Summit and Survival

The weather forecast on May 5th was good for the subsequent days and it was decided to do a summit attempt on the 9th, departing the 6th for C2 (~6200 m). In the morning of the 6th, indeed, most of the climbers went up. Suresh did not join as he did not feel well prepared and Jason woke up with pink foam on his mouth, the ultimate sign of pulmonary edema, and was transported down. As the weather was good and we had climbed the route a few times, we arrived at C2 in less than 6 hours. The next morning we got up early and climbed to C3 (~6900 m). The weather was much better than the previous time and we could now clearly see the enormous crevasses. We arrived at C3 in just over 6 hours. On May 8th, we left C3 early to climb to C4 (~7350 m). Arien and I arrive early and try to rest. There are two groups formed, a slower group that will depart at 18 h and a faster group that will depart at 20 h. Shortly after 20 h, Arien and I indeed leave and we steadily climb up in the dark. Around mid-night, unfortunately, I am hit by a piece of ice, size of a dice, exactly in my left eye. I lose my contact lens and, worse, the eye is completely blind (according to the ophthalmologist later in the hospital it was “temporary blindness, due to a haemorrhagic retina caused by a blunt trauma”).

Photo Pemba took about an hour after the ice hit my eye

With only one functioning eye, you cannot see depth which slowed me and Pemba down a bit, but we could more or less keep up to speed with the rest of the group. Just before 10 AM on May 9th we summitted, making Arien and myself  the very first Dutchmen ever summitting Kangchenjunga.

Summit !

The weather had deteriorated and basically, after making a few photos, we went down again. Around 8400 m, there is a rather steep and difficult part, and Pemba suggested we would make a rappel rather than climb down. So we did and when I had gone down, something went wrong which made me lose my equilibrium and tumble down about 30 m. My helmet got total-loss (i.e. it served its function) and I got bruised all over from hitting the rocks. When I slightly disoriented looked up when I stopped falling, I saw a small rock, about the size of a small soccer-ball, bouncing towards me and it smashed me right in the left half of my face. I was bleeding like a pig and slightly dizzy for a while. Pemba and Lakpa rushed towards me and tried to get me up again.  At an altitude of 8400 m you have to help yourself as helicopters cannot fly above ~6500 m. Pemba and Lakpa tried to to persuade me to climb down, but I hurt so much that I didn’t. They removed my crampons and started lowering me down, first through a couloir than across a traverse and then again down through another couloir. Not only was I getting freezing cold by being dragged through the snow, it was also very uncomfortable being tossed over the rocks and it went very slow. As I realised that at this speed we would never reach a safe altitude before I’d be undercooled, I asked Pemba to put my crampons on and let me climb down myself. Thus happened and extremely slowly since my right eye stopped functioning as well, rendering me effectively into a blind person, we descended to C4 where we arrived mid-night. The next morning we continued our descent to C3. During daytime I luckily could see a bit which made it easier to climb down. Around 15 h we reached C3 and I had hoped that a helicopter withy a long-line could pick me up there. Unfortunately, no heli’s with a long line were available and we needed to go further down to C2. We left at 16 h and another night we went down in which I could not see. With closed eyes and one hand on Lakpa’s shoulder we slowly climbed down. I have no clear recollection, as I was in between dreaming and hallucinations. By times I could not get any further, but Lakpa let me sleep in the snow every now and then. Towards 23 h we finally reached C2. Around 6 h the next morning, Pemba told me that a helicopter had left from Lukla to pick me up. Indeed around 7:30 h a helicopter appeared (with Simone Moro, the famous Italian climber from Bergamo as pilot) came to pick me up. In between the helicopter and me and Pemba was an enormous crevasse, which I hardly saw, but Pemba carefully took me to the helicopter which then flew to KBC and subsequently to Ramche. Arien and Lisanne flew then with me to Kathmandu where Wongmu and an ambulance were waiting to bring me to a hospital.

Photo Wongmu took in the ambulance at Kathmandu Airport

In the hospital, they cleaned the wounds and checked me and subsequently sent me to another hospital with opthalmological expertise where my eyes were thoroughly checked. In addition, they did some surgery to remove debris and dirt from underneath my skin and in a second round of surgery they stitched my brow, eyelid etc. together again. After 6 hours I was sent back to the other hospital. They looked very well after me and I got all kinds of medicine by an intravenous line. The second day I was again sent to the specialist hospital for more checks and controls. My eye sight increases daily and after 4 days I was dismissed from the hospital and went to a local hotel.

