Api, Bobaye, Nampa
The 1996 Slovenian Three Peaks Expedition
by Roman Robas, Matic Jost, Tomaz Humar, and Janko Meglic,
Planinska zvezci Slovenije translated by Ana Percic
In the spring of 1995, Stane Belak-Srauf, with Jasna Bratanic and Bostjan Slatensek, went to the administrative district of Darchula in the western-most part of the Nepal Himalaya to explore new climbing objectives. He found them in the faces of Api, Nampa, and Bobaye. When he returned to Slovenia, he did so with the intention of climbing these objectives in the autumn of 1996 with young alpinists. Unfortunately, while training at the end of the year, he and Jasna died in an avalanche in the Slovenian mountains. His goals, however, remained.
The Slovenian Alpine Association decided to enact Belak’s goals. I took over the leadership of the expedition, which traveled to Nepal on October 30, climbed the faces of all three peaks, and returned on November 23. The members of the expedition were Roman Robas, leader; Dr. Frenk Srakar, the doctor of the expedition; Dusan Debelak, Jernej Grudnik, Tomaz Humar, Matic Jost, Janko Meglic, Peter Meznar, Marko Prezelj, Bostjan Slatensek, Andrej Stremfelj, and Tomaz Zerovnik.
In Kathmandu, Mingma Tensing Sherpa (expedition sirdar), Pasang Kaji Sherpa (the cook), Ang Kami Sherpa, Sandem Sherpa, Tashi Thundu Sherpa and liaison officer Dwarika Prasad Bhattarai joined us. Bhattarai got on very well with the expedition, though this was the first time he had been on one. The other two liaison officers stayed in Kathmandu, and were only a money burden for the expedition.
We left Slovenia on September 30 and arrived in Kathmandu on October 2. In Kathmandu, we arranged our equipment, supplied ourselves with the food we hadn't brought from home, and obtained the necessary permits. Six Nepali Sherpas and three federal officers joined us. The Nepal Mountaineering Association had promised us before our arrival that only one liaison officer was going to accompany us, which would have been enough and much cheaper. Sherpas traveled with us to help with the approach; three of them were to also climb the virgin Bobaye with us.
On October 5, we took a bus from Kathmandu and drove for three days to Gokuleswar. At first we were planning to fly to base camp by helicopter to shorten the time of the expedition and to save some money. Because of the late monsoon rains I decided we should travel by bus, and together with the 87 porters, ascend from Gokuleswar to base camp on foot, carrying the expedition food and equipment. As it turned out, I made the right decision, for the bad weather continued until the middle of October. In two days we went from Gokuleswar to the base, which we reached on October 16. We set up base camp in an idyllic meadow at 3650 meters below the three mountains.
The next day we began preparing for the ascents. This included acclimatization, viewing the faces from different sides, and caching equipment and food beneath the faces, which were all four hours’ walk from base camp. During the acclimatization, Andrej Stremfelj, Marko Prezelj, Tomaz Humar, Janko Meglic, and Jernej Grudnik climbed an unnamed, 5700-meter peak on Api’s west ridge. At 2 a.m. on October 22, during the descent to base camp, an ice avalanche crushed the tent in which Marko and Andrej were bivouacking. They were injured, and needed help from base. The expedition came to an end for them, and they left on November 2. Marko, who had broken some bones in his ankle, was carried into the valley by porters. Andrej had injured his arm, and walked by himself.
On the last day of October, after a period of bad weather had ended, the teams left base camp and went to the respective faces. Matic Jost and Peter Meznar approached the south face of Nampa the same evening. They climbed the steepest and most dangerous part of the face, a 400- meter couloir, at night, and continued climbing in the morning to 5600 meters. The next day, they climbed to 6300 meters, and reached the top of Nampa (6755 m) at 9:41 a.m. on November 3. They descended down the west ridge and returned to base camp the next day.
Tomaz Humar started up the northwest face of Bobaye alone on November 1 at 1:30 a.m. On the first day he climbed to 5500 meters and bivouacked. The next day, he reached the top at 12:59 p.m.
Tomaz Zerovnik, Janko Meglic, and Dusan Debelak approached the southwest face of Api. On the first day they climbed to 5300 meters and bivouacked. On the second day they climbed the face to 5800 meters and the third day to 6050 meters. On the fourth day, at 3:32 p.m., Janko and Dusan reached the top of Api. They descended the same day to the bivouac at 6050 meters where Tomaz had waited for them because of illness. They descended to base camp the next day.
