Friday, September 4, 2015

Climbing Changi Tower

After two weeks of bad weather we climbed back up through the icefall, this time to make an attempt on Changi Tower.  Out of the glacial basin where we had cached much of our equipment, we soloed up a thousand feet of easy snow and ice to the Polish Col.  Three Polish climbers had made the only previous attempt on the peak five years earlier had named this pass after their nationality.

Changi Tower with the Polish col on the left
From the Polish Col we ascended a snow and ice face then some mixed climbing up to 6100 meters (20,000ft) where the steep rock climbing started.

Route ascended the ice face and mixed climbing above Graham leaving the Polish Col and then up the wall above.
At the base of the first steep rock pitches, Graham and Scott scouted the route ahead while I started to chop and build a tent platform in the steep slope.  Getting decent shelter for the night is key to success on these higher colder mountains.  Spending several nights out in the open without the tent can mean little sleep and less effective hydration and eating - things that are important to recovery before another day of climbing.   
Scott back at the bivy site while I searched in vain for an easier place to chop a ledge for the tent

We brought an ice hammock, an innovative piece of equipment invented by Mark Richey that consists of a 2 ounce piece of fabric with webbing loops on each end that you fill with snow to make the ledge wider.  In the lower left corner of photo below you can see the blue corner of the ice hammock.
Graham and Scott helping to finish chopping the ledge for our tent
Originally we planned to move the tent up one more time on our second day of climbing above the Polish Col.  We thought that would give us enough time to go to the summit on the third day.  But that night Scott observed that the rock wall above was probably too steep to find a lower angled snow patch to chop another ledge.  He proposed that we get up early and go all the way to the summit from where we had our tent now.  Graham and I agreed, but I suggested we take a stove and one sleeping bag in case we didn't make the top before dark.  That way we wouldn't have to turn around if it got dark short of the summit.  We could survive a cold open bivouac on this minimal gear and go onto the top the next day - but that would be a miserable experience so we hoped we wouldn't have to do  that. 
The rock wall above our bivouac
Graham led the first day from the Polish Col and now it was Scott's turn.  I can't climb nearly as fast as these two young guys and speed was of the essence if we wanted to avoid a cold night out without the tent.  So I followed in support.   
Climbing on thin, but good ice up to where the wall steepened
I was pleasantly surprised at how good the climbing was.  Normally on these big peaks the rock and ice quality can be poor.  But on Changi Tower neither was the case.  The rock quality was almost as good as the best granite I'd climbed on in Patagonia and the ice was solid enough to take good ice screws for protection.
Scott finishing up the mostly mixed climbing. Around the corner was the bottom of the Great Dihedral
Scott kept leading and Graham mentioned to me that when he is on a roll like this it's most efficient to have him keep going.  He was getting the rope up quickly and at this rate it seemed like we might get to the top before dark. 
Graham looking up into the Great Dihedral
From below we had spotted a large corner system in the upper rock wall that I called the Great Dihedral.  If we could climb this feature, we thought it would take us up the steepest part of the route.  As Scott came around a corner to the base of it, he was faced with a thin wet crack capped by a large nasty looking hanging icicle so he did some clever rock climbing on the right wall to get around it.
Looking up into the Great Dihedral
Once Scott traversed left back into the main corner he sped away for another pitch up the ice filled crack system. 

Scott traversing left on face climbing out of the Great Dihedral

On the final pitch up the corner Scott had to change into rock climbing shoes from his boots and crampons.  It looked like the top of the dihedral was capped with a wide, overhanging, and icy crack.  To his delight, a series of nice edges in the granite appeared on the left wall and he was able to get on easy but exposed face climbing that avoided the heinous looking climbing to his right.

Looking to the north at K7 behind Hassin Peak in the foreground.  The unclimbed Link Sar is in the clouds on the right

Above the dihedral it was back to the boots and crampons and Scott quickly dispensed with a snowy granite corner.  As the light started to fade, the last pitch that took us to the summit provided a final sting in the tail.  Scott was faced with an insecure traverse along the top edge of a very exposed rock wall capped with snow that had the consistency and strength of a pile of BB's.  To Move up along the edge of the wall he had to excavate the snow away that wouldn't hold his weight.  As the wall ended he was forced to pull up onto the snow above the rock with insecure ice tool placements and protection that by now was far below.  Once he was up onto the snow he kicked steps up the easy snow to the summit and calmly let Graham and I know that he was on top.

