Piotr Morawski’s GI & GII debrief: Beyond the summit fever. Himalayan Triptych Reactivated – 2008 climbing season.

Polish Piotr Morawski has submitted a debrief on his Polish-Slovak Alpinus Expedition. Together with Peter Hamor, shortly after their very demanding Annapurna attempt, they made a beautiful traverse of Hidden peak, in alpine style and hard conditions, ending with a cool ascent to GII, ahead of dozens of climbers burning with “summit fever”.

Here goes Piotr’s account:

Baltoro once more

It’s was not even three weeks since I had come back from Annapurna when I found myself on a plane to Islamabad. As if time had stopped, and it was. A year or two ago…

I was on my own this time, expecting to meet Peter Hamor in the capital of Pakistan. I wasn’t sure whether my body had had enough time for regeneration after all that we had gone through on Annapurna, and yet we had a new aim before us: The Gasherbrums traverse.

Hospitable Ghulam from Blue Sky Treks & Tours welcomed us in Islamabad. A journey to Skardu followed, then a drive in a jeep to Askole. We were ready to go up the Baltoro glacier for the third time. Two Portuguese, Daniela and Paulo, also planning to climb the Gasherbrums, accompanied us on the trek. We passed by familiar rocks towards Concordia, then an unknown section, and we finally reached Base Camp.

The season had just started, so that there were few expeditions there. In front of us was the face of Gasherbrum I, with the route opened by Kurtyka and Kukuczka right in the middle. To its right, a steep ridge with the 1983’ Spanish route going across the slope – the one we finally decided to attempt. All we knew was the point where it begins, and that at some point it joins the American route – the rest was uncharted waters for us.

1200 metres of ice

We took a tent and enough supplies for ten days. The weather forecast wasn’t brilliant. However, aware of last year’s experience, we didn’t want to wait. We adjusted our rucksacks on our backs, and off we went, straight towards the face. Luckily, we didn’t have to walk along the South Gasherbrum glacier, filled with crevasses. Awaiting was an almost two-week battle against the mountain, predominantly at high altitude.
The morning was rather unlucky – half of my body fell into a glacial lake almost neck-deep. With a water-filled boots I resumed the climbing. The first part of the route navigated through rocky couloirs with little snow or ice. By noon, Peter and I set up our first bivouac at 5600 metres. The route we were to climb was hidden behind a ridge.

We woke up early and soon we were on our way. First we climbed over a ridge, covered in good quality snow, which gave us hope for favourable climbing conditions further up. Behind the ridge was a steep icy field with only a superficial layer of snow. Step after step, with rucksacks weighing us down, we traversed towards a rock where we hoped to be able to sit down. There was no other place for rest… Front-pointing all the time, with seracs above our heads, we reached the rock rather exhausted. 

The ice turned out to be the same as earlier but at least we were able to climb up, towards a few vaguely visible rocks. After two hours climbing non-stop, I thought my calves would burst from the effort. The rucksack became unbearable and I prayed we would reach the rocks for once. And yet when we got there, it turned out that they were all covered with ice – there was no place to rest; we had to carry on. The next few metres over the rocks were a real struggle and yet it was still about 200 metres to the seracs where we could pitch the tent. It had looked so much closer when we eyed it from lower down! The ice was getting firmer and there was no snow covering it.

Peter got there first. The sun was going down but at least we had somewhere to place a bivouac. Using whatever strength I had left, I managed to reach the end of the snow field and collapsed, unable to move for at least 20 minutes. We only had about 200 metres of an icy slope left to reach the ridge; the altitude was just 6600 metres.

In the snow

The next morning brought snow, but it didn’t really matter as we were planning to have a rest-day anyway. Unfortunately the snow continued to fall for the entire day, and so did on the following morning. We received an SMS with a weather forecast saying that such conditions might last up to a week. Still, we had enough food and fuel, so that we decided to wait it out. In fact, there was no way we could turn back to BC: we would’ve had to abseil down an icy slope and we only had 60 metres of rope and four ice pegs. So, we ended shut up in a tent for three days, waiting for the clouds to pass by.

Eventually, a clear morning came. We packed up quickly and set off for the final 200 metre ice-climb. Unexpectedly, we had to traverse over an overhanging snow ridge. We got through the seracs and set up our third bivouac on the pass just above 7000 meters. In front of us was a long meandering ridge, so far invisible. I hadn’t expected it to be so long – the summit seemed so very close. But it wasn’t.

