Pictures: Descending into the clouds; Matt quests out onto the east ridge; Pete cutting a snow bollard.
Crunch, my boot punches through the top-layer of snow revealing the fleshy powder beneath. A jagged mountain crest blocks as the sun ducks low. Yellow, red, brown and blue hues reflect from the cloud while the hips, legs and ankles of the mountains are covered with a cumulous skirt, modesty to cover their beautiful curves. The evening breeze shifts the cloud, stings our skin and waters our wide eyes. BC tents glow in the valley below, then they are hidden once more by cumulous. Stars show themselves and compete to outshine each other in a massive sky. The thin white mist of the Milky Way stretches. And we are so filled with the scene, even the glow of BC and the thought of Buddhi's cooking is placed on hold
Matt, Pete and I have spent two nights in a snow cave at 5900m. We left BC at 1.45 am on Monday morning and reached the ridge at 1.30pm later that afternoon. The ridge was a different world: a world of blasted, freeze dried skin. The searing wind wanted us out of there. This world had minus fifteen and when the wind joined in with the bullying, the chill took on a force as hard as the Tyson hook connecting to the chin of Fat Jesus*.
A hole was dug into the ridge top, which turned out to be the top of a massive serac, a balancing clotted ice monster teetering on the crest. "It will do." It will have to do as the three of us spent five hours digging on day one, and four hours digging on day two. Also on day two, we found our little single skinned tent. Stupidly we had left it on the ridge on our first soiree without marking the position. An avalanche probe search, like looking for a body, eventually located our little tent. In the wind though, I wonder its worth for higher up?
Waking, in our hole, day three, shuffling, turning, stamping, feet are frozen blocks in the bottom of our sleeping bags. The sky, a clear blue frozen pond can be seen through the door, but the wind can not. Pete, the first to brave the minus 10 reports, "FECKIN FREEZING," in a Franky Boyle Scottish guttural. I wish I could laugh like I do at Boyle's hard cutting humour, but I can't.
At last we set off in an upward direction. The wind jabs. Ridge climbing is not the most sensible. We have ropes, but they are not the type that run along each side of the ridge ready to catch us and spring us back. Our ropes lie and flap and twist along the ridge crest. We do need to gain altitude though, so we continue. Climbing, aiming for the massive face on the far left of the ridge, we are half way up the gendarme looking down onto our overhanging serac snow hole, but because of the poor rock, and the howling wind, we decide to traverse the steep fluted snow face we can see from our BC approximately 1500m above.
Fingers are wooden, the wind tears at clothing, it whips spindrift into soft exposed skin, it chafes and blisters lips but we are stood on the ridge now, to the left of the gendarme. We shout at each other just to be heard, "LETS GET DOWN, lets get down, yes, down " Enough is enough, it is, after all, only an acclimatisation trip!
Crunch, my boot punches through the top-layer of snow revealing the fleshy powder beneath. Pete and Matt are dark tiny outlines silhouetted below. They stand close, and on the tip of the snow-spur where we will stash the ropes. Mountains shimmer in the evening alpen glow and the trauma from the last three days of chilling effort pails when compared to what we now look at. The summit of A3 is far away in every aspect, but here we are, fixated and mesmerised and surrounded by savage beauty. And I know this is the reason we climb mountains.
*Fat Jesus is a character in the film Hangover who steals Mike Tyson's tiger and receives the painful consequences for his actions. Hangover is a film we have been fortunate to watch twice now, here at BC. Thanks Samsung for the download, Hangover has made a big impression on the team.