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BLOG | REPORTS | 08 January 2016

(Incomplete) Birthday Present: Mountain exploration in the heart of Khumbu valley

Tomeu Rubi & Cati Lladó are now well-known to many of our Barrabes readers. Dedicated to mountain exploration, they are excellent representatives of this trend who believe the world is a huge place for those willing to follow their own path and get off the beaten track.

Probing to avoid an invisible crevasse.
“Exploring this virgin region gives us a great sense of freedom; walking up a glacier surrounded by a huge range of mountains that have yet to be climbed, means we can take our pick, not just of the mountain but also the route, without any restrictions other than the level difficulty we want to take on.” these were their words when we first published an article about them, in 2011, after achieving several quality ascents in the beautiful and unknown mountains of Kyrgyzstan, an area, which had previously only been visited by 4 expeditions.

They then went on to do the same in the virtually unexplored Caucasus region and earlier this year, they decided to visit Nepal, to trek to an area where very few ascents have been recorded. They chose Peak 4, a virgin peak at 6,720m in the Makalu area. (Note: Tomeu has since been informed that this peak has a history, but the Nepali Government records show no information of the ascent because the mountaineers chose not to as they had no permits).

They didn't reach the summit...but came extremely close, which is not unusual for this kind of unpredictable mountaineering. But the disappointment of not reaching the summit was far outweighed by their passion and the adventure in itself.

“We really enjoy planning our own adventure and making our own decisions. Going to new places, with all the uncertainties this entails. Avoiding the normal equipped routes and staying off the beaten track. We try to make it on our own. If we see footprints, we're unhappy... in a way, this is what mountaineering is all about, isn't it? The aim is the journey in itself; the climb, exploring...the peak is an important part too, but less so. For us, the style, the place, the mountains, choosing our path...all this is essential. We get much more out of this than reaching the summit. The journey... the destination is a very important thing for us. We really enjoy going to the ex-soviet countries and to Africa...getting there, the approach, the country... the mountains are like the cherry on top.
Travelling this way, seeing those mountains that have so little written about them means you can't have a closed plan. We've had all kinds of experiences. When you get there and actually see for yourselves what you had planned to do, you may get the feeling that you need to change not only the route; but the whole mountain!”

A bivy at approx. 6000m with Tutse 6758m (right) & Peak 5632m (left)
PEAK 4 (6720m, Chamlang/Makalu, Nepal)

AN INCOMPLETE BIRTHDAY PRESENT
It was unplanned, but it was perfect. The day we were going to reach the summit would be Cati's birthday. That would have been some present, wouldn't it? But unfortunately, it wasn't to be. The summit was so near, but just too far. Near, because it was just 150m away, but far because a huge crevasse blocked our way and it was too much of a risk for what we had in mind. But let's tell the story from the beginning!

April 2014: good news

At the end of April last year, we reached Namche Bazaar (Nepal) in low spirits, as we'd been unable to have even one try at our peak, mainly due to the bad weather. But after looking through our mail, joy and enthusiasm were instantly restored because we had been chosen as one of the six projects financed by the “Millet Expedition Project 2014” . Our project would take us to Nepal, the following spring to attempt a virgin peak: Peak 4 (6720m) in the Makalu area.

Spring 2015: Back to Nepal

This year, at the start of spring, we returned to the noisy streets of Kathmandu, with all the rickshaws, colours and smiling faces. We spent a couple of days briefing and shopping for provisions, as it looked as if the tea houses we'd be staying at offered little more than Dal bhat. Then we'd fly on to Turmlingtar, where a jeep would take us on the 5h journey to Num village and from there we'd begin the trek to the Makalu base camp.

Peak 4 is located to the west of Makalu BC
The trek would take 6 days and during this time we couldn't help but recall the words of Lionel Terray, when he referred to this area as he described the expedition that would accomplish the first ascent of Makalu: “in spite of the heat, the humidity and being attacked by thousands of leeches, there was something about our approach route, through a region that was so much wilder than our trek to Annapurna, that I found enchanting. With some variations, I returned to find everything I had ever loved about Nepal: the poetry of such abundant vegetation; the philosophy of its smiling inhabitants; it's absolute charm and, in short, everything that had bewitched me when I first visited this country and will stay with me until the day I die.”

In the afternoon of April 6th we reached Base Camp, at 4700m. We said goodbye to three of the porters who had accompanied us this far. Mandip, the trekking guide would stay with us, as apparently for legal reasons he had to remain at base camp during the whole expedition. The weather continued in the same way: each new day would bring clear skies and it would gradually cloud over and turn into rain in the late evening.

The east face of Peak 4 gave few options that weren't exposed to a large line of seracs crossing the broad wall. We saw a possible route on the left, which we'd keep in mind. It was very beautiful and we could observe it each day from base camp.

The upper part of the Peak 4 route

The lower part of Peak 4 route
Luck wasn't on our side...

On April 8th, we climbed to the the foot of the south-east ridge of Peak 4. We thought it would be a good chance to attempt the summit and we wanted to get as near to the ridge as possible as the lower section was rocky and looked pretty precarious. When we reached the foot of the first vertical wall we saw that from there on we'd need to use our climbing gear. Then the weather turned and the clouds blocked out our view of the upper section, but we thought it looked feasible, providing we climbed lightly, with not too much of a load. We climbed up to 5200m and this helped us acclimatize although we still needed to improve our adaptation to altitude if we wanted the chance to reach 6720m on this mountain. We wanted to climb this peak alpine style, with no fixed ropes, no porters...we wanted to do it the same way as when we climb in the Pyrenees or Alps. It wasn't the most effective way and the chances of success would be lower, as we knew from experience, but that's the way we wanted it.

Camp 1
On April 9th, we set off towards the Swiss camp at 5200m, where we spent the night. The following day we climbed up to 5700m. Acclimatizing aside, our intention was to study a possible northern route. The truth was, that from here it looked pretty good and it seemed as if climbing a secondary peak at 6585m (according to the map) would be easy. But we had to bear in mind that we needed to get past a long ridge before reaching the main summit and that didn't look so easy.

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