Rappelling off the summit
Scott reached the top just at dusk and by the time he belayed up Graham and then me, it was completely dark.  Although it would have been imprudent to keep climbing up in the dark, we felt comfortable rappelling back down at night the way we came up.  Graham led the rappels and did a nice job finding anchors down the left wall of the Great Dihedral that kept us out of the main corner where our ropes could easily get caught on rock and ice protrusions when we pulled them down.  Further down we had a couple of rappels that wouldn't pull through the anchor or got snagged requiring us to climb back up to retrieve them.  It wasn't until 3AM that we reached our tent and piled in after a very long day.
We woke late the next morning and made rappels down the ice to the Polish Col and then down to the glacial basin below.  By then it was too late in the day to descend the icefall so we spent the night there enjoying the sunset on Changi Tower and the peaks off to the west. 
Sunset on Changi Tower at our camp in the basin

We had some goodies to enjoy at our camp in the basin

In the morning we descended the icefall when it was nice and frozen.

Descending the icefall in the morning

Below the icefall we walked back across the Lachit Glacier and reached our Advanced Base Camp around noon. 
Graham and Scott walking across the Lachit Glacier back to our ABC
We had already decided not to climb the south buttress of K6 Central from our ABC because the lower portion of the route was exposed to avalanches that came off of seracs above. 
The south buttress of K6 Central.  The two large seracs up high on either side of the buttress threaten the lower slopes

The next two days were consumed with moving everything from our ABC up and over the Hidden Col back to the East Nangma Glacier on the other side.  It was a serious and potentially dangerous process because the snow in the couloirs going up and over the Hidden Col had melted out and were now subject to more rockfall.  We had to move quickly during the shady times of the day to minimize this risk.

Getting back to the land of the living on our way back to base camp

We left most of our equipment and supplies at our cache on the upper East Nangma Glacier and walked back to base camp.

Hiking down the lower East Nangma Glacier back to base camp
Before leaving base camp for home, we had one more short good weather window and Scott and Graham had picked out a safer line on K6 via its west ridge.  I mentioned to them that I was too worn out from Changi Tower to turn around quickly and go up on K6 so I elected to stay in base camp for this next climb.  I also felt I would slow them down and they needed to go quickly because the forecast we had was for only three days of good weather followed by a major storm.
My next post covers the last week at base camp before our porters came back to retrieve everything. 


Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Icefall

The approach to Changi Tower was blocked by an icefall in the glacier.  An ice fall is where the glacier tumbles over a steep section of underlying rock causing it to fracture into a jumbled mass of tottering ice towers, overhanging ice walls, and deep crevasses.
The route went up the middle to the ice wall near the top then down and over to the right side
To get to the tower we knew it would be a challenge to find our way through this mess.  The Polish attempt on the peak in 2010 reported that "the approach caused distress: a massive icefall festooned with seracs, followed by a few hundred meters of snow slope, barred access to the col at the foot of the Tower’s northwest ridge".
In the lower portion of the icefall
We mistakenly went left at the ice wall on the first day
On the first day we made a mistake and went left at the ice wall near the top and went left.  Above we found that all our possible routes ended in overhanging ice walls. 
Climbing around crevasses where we could find solid ice
 We found a safe place to camp for the night since it was now too hot and the snow was becoming too unstable to climb.
In the middle of it

The following morning we reversed our tracks over to where we could drop down and cross several large crevasses over to the right side.  A trough up the right side led to a glacial basin below the Polish col. 

Graham sketching the landscape at our bivi
It took us two days to find a safe route through the icefall.  The same amount of time it took for us to climb the tower.  After finding a route though, it was much quicker travel.  On our second trip through the icefall it took two hours.
Coming out of the icefall into the basin below the polish Col
My next blog post will be about our successful climb of Changi tower!