Central Himalayas, Chamlang (7319 m a. s. l.)
- Name of the rute: UFO line
- ascent north-west wall, difficulty ABO
- Length of ascent : 2200 m, elevation: 2100m
- Duration of ascent and descent: 6 days
- Alpine style
- Climbing partner: Zdeněk Hák
- May 2019
On May 23 we managed to finish the first ascent of the north-west face of Chamlang (7321 m), the face that has been attempted by many expedition in the past without any success. The summit of Chamlang oversees the Hongu valley from an exposure of two thousand meters. It rises up from the moraine with a lake and reminds us more a solitaire than an integral part of the central Himalayan ridge with numerous other summits. I have kept this goal in my mind for nearly twenty years, however, its realization has begun as late as this year.
It all began nearly twenty years ago, in 2001 to be exact, when I had a chance to see the graceful shape of Chamlang, which was created by the most skilfull architect of all times. I looked at the face with a mixture of humbleness and doubts arising from contemplating climbing the vast vertical wall. Last year I looked at the face again to realize the clear message – there is no reason to wait any longer. I cannot say, however, that doubts and apprehensions have disappeared now...
Two weeks before our arrival at the Base Camp we spent the time running around the valleys, hills and its flanks. The activated erythrocytes were continually developing due to lower amount of oxygen to improve our blood stream. Our acclimatization thus progressed without much suffering. We frequently enhanced the acclimatization by the San Miguel pilsener. Up till the moment that we pitched up two bivi tents on the green meadow inhebited by two cooks, two porters and two expedition members (namely the Hook and myself) everything went on as planned. At the same time our porter Antenzing Sherpa arrived with a twenty kilo´s load of climbing equipment to save greatly our backbones. He turned around instantly after unloading the backpack to disappear without a word. After that we remained alone amidst mountaintops. Beautiful tranquil place with no people surrounded by rugged white mountain ridges. Few more days of waiting followed by hopeful forecasts from Czech TV meteorologist Alča Zárybnická sent daily over the satellite phone. And indeed, not a single day went completely wrong as for the weather. However, in order to succeed on the climb, we would need at least three consecutive days of excellent weather. In other words, in the first critical days we should have zero precipitation with only a reasonable wind, nothing worse. At this rather nervous stage of expectations we were moving up below the face repeatedly to observe and study individual parts of seemingly static massive in detail . Well, nothing else but our lives are at stake in this thin game. Finally we approached the glacier on May 16. We carry a bivi tent, one eighty-meter 7 mm in diameter rope, 6 ice screws, 5 pitons and 5 friends, food for 5 days and 3 gas cartridges. The following freezing morning was marked with stress of upcoming days. The initial meters of the climb started with unpleasant mixed climbing followed by a sloped ramp. The rock there was of very poor quality combined with loose snow reminding sugar. Every meter up meant a tough fight. If we continue in such a pace we will reach the summit in about a month, was my first thought. Finally our progression has improved, though the crampons creaked and ice axes bounced off the surface instead of gripping in the ice and rock. After several hours´ fight we reached the bivi spot below the rocky overhang providing a hope of shelter from falling rock and snow. During the day the face showed us it can release a serious avalanche, sometimes rolling nearby our ascent line. Both of us are trying to somehow evade the idea of such a threat deep into oblivion. The second day began with a rock dihedral that developed into an ice field topped by a huge serac hanging like an axe was constantly shedding big parts of ice. This section was to be climbed with no further delay so as to reduce the risk of being hit by a piece of falling ice. After steep ice we continued on through a steep, eighty-meter section of ice glued on the rock that has led us above the barrier of seracs. It was hard terrain of mixed climbing that continued to our second bivouac. The bivy was situated right above this scary place. Luckily, on the upper edge of the serac band we found a relatively flat icy platform that was partially sheltered from one side. At the same time, however, it was a very cold spot to spend a night. It was clear that such a huge mass of ice would not give away any heat. In any case the last couple of meters to the platform had its magic of climbing. Hard, exposed climbing with a rising depth underneath our feet. Our lungs were still capable of proper breathing which helped us really enjoy the beauty of climbing there. The third day was crucial. It included the longest section of ascent of 700 m in total and the need to reach the upper barrier of rocks. There was no other option if we wanted to follow the chance to continue higher up. The risk involved the point of no return once entering this section of the face. From there you may only continue higher up, there is no reasonable retreat otherwise. To make things even more complicated, there was actually no option of favorable weather for the ascent of the icefield. Fresh snow and even milder wind would cause moving of „snow rivers“ that no one could withstand. In contrast, higher temperature would release rocks inevitably smashing any obstacles on their way down. In the morning it was decided to continue climbing through snowy pipes that reminded pleated skirt from distance. Sometimes there was quite a pleasant firn, but occasionally there was hard ice feeling like concrete. It was like a Sisyphean toil of useless endeaver with no tangible outcome. The ascent of the icefield did not actually have such technical difficulties, but considering tens of thousands of moves, it was physically very exhaustive. As for the protection, we could say that belaying during these pitches or when simul-climbing was very modest, to use the language of diplomats. It was truly an endless day with no suitable place for the third bivouac. Slight snowfall made our progress faster so as to somehow fix our joyless situation. Finally there was no other solution for the bivi but a tiny snow ledge between the rocky corners. Hook started to cook as usually and melted snow with dissolved drink that soaked our dry mouths and twisted interior organs. We did not mind the strange snowy flavour with added crunches of small granite flakes. Right after that we started to play with words heat and sleep. It was a dreadful night. We were not able to find the right position to seat properly two butts plus the bodies in a space for just one butt. I had to sit on Hook, this was the only option. An independent