Friday, September 2, 2011

Acclimatization

Before climbing a mountain as high as Sasser Kangri II, a period of acclimatization to the altitude must occur first.  In 2009 we spent time on adjacent peaks to acclimatize.  But when we made our attempt on Sasser Kangri II we discovered that finding bivouac sites was our biggest problem.  We felt that it would have been worthwhile to acclimate by make a reconaissance high on SKII to chop a tent platform out of the ice ahead of time.  This year we decided to adopt this strategy - so on July 24th we left ABC for our first bivuoac on the wall at a good ledge not too far up that we called the Launch Pad.  Little did we know that this would be the only good ledge on the entire 6,000 foot high face.  Getting to the Launch Pad is about 8 rope lengths up the wall and is mostly easy lower angle ice climbing.  We found and improved our belay/rappel anchors in the rock alonside the ice from 2009.  We would save time reusing these on the several forays we would be making in the future.

Freddie Wilkinson leading his block to the Launch Pad


Mark Richey following up to the Launch Pad
After reachin the Launch Pad in good weather we improved the gravel ledge from the work we had done two years previous.  To be safe from rockfall and falling ice we had climbed to the ledge early in the morning before the sun hit the slopes.  By late morning we had set up our small two person tent that the three of us planned to squeeze into.  Although this made for cramped living conditions, we knew that it would have to suffice since we would never be able to build or find a platform or ledge for a larger tent.

The Launch Pad
We soon discovered the problem with our acclimatization strategy though - it was too hot!  By late morning we had to take shelter from the sun in the tent while we watched the rockfall and avalanches go by on either side of our ledge as the mountain come apart in the heat.  Our promitory protruded just enough from the wall to afford us a some comfort that these missles would fly by well to either side of us.  There was nothing for us to do but wait till it cooled off and then head down in the morning after the wall froze up again at night.  There was no thought of going higher on the wall to acclimatize on this trip.  We would need to go climb other colder north facing mountains until things cooled off later in August when we could return to the Southwest face of Sasser Kangri II.

The next day we quickly rappelled off the wall and skied back to ABC.  We rested for a few hours in the heat of the day and later went looking for objectives that could keep us busy till things colled off.  Based on Freddie's hunch we skied up a pocket glacier off the South Shukpa that we called the "Baby Ruth Glacier" because it reminded us of one of our favorite places in Alaska.  As we came around a steep granite buttress in the wall on the peak on our right we found one of the most compelling ice lines I've ever seen in the Karakoram.

Can you spot the line?

The weather was changing so with the knowledge that we had an exciting objective to come back to we skied back to ABC and then to base camp on the 26th.  After some snowy days we returned to ABC and started up this climb on July 30th.  Never that hard, but always enjoyable we climbed 14 rope lengths up this beautiful ice route.  Later on we would name this peak Tso Kangri (6580 meters).

Freddie led the first block

Mark took the second block of leading
  
Emerging onto the summit ice slopes


Wrapping around the backside to get to the top


Traversing the backside high above the glaciers


Rappelling off the summit as the sun goes down

 During the day we watched Sasser Kangri II come in and out of the clouds.  The view from our climb gave us a new perspective on the summit area of SKII.  This has always been a mystery to us when staring at it directly from below.  But from here we could see that the top of the Southwest Face had a flat area that led to a nice snow ridge angling up to the summit. 
Upper Southwest face of Sasser Kangri II taken from Tso Kangri

As we rappelled off Tso Kangri a sinus infection that I had been  fight for over a week started to kick in and I started feeling unusually weak.  By the time we reached the glacier I was short of breath and coughing incessantly.  I pledged that I would head back to base camp and possibly the Nubra Valley to try and cure myself of this before it was time to head back to Sasser Kangri II.  There was no way for me to know at the time that, in spite of all my efforts to recover, this ailment would rear its head again in ways that would be quite terrifying.

 

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