Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Losar - One of the Worlds Longest Ice Climbs

Losar is the name for the Tibetan and Sherpa New Year, but it is also the name of a classic ice climb in the Khumbu region of Nepal near Mount Everest.  Although it is not exceptionally steep until the final two pitches, the climb is over 800 meters long which makes it one of the worlds longest ice climbs.  The route is approached by descending around 1000 feet from the village of Namche Bazaar and crossing the Bhote Koshi Nadi River to reach the climb on the opposite side.

Losar taken from the village of Namche Bazaar
Five days ago after we finished instructing at the Khumbu Climbing School Steve Mock and I decided to attempt the route before I headed back to the US.  I tried climbing the route the year before with Dave Weber, another KCS instructor.  But the morning of the climb Dave became sick from something he ate so we were not able to go.  While Dave recuperated, I went down to the river to check out the crossing and discovered that there wasn't a bridge, and without one the cascade was too swift and deep to cross safely.  So this year Steve and I went down the day before we started the climb to build a bridge using a 10 foot section of ladder.  But we discovered that locals had been mining sand from the river banks for concrete construction in Namche and they had built a sturdy log bridge that we could use the following day

Bridge built by sand haulers
We left on February 3rd (which was Losar) to climb Losar and arrived at the ice at first light.  It was unusually warm and the ice was running with water. 

Partway up Losar
Although the first 700 meters were relatively easy Grade 3 and 4, the wet, chandelier ice took time to clear. 

Namche Bazaar and the top of Mt Everest from Losar

We arrived at the steep final two pitches of ice as it was getting dark so we decided to turn around and rappel the route.  I was disappointed to miss out on this last section because it would have been the steepest and best climbing on the route.
We reached the top of the rock bulge on the right below the final steep section
Late that night we arrived back in Namche where our friend Nima prepared a simple meal for us before we went to our lodge for some sleep.  Maybe the third time will be a charm for me on this route!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Khumbu Climbing School

A couple of days ago I left the village of Phortse having completed my second year as a volunteer instructor for the Khumbu Climbing School.  The mission statement for the KCS is:

To increase the safety margin of Nepali climbers and high altitude workers
by encouraging responsible climbing practices in a supportive and community-based program

The KCS provides basic and advanced climbing instruction to the Sherpas and other ethnic groups in Nepal who are employed as guides for mountaineering expeditions in the Himalayas, including Mt Everest.  Many people assume that all the Sherpas are elite mountaineers and experts in their local terrain.  This is true for the experienced Sherpas, but for the aspirant Sherpa guides their occupation can be quite dangerous.  Most of their training comes on the job and Mt Everest is not the safest place to learn. 
The Village of Phortse
This year we had one student who had summited Mt Everest 8 times but did not know how to tie basic climbing knots. It is surprising that many of these Nepalis work on the highest mountains in the world with so little formal mountaineering instruction.  

Learning to ice climb
The goal of the KCS is to eventually train the Nepalis to be instructors so that they can run the school themselves.  2011 was the eighth year of the program and for each of the instruction groups, Nepalis now serve as the lead and assistant instructors with the American volunteers acting as safety observers. 

Rock climbing instruction
In addition to mountaineering instruction, the KCS provides some basic first aid training and English vocabulary.
First Aid Training
The KCS is run every winter when the guides are not busy working.  For the village of Phortse the KCS provides economic activity during a slow time of year when their are few trekkers and climbers around.

Even the local children want to learn their knots
At the end of the course there is a day of testing where students have to demonstrate in the field what they have learned.  The students are awarded points for skills like belaying, rappelling, ice climbing, climbing fixed ropes. knots, and first aid.  If they score a minimum amount of points they graduate and are given a certificate.