September 30, 2018, NZAT members Kim Ladiges and Matthew Scholes flew into Nepal for a 6 week expedition with the primary objective being the south face of Gangapurna, 7455m. Here Matt Scholes recounts his and Kim's journey to attempt this huge 1500 metre face in the Annapurna Massif.
The Manaslu Circuit - Acclimatisation Trek
We chose to first acclimatise by completing a trek around the Manaslu circuit. Tea house trekking in Nepal is relatively cheap and simple when you don't have the burden of taking expedition climbing equipment with you. The trek to Gangapurna base camp was going to be quite short, so it seemed like a nice way to acclimatise while exploring a new area.
The Manaslu trek takes about 10 days and we had the opportunity to go above 5000m three times during the trek. We then headed to the lower elevations of Pokhara to collect our climbing gear and head over to Gangapurna base camp.
Approach to Gangapurna Base Camp
Thanks to our acclimatization process, we were able to complete the trek to Machapuchare village on the south side of the Annapurna sanctuary in only 2 days. We were feeling ready to head up to our base camp just a few kilometres up valley.
Unfortunately, we had to wait for the porters to arrive before we could head up a narrow gorge that gave access to our base camp. It took us all day as we had to negotiate steep and dangerous slopes on the left hand side of the gorge and temporarily fix ropes down cliffs just to get to base camp.
Once arriving at base camp, we set about finding the best way to the base of Gangapurna. The hike starts up a huge valley that is surrounded by spectacular peaks, but comes to an abrupt end and at that point you are faced with choosing one of a few narrow gorges that are made of tonnes of big boulders held together with dust and magic.
We chose the last of the three gulleys, which was passable, albeit quite terrifying. We made our way up onto the ridge to a nice flat spot where we spent the night just 100m below the snow line. The next day we hiked further scoping the line that looked in best condition, before descending all the way back to base camp.
Acclimatisation Foray on Fluted Peak, 6500m
We also had a permit to climb what we hoped to be a simple trekking peak - Fluted Peak. It is accessible from the same base camp. By climbing this we hoped we would be sufficiently acclimatised for Gangapurna. After a rest day, we set off with 4 days of food to climb what was regarded as the normal route.
The first day took us to the edge of the glacier, but we stopped as it started to snow. The next morning dawned clear so we made our way up the glacier and onto the ridge at 6000m. By this point it had started snowing heavily and continued into most of the night.
The next morning dawned clear so we left camp to make an attempt for the summit but by 9 a.m. we were engulfed in clouds and snow again at about 6250m, so we decided to head back to camp on the ridge at 6000m. We sat in the tent all day as it snowed heavily.
The next morning it dawned clear again but the fresh snow and lack of food and time meant we had to head down. We arrived back in base camp later that day, disappointed to have come just shy of the summit, but mroe acclimatised. Although we didn't summit Fluted Peak, we had spent a number of days above 6000m without any issues regarding altitude.
Alpine Style Attempt on Gangapurna
After a few days rest, we set off to make an alpine style attempt for the route on Gangapurna, equipped with one week's worth of fuel and food.
Our first night was spent higher than the previous reconnaissance trip on a rocky outcrop next to the glacier. On the second day, we were making fair progress up the mountain, and had to make a traverse across some 45 degree snow slopes.
It was just after this point at around 6200m that Kim told me he didn't think he was coping with the altitude, and firmly told me he did not want to continue any further.
The expedition was over.
What could I say? If I push him and he dies, it's my fault at that point. You have to respect your partner's judgements.
The weather was perfect and I sat on the glacier under blue skies, heart broken. Everything I had ever wanted to do in alpine climbing I had hoped to put together on that route. Months of hard work and training to get here, weeks of acclimatising... and I didn't even swing a tool.
Nearly a year later, I still don't know what to make of it. No one died, I'm still here, it's still there, but something else has gone.
Clothing and Bivouac gear
- Ice hammock
- Single Skin Tent
- Quilt – Down winter version prototype Macpac product
- Socks x 2
- Gloves x 2 plus one pair of fleece liners
- Synthetic mitts
- Macpac Pro thermal Top and leggings
- One piece thermal fleece
- Julbo glasses and googles
- Macpac waterproof bib pants
- Macpac Pulsar Plus synthetic jacket
- Macpac Arrowsmith down jacket
- Macpac Hightail Jacket
- Macpac Pisa Jacket
- 2 x Ice axes
- High altitude double boots - either Scarpa Phantom 6000 or La Sportiva Spantik