On 28 October 2016 a team of climbers reached the summit of Cholatse (6440m). The team consisted of leader Soren Kruse Ledet, climbers Warren Townsden and Edith Jankowski and climbing sherpas Nawang Sherpa, Pema Sherpa and Lakpa Tamang (pictured above, photo by Edith).
The team acclimatised on Cholo (6097m), which was ‘a real surprise package’ according to Soren. The climb was good fun and rewarded all with ‘hands down the best mountain views in the Himalaya ever’. It was so good in fact that we’re now offering the Cholo Expedition in our regular Himalaya mountaineering program.
Cholatse is a very challenging and very technical climb. Thankfully the group got perfect weather and was able to work alongside two other commercial groups on the mountain to make it a success!
Warren and Edith share their highs and lows of the expedition in detail below.
The Trek Approach
The trek up to Namche Bazaar and the crossing of the Renjo La via the villages of Thame and Lungden was simply breathtaking and beautiful. This was an unexpected highlight of the expedition.
I had never been on the trail from Namche Bazaar to Thame and Lungden before. Nor had I crossed the Renjo La (5340m). Although I have been to Gokyo twice before, travelling via Thame, Lungden, crossing the Renjo La and descending down to Gokyo Lakes before stopping at Gokyo village was brilliant. The views from Renjo La of Mt. Everest, Makalu, Cholatse and Cholo were absolutely majestic and the camp site just below the Renjo La was spectacular.
Climb 1: Cholo (6097m)
Cholo base camp (5300m) was situated in a pristine setting adjacent to a nearby lake. We spent a couple of days preparing our gear, including a practice climb. We also performed a Puja ceremony, blessing for safe passage and return on the mountain.
The attempt on Cholo began on 20 October 2016 with a gradual climb and scramble up the moraine, followed by an ice climb up the glacier and 300 metres of climbing the icefall to high camp situated on the saddle.
We did an alpine start in the dark with our head lights on 21 October. We actually climbed slightly down to the face of Cholo before commencing the climb on the northeast face. Our climbing sherpas were ahead of us fixing the ropes. The climbing was steep with a traverse a third the way up in mixed snow conditions, varying from firm to soft, where at times you were in knee deep snow that can make it more tiring. We reached the summit ridge at around 07.55hrs and the final climb to the summit was straight forward, reaching the summit of Cholo at 08.55hrs.
The views from the summit were simply outstanding. From there we descended to Camp 1 where we stayed the night before heading all the way down to base camp the following day.
We are still waiting for confirmation from the Nepal Mountaineering Association, but there is the possibility that it could be a first summit by an Australian team.
Both the Cholo and Cholatse Expedition were first ascents by a Dane.
Climb 2: Cholatse (6097m)
After the first summit of Cholo, we had a week to rest and recover before an attempt on our main target. With only myself and Waz left, there was no place to hide and I felt an additional pressure to succeed for the sake of the expedition.
The trek from Cholo base camp to Cholatse base camp was fantastic and free from other travellers. All up it was only three to four hours trek. At Cholatse base camp we were able to meet up with two friends from Sydney and Newcastle, John Currie and Gavin Vickers, who were also climbing Cholatse.
We rested for a couple of days and we held our Puja ceremony on 26 October 2016, leaving base camp the next day around 09.00hrs to climb to Camp 1. The first part of the climb was straight forward, up a rocky slope to advanced base camp, where we changed from our hiking boots to our climbing boots and attached our crampons.
Cholatse (6440m) the mountain we were climbing has been likened to the Eiger of Nepal. It has an extraordinary broad steep ice-covered west face, vertical north east wall and a beautiful south east traverse (the latter being our intended route). From Cholatse base camp and our first up close proper view of the peak, I studied the route as best as a novice could – the broad face was festooned with mushrooming snow cornices, and it appeared as though the route was predominantly a fine ridge with steep exposure. Looking up at the summit standing more than a kilometre above seemed to me to be an impossibility and at that point I felt so feeble, weakened and incapable (a respiratory tract infection was not assisting in my confidence). I reminded myself not to get ahead of myself, one day at a time, every day a summit day, first camp 1, then camp 2, then the summit ….. stay in the present moment.
There was some glacial travel before climbing the steep 200 metre head glacier wall on to Camp 1 on the saddle at around 5,700m where stayed the night.
