Mountain World - Thumba Party
Climb Magazine – Your Vertikal World
WWW.CLIMBMAGAZINE.COM - OCTOBER 2013
Lindsay Griffin profiles leading Czech mountaineer Marek Hoiecek and his attempts on the impressive Nepal-Sikkim 7000er Talung,a peak which has seen attention from several of the finest mountaineers history
Arguably the most significant alpine-style ascent in the mountains of Nepal during this year's pre-monsoon season was the first ascent of the north face of Talung (7,349m).
The name may not be immediately familiar, and this remote peak straddling the Nepal-Sikkim border has seen relatively few serious attempts. Yet it is well-known to all those that have tried the normal route on Kangchenjunga, as it lies immediately south of the world's third highest mountain. There is also a strong British connection, as Talung has a firm place in the run up to the first ascent of Kangchenjunga, and quite recently formed the goal of the party allocated the 2012 Nick Estcourt Award.
The north side of Talung is characterized by two spurs, both a little under 2,000m in height. The central and far more elegant is the north- northwest pillar, while to its right lies the less well-defined northwest spur. In the autumn of 2004 Czech climbers Marek Holecek and Tomas Rinn tried the north-northwest pillar, climbing a hard series of icy runnels on the right flank to ca 5,850m. Though the weather was stable it was windy and extremely cold. After 10 hours, while Holecek waited on a hanging belay for Rinn to lead a difficult final mixed pitch in a diedre below the bivouac ledge, he sustained frostbite in the toes. Next morning, with his feet a violet colour Holecek realized it would be stupid to continue, and the two bailed.
Holecek was far from finished with the mountain, but didn't realize it would take until 2013 before the next attempt. This time he was with Zdenek Hruby, and after reaching base camp in the Yalung Valley on the 1st May, the two acclimatized by climbing to 6,700m on the more gentle west face, where the few previous ascents had taken place. They found a lot of snow, often up to their waists.
So, to their amazement they were dismayed to find, when walking around to the north face, that the north-northwest pillar was completely dry and rocky in the lower section, bearing no resemblance to its state in 2004. The only feasible option was the icy north face to the left, the problem being that the lower section is threatened by a large serac barrier. On the 7th they left an advanced base at 5,400m on the glacier below, and climbed about 300m up the face until Holecek suddenly developed a bad cough and the two decided to rappel.
On the 15th, after a period of strong wind, and with Holecek's cough partially cured, they began again, climbing steep hard water ice to a bivouac at 5,900m, and then the next day moving up to 6,300m, where they found a natural cave in a serac. On the third day they climbed 15 hours, into the rocky headwall, and bivouacked at 6,700m. It then took the whole of their fourth day to overcome a series of icy gullies through the headwall, at the top of which they bivouacked at 7,000m. During that day rocks inadvertently released by Holecek smashed Hruby's helmet and camera. Fortunately, these Czechs are tough and his head remained intact. On the 19th a final ice slope and a groove through the summit rock band led to snow slopes and the top. It was around midday when they reached the highest point, and after taking a few quick photos, the two found themselves enveloped in cloud.
Exhausted and with almost zero visibility, they managed to navigate a line down the west face to the vicinity of their previous (acclimatization) bivouac, stopping for the night at ca 6,600m. Next day they made it safely back to base camp. The route has been named Thumba Party, after the classic Nepalese alcoholic drink made from fermented millet, a beverage which, according to Holecek 'makes travelling even more cheerful'. Difficulties were rated at WI6 and M6+, and the amount of climbing estimated to be 2,500m. The pair took fairly minimal hardware: an 80m rope of 7.8mm, five pegs, five ice screws and Friends 1-5.
This adds another trophy to Holecek's already impressive list of ascents in the Greater Ranges. Born in 1974, by 1997 he had already made a rare ascent of Manitua on the north face of the Grandes Jorasses. In 1999, with David Stastny and the late Filip Silhan, he made the first ascent of the spectacular tower of Amin Brakk (ca 5,850m) in the Nangma Valley of the Karakoram. The trio climbed the 1,200m west face to create Czech Express (7b+, A3 and 70°, crux pitch only climbed with rests). In 2000 the same three linked the lower section of the 1974 South African Route on the east face of the Central Tower of Paine with the upper part of El Regala del Mwona (summit reached by Pritchard and Smith, 1992,1,250m, 5.10 and A3+/A4), naming the link Macaroni-Porridge Junction. Holecek returned the following year and with Tomas Rinn and Tomas Sobotka came within whisker of completing the second ascent of The Dream (900, VII 5.10 A4+) on the east face of the Cerro Escudo in Paine, one of the hardest big wall routes in Patagonia.
In 2002 he became one of the first foreigners to visit the great granite walls of the Karavshin in southern Kyrgyzstan after the infamous terrorist incidents of 2000. With talented free climbers Pavel Jonak and Vasek Satava he put up a big new route on the northwest face of Pik 4810m in the Kara-su. The 1,100m (23 pitches) line was christened Otikovy mokre sny (Otik's Wet Dream) and, impressively, was climbed completely free at around 7c. He returned in 2003, climbing a new route on the Central Pyramid in the adjacent Ak-su valley; October Victory (800m, 7a/b and A4). After this Holecek concentrated on more alpine routes, and at higher altitude. These include his 2005 ascent of Ramro Chaina (WI6 and M6+, not to summit) with Jan Doudlebsky on the southwest face of 6,770m Kyashar (and various unsuccessful attempts on the south pillar), a partial new route in 2006 on the northeast face of Meru Central (6,310m) with Jan Kreisinger (7a, M5 and 80°) after a failed attempt on the famous Shark Fin, and in 2008, again with Doudlebsky, the most significant technical new route in Afghanistan since the 1979 Soviet invasion. The pair added a second line to the impressive north side of Koh-e-Uparisina (6,260m), climbing the prominent 1,600m northwest pillar at WI5 and 70°.
