North Col Climb
Finally the day has arrived where we are going to do some climbing. Not just any climbing but up a 2,000 vertical foot of snow and ice. This is really going to be a test for my fear of heights! So we headed out early that morning 8:30am and start our walk up the dirt moraine. 45 minutes into the hike we headed off of the dirt and on to the glacier which is called crampon point. Another 30 minutes across the glacier we reached jumar point which is where you drop your hiking poles, grab your ascender and fix yourself to the rope. So this is how it works: The Chinese have fixed rope the whole way to the top. The ropes run consecutively about every 50 yds or so and are held in by ice screws. As you approach the rope you will already have your harness on and your crampons affixed to your boots. You’ll have about a 5 foot rope that passes through the main support of your harness and has a carabiner on one end and the ascender on the other. You attach the carabiner to the rope and then above that you attach the ascender. Your crampons are like velcro to the ice so no worries there. As you take each step you move your ascender higher. So: step – step – ascender. The problem comes in when it starts to get steep and you rely on the rope (which is never a good thing). If the rope snaps you have nothing protecting you unless your carabiner snags. The North Col starts off at about a 60 degree angle and then varies from there up to 85% down to flat. About half way up we reached an area with a ladder crossing a crevasse. It wasn’t that long of a stretch to cross but you looked down into a gaping hole and your crampons wouldn’t fit across two rungs. Therefore you had to balance yourself on each rung holding on to the two ropes. Not very easy. Once across you reached a plateau about the size of a dining room table. As the four of us stood there you all of a sudden realized that this was nothing other than a flat topped snow cone attached to the side of the glacier with the crevasse below you. Above you was an overgrown serac. Other people were starting to come up and your only thought was to get the hell off of what we then called shmoo point. After that fun area you then moved higher to one of the more difficult areas. Here is when you have to move laterally across a swath of ice at about a 70 degree pitch. If you slip the rope will hopefully hold and save you. The alternative isn’t thinkable. Julio and I made it up over several hours, sat on the ledge and then watched everyone else come up. I’d have to say the view was magnificent and it felt great to make it there. As for my fear of heights it really didn’t come into play. I measure everything I climb by whether or not I would ski down the slope. Most of the areas weren’t that bad and I’d say there where about 4 areas that I just didn’t look. I did grab my camera and take a picture in one spot without looking and I can’t wait to see it. What goes up must come down. I’m not that experienced in going down so this was quite the adventure. As you can imagine there are only two ways, facing up or facing down. Lhapka Gelu told me it was more fun to face downwards so I said what the heck. Here, you are now entrusting the rope 100% but better to face what you are looking at than not. So I held my breath, leaned forward and moved like hell down the rope. As I reached each plateau you could hear me try to yell Yahoooooo but in the high altitude it was more of a Ya – cough, cough, cough. What took us hours to get up only took me 30 minutes to get down. Once we reached the bottom we were exhausted. Time to eat, drink and get moving again. On the way back to camp all I could think about was what a great day it was and that I finally had reached a new altitude high for me of 22,000 feet!!! More later.