‘The Moments We Make’ follows two expeditions to the unclimbed Anidesha Chuli (6900m), also known as White Wave, in remote eastern Nepal. Through accidents, personal loss and failure, the story reveals challenges faced not just in adventure but also in staying motivated through our everyday lives.
‘The Moments We Make’ was judged Runner-Up Best Kiwi Made Movie at the 2015 New Zealand Mountain Film Festival.
With three more days before we fly home from Kathmandu, it seems like a good time for a quick round up of the trip.
So many emotions are still fresh, including intense enjoyment from the range of experiences of travelling and climbing in Nepal, but also disappointment at not achieving what we set out to do. Throughout the two months, Dawa and the team at Dream Himalaya Adventures have provided great logistical support for the expedition. We fully recommend them (and will certainly be using them) for any future trips.
After the two day bus ride (around 30 winding, bone-jarring hours) from Kathmandu to Taplejung in the far east of Nepal, we were certainly keen to start walking. With our staff Ang Nima, Sangay and Tenzin, and 20 porters carrying around 700kgs of food and equipment for base camp, we followed the Ghunsa River for 10 days, passing through small villages, farmland and forest. Sometimes we stayed close to the river, crossing narrow wire bridges over tight gorges, and other times climbed steeply up to high terraces that allowed views of the mountains ahead. To say we were amping would be an understatement!
John got sick at Sekathum, initially complaining of a stomach bug but which soon deteriorated into a very high resting pulse, high fever, vomiting, diarrhoea and delirium. This continued for a number of days. At one stage Shelley and Paul discussed whether John would need to be evacuated, but a satellite phone call to Dr Dick Price back in New Zealand and a change of antibiotics saw John slowly on the mend (thanks Dick!).
To keep the trip progressing (and to ensure we didn’t lose our porters and gear!), Paul needed to go on ahead with Ang Nima. Once hearing that John was getting better, he waited for the others at Kambachen, the last small summer settlement before heading up the side valley Ramdang to the site of basecamp. Kambachen offered amazing views of Jannu (Kumbhakarna), at 7711m one of the world’s most incredible mountains. The Wall of Shadows in particular looked rather intimidating if considered as a climbing objective.
A long slow height gain from Kambachen (4145m), including seeing fresh snow leopard prints on the track we were following, saw us establish basecamp on the moraine rubble of the Ramdang Glacier at around 4800m. The most suitable site, it still offered plenty of visual excitement with countless rock falls off either moraine wall above us and the occasional collapsing serac from high summits to the south. We all quickly calculated (trying to convince each other and ourselves) that no flying missiles should be able to quite reach our tent sites!
So far the weather had been mostly stable, with afternoon cloud bubbling up from the valley but with little wind or snowfall.
With everyone feeling rested and relatively comfortable at the altitude, and after John and Shelley did a load carry to a potential site for Camp 1 at around 5200m, we jammed our packs with essential food and climbing equipment and set off for our first acclimatising climb. Everyone seemed fine at the Camp 1 site, underneath the main icefall below Anidesha Chuli, but by the time the tents were erected Paul was showing signs of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). Over the next two hours he deteriorated markedly, to a point of suspected High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE), and John and Shelley decided to try and get him back down to basecamp as quickly as possible. Over the next few hours they managed to help Paul down the glacier, arriving back at basecamp around 9pm. With the loss of altitude, Paul’s condition improved, although he was still feeling unwell over the next day.
The next morning, John and Shelley continued their acclimatising, pushing up to a site for Camp 2 at 5400m. Snow conditions were poor through the icefall, with unconsolidated drifts up to thigh deep and little visibility due to low cloud. By this stage the weather forecast was for a mix of stronger winds and snow showers. The following morning they continued up to 5600m, sometimes forcing through waist deep snow (at one stage a 90m height gain took over two hours). When a thunderstorm hit, followed by heavy snow, the pair decided to retreat back to basecamp.
Over the next week, the weather was poor, with snow every day at basecamp and varying wind strengths. With already dubious snowpack stability, the team was concerned that extra snow was only exacerbating conditions. Numerous avalanches were seen and heard on the lee slopes above camp. The forecast for the following week was for more of the same.
It was estimated that at least six days would be required to climb and descend Anidesha Chuli. With days running out, Paul suggested that he remain at basecamp on any future attempt, hopefully allowing a higher chance of team success as John and Shelley were moving more efficiently at altitude. If John or Shelley were unable to attempt a climb, he would become the second team member.
John and Shelley decided to attempt a climb as soon as a small break in the weather appeared. In the afternoon they returned to Camp 1 to spend the night. It snowed that evening, but the next morning was clear, so they pushed up towards 5700m, trying to find a way through the icefall to reach the upper neve. Again they were faced with unconsolidated snow, sometimes chest deep now, and they were unable to find a way through the next tier of icefall in deteriorating visibility. Another storm hit that afternoon with more snow, and they decided to abandon the climb.
In hindsight, and despite major disappointment at the time, it was clearly the right decision to descend from the mountain. Conditions higher on Anidesha Chuli would likely have been much worse that what John and Shelley experienced at 5600-5700m. We have since found out that this has been a particularly high snowfall season in the Himalaya, with heightened avalanche risk across the range. And indeed the tragedies on Everest and Kanchenjunga (both due to avalanches) have further illustrated just how risky things were this season.
