Teng Kang Poche, ascent of the north west face (not to summit), Edge of Darkness. On October 22 British climbers Nick Bullock and Nick Carter left the tea-house at Thengbo situated approximately five hours west of Namche Bazaar, making a bivouac at the base of the ca 1,600m unclimbed north west face of Teng Kang Poche (6,500m). Teng Kang Poche is a striking mountain situated between the more well know peaks of Parcharmo and Kwangde. The north west face is massive, resembling the Droites North Face in the Mont Blanc Range
The two set out at 2 a.m. on the 23rd having already tested the initial snow cone for avalanche risk. Previously on the trip, while attempting to complete Bullock’s solo route from 2003, Love and Hate on the north east face, the pair triggered two avalanches at 5,400m and had to make a careful retreat. This proved an intense 12-hour outing, which neither climber wished to repeat.
Finding the snow conditions acceptable, they continued to climb through the night, simu-soloing, and following a deep runnel furrowed by spindrift and hemmed in by rock-walls. The runnel had regular steps of Scottish Grade III and was interspersed with snow slopes of Scottish II, much resembling Tower Gully on Ben Nevis but on a grand scale.
At the top of the runnel section the slope opened out with patches of névé, deep snow and powder. The steep steps increased in regularity. These steps were approximately 65°-70°, with the average angle of the face at approximately 50°-60°. A slight left to right line was followed.
At daybreak the pair continued a more direct line following much the same type of ground as below. The weather at this point was very cold and clear, causing some concern. Even with the warmest boots and gloves, feet and fingers had to be constantly warmed to reduce the risk of frostbite.
At 12:30 p.m., a height of 5,900m had been reached; 1,300 meters of climbing in 10 hours. Above, the summit ridge was 300m away but with what appeared to be steeper, more technical ground above, and with no obvious place for a bivi site, they decided to take an