Pumori Expedition, Nepal 2006
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Pumori International Expedition, March 2006

Mt Pumori is an amazing 7000 meter peak located directly opposite Mt Everest (South Side) and offers incredible views of the
route taken by Hillary and Tenzing on the first ascent of the mountain.

The walk in is 70 kms and follows the Everest Base camp route, with Pumori Base Camp diverting to the left towards the end of the trek.

We reached 6,900 meters on our expedition on summit day and were going strong when unfortunately an accident injured 2 sherpas and one climber so we spent the next 3 days getting off ther mountain. An incredible experience never the less and great training for climbing Mt Everest.

Also visit www.reachyoureverest.com

The following article about the trip appeared in the October 2007 issue of Australian climbing magazine called Crux :
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First Himalayan climb and high drama on 7000 meter Pumori

Although the deaths and rescues on Mt Everest dominated the news from the 2006 climbing season in Nepal, near tragedy struck a large international expedition including 4 Australians on Mt Pumori (7165m) located opposite Mt Everest. Melbourne climber John Kazanas describes his experiences including the amazing rescues that followed their summit day on March 24th 2006.

- Written by John Kazanas -

After countless of mountaineering trips to the Australian Alps and several trips to New Zealand, my first Himalayan climbing adventure and dream of climbing in the shadow of Mt Everest was taking shape. Not wanting to organise my own expedition, I had booked myself on a commercial trip run by Dan Mazur’s Summit Climb going to Mt Pumori (7165m) Nepal. Wanting to climb something more difficult than a standard trekking peak, Pumori offered a challenging route, sustained semi technical climbing and high altitude exposure at over 7000 meters all whilst having Mt Everest “in your face”. All the trips I had done to that point were small, light and fast pure mountaineering accents. So I had some reservations about joining a large expedition and climbing with large groups on fixed ropes and with people I knew little about. But I figured the compromises were worth it and the opportunity was too good to pass up.

Arriving for the first time in Kathmandu was an experience in itself due to the internal political problems. First stop was all the gear shops in Thamel. As Pumori is around 1000 meters higher than most trekking peaks which average 6000 meters in Nepal and only 12 kilometres from Mt Everest, it experienced Everest like conditions requiring Everest like gear. The previous year the Summit Climb team had endured temperatures as low as forty two degrees below zero on Pumori. This meant more specialised gear was required.

The trip included several other Australians such as Philip Ling from Sydney who was also a leader in training with Summit Climb, John Percy originally from Melbourne now living in the UK and Jay Riley the expedition leader from Cairns. There was a real international flavour to the expedition with people from Canada, U.S., New Zealand, South Africa, Holland, Sweden, U.K. and Germany. However, to my surprise, out of the 15 or so people on the expedition, only around half were actual climbers. The rest had done snow slogs like Aconcagua in South America and Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa, but had very limited technical climbing under their belts. Most had simply “trekked” on snow slopes and appeared to lack any pure mountaineering and climbing experience. I wondered how these members would cope on what I considered a technical mountain that had ice walls, large crevasses and sustained climbing sections.

After flying into Lukla (2800 meters), it took us 7 days of slow acclimatised walking to reach Pumori Base Camp located at an altitude of 5300 meters and 70 kilometres away. As we were the first commercial expedition at the start of the climbing season we generated a lot of interest. Along the way we were treated to amazing views of the Himalayan range and countless of peaks including Ama Dablam (6856m), Kangtega (6685m), Lobuche (6145m), Nuptse (7861m) and off course Everest and Pumori which slowly revealed themselves the closer we got. Just outside of Namche Bazar we saw Everest for the first time, which even from 30 kilometres away still looked amazing with its huge plume blowing off the summit.

Most of us began taking Diamox the day before flying into Lukla as a preventative. This worked well. Other than some breathlessness and mild headaches at night which we treated with Panadol and drinking lots of water, we all trekked well. Our route followed the well trotted Everest Base Camp trek and we simply veered left for the last few kilometres after Gorak Shep placing us next to a beautiful frozen lake beneath Pumori. From our altitude of 5300 meters it towered 1900 meters above us and all we could simply do on the first few days is simply gaze up at it in total awe.

We then began a series of acclimatization climbs up to Advance Base Camp (5700m) and Camp 1 (6100m), the objective being to eventually get to Camp 2 at 6600 meters and to then attempt the summit 550 meters higher up.

It was during the acclimatisation runs up and down Pumori that I become concerned about how people were getting up the mountain and the lack of skills they displayed. I got comments from other expedition members that included “…why do you always bother holding your ice axe?” and “…I find holding an ice axe throws me off balance….”. In my mind I never went above the snow line without holding an ice axe and it aided in balance. But the best comment of all, after climbing a 10 meter 90 degree ice wall below Camp 1, was “Did you use your ice axe to climb up that section?”. The same person then proceeded to have their pack hauled by a Sherpa and “climbing” by simply pulling on their jumar up the fixed line.