The next morning we had an early alpine start and headed up a short snow climb before negotiating a rock wall, where we descended down briefly before climbing the rock wall that was sketchy in places, exposed and with lots of loose rocks, a fixed line was in place for protection.
From there we continued our climb towards Camp 2 that involved steep snow and steep ridge/ice arête climbing, with commanding views on either side of the ridge.
A slightly later start saw us leave Camp 1 at 6am in minus 15 degree temperatures. We started with a steep snow slope which quickly got the blood pumping, then leading to the technical rock tower traverse. A snowy ridge followed and at times there seemed as though there was just enough width for our heavy mountain boots to be planted, with a steep 1000m drop below.
When I hauled myself over a steep snow ridge and saw Camp 2 I was both elated and exhausted. The combined mental focus and physical exertion over such exposed ridges had sapped my energy completely, and I was ready for food and my sleeping bag!
As I began to take off my harness I got a shake of the head from our climbing sherpas (Ngawang, Lakpa Tamang and Pema Sherpa) and it was then that Soren informed Waz and myself that the weather forecast for tomorrow was less than ideal (high winds above 6000m) so he had decided we would make a push for the summit today and return to Camp 2 for the night. At that moment, I was absolutely devastated. I felt as though I had nothing left to give – physically the energy from my bowl of muesli five hours earlier was gone, my respiratory infection made it impossible to get enough oxygen and I felt nauseous (symptom of high altitude and dehydration), but more importantly, my mental preparation was non-existent and my motivation and willingness to continue was listening to my fatigued body – it screamed out Noooooo! At that point, I felt completely overwhelmed. It was as though I had failed and I just wanted to sit and have a cry.
After a 20 minute rest with hot tea, ginger biscuits, almonds and a muesli bar, followed by much encouragement and prodding by Soren we started for the summit. With still 400m to ascend in altitude to the summit, it was estimated to take about 3 hours!
For the first hour I was so angry with Soren and myself. I was angry for being so weak. I was angry as I felt I was going to fail.
Then something strange happened. After an hour of wasting energy on unnecessary emotion I realized that despite how awful and inept I was feeling, I was still progressing, moving closer – very slowly – but moving. The sun was out, conditions were good and time was on our side – just maybe, I could actually pull this off ‘IF’ I just kept going. As soon as my mind-set had changed for the positive, so did my performance – one foot in front of the other was my mantra and I felt slightly re-energised though still horribly nauseous. The constant encouragement and assistance from Ngawang was also invaluable. My ability to keep going forward was further strengthened when I saw prayer flags identifying the summit in the distance still an hour or so away. Reaching the top ridge was a bit daunting, with close to 2000m of air on the other side but with amazing views of Everest, Lhotse and Makalu.
Myself, Soren, Edi, Nawang Sherpa, Lakpa Tamang & Pema Sherpa reached the summit of Cholatse at around 13.30hrs on 28 October 2016. We all stayed on the summit for at least thirty minutes to take it all in. One of the most memorable moments on this expedition was seeing the joy on the faces of Nawang Sherpa, Lakpa Tamang & Pema Sherpa on the summit of Cholatse.
The summit day weather was near perfect with clear skies and light winds making the descent back to high camp relatively smooth. We still had to concentrate on the down climbing on the exposed arête and abseil a couple of the steeper sections.
Back at high camp we caught up with John and Gavin who were going for the summit push the following morning. We stayed the night before descending the following morning in extremely cold conditions around minus 30 degrees all the way back down to base camp.
A special mention of the outstanding work by our climbing sherpas, Lakpa Tamang, Nawang Sherpa & Pema Sherpa and the delicious meals served by our kitchen staff led by Lakpa Sherpa.
The following days at base camp and the return trek to Lukla comprised of rest, recovery, rejoicing and rum. Everybody was so proud not only of their own personal achievement, but that of the entire expedition.
Climbing sherpas, Soren, myself and Waz had successfully summited two rarely climbed peaks for the first time, all with the incredible support of our porters and kitchen crew. The prestige of this mountain for the local sherpas was only revealed to me in later days and nights, and for that I am so happy that finally, in some small way, I could contribute something special by being there and part of a first ever World Expeditions expedition to Cholatse…the amount of Khukri Rum and whiskey that we all used to celebrate attested to that!
All photos from Warren Townsden unless indicated otherwise.