BD athlete Kevin Mahoney reports on expedition to Nuptse (7861 m)
Black Diamond athlete Kevin Mahoney attempted to climb Nuptse this fall (7861 meters) and upon returning put together the following trip report for us, along with a collection of photos that superbly capture the challenges and inspirations of expedition life.
I dial my home number from half way around the world. The satellite phone rings a few times then I hear “Hi daddy, where are you?”. Tears flow down my face and disappear into the monsoonal rain.
I have been on a dozen expeditions since becoming a father. I have two beautiful daughters, Annika (5) and Eliza (3), and an iron saint of a wife, Claire. All but three of these trips have been working as a mountain guide. I have spent close to four years of my life on expeditions. I thought I had figured out how to separate my emotions in a pragmatic way between home life and expedition life. Nothing prepared me for the rush of emotion that flooded in when my 5-year-old daughter answered the satellite phone.
Alpine climbing is the most self indulgent of all the climbing disciplines, period. As an alpinist and a family man I live with conflict constantly. What kind of man leaves his beautiful family to travel half way around the world to attempt a new route with three buddies on a mountain 160 meters shy of 8000 meters? I can’t answer that. From the outside it seems insane to risk life to step into the unknown and hope to discover what is on the inside. From the inside it simply seems normal.
Our expedition to Nuptse started in 2008 when Ben Gilmore, Freddie Wilkinson and I peered towards Everest at sunset from the top of Kangtega after completing a new route up the North Face to the North East Ridge. Everest peaked out over a fortress of a mountain that stood like the walls protecting a medieval castle. Everest stood tall yet the South Face of Nuptse caught our attention.
After success on one objective it seems logical to up the ante. Sometimes logic is wrong.
Our team for Nuptse was Ben Gilmore, Freddie Wilkinson, Cory Richards and myself. Our objective was to establish a new route alpine style up the South Face along the edge of the so-called Cobweb Wall on the western edge of the 5km-wide South Face.
The first rule in planning any expedition is to convince yourself that you can safely pull off the objective. Once that delusion is set, then the task is simple: train, raise the money, train, secure the gear, train, sort out the logistics, train, kiss the family goodbye and get on a plane. Typically the bigger the objective the longer the process takes and lower the percentage of time is spent climbing.
Failure takes hold like a tick; it burrows its little head under your skin and sucks the blood out of you. It is easy to ignore the little bump it creates until it grows to a point where you must face it. For us the tick started sucking the blood out of us once we landed in Kathmandu.
The post monsoon-climbing season is known for its prolonged high pressure and favorable conditions. This can be a magical time to climb before the jet stream drops and the winter winds ravage the hills. This season seemed to forget that magical window. The monsoon stuck around and the winds followed. With the tenacious monsoon we were several days held up in Kathmandu and when our lucky number came up our gear could not join us. We continued on our journey to basecamp, happy to be at least acclimatizing. Seven days after leaving Kathmandu our gear caught up to us the day before we arrived at our basecamp. I instantly dug out our satellite phone to call home.
The raw facts of our trip are simple: we were inspired by Nuptse yet we could not live up to the demands it required. The details of our decision to abandon the South Face because of “conditions” and attempt the West Ridge three times and walk away from it are as insignificant as Nuptse made us feel. The mountain offered itself to us on its terms and we could not accept the demands.
It has been over a month since I have returned from Nuptse and I struggle with disappointment that failure leaves behind. I seek that intensity that I craved when I was training at Mountain Athlete after a long day of guiding in the Tetons. I try to shake off the distraction that the void of failure has left. I am not so tunnel vision that being home with my family doesn’t put a smile on my face. The moments spent reading to my daughters soften the edges and the smiles on my girls’ faces as they race down the ski slopes chip away at my longing for distant summits. I grin when I try to explain to my disappointed three-year-old Eliza why she can’t have “one more trip up the chair lift”.
Alpinism has taught me lessons that life could not get through my thick skull. And for that I am grateful for the mountains in my life: summit or no summit.
First Light tent
Cobra ice tools with Spinner leash (best alpine tool on the planet)
Sabertooth crampons (best alpine crampon on the planet)
ATC Guide with 4 Vaporlock screw gate
Express screws 2-10cm, 2-13cm, 1-16cm, 1-19cm
Set of Stoppers 4-12
Pitons: Angles #1,2 Blades # 1,2,3 Lost Arrows # 2,3
8 (24inch) dynex runners
4 (48 inch) dynex runners
14 Oz carabiners
8 Livewire carabiners (nice with big gloves)
Icon Headlamp (you can see across valley with this beam)
Contour Elliptic Carbon trekking poles (come on, we were trekking in Nepal)