All the climbs were alpine-style first ascents made with no set camps in between and without any fixed rope or help from Sherpas. We wanted to climb Bobaye together with Sherpas, as the summit had not yet been climbed. However, this ascent fell through. The expedition left base
camp on November 9, and, from Kathmandu, came home to Slovenia on November 23.
Himalaya, Dreams And Reality: The Southeast Face of Api
Sitting on a rock somewhere above base camp, I look across the valley at the mighty face of Api. For the last time I carefully examine the possibility of passage in the middle of the face. Tomorrow it is for real. We have already cached some of the equipment beneath the face; at least access to that will be a bit easier.
Today is October 31. The weather seems fine. At around noon we leave base camp, walking apart, each absorbed in our own thoughts. The grassy slope is flat for some time, then rises over a rock step up to 4600 meters. Here we set up a bivouac. We eat until we are full, and afterward go to sleep. Tomorrow we will start early in the morning.
The night is still black when we ascend the snow cone at the base of the couloir. Unfortunately, the ice is extremely thin and we decide to try climbing a ramp that rises to the right toward a ridge to avoid it. We climb unroped. Standing on the ridge, we tie in. I start climbing the first difficult pitch of the face, traversing over a steep slab to an overhang. A cam, two pitons, and I make it. 5.7 AO with crampons and 20 kilos on my back. A nice start.
Tomaz leads next up a few more meters of rock, and then snow. We descend 200 meters down a couloir to a snowfield. The diversion costs us some valuable time. We go on ascending the gully to a large snowfield. Here the steepness abates, and we make faster progress.
The face closes again. There are dangerous seracs on the left, and rocks on the right. We decide on the rock climbing. We have only a few hours of the day left, so while Dusan digs a ledge for the tent, I belay Tomaz, who climbs a steep rock step. After fixing the rope, he returns. He figures that the vertical crack at the end of the pitch is 5.9. He has found an old piton left over from a previous attempt.
The night is long. In the morning, we begin when the sun shows up. Jumaring, some mixed climbing, and again we come to a snowfield. To the left we traverse a couloir into an easier world. We continue ascending a snow ridge to a large snowy plateau under a serac. This is where our second bivy on the face will be.
The next day we dry our clothes, and, thus, leave later. A difficult pitch over a serac is ahead of us. Dusan discovers the only easy way over it, and even that is overhanging. Quite some skill is needed to climb it. On the serac there is another snowy plateau. Although it is early, we decide to bivouac. We are at 6000 meters, and there is only 1000 meters of ice face between us and the summit. It would be impossible to pitch a tent on top.
The snow is falling. We get up at midnight. Tomaz does not feel well, and he will stay in the tent. We are all sorry we can’t go on together. Dusan and I switch our headlamps on and set off into the night. Over the steep snow slope we climb up to the rocks. The blowing wind becomes stronger, carrying the snow in all directions. I cannot feel my toes, but we go on, and rope up. When we come out of the rock shelter, I am almost covered by spindrift. An avalanche rushes from the face over the serac below us. There the wind lifts it up and carries the snow back to the upper part of the face, where the avalanche is launched again.
We reach the desired rock barrier. This is the place where the English turned back. I watch how nicely Dusan deals with a difficult pitch. When I follow him, the ice collapses beneath my feet. None of us would want to climb this spot again. The way up to the top is now open. Only 300 meters of powder and ice ahead of us.
The last few meters, though, give us trouble. The powder is almost vertical. We hardly get over it. In a moment a view of Tibet stretches out. I can see the holy mountain Kailash in the distance. The wind is strong and it is freezing cold. The summit is very close now. A few more meters on the easy ridge and, at 3:30 p.m., we are there. After 15 hours of uncertainty, we have finally made our dreams come true. We stand at 7132 meters, remembering Tomaz, who is waiting for us in the tent. We are sorry that he is not here, for he contributed a lot to our success.
Immediately we begin descending. It will get dark soon. At the edge of the face we hammer in a snow picket and rappel. Down we go, unroped to the rock step. A dangerous descent awaits us here. We can’t get any protection. With great difficulty we hammer another picket into the bad snow. Dusan makes it, somehow, while I stand on the picket. Then it is my turn. I slowly weigh the rope and carefully start to rappel. All the time I try to help myself with my ice ax, so that I would at least have some chances in case of a fall. When I come to Dusan, I am relieved. The most difficult part is behind us, and it doesn’t matter if it gets dark. Now we descend very quickly. At 8 p.m. we reach the tent, where Tomaz serves tea. We hold each other, shout with joy, sleep like logs.