Second Rotation

On the 28th of April we started the 2nd rotation. The plan was to climb to C2, sleep there, climb to C3 the next day, sleep there, descend the next day to C2, and either sleep there or descend all the way to KBC. The weather was ok when we set out, but deteriorated fast after about 5 hours, with strong winds and lots of snow fall. It got very cold and, unfortunately, I had dropped my down jacket in a steep section. I knew someone below had caught it but of course I couldn’t put it on when needed. Fortunately, there was still a ‘guardian tent’ up at C1 which was otherwise completely broken down. I was already showing the signs of the 1st phase of undercooling, but fortunately I got my down and Pemba poured hot tea in me. We climbed on and reached C2 after about 9 hours, pretty much exhausted. The next morning we set out for C3, but we knew we could not sleep there as the tents, fuel, and other essential equipment was not there yet. So we would just touch and then return to C2. The weather was not so good: mist, clouds, snowfall… you could hardly see the surroundings, apart from enormous crevasses. The fixed ropes diligently led us through the dangerous parts. However, when we had reached ~6500m I had enough of it and wanted to go down. It turned out that everybody more or less felt the same and we returned to C2. The next morning we could have another try but the weather forecast was not too good and for the day after pretty disastrous. Arien didn’t feel too well with a pretty bad headache that would not subside with ibuprofen and paracetamol. The only option under these circumstances is to go down. I had already told him I would join him when Pemba came with tea at 5:15 h and the message that the Romanians had decided to descend to KBC. Although that meant I would not have to go down theoretically, Pemba said it would perhaps be better for me as well to go down “to eat a lot and recover”. Apparently I’ve started to live up to my nickname they use behind my back: Spaghetti-Peter, because of my thin limbs and body. Anyhow, we returned to KBC in horrendous weather, especially the large amounts of snow made it quite difficult, if only for the avalanche danger in some places. It took us almost 4 hours to reach KBC. The stretch from Crampon Point to KBC was soo bad that even the sherpas fell one after another. For the next few days we will stay at KBC. Once the ropes are fixed from C3 to C4 and the summit and the weather is favourable, we will go up for the summit. So there won’t be a third rotation. The whole expedition might be over sooner than was originally scheduled.

Second rotation: 28 April – 1 May

First rotation completed

Sunday we set out for our 1st rotation climbing to C1, sleep there, climb to C2, sleep there, climb a bit higher to acclimatise and descend to KBC. The weather was fine and Namgya joined. However, halfway to C1 he came to tell me that he didn’t feel well and would return KBC. We reached C1 Sunday afternoon after a pretty steep climb. C1 is tiny, only our 6 tents on a spot that could hardly accommodate our tents. In any case, it would only be used for this night. It was broken down when we left for C2 Monday morning. Arien had a bad night and a strong headache that did not go with ibuprofen and decided to return to KBC. Although C2 is only a bit higher than C1, you have to pass a huge glacier breach with some technical stretches. C2 had not been set up when we arrived after just some 2 hours climbing. The camp was set up and we basically stayed in our tents as it was freezing cold. Next morning we woke up at sunrise and climbed a few hundred meters up. Vinay didn’t feel well and decided to stay at C2 and after 20 min Fane decided to go back as he thought it was too cold. Catalin joined him, so in the end Pasang was up 6350 m with just Johnny, Eli, Amit and myself. We returned to C2 and then all the way to KBC. It was pretty hard and I could feel I am not well acclimatised yet. Gyalsen took me down at a slow speed and I was quite happy to teach KBC, where Pemba Nuru was waiting for me. Last night it was celebrated that the 1st rotation was successfully completed with a nice dinner (with roasted chicken legs, the first real meat since we’re on the road) and the whiskey that Steward had given to us to celebrate. Needless to say that I let it pass. The weather turned really bad yesterday in the afternoon with thunderstorms, lots of snow and many avalanches. Today is a glorious day, but we got devastating news: firstly, Namgya’s tumour has unexpectedly grown and will receive emergency chemotherapy today. Secondly, it seems that Namgya’s brother, Pasang, with whom I summited Everest in 2016, and who is the King of Kangchenjunga (with at least half a dozen successful summits) is going to Spain (?) and will leave us. Although we have a couple of sherpas who have summited Kangchenjunga in our team, it is still a great loss.

KBC

Yesterday, we arrived in KBC after an horrendous and exhausting climb from Yalung Glacier Camp. Although Glacier Camp is only some 375 m higher than Ramche, the actual climb is 700 m as the glacier goes up and down continuously. From Glacier Camp to KBC it is similar: 900 m climb to get 675 m higher. The weather was way better than the day before, but the melting slow made it very slippery and dangerous to move. It took 7.5 h to reach KBC where Pemba Nuru was waiting for me. All the tents had already been set up which was very nice. We are in the highest of all camps at ~ 5500 m. The views are superb. This morning (21 april) we had the traditional Puja ceremony and the rest of the day is just to relax, what we really need. I met Shasko and his wife who were also on Manaslu last year. He is again with Mingma G. He said that Gina and Jill are also there. It is a small world up here.

In the course of the morning, after the Puja, I ran into Sashko and his wife who were both on Manaslu last September. An hour later, Mingma G. came to fetch me to have tea with his team. Jill and Gina were there too. Sashko told me to sit in ‘my own corner’ and it felt like Manaslu was only yesterday. Mingma G. and his team climbed Dhaulaghiri first and flew in to KBC yesterday. They will start climbing straight away and hope to summit within a week. We will most likely climb tomorrow to crampon point or Camp 1, just to get better acclimatised.