viewer would perhaps see the two joint maggots instead of us. A very unattractive set up proved quite functioning after all. Each of us enjoyed few moments of sleep so as to save some energy. Intentionally I do not use the term relax or regain power, but at least we were not losing much energy. It was really tough to warm up on the fourth morning. First metres of climbing crossed the rock steps filled with hard ice that was very hard even for our metal points. After a hundred metres more we felt like in a situation identical to the previous day. Icy firn angled at 70 degrees, sometimes even steeper. We had a feeling that the mountain is still growing in front of us instead of getting smaller. There must be the end somewhere, though. And so this finally came true! In the afternoon we scaled the last step and suddenly we stood on a sharp ridge offering an extraordinary scenery of the world on the other side. It was windy and deep freezing. Our GPS read that the main summit is about a hundred metres above us and two hundred meters farther on the ridge from our position. Early evening brought stronger wind again with more clouds that started to gather around the crest. Clouds suddenly covered everything taking the world around us from our sights. Luckily this inhospitable venue offered a decent spot for our tent. We looked at each other briefly and the decision has been made without a single word. We set up the fourth bivouac. The summit will wait till tomorrow. Our next morning started with the traverse over the line of summits including the main one up to the spot, where the tiny ridge started to fall to the southern shoulder of the mountain. It was cold to the bone which was enhanced with a strong wind. Views on all sides were spectacular, Kanchenjunga was waving at us from the east while we were facing the pyramid of Makalu in the north. On the west the barrier of Lhotse continued with summits of Nuptse being topped by the roof of Everest. Further on we could spot Cho Oyu with Gyachug Kang and Lantang in the west. Seemingly the „dwarfs“ included Pumori, the proudly erect Himalayan iceblock Ama Dablam, Kantenga and steep Kyashar and God knows which other giants. Around ten o´clock we passed the main summit where we spent just a few minutes to have that recorder on the camera. Few necessary icy smiles, few uttered words instantly swallowed by the wind somewhere into the void. I could not feel anything with my hands due to holding the camera, but Hook did not really look eager to stay any longer there. Glory and misery of mountaineering, or success without ovation. The real joy is waiting down there, but we may never get there. Let us not foresee bad endings, though. We are trying to keep the pace, but our steps are getting slower. The reason was not the height, but the difficulty. Razor-like ridge splitting the mountain on two sides felt as Jekyll and Hyde, if we could use such a comparison. It was the obvious descent terrain, but the northern steep side was formed by crumbly ice while the eastern face was blown by the wind into powdery foam. Also there were rocky steps that required rappelling. The entire line of the white snake of the ridge looked like hanging in the air from above. Endless one-thousand-meter ridge without the possibility of a belay. Over the course of time the thick fog rose up from the valley. In one place I took the wrong direction and lost the way. One would not expect the problem getting oriented in such a terrain, but it really is possible. Luckily, we have not continued in the wrong direction for a long time time. In any case it was a reminder that when we can see nothing but the white all around, there is nothing to do but wait. It accounted mainly to such moments when you have the deadly depth below your feet and after the wrong move you will end in a thousand-meter fall. This resulted in a fifth, unwanted bivouac that was still situated quite high, higher than we wished. I noticed that Hook had changed. After a while I realized that his beard is all white reminding Santa Claus. The wind from the valley not only brought the fog, but also moisture with slight snowfall. A tiny ledge covered by a sort of a peak above served us a great deal at the moment. Hastily we had readjusted the bivouac in a few minutes to open our „Savoy Hotel“. We got run out of food except of two chocolate bars which made the dinner for two starving men. Everything was damp and frozen. Physical exhaustion was obvious with every move while our mental state was just near its limits. After the next passionate night the journey through a wild glacier could continue. We gradually descended for hours until the labyrinth was still passable. After that we have reached an area with cascades of ice crevasses that could only be abseiled with a use of ice threads. We continued on until the next surge of thick fog stopped us again. The next, sixth bivouac was inevitable despite the fact that we fought hard with our headtorches on for every meter of the descent. However, our struggle against the white barrier rising up from the valley went in vain. We just accepted our fate. Our next bivouac site was just below the huge glacier rupture. We feel as if sleeping in a large mouth of a shark. You just have no idea when it may close. It was a delirious night of desperate feverish sequences. We had no energy to heat up our bodies and the cold was sneaking slowly but persistently under our clothes. The seventh day meant a liberation and an escape back to lives again.The morning continued with several rappels and a couple of hours´ walking down the moraine. We are done! After all we walk on the meadow again. After 160 endless hours we get out of claws and influence of the merciless mountain. Sun is shining in our faces and the cold was left behind us. We take off our clothes and lie down just in our underwear on beautifully scented grass.
In any case we have to pay our sincere tribute to the South ridge first ascent party sixty years ago. They may have had more snow during their time on the mountain, climbed in an expedition style or God knows what else. No big deal - simply they were real tough guys! Well, Hook and myself are alive after the first pure alpine ascent of the 2000-meter north-west face of Chamlang „Mordwand“. We have graded the climb ABO, which means our hardest climb together and if we could say the world class ascent of this spring season. We have named the climb as the commemoration of the ascent of Reinhold Messner and Doug Scott, who allegedly saw UFO high on Chamlang. Well, I had the alien named Hook (Zdeněk Hák, my climbing partner ,J) with me all the time!
As a summary I have to express my gratitude mainly to Hook for the time spent together in peace, without any useless hindrances that sometime follow human relations in stressful moments. My gratitude goes also to the „fox“ Govinda and his agency GreenHorizon.com that form my long time pillar in the Asiatic jungle. That´s the end!