The 21st of June was a long day. Taking it in turns, we were ploughing through the snow… Now and again it would cloud over and snow would fall. It was well after dusk when we finally pitched the tent at 7500 metres. We thought we would reach the summit on the next day – but it wasn’t to be. It snowed again during the night and we spent yet another day in the tent – a bit too high for a good rest though.

The following day brought even more snow but we wouldn’t give up: We packed up our stuff and set off slowly along the ridge, even if only to move slightly forward. We left the ridge at some point and started plodding across a snow covered plateau. After a few hours we started digging a platform at about 7800 metres, which took us till late that evening.

Once in the tent we drank a lot and dozed off briefly. Yet the night brought a surprise: A beautiful sky full of bright stars. On the 24th of June, we didn’t hurry too much. Our rucksacks – minus most of the food and fuel – were much lighter but getting through the avalanche-prone couloirs wasn’t easy, nor was ploughing through snow again. I was almost dreaming of walking on a firm surface again! After seven hours we reached the ridge and firm snow. The weather was superb, almost windless – finally some sort of reward!

Peter was climbing in front of me when I heard his voice saying: “I think that’s the summit!” A few metres above us there was a snowy ridge that looked as if it was overhung on the other side. The highest point and yet no sign of the normal route? I went up carefully, so as not to dislocate the serac. I wanted to touch the ridge and see what was behind it. I looked out and there, straight in front of me were the prayer flags – the summit was on the other side. We took a few pictures and started descending.

A bigger challenge than Annapurna

We reached C1 on the glacier – teaming up with other expeditions – after two days. We were almost running out of food and the weather forecast was rather gloomy: Another spell of bad weather was coming. We decided to go back to the Base Camp. We did all we could: 1200 metres of steep ice, traversing an 8000er with all the equipment and supplies, and just the two of us. It was what I had always dreamt about. We took our loads and off we went. No rope-fixing, no returns to BC. I reckon that the route was even more challenging than the North-West face of Annapurna, so we had good reasons to be pleased.

Going up yet again

Back in BC, we spent three days almost unable to move a limb… We did some thinking and finally decided to go up to the pass between Gasherbrum II and III, in order to take on the summits from that point. Luckily, the grim weather lasted for almost a week, giving us ample time to recover in BC.

We set off again on July 2nd – many other expeditions did likewise. I had never seen so many climbers at the same time on one mountain! One day later we arrived in C2 and so did the crowd. It was an entirely new experience for me. Our rucksacks were weighing us down once more as we were planning to face the coming spell of adverse weather in a high camp on the pass. On the 4th of July we stopped briefly in C3 and carried on up to C4 at 7400 metres, where we spent the night. In this way we overtook all the expeditions and found ourselves alone again.

We set the alarm for 4 a.m. The gusty wind died down during the night and at 2 a.m. we were awakened by voices and crunching sounds. Approximately 20 people were on a summit push from C3! We snuggled down in our sleeping bags and waited for the alarm to go off.

It was the first time I had seen the so-called “summit fever” – people going up with blank expressions on their faces, looking down, following the footsteps, falling over and yet pushing on to reach the top regardless. The wind was picking up, and an hour before the summit, a bank of clouds gathered, bringing fine snow. The serac on the mountaintop was clearly visible and around 9 a.m. we finally got there. It was so much easier and nicer without our rucksacks!

There is one thing that I still fail to understand: Even though the serac at the top was very prominent, most climbers simply followed their guides or porters, and went in the wrong direction. They stopped about 50 metres below the summit, on a snow-covered ridge, and started taking pictures with the prayer flags in the background, simply because they were told that this was the highest point! Only a few people followed us up the serac. I know that we’ve entered the era of commercial expeditions, but there is only one summit. The question about our aims in the mountains is a completely different issue that merits a separate discussion…

Epilogue

Back in C4, the wind was getting stronger by the hour. We spent the night there and then decided to climb down. Gasherbrum III would have to wait for another year. Unfortunately Piotr Pustelnik – with whom we were going to traverse the Broad Peaks – wasn’t able to join us. Even if he did, I’m not sure we would’ve had enough strength left to do more climbing, as we were still rather worn-out after the traverse of Gasherbrum I. It was time to go home; four months of expeditions is a long, long time.