In 2012 he and the much older Hruby (born 1956) hoped to climb the Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat and were first acclimatizing on the Diamir Face when they met a totally depleted British pair descending from the summit, having made the first complete traverse of the Mazeno Ridge. Holecek and Sandy Allan had been on the same BMC International Winter Meet at Glenmore Lodge in Scotland and Holecek was able to give Allan and Rick Alleniood, drink and most importantly a lighter, which the British pair had beSi without for several days. Holecek and Hruby later summited by the Kinshofer Route on the Diamir Face, bringing Hruby's total of 8,000m peaks to eight. At the time of writing they are in Pakistan, hoping to climb a new route on Gasherbrum I, which they attempted a few years ago.
Talung was first reconnoitred by Ferdie Crawford and Harold Raeburn as part of an inspection of Kangchenjunga, in those days approaching Nepal from Sikkim in British India. They climbed to around 5,800m from the west. Tile next foray onto its flanks didn't occur until the spring of 1953. John Kempe, later headmaster of the famous Scottish public school Gordonstoun, and Gilmore Lewis, walked up the Talung Glacier, attempted Boktoh and Koktang, and then with a Sherpa companion made a valiant attempt on Kabru (7,412m). The three climbed up the southwest flank of Talung to the ca 7,120m shoulder at the north end of the Kabru ridge, but worried about snow conditions on their return, decided not to continue south to the various Kabru summits, despite the way being easy. From this point Kempe saw that a route on the southwest face of Kangchenjunga was feasible, despite opinion to the contrary by noted previous observers such as Frank Smythe.
The following year Kempe was back with a bigger team for a full Kangchenjunga reconnaissance, this time fully inspecting the route that would be used for the first ascent the following year. Kempe, Lewis and John Tucker made an attempt on Talung but again were too far right on the southwest flank and found they were unable to gain the upper west face. During the successful 1955 Kangchenjunga expedition Tom McKinnon and Neil Mather climbed to ca 6,500m on Talung before forced back -by storm. As successful Kangchenjunga summiteer George Band noted, 'Talung will be a nice peak for a small party one day'.
Japanese climbed quite high on the mountain in 1963 but the first ascent came the following year, from a primarily German team, with Franz Lindner
(Austrian) and Tenzing Nanda Sherpa reaching the summit. Lindner first climbed the southwest flank to the 6,983m col separating the summit from the Kabru Massif to the south. He continued up the ridge to Talung's 7,180m south summit but time was running out, the ridge above looked difficult, and he realized the going would be much better lower down on the west flank. Returning with Tenzing Nanda he did just that, leaving his previous line on the southwest flank and slanting across the west face more or less direct to the main summit.
A second ascent was not made until 1991. Slovenians Marko Prezelj and Andrej Stremfelj climbed a partial new route up the west-northwest face to upper west face. Prezelj reached the summit in high winds, but Stremfelj, who had a bad cold at the time, waited 50m below the crest of the south ridge. These two made only one bivouac and used Talung for acclimatization before making their historic alpine-style first ascent of the southwest ridge of Kangchenjunga South. Japanese tried to repeat the Slovenian line in 2002, the same year that Martin Otta's expedition from the Czech Republic made its first attempt on the mountain. Alena Cepelkova and Petr Kolouch tried the north-northwest pillar. They climbed 500m to ca 5,900m but retreated, as unconsolidated snow over rock made the climbing too precarious. Cepelkova, an accomplished mountaineer with ascents in the Greater Ranges, served two terms as President of the Czech Mountaineering Association but is perhaps best known for making the first winter ascent (with Zusanna Hoffmannova) of the difficult Isherwood-Kosterlitz route on the Piz Badile, the first time that an unaided women's team had made a first winter ascent on a big alpine wall.
Later, Cepelkova and other members of the expedition attempted a new route on the left side of the west-northwest face, descending from 6,600m, while the remaining climbers more or less followed the 1991 Slovenian route, Kolouch reaching the top to make the mountain's third ascent. Otta returned in 2004 bringing Holecek and Rinn, but although several different lines were attempted, the mountain resisted their efforts.
In November 2012 the north-northwest pillar was once again an object of desire, this time for British alpinists James Clapham, Gavin Pike and Dave Searle. The three found the Yalung Glacier to be receding at an alarming rate, and after initially acclimatizing to 6,400m on the original southwest face route arrived at the base of the pillar to find, like Holecek this year, the pitch off the glacier was bare and dangerous. Sixty metres of vertical or overhanging rock, with blobs of névé and no obvious protection, did not appeal. They decided to switch to the less demanding northwest spur, but very high winds and low temperatures subsequently allowed no opportunity. This and the unattempted northeast (frontier) ridge of Talung would provide good objectives, although the approach to the latter appears to be objectively threatened.
Just before going to press Zdenek Hruby was tragically killed descending Gasherbrum I after a failed attempt with Marek Holecek.