Walking out from successfully climbing Chang Himal’s North Face, which is situated in the Kangchenjunger region of Nepal and a long way from anywhere, my head was listing most wanted…
Beer, bread, internet, shower, shave, big-soft-bed, comfy chair, pizza, beer, wine, contact, cake, wine, bread, cheese, olives, pizza, cheese, wine, internet, olive oil, wine, new music… wine… cheese, beer. (Arrange the order to suit personal preference!)
Taking the high track, traversing the heavily forested hillside, we were heading for Sukatar airport, (for airport read rusty barbed wire fenced in field with cattle grazing and children playing). Andy Houseman and I had been in the hills for quite some time and although I craved, I also felt sad. The hills, the experiences, the adventures, the excitement were behind. Turning and shielding my face from the sun I could still see the white finger stub summit of Jannu and the massive bulk of Kangchenjunger. Pangs of wanting and regret of leaving and missing caught on the autumn breeze and blew through my bones.
The afternoon sun had done its best to baste and in the early evening shade the children ran down the steep hill laughing and shouting newly learnt phrase, “Hello, how do you do, what is you’re name, where country are you from (didnt quite learn that one right!)… g i v e m e a p e n ?” and then they melted into the gloom and the trees laughing and shouting... G I V E M E A P E N ...
I was missing the hills and the people even before I had left.
This was my fifth expedition to Nepal and as with the previous expeditions it took place in the post monsoon period of October, November and December. The sun set, lights from hillside villages flickered; smoke and sparks traced a sparking track, hanging flower blossoms swayed. ‘It’s ok; I’ll be back next autumn.”
A noisy but friendly hostel in Sukatar, beers in the dark on the wooden veranda, dogs barking, children playing and the strange sound of a vehicle. Then early the next morning the terror of two internal flights, the hustle and bustle of sheds that called themselves airports and a pick up from Tribhuvan international (!!) airport by Loben in Kathmandu, who soon had Houseman and me in the Thorong Peak Guesthouse situated in the centre of Thamel and already I was planning.
Loben and I leant over the laptop Googling a mountain and specifically a ridge. I was signed up for Gasherbrum IV in Pakistan with Bracey and Helliker, a brilliant objective but the only time I had been on expedition to Pakistan I had found the whole experience a little frustrating and expensive. Bombs regularly detonating in Islamabad was also off-putting. Don’t be fooled, this wouldn’t stop me from an attempt on a mountain, especially one like GIV, but combined with all the other stuff it made other less explosive objectives more desirable.
Loben corrected my spelling and hit the return key for a second time… but still no image… Annarpurna III Southeast Ridge, it must be here…
Eventually hunting the electrical ethereal, Loben and I found a stunning image…
I e-mailed Bracey and Helliker and with a few image exchanges we were on for Annapurna III. ‘Nice’, I thought, back to my favourite country, ‘Nice’ Loben thought, Nick’s coming back to Nepal…more cash… (Loben has been my agent and friend ever since my first visit to Nepal in 2003.) ‘Bugger’, I thought… another super expensive trip to try and fund and all of this even before returning to Britain from the last expensive trip.
‘Ah well, it’s not until October, loads of time for pondering where to get cash and for recuperation and for rock climbing…’
On return to North Wales, opening my copy of Alpinist 4 that is stored above DMM offices along with loads of other gear I have stashed, I turn glossy pages until stopping at the article that had fuelled my last Nepal expedition, the article is called Unclimbed. Featured are 9 sexy objectives. Since the publication of the article in 2003, four, or is it five of the unclimbed gems have now been climbed. (Chang Himal North Face was one of them.) The opening double page spread of the article is the amazing and very long Southeast Ridge of Annapurna III.
Avidly and nervously I read the piece written by Conrad Anker about attempting to climb the Southeast Ridge… “Every mountain has a line that defines it…Striking and challenging…A simple and elegant line cuts through the Annapurna massif; through the crest of snow… such an elegant line it features in postcards sold with Elvis curios…This is the 2300 metre unclimbed Southeast Ridge…(Actually it looks a lot longer than 2300 metres but what do I know) And he goes on to write, “To climb this route in alpine style the expedition will have to be small, well-acclimatised and highly motivated. The descent will prove a bit of a challenge. (Don’t you just love understatement?) Then the line that stopped me in my reading tracks…
“Having tried this line post monsoon, I would suggest a pre-monsoon attempt…
‘Bugger’, I thought for a second time in a few weeks. The rain hit the large wire re-enforced glass windows of the DMM offices, it ran like a million mini rivers in spate. I worked out the weeks remaining… 18 and counting… So much for rock climbing, back to back Himalayan expeditions, bugger, I’m going to be as bad at climbing rock as Graham Desroy after this!
The road to a change in the season has been at times stressful, especially when Bracey booked the flights before we had any cash for the trip… (For once the first thing I checked on the Quatar Airway site was not the baggage limit, which I’m very miffed to say they have changed and quite stingily reduced to 20kilo and refused to give us a bit extra, but the cost for cancellation, £100 not that bad then.) But now with the expedition just weeks away we appear to be solvent thanks to some very generous support from SAMSUNG, PATAGONIA, MAMMUT and OSPREY. We have yet to hear if the MEF and the BMC are going to help-out, but I suspect they will… Phew!
Here’s to fresh shoots, Daffodils, Crocus, baby lambs and the settled weather of spring.