And thus yet another climbing season has ended. We were lucky on Ama Dablam, where we were on our own and where we did lots of really good climbing, and saw breathtaking views. We did a second repetition of the Gabbarrou route on the North-West face of Annapurna, in a small team of four (Piotr Pustelnik, Peter Hamor, Darek Zaluski and I). Unfortunately a stroke of rotten luck, i.e. a ferocious storm, prevented us from reaching the summit but we were lucky to escape unscathed. The route, however, was one of the most spectacular and most difficult ones I had ever done in the Himalayas. The Gasherbrum I traverse was the “main course” for us, i.e. Peter Hamor and I, an even more demanding and equally beautiful climb. Gasherbrum II was the “dessert” and even though we didn’t do all we had planned, it was a great season.

The Himalayan Trilogy dream team (Piotr Pustelnik, Piotr Morawski and Peter Hamor) set up a grand plan to span over the next two years: the north-west face of Annapurna; a long G1/G2/G3 traverse; all Broad Peaks; a new route on the east face of Everest; the north face of Manaslu and…the north-west ridge of Rakaposhi.

The “Tres Pedros” organized the plot in the following sections:

2008:
Code name: Himalayan Trilogy – Reactivation

A. Ama Dablam (acclimatization)
1. Annapurna north-west face (Czech route)
2. G1-2-3: A long traverse from G1 to G2 and G3 starting via the original (first ascent) American line to G1, then to Gasherbrum La and on the ridge thru Gasherbrum East to G2 and G3.
3. BP – the entire summit ridge

2009:
Code name: Himalayan Trilogy – Revolution

A. Kantega or Baruntse (acclimatization)
1. East face of Everest – new route
2. North face of Manaslu – new route by Peter Hamor & Piotr Morawski (“not me, I’m too old :)” said Piotr Pustelnik).
3. North-west ridge of Rakaposhi

The current status: Ama Dablam; check. Annapurna; close but no cigar. G1-2-3; G1 traverse & G2 double header by Piotr Morawski and Peter Hamor in summer 2008.

* see part #2 and 3#: Gasherbrum and Broad Peak traverses. /Version english/

Himalayan Triptych Reactivated: Gasherbrum traverse part 6. /Version english and polish/

Himalayan Triptych Reactivated: Gasherbrum traverse part 5. /Version english and polish/

Himalayan Triptych Reactivated: Gasherbrum traverse part 4. /Version english and polish/

Himalayan Triptych Reactivated: Gasherbrum traverse part 3. /Version english and polish/Peter Hamor and Piotr Morawski reached the summit of Gasherbrum II

Himalayan Triptych Reactivated: Gasherbrum traverse part 2. /Version english and polish/Peter Hamor and Piotr Morawski reached the summit of Gasherbrum I

Himalayan Triptych Reactivated: Gasherbrum traverse part 1. /Version english and polish/

Himalayan Triptych Reactivated – part 2# and 3#: Gasherbrum and Broad Peak traverses. /Version english/

* see part # 1mBank Annapurna West Face Expedition :

1. Himalayan Trilogy once again, “Himalayan Triptych Reactivated” : mBank Annapurna West Face Expedition – expedition closed /Version english and polish/

2. Himalayan Trilogy once again, “Himalayan Triptych Reactivated” : mBank Annapurna West Face Expedition – Storm on Annapurna! Burza nad Annapurną! /Version english and polish/

3. Himalayan Trilogy once again, “Himalayan Triptych Reactivated” – atak ma szczyt Annapurny.

4. Himalayan Trilogy once again, “Himalayan Triptych Reactivated” – Ama Dablam

5. “Himalayan Triptych” Reactivated : mBank Annapurna West Face Expedition is on! /Version english and polish/

6. Himalayan Trilogy once again. Tryptyk Reaktywacja. /Version english and polish/

** polska wersja tego posta : – Himalayan Trilogy once again, Himalayan Triptych Reactivated – Tryptyk Reaktywacja cz. II i III.

*** Źródła: – http://www.goryonline.com/http://www.piotrmorawski.com/

**** zapraszam na relacje z innych wypraw polskich himalaistów.

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