The next morning another beautiful day begins. We resume our descent.
I am sitting in front of the tent in base camp, staring at a 2600-meter wall of snow, rock, and ice. The face of Api has been climbed for the first time. Jasna wanted to climb it, too. We dedicate the route to her.
Black Rock: The Northwest Face of Bobaye
Even today I cannot accept the cruel fact that Vanja, with whom I climbed the northwest face of Ama Dablam three months ago, is no longer among us. The news struck me during my training for western Nepal. I went on the expedition with mixed emotions. Five friends with whom I climbed had forever stayed in the mountains, and I kept asking myself when fate would point me out.
We set up base camp in strawberry fields, above which Api, Nampa and the then-unclimbed Bobaye rose. I was interested in the latter. Later I found out that the first Westerners to explore the area changed the name from Black Rock to Bobaye by mistake.
The late monsoon and windy weather did not allow us to go into the mountains for a week after our return from the unnamed peak along Api’s ridge where we had gone to acclimatize. The closer the day of the ascent came, the more I was thinking about the 2500-meter northwest face of Bobaye.
I had never before felt as alone as I did on October 30 while I packed my 30-kilo rucksack. I will always remember how badly I needed someone who would say something I could take with me. I dreamt, and my dreams were the swamps of desire and expectations, but at the same time I concentrated on dreaming several months off into the next few days of this wonderful mountain. Frenk woke me up. Although worried, he, as usual, wore a smile. “Man, do what you have decided to do!” We hugged, and while patting each other, our eyes teared; they said the most.
Late in the afternoon I prepared the last little things in the cache beneath the face, and after a few hours’ nap, I set off. It was 2 a.m., November 1. My heavy rucksack made me sink into the snow. Afraid of falling into a crevasse, I crept on all fours, paying no attention to my sore knees. Soon I reached the initial couloir, above which rose a huge triangular wall next to a serac.
The beginning was like Russian roulette as I ran hither and thither to save my unprotected head from icy, rocky missiles. I was lucky; apart from two hits to my arm and shoulder, and some whistling around my ears, everything was OK.
The narrowest part of the icefall, which led me into a long leftward traverse, was the most interesting. The entrance into a steep snowy ridge followed. I persisted until 3 p.m., when the afternoon sun and my own tiredness convinced me to dig a ledge for a bivouac. After a few hours of chopping at the hard ice, my little tent was still too big for the small ledge. I decided not to lose any more energy, so I clipped myself to a rock outside the tent, half of which hung from the face. At 5500 meters, I only had one thing on my mind: “Will I manage to climb the remaining 1300 meters in one day and then return to this ‘comfortable bivy’?”
In the morning, after a fast breakfast, I started climbing even faster. I had the prerequisites for a bivouac in the rucksack—drink, food, camera and walkie-talkie. On the traverse from west to northwest I reported to base camp, where Frenk and Roman were watching me all the time. I soon realized that my perspective of the face was going to cause me trouble as I tried to find a way through the steep, upper rock-and-snow face. Unfortunately I lost contact with base camp at the most delicate spot and climbed an unnecessary vertical granite dihedral covered with thin “ice pancakes.” Luckily, they held my weight.
The closer I got to the saddle between the main and middle summits, the stronger blew the wind that swept the ridge of snow. Right before I reached the saddle, I made a delicate traverse on granite slabs covered in nothing but powder. The blood ran into my stiff fingers.
There was a sharp and windy ridge before the summit. At 12:59 p.m. I reached the top. While I was watching the surrounding peaks of Api and Nampa, where my friends were climbing new routes, the mighty Kailash appeared in the north. Over the radio I told Roman that I named the ascent route Zlato Sere (Golden Heart), and that I dedicated it to my wife.
Despite the wind and my worry about reaching the tent the same day, I started to descend a little to the right, down the ridge between the northwest and west faces. The descent went quickly except for a short steep couloir through a rock band. Before I reached the tent I felt butterflies in my stomach and realized I hadn’t eaten all day; my water had frozen during the ascent as well. After eating the deserved meal, I went to rest, tired, but happy.
