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Asia, Nepal, Yalungkang Attempt

Yalungkang Attempt. Both Cherie Bremerkamp and I were aware of the many advantages of climbing an 8000-meter peak with two people in alpine style. During the summer of 1980 we received permission to climb the west summit of Kanchenjunga, Yalungkang (27,625 feet, 8420 meters) from the north. It had been climbed twice from the south but was unattempted from the north. We arrived at Base Camp at Pang Pema (16,900 feet) with 21 loads on March 29 after a 17-day, 150-mile trek from Dharan. Pang Pema is at the corner of the Kanchenjunga Glacier where it branches into three lesser subsidiaries. The first week we spent establishing Camp I, getting our first view of thenorth face of Yalungkang, an impressive 9000-foot wall of hanging ice curtains, forming a cirque five miles across. The classic rib which cuts directly up the north face, our initial choice of route, was entirely wiped clean by a colossal avalanche. We proceeded up our alternative route toward the north col of Kanchenjunga and placed Camp II at 19,700 feet in a relatively safe area. We were able to force a way through the first most difficult and objectively dangerous of three ice cliffs, fixing 300 feet of rope on only the steepest and occasionally short vertical sections. Our third and final camp was made at 21,300 feet, just above the first ice cliff. After a month of establishing three camps and acclimatization, the future of the trip was changed drastically. Upon reascending to the ice cliff from Camp I, we found all our supplies cached at 20,650 feet had been buried by a huge avalanche; almost all of our carefully planned gear had been buried by 20 feet of solid ice. We dejectedly returned to Base Camp. At Pang Pema spare crampon parts of several makes were assembled and pronounced inadequate but probably usable. Chapatties and eggs were added to our spartan six days of food rations. Our total remaining fuel supply was 16 Bluet cartridges. Our bivy sack was gone, but we had one snow-fluke and a drinking cup that would act as shovels to build snow caves. No fixed line or rock gear remained and very little ice gear was left. We had no radios or oxygen from the beginning. A single half-sack was chosen as our total sleeping gear. With this equipment we reascended the 5000 vertical feet to Camp III on May 6 and prepared for the summit attempts. The next day we plodded through waist-deep snow to 22,600 feet, where we bivouacked in a crevasse. We were faced with the second ice cliff on the Japanese route of 1980 on Kanchenjunga. Without fixed line, our eyes found a 50° snow-and-ice couloir, previously unclimbed, that led to the north ridge; although less direct, this would enable us to bypass the second and third ice cliffs without fixing a single foot of rope. On May 8 we climbed to within 200 feet of the north ridge and bivouacked among several large boulders. At 24,000 feet the winds were severe but we were protected by the ridge above us until the wind shifted. We spent the next day drying gear and built a snow cave at 24,300 feet. By 10:30 on the 10th we had climbed via the north ridge to within 300 feet of the top of the rock step called “Sugarloaf” by the British. Even with the minimal protection below the Sugarloaf, we were in the midst of a major storm. Out came the snow-fluke and drinking cup; in several hours we had at 24,900 feet a shelter from the storm that raged for 48 hours. During a brief lull we quickly descended the avalanche-prone slopes to Camp III in a white-out. Finally with clearing skies on May 17, we returned up the couloir to our snow cave on the north ridge. Moving fast on May 18 we climbed past our last snow cave to the Sugarloaf and onto the scree-covered slopes above where we got the first complete view of the finalsummit section. Monsoon clouds were already forming and our food and fuel were almost finished. Though we had managed the short but steep rock step of the Sugarloaf successfully, we were unprepared for the additional 300-foot steep rock bands above. Even if we had been able to climb them without protection, we would have been unable to rappel down without so much as an anchor. The winds whipped the upper slopes fiercely and the temperature dipped below -35° C at night. We bivouacked in a cave at 25,900 feet, our Camp VIII and the last of seven bivouacs above 21,300 feet. May 19 was our 15th day on marginal gear and six days of food. As we approached the summit block of Yalungkang at about 26,000 feet, we realized that we had to descend to return another year with fresh equipment, renewed energy and pinker lips.

Chris Chandler