Glacier Camp

Yesterday we had a relaxing day in Ramche, we only made an acclimatisation tour on one of the nearby slopes to ~ 4800 m. In the afternoon. I ‘ve been listening to music. Suresh was seen by a medic of the Nepalese army that happened to pass by. He might have a urinary tract infection and went down to Cheram. Today (20 april) we got up early as we moved to Glacier Camp we said goodbye to Don and Steward who will continue their trek The climbers got up to Oktang where we crossed the morene and went down to Yalung glacier. We followed the glacier that continuously goes up and down and is largely covered in mud and stones. Unfortunately, the weather turned really bad, first with hail stones and then with snow. The snow got heavier which made the rocks very slippery. Luckily no accidents passed and we reached the place for the camp after about six and a half hours It’s all very cold and wet. Tomorrow we will move to KBC. Hopefully the weather is better then.

Ramche

Today (18 april) we hiked from Cheram to Ramche. In Ramche we will stay for another 2 nights. We left around 8:20 h after the camp was fully broken down and packed. The group moved very slowly and as soon as the first porters passed I decided to walk with them. The altitude difference between Chetam and Ramche is around 600 m. Even amongst the porters there is a difference in speed. I could easily keep up with them and the 2 youngest and fastest kind of challenged me. Needless to say that I need very little incentive to get into competitive mode and we ran up, without breaks to arrive at 11 h. It went very well and I feel very strong. I seem to acclimatise well. Kudos to the Anita’s, Irene and Caroline @TH-fitness as their training seems to pay off! Now waiting for the group to arrive and the remaining porters.

Acclimatisation

Yesterday, after we arrived in Cheram, the weather turned rather bad with heavy thunderstorms and a lot of snow. So, this morning (17 april) we woke up with a white Eastern. After breakfast, we made an acclimatisation tour. Pasang, Ariën and myself climbed up to just over 4600 m which went pretty well. We returned prior to lunch and have a relaxed afternoon. Tomorrow we will move up to Ramche (Ramchauer) where we will stay for another two days. We will probably do some acclimatisation tours before we get on to Yalong glacier, where we will build the first glacier camp on our way to Kangchenjunga Base Camp (KBC). So far, so good.

Cheram/Tseram

Just arrived in Cheram, where Namgya was waiting for us with juice in our little tent camp. Today (16 april) was a very pleasant and easy trek from Torangdin along the river through a valley full of blossoming oleander and rhododendrons. Namgya had sent a sherpa down with lemonade and cookies to meet us halfway. Very nice! Basically, we are now back on track and will stay a day here at 3900 m to acclimatise.

From Yasang to Torangdin (Torontang etc.)

A long hike today (15 april), after an awful night in Hellok. I slept on a kind of balcony and non-stop porters, climbers, and trekkers passed by, shining in your face with their head-lamps, a dog underneath the balcony was non-stop barking and outside they were celebrating Nepalese New Year. Anyway, after breakfast we set out for a hike up to Torangdin, about 840 m up, but with a lot of undulation in the terrain. We expected it would take 6 to 8 hours. As usual I went pretty quick but that worked against me this time. At a bifurcation of the path there was a sign ‘to KBC’ which looked on the map the right direction, whilst the other side was ‘Lase bridge’ that apparently would bring you to the wrong side of the river. I climbed 5-10 min in the direction of KBC, sat down at a nice spot, had lunch and waited for the others. When no one had shown up after more than an hour, I realised I was probably wrong. So, I went back, followed the stone-men that brought me to the river. I crossed it which was pretty difficult and I realised most people in our team would not be able to do it. So I went back and tried to go stream upward, again not a good plan. Finally I went back to the last stone man and looked carefully around for a stone man and discovered a tiny one that led to the mountain slope. That was the right way and actually, you pass the river twice before arriving in Torangdin. Pasang already walked down to look for me as the rest of the team had arrived 20 min earlier at the Green View lodge where we stay tonight.

Tapethok

Today (13 april) we left Taplejung (where we arrived very late yesterday, and had dinner after midnight) quite late. It’s not very far to Tapethok, but the road is very primitive and in many places kind of non-existent, so it takes us 5 h to get there (at an average speed of 8 km/h). Tapethok is kind of in middle of nowhere and has only 1G, so no internet today. The little lodge “Hotel Tamor” we are in, has only 11 beds, so 3 of us will have to sleep on the floor. Despite the fact that Tapethok is at ~1400 m, it is still very hot and humid. There is still bamboo growing and palm trees around. Plans change daily… our next goal is Cheram, but there has been a land slide and it seems we cannot get our luggage there overland. So we will probably fly by helicopter tomorrow (or the day after) and keep our fingers crossed that we will
be able to continue from there.