We love climbing mountains, and reaching their summits, but these goals are not as important as making prudent decisions about risk and about the value of life. Coming home safely is the most important goal of all.
There are many people and organisations to thank for helping us make this expedition a reality. Along with our three main sponsors Sport New Zealand, The North Face Adventure Grant and Bivouac Outdoor, we also appreciate the support from the New Zealand Alpine Club, Mount Everest Foundation, Earth Sea Sky, Back Country Cuisine, Eight Ranges Wines and The Muscle Mechanics. Big thanks to Clayton Garbes for providing us with online weather forecasts and rugby scores and updating our Facebook page. Thanks to family and friends for ongoing support, and to all those who followed our progress and sent us words of encouragement.
The packing is done and we are about to board our flights. Shelley and Paul fly out from New Zealand, and John from Australia. We meet in transit at Kuala Lumpur Airport for the final leg to Kathmandu.
For those who are interested, there is an itinerary posted on our Anidesha Chuli page on this blog. We will also endeavor to make posts on our Anidesha Chuli Facebook page from time to time, via a friend in Christchurch whom we can text with our satellite phone. But otherwise we will be out of communication for the duration of the expedition. Take this as a good sign! We will be knuckling down, trying to acclimatize as well as we can and then find the best way to try to climb the mountain. A lot of things have to align (i.e. weather, snow conditions, health of team members) for us to be successful, but be assured we will be giving it our best shot.
Once again, thanks to our three main sponsors: Sport New Zealand, The North Face Adventure Grant, and Bivouac Outdoor – without your contributions this trip wouldn’t have gone ahead. And thanks to everyone else who has also contributed, either with grants or gear, advice or kind words. Your positive thoughts give us strength and determination.
So, wish us luck, and we’ll be in touch when we can.
Ka kite ano.
Well, the countdown is on! It’s only two weeks until we fly out from New Zealand and Australia. ‘To do’ lists are being frantically written and checked off, and weekly skype calls flying back and forth across the Tasman as we finalize what gear to take. Preparation for an expedition of this size is critical – one important item left behind can make the difference between success and failure.
At this stage, we would like to recognize the generous contributions from our sponsors and supporters. Without them, the venture would be a far more costly endeavour to undertake – probably too costly! So a huge thanks to Sport New Zealand, The North Face/Australian Geographic Society and Bivouac Outdoor for major contributions. Also, thanks to Mount Everest Foundation and New Zealand Alpine Club for their grants, as well as Earth Sea Sky, Backcountry Cuisine, Eight Ranges Wines and The Muscle Mechanics for ongoing support. This is all hugely appreciated by the Backyard and Beyond team.
Training wise, the goal is to have a good base but, more importantly, feel healthy and niggle free. A small issue back home can quickly escalate into a climb-ending sickness overseas. And, with excessive weight-loss being an issue during an expedition like this – Paul lost over 15kg during his 2007 India expedition – we are all aiming to be ‘fat-fit’. Of course, this is a good excuse for extra cream in our coffee.
So the final two weeks will be spent walking up as many hills as possible with a heavy pack, eating well, and checking then rechecking our piles of expedition equipment.
With only a couple of weeks until we leave for our latest expedition, it seems an appropriate time to publicly release the video of our last adventure. ‘One Fine Day On A Mountain’ received a Special Jury Award at the 2013 New Zealand Mountain Film Festival, and has also had a very positive response from various screenings around the country.
For us in the BAB team, this documentary is also a personal, poignant and lasting memory of one of our founding members Jamie Vinton-Boot.
Backyard and Beyond is delighted to receive a grant from Sport New Zealand’s Hillary Expedition Fund.
Sport NZ Chief Executive Peter Miskimmin says he hopes this expedition will help inspire another generation of great outdoor Kiwi adventurers.
“One of the reasons the Sport NZ Hillary Expeditions exist is because we want these adventures to inspire New Zealanders to get out there. The White Wave story is already intriguing after what was a strong attempt by the 2013 team. They are talented climbers and they were unlucky, but it also emphasises that this isn’t a simple expedition. Paul and Shelley are now taking on the mountain and we wish them well.
With the start of our next expedition only two months away, Backyard and Beyond would like to extend a sincere thank you to Bivouac Outdoor for its ongoing support.
Bivouac has been there from the birth of the BAB concept, supplying us with great gear and advice and helping make our adventure dreams a reality. And the Christchurch store put on a brilliant evening last year during the premiere screening of our documentary ‘One Fine Day On A Mountain’.
For those who don’t know, Bivouac is the chain of outdoor stores in New Zealand to head to if you need the best in outdoor adventure equipment and advice. While other outdoor stores have tried to broaden their appeal – by either chasing the dollar of the mass market or attempting to cover too many outdoor activities without doing any well – Bivouac has stuck to its core range, and valued customer base, for tramping and climbing. BAB applauds owner Wayne Martin and the company for this, especially given the challenge of a growing proliferation of online buying options from overseas.
Outdoor retail in today’s market is tough, yet Bivouac still sees the worth in supporting home-grown adventurers. Double thumbs up Bivouac! We are stoked to have you as part of our team. Your stuff rocks!