The next morning I had problems with my toes, and didn’t get all the stuff I had brought with me on my back until 9 a.m. I decided not to descend the couloir of my ascent because I didn’t want to challenge fate again. With the help of the “radio station” and my friends at base camp, I found a snow and ice passage among the rock bands. At noon I found myself beneath the face. Kami and Bostjan were already waiting for me, and helped me carry the equipment into the valley.
The route of the descent is dedicated to my friend Vanja Furlan. Before I reached base camp, where my merry friends were waiting for me with a cake, I looked back toward the northwest face of Bobaye, shining in the sun, for the last time.
I was thinking about the west face of Nuptse.
Strawberry Fields: The South Face of Nampa
Everybody is gone. It is just Peter and me sitting in the dining room, eating household sausage and drinking wine. Who knows, maybe it is our last wine. We are talking nonsense, and everybody knows it; after all, we will leave too. Chamliya will slowly become silent. Only a frozen spring will stay—the spring of desires, the spring of dreams, the spring of lust, the spring of passion. The spring of what is alive. Maybe we will stay, too. The riddle in front of us has an infinite number of possible solutions.
At last, we are alone. Thoughts flee in all possible directions while the face of Nampa rises unmercifully above us. Our uncertainty mingles with self-confidence. The greatness drives away the smallness. We know that the first 1000 meters will be the most difficult. We know that the middle couloir is very dangerous. We know that it will be hard to climb the steepest parts. We know that the face can swallow us. We know it all; nevertheless, we slowly put the carefully chosen equipment into our rucksacks. The sun disappears behind the ridges. The guessing begins.
The small circles of our headlamps touch the scattered rocks of the steep moraine. We sit a lot, gradually subverting our doubts and fears. The heart starts to excite the flames of passion. The body starts to boil over with energy. The soul runs away toward infinity. The night of the witches begins. Ours is a match without a winner. The only opponent on the crazy playground is our weakness. With the creaking of crampons and thunks of our tools, the dawn chases away the girls in festive dresses. Silence reigns.
The sun unmercifully bums and welds the snow above a small overhang. Big drops patter on us, but we motionlessly absorb the pleasure offered. We will have to climb some more today.
Two hundred meters of fog, a small serac, a little work. We take a nap on a small snowy ledge.
We let the sun play with us. We feel secure.
Roman is a little worried about leaving the bivouac so late, but we are calm. The day is fast, but we are slow actors. The blueness of the sky slowly absorbs us.
A night in a serac. It is creaking, creaking, creaking. Silence. Creaking, creaking, silence, creaking. Whoomph! Silence, creak, silence.
Restlessness and fear chase us away.
We play faster, but the sun still goes on in the same rhythm. This is to our advantage. The peak comes as a matter of course. We are looking at Kailash, but unfortunately, we are the prisoners of our own bodies. We descend faster. Time does not exist anymore. The less you stand on the front points of your crampons, the less your legs hurt. The ridge becomes sharp. The rope gets stuck. It interlaces. Plenty of will and patience helps us stay friends. The dusk is beautiful, very beautiful. A beautiful day is behind us. Maybe our most beautiful one. I wish it would remain this way.
The next morning a bearded man steps sturdily across the meadow to the edge of the glacier. A few minutes later two weary figures get up from the grass. They hug. Maybe at that time the bearded man is the happiest. Maybe. We leave together.
The riddle is solved, the doubts are gone. The guessing vanished, who knows where. Fellow passengers on our paths remain and pass by. We, too, stay a little and pass away a lot. Somewhere far below these three wonderful peaks, a little above the rich green Himalayan woods, and a little under a diamond-like reflection of eternal snow, strawberry fields bloom every summer.
Summary of Statistics
AREA: Nepal Himalaya
NEW ROUTES: Alpos-Facig-Solza za Jasno (2600 meters, TD+ V+ 95°) on the southeast face of Api (7132 m), October 31-November 2, 1996 (Dusan Debelak, Janko Meglic); Zlato sere (2500 meters, V 85°) and line of descent (2500 meters, V+ 90°) on the northwest face of Bobaye (6808 m), October 31-November 4, 1996 (Tomaz Humar); Jogodna polja (1950 meters, TD 85°) on the south face of Nampa (6755 m), November 1-3, 1996 (Matic Jost, Peter Meznar).
PERSONNEL: Roman Robas, leader; Tomaz Humar, Matic Jost, Peter Meznar, Dusan Debelak, Janko Meglic, Tomaz Zerovnik, Andrej Stremfelj, Marko Preselj, Dr. Frenk Srakar, Jernej Grudnik, Bostjan Slatensek.