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 Paul Morrow: 1999 International Shishapangma Expedition

On 24 August 99 the seven person team for the Jagged Globe run 1999 International Shishapangma Expedition left Kathmandu for Kodari and Zangmu, Tibet.  The team consisted of four Brits and three Yanks, including the American leader Robert Anderson ("To Everest via Antarctica").  Unlike some past years there were only three breaks and portages in the road before reaching Kodari in this post monsoon season.  Like rumor had it, the dam project has helped in the priority for keeping the road open for supplies. (I talked to an engineer for the project from Idaho, who was inspecting the first road break, and he passed on the need for an open road to enable cement supplies to continue to arrive constantly to the dam project via this road.)  The truly bad happenings this day was to see the damage to the uphill side of some houses in Tatopani, which we personally witnessed as a "slide" of huge rocks and mud slowly but surely destroyed several houses. We passed through customs in Kodari and then stayed the night across the border in a hotel in Zangmu, Tibet, designated by the Tibetan Mountaineering Association, right across from the main Zangmu hotel, which meant listening to the disco music there most of the night and morning.....

The next day we drove on past Nyalam and camped in an open field at 4000 meters.  This seemed to be safer than staying in town, and it enabled us to acclimatize with hikes up to 4200 meters one day, and 5000 meters the next. On 27 August we continued on to Chinese Base Camp for Shishapangma at 5000 meters, and also did some hikes there in the following days to 5200 m and 5400 m.  In retrospect these hikes were invaluable in preparation for the 12 mile hike to advance base camp at 5600 m on 30 August.  We preceded our 24 yaks up the valley and then the moraine, and received some great views of the area.  Unfortunately two British members had to return home at this point due to unsuccessful acclimatization.

We all rested the following day, along with getting the camp all set-up for the next month.  That night a rain storm occurred, which was followed with numerous inches of snow.  So we dug out of that before making our way up to "depot camp" at 5800 m the next day.  This involved walking along for 2-3 hours along the moraine before reaching the start of the main glacier and the pententee's (ice ridges), and the start of real climbing with crampons. This uneven walk was tough at first, but got easier as the expedition continued.  At first only a small three man Japanese expedition occupied a lower ABC camp, along with a four man Japanese expedition (with oxygen for higher up) with four Sherpa's, so this trail got more distinct as we all used it, and as more expeditions arrived.

September 3rd was used a day for our "Puja" as a Sherpa, with lama credentials, helped us with this blessing and cleansing Buddhist ceremony. We all participated, and I still have my sacred cord around my neck.  (I have participated with these ceremonies on Everest in '93 and '94, along with Cho Oyu in '96.)  Then we hoisted the prayer flags all around camp from our Puja altar, just like the Japanese and their Sherpa's had a few days before.

Then it was back to climbing and we moved up to depot camp / 5800 m the following day, and we moved through the pententee's with crampons the next morning before moving up the snow slope to camp one at 6440 m on 5 Sept.  (I mention the crampons, since the Sherpa's jump and climb through these ice ridges below the snow slopes towards camp one without crampons.  I wish I was as confident as they are among deep glacial pools and crevasse's!!)  All this climbing up was done in the early morning to keep away from the blazing heat of late morning and afternoon, before the afternoon clouds usually rolled in.  So camp one was established, and we climbed higher the next day to approx. 6800, which was on-to the upper glacier, to get ready for our future move to camp two.  After these efforts we then descended to ABC on 7 Sept.

We rested the next day, climbed a nearby ridge and spire to 6300 m the following day, and rested a bit on the 10th.  These few days our great three person Sherpa team of Nima, Gombu, and Pemba, were establishing the tents and cookers at camp two while stationed at camp one.  Fortunately they worked in trail breaking with their Sherpa friends from the large Japanese expedition.  It was a GREAT accomplishment, and enabled all three teams (Japanese/3, Japanese/4, and us/4 now) to start moving up on 13 October. (One of our five members had decided to help coordinate the summit bid from ABC from then on, vice climb higher.)

So the 13th found most of us at camp one (6440 m), and then our team (especially Robert) helped break trail up through the steep parts just above camp one on the 14th.  Robert did a great job, and then the Sherpa's took over the trail breaking on the upper glacier to camp two at 7080 m. (The four man Japanese team on O's had put their camp two much lower, but then put a camp three on the shoulder at approx. 7500 m.)  After hydrating, and a nap or two, we left camp at 3am and worked our way up towards the Japanese camp three with Ron Holt leading for the next three hours!!   (The small Japanese team without O's had left camp two an hour before us and had helped break in the trail too.)  Dawn found us at the Japanese camp three, with them and the smaller Japanese team just then moving ahead up the first fixed line and ridge.