The higher up the mountain we climbed the more Everest, Lhotse and the Western Cwm Glacier together with the southern route to Everest revealed themselves. It was spectacular scenery. We could clearly see every detail of the treacherous Khumbu icefall that Everest expeditions would soon have to tackle including the Lhotse leading face leading up to the South Col. From Camp 1 (6100m) we could easily hear the jet stream striking the summit of Everest and see the plume it generated. At sunset we were treated to an amazing light show of orange, pink and red rays of light striking the snow covered peaks all around us and as far as the eye could see. It was spectacular and very bloody cold!

To get to Camp 2 we had to cross a number of crevasses. The highlight included crossing a 15 metre crevasse by walking on four dubious ladders tied together. Many people simply crawled across this. Then “roadblocks” started to develop. The Sherpas were still fixing lines and the inexperienced climbers were holding things up. I kept getting showered with large chunks of ice. People were hacking huge pieces of ice the size of dinner plates and forgetting to even call “ice”. Together with one of our Sherpas I finally decided to drop right back at the end of the cue and avoid all the stuff coming down. I vowed to be in front of the group the following day which was a summit day to avoid the same situation.

We awoke to a glorious summit day with little wind and not a single cloud in the sky. In fact it was a warm day considering we were nearly at 6600 meters. The 3 layers underneath my Gore-Tex overpants were almost too warm. By 7am everyone was on the move and primed for a summit push. Pumped up by two GU gels and a black coffee I raced to the front of the cue to avoid the previous day’s problems. But we seemed to be in the same situation as the day before. There was a hold up. The Sherpas were still fixing ropes to the summit and we had to wait. As I reached Jay Rilley at the front of the cue we estimated we were at 6,900 meters, or around 250 vertical meters from the summit. I then noticed that there were two climbers ahead of us. It was the two Swedes Dennis Jonsson and Jonas Alhman. As we approached a 10 meter ice wall things came to a complete standstill. The Sherpas spent a good 20 minutes trying to fix the lines. Then they moved on above us.

The Swedes then proceeded towards the vertical ice wall with Dennis going first. He tugged at the rope and leaned back pulling on his jumar with both hands but was making limited progress. He managed to get ½ way up the ice wall after 10 mins and declared that he needed a break and stopped. It was taking too long. Time passed and the Swedes were still on the ice wall. As people shouted for them get moving others yelled “….Dennis, use your ice axe!” which was strapped to his pack. To the astonishment of everyone he declared “….I don’t know how to use my ice axe…”. Then it was the turn of the second Swede below him Johnas. He swung his ice axe with one hand but could not make it stick. His poor foot work meant he could not get the front points of his crampons to fully stick to the ice. He was all over the place. Then Johnas come off. He lost his footing and started swinging on the fixed line. This then caused the other climber above him, Dennis to also loose his footing and he was off! So we now had two climbers swinging wildly above us hanging from the fixed line. As they tried to get their footing back, the incredible happened. The snow anchor above the Swedes “popped” high in the air and they took a wild 10 meter pendulum fall right below to us! Bang! Smash! To the sounds of “…my ankle…my ankle…” we simply stood there in amazement. As people began to ask if they were ok, I looked up at the next piece of pro and realised that they had severely shock loaded the ice screw just above me. This ice screw now had 12 people potentially hanging from it! Shock and horror filled my body. As I screamed to people below me to take their load of the rope, I began to take off my jumar clamp from the fixed rope. Better to be solo than be on a line that’s about to fail I thought! But there was worse to come. The fall of the Swedes had started a chain reaction and had pulled the Sherpas leading higher up off their feet. To my complete astonishment, and to the astonishment of all others, a light red suited figure, appeared flying at high speed over the ice cliff above us. Making a “whoosh” type sound they were sliding on their backside and after flying over the 10 meter ice cliff began skipping at very high speed across the surface of the 45 degree snow/ice slope that we were on. My heart stopped. Despite people yelling “..self arrest! self arrest!…” they continued to fall at the speed of a high speed car driving on a freeway. Finally they cart wheeled to a stop several hundred meters below us. Incredibly, a few seconds later, a second figure appeared to come falling over the ice cliff at an even higher speed. They too began a series of skips across the surface of the snow and ice at a very high speed. They finally stopped when they crashed into a crevasse a few hundred meters further down.

