholatse is small and somewhat fragile – like stacked ice cubes. If it were clear, Everest, Nuptse and Lohtse would be over my right shoulder, and Ama Dablam and Makalu would be to my left. Needless to say, we did not stay long.

The Descent

I’ll spare you the rest of the white-out descent photos. It ended up being a pretty long day and we got back to the tent just after dark. The following day, we descended from our high camp all the way to Na La Lodge with real beds and food. Just as well — it snowed almost 20cm overnight. Descending the route with that much new snow would have been time consuming and dangerous.

We reunited with our friends Don, Michelle and Chip in Namche Bazaar. Don and Michelle had completed the Three Pass Route (highly recommended, they say), and Chip was waiting for Ralf and I while we climbed Cholatse.

If you haven’t been to Nepal, you ought to consider adding it to your bucket list. The mountains are beautiful, the culture is fascinating, and the people of Nepal are as genuinely nice, friendly, hard-working, and helpful as they are reputed. You can get any level of support desired. The lodges are comfortable and clean, and they keep the trails spotless.

Going in spring means fewer crowds. The skies are normally blue in the mornings, but it clouds over most days in the early afternoon. In autumn, the skies tend to stay bright blue all day long, but there are a lot more trekkers. Don’t miss it! You too will fall in love with Nepal. If you are not convinced, watch a hilarious video of Michelle ploughing the potato fields behind two sobjaks (cow-yak cross).


Parting shot

 Rush hour traffic in the Khumbu. The porter (not ours) is carrying 100 kg!

Rush hour traffic in the Khumbu. The porter (not ours) is carrying 100 kg!