BD athlete Andy Houseman reports on his expedition to Kyashar Peak (6770m) in Nepal
Black Diamond athlete Andy Houseman teamed up with Nick Bullock for an expedition to Nepal’s Kyashar Peak (6770m). The unclimbed South Pillar was their main objective, but Mother Nature had other things in mind. Read below for Andy’s report and check out the great photos that he and Nick brought back.
Grey, towering cumulonimbus were slowly moving up the valleys, soon to lead to the daily afternoon thunder, hail or snowstorm. Since finishing our acclimatization two weeks prior, we’d been watching the same weather pattern from basecamp at Tangnag. This time we were at 5800m trying to salvage something from the trip. We briefly discuss the weather and carry on.
Every day we had awoken to stunning clear mornings, ever hopeful and optimistic that the weather was eventually settling down. Avalanches would cascade off as the sun slowly woke the mountains and shook off the previous day’s storm, before vanishing again under a cloud of snow at midday.
Eventually we gave in and accepted reality; our original aim for the trip, the unclimbed South Pillar of Kyashar, wasn’t going to happen. We’d grabbed most of our kit from a stash up at the start of the South Pillar and a brief lull in the afternoon weather had tempted us to leave basecamp at just after midnight. For the second time, after an earlier acclimatisation foray, we made the long climb up below the massive south face of Kyashar to try the West Ridge. This was the line taken by the first ascensionists of the mountain in 2003 and, after the initial crux of a 120m shattered rock buttress guarding access to the ridge proper, was rumoured to be a straightforward snow/ice climb.
It took a couple of hours, instead of the 15 minutes we’d expected, just to get to the buttress from the col between Kusum Kanguru and Kyashar. Wallowing up a short ridge covered in deep, unconsolidated snow, the unfavourable conditions were already becoming apparent. The line that the previous ascent had taken was somewhere up a steep part of the buttress directly in front of us. Snow now choked up the cracks and covered the ledges—we wouldn’t be able to rock climb like they had. Following a bit of indecision and our brief discussion of the weather I had traversed further onto the west face in search of a better mixed line.
I’d gone nearly 200m left, teetering over 60o slopes of scree covered in useless snow, and was now engrossed in a giant vertical game of Jenga whilst battling the constant spindrift pouring off from above; the hailstorm now in full swing. Engrossed probably isn’t the right word… I was scared, committed and hoping to find something that constituted a belay soon. Every tool and crampon placement feeling like a gamble. It’s not the climbing I like, it’s not fun, it’s a total mind game and at the moment it’s winning.
Bailing was tempting, very tempting. I couldn’t see much of the ground above, the constant bombardment of hail blinding me. Having found a good belay, a wide-eyed Bullock was now standing next to me muttering something along the lines of “f***ing hell, youth...”
In the zone, wanting to get warm again and the frights from the last pitch momentarily forgotten, I grab the rack and start up a grove to the right. A loud crash of falling rock and a scream… looking round in time to see a desk-size block disappearing into the murk below. Nick shouts up not to worry… it’s just half the belay ledge. At least it’s crumbling from below and not above; maybe if I climb fast enough I can impersonate a leg-peddling cartoon character! Cautiously continuing, slow and insecure as before, up the same useless snow over the same useless choss, not a blob of neve or ice anywhere, still I swing at every placement hoping to enlarge every hold. I’ve had enough. I’m over it. I want out. Eventually it ends, the ground eases and it’s over, an overhanging boulder feels like a safe house whilst I sit for a few minutes having a quite word with myself.
Digging beneath the boulder we settle in for an amazing lightening show before waking to the usual sunny morning and look across at the mountains of the Khumbu standing high above an inversion below, moments like this make the expedition and the toils of yesterday worth it. After a slow start Nick sets off ploughing a track through thigh-deep snow towards the West Ridge. It doesn’t take us long to realise that in these snow conditions we aren’t going to make the summit that morning and get back down before the afternoon storm rolls in again. Having pushed our luck yesterday and with no more food to sit it out, we come to the same silent decision. No discussion needed and do what we should have done yesterday: start descending.
Nick quite literally excavates out of the rock, our first anchor and, terrified of pulling blocks down and chopping the ropes, we keep the first two abseils short through a maze of tottering boulders until the buttress drops steeply below us. After a full 60m committing, steep and mostly free hanging abseil the ropes thankfully pull. The draw of lunch in basecamp is too much and we take one last gamble, bum sliding and running down under the South Face before the sun heats it up too much.
Back in basecamp with strong winds up high we’re almost glad when Kyashar gets enveloped. Our decision not to push it out for another day firmly justified just as the slight thoughts of “did we bail too soon” start creeping into our heads.