Suddenly summit day had become accident day. It was now about to become a full blown rescue operation. At 6,900 meters there are no helicopters, acclimatised rescue teams or government organisation that can simply come to get you. You are on your own. So it was rescue time. People slowly made their way to the injured climbers and we split into several groups to get the injured climbers down. It looked bad. Lakpa Chiri Sherpa had a broken leg, was coughing blood, and seemed to have severe internal injuries. Tenzing Sherpa had a dislocated shoulder and damaged his hip. Dennis Jonsson had a really badly injured ankle and could not walk. All this at 6,900 meters!

An epic rescue had now began. After getting the injured climbers to Camp 2 300 meters below us, we wrapped the 2 most injured climbers (our 2 Sherpas) in their sleeping bags. It then took us 14 hours to get them to Camp 1 400 meters below us. One of most difficult sections was the 15 meter crevasse we had crossed the day before. Tying the injured climbers on steel ladders we used a dubious Tyrolean traverse to get them across. It was really scary stuff. The injured climbers were lowered below the lip of the huge crevasse on one side and then we had to haul them across the other side. There were no pulley systems, no secure anchors or high tech devices, just people holding on to the ropes with their bare hands. We only just made it across. In complete darkness we kept going. The scariest moment then happened when we were lowering one of the injured climbers down a steep ice section. The snow anchor we were belaying from failed completely! As the belay person struggled to hold them, the injured climber began sliding into the abyss of the night. I could not believe it. Another snow anchor failure! It took me a good 10 mins to dig a deep snow trench and I reset the anchor as a proper t-slot deadman dug deeply in the snow. To make sure it was bomber we pissed on the snow we used to back fill the snow trench to ensure a really good freeze. (This is an old Sherpa trick which works very effectively!.)

It would be midnight and 14 hours before we reached Camp 1. Then, after grabbing Bert from Holland, I spent 3.5 hours rappelling down in the eerie scary darkness to ABC a further 400 meters below. Needless to say we triple checked every anchor we rapped off! It would be 4am before getting to bed. We had been on the go for 22 hours! The rest of the group crashed either inside the tents at Camp 1 (up to 4 in a tent!) with the injured climbers or bivied outside. Thankfully it was a warm night.

After 4 hours sleep I awoke at ABC to people coming up from Base Camp who were still wondering what had happened. Soon I was off with a warm thermos and medicines eager to help the others back up at Camp 1. But it was not to be. It took me 3.5 hours to climb just 300 vertical meters and I was getting too cold and too tired to go further. Although I waited for one hour at 6000 meters for the climbers above me to come down, there was nothing more I could do. In total despair I hooked the thermos flask to the piton anchors, stuffed all the medicines I had in a small crack and got out of there. Whilst rapping down I could see that the climbers above me had hardly moved from Camp 1. Like the night before it was slow going. I felt a severe sense of abandoning them. A small tear drained from my eye as I rappelled down.

Reaching Base Camp at 7pm we got on the radio and spoke to the teams still up on the mountain. We were relieved and they were inching their way down to ABC. A helicopter evacuation was being planned and it would take our expedition agent a lot of string pulling to secure a military helicopter rescue due to the Maonist uprising and shortage of military equipment.

The following morning we met the rest of the team in ABC. Everyone was severely exhausted and could hardly move. The injured Lakpa Chiri Sherpa had come close to dying. The 4 people getting him down had to at one point to turn him upside down and drain all the blood from his body and out of his mouth in order to help him cope with his internal injuries. As I held his hand at ABC he was having trouble breathing. We had to get him the hell out of there as he would not last long. We slid and carried the ladder he was secured to down low angles snow gullies like a sled and carried it on our shoulders for the last part to an intermediate camp near Base Camp.

Early the next day a Nepalese Army helicopter circled loudly above us. To the screams of joy and claps from everyone the helicopter ferried the injured climbers first to the town of Periche before continuing to waiting ambulances at Kathmandu. A huge sense of overwhelming relief then came over everyone at Base Camp. Everyone shook hands, patted each other on the back and hugged in jubilation. It was an amazing rescue. With limited resources, lack of people and at very high altitude a group of people from various countries with limited skills had joined forces to get people down safely.

Reality however then set in. The expedition was over. Some people left the expedition immediately that afternoon and began the walk out to Lukla. Others like myself stuck around for a few days in order to recover physically and then separated from the group for a day of walking alone to create some “space” and get over the recent events. Despite the disappointment of not summiting Pumori I was just glad that no one had died. They could have very easily. People generally do not walk away from high speed 200 meter falls at an altitude of 7000 meters. Other than not reaching the summit of Pumori, I felt very good about getting as high as 6,900 meters which wasn’t too bad having never been at altitude before. I guess sometimes reaching your first Himalayan summit is only one of the joys of mountaineering. Human life and friendship is way more precious than reaching any summit.

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