We worked ourselves up this ridge, plodded through some deep snow along another ridge, and then followed them as they and our Sherpa's worked up another ridge and fixed a line.  The snow was certainly deep at places, and both Sherpa teams fortunately knew the route and worked as a great team. Once above a spire here, Gombu then dug deep and worked a rope line along the following ridge.  By this time it was 2pm and since we had some hours left to the summits one of our members, who was on O's, turned back with Nima.  I believe one of the large Japanese (on O's too) also turned back as we tackled the next deep snow ridge.  Takahashi did a wonderful job on this last slope, and Kata with Suzuki fixed this last ridge with a rope for jumaring.  (The snow was very pebbly and tough to get up!)  Then we were on the summit ridge, but with it around 4:30pm and blowing hard with a whiteout......

SO, Robert made the decision to go ahead and the Sherpa's and Ron Holt and I continued in these tough conditions.  Shortly thereafter the weather there broke a bit and we topped out at 5pm, barely able to see anything except the ridge that was mostly above the storm.  We all hollered and screamed, and took pictures, before descending in the fading light as fast as we could. We reached the point where Gombu had left rope before switching to headlamps for the rest of the descent.   It was then constant downclimbing in deep snow, where one is slipping down constantly.  Its amazing how steep ridges can be going down, which you never even noticed wh ile climbing up!!

Robert met a Japanese climber benighted with a dead headlamp at the bottom of a rappel, and we helped him reach the lower camp while we continued our slipping and sliding!!  Before too long we were at the Japanese camp three, and then continued on down this steep slope to our camp two, and reached that goal at 10pm!!   (It was a beautiful night sky, and we could see lightning flashes on the horizon!!)   It must have been a tough day, since once back into the tent I started dry heaving, with Robert doing the same in the tent alongside....

After the summit on the 15th we then down climbed and walked to camp one on the 16th, and then ABC on the 17th.  All of us were exhausted, and we kept running into the Japanese on the route who were also very tired!  But it was worth the hard work, and the great food from our Sherpa cook (Lapka) and cook-boy (little Pemba) at ABC once we arrived there at 2pm on the 17th. (Only to find that some strange French Expedition had put their cook tent right in our way, instead of anywhere else in the boulder field that was available!!!!)  [Numerous expeditions had also arrived while we were gone, which seemed pretty late in the season to just arrive at BC and ABC.]   Ron and I paid homage, and rice, to the Puja stand upon our successful and safe return, and then commenced to eat as much as we could safely stand :>)

The following day we rested, packed, and ate, and were ready for the yak drivers and yaks on the 19th.  So on that day we paid our farewells to the Japanese teams, and the other new ones (except the French), and headed on down 12 miles to BC.  Boy did the air seem to get thick!!  Ron and I hiked along the river for a while, and were struck by the experience of getting to be surrounded by such beautiful mountains and terrain.  One is truly fortunate to get to visit and experience all these things, along with a wash in a sparkling river in the middle of no where!!  Heck, even the Liaison Officer presented Gombu, Pemba, Robert Anderson, Ron Holt, and I with summit certificates for a small fee, which I still owe Robert!! (oops)

The travel Gods were smiling on us, along with the Tibetan truck and Landcruiser drivers, and we left BC at 6am on the 20th, reached Zangmu for lunch, and were in Kathmandu by 8pm or so.  That's the fastest I can remember for this trip by a long shot.  The Chinese official was great at Zangmu and was able to get us through passport and customs without problems, and even got us Landcruiser rides right down to the Friendship Bridge. Once there Nima and Robert easily took care of the Nepali passport/customs procedures and we caught a bus right away (well, after three cokes drunk very quickly), with a truck for the gear, and had an interesting ride down through the area's where the road had previously been washed out.  It goes without saying that the village of Tatopani was the worse for the monsoon, and numerous homes on the uphill side were crushed and abandoned.

The rest of the story consists of relaxing in Kathmandu, getting haircuts and shaves, and hoping someday that our lips would heal from summit day. (Mine are still sore but better!)  We treated the Sherpa's to a buffet dinner at the Yak & Yeti, along with lots of beer, and it was sad to say goodbye.  Especially considering all the hard work they had done for us!

It may seem strange, after all the hard work and sacrifice involved, but I cannot wait to return and climb some more!!

Paul Morrow
5 Oct 99, Alice Springs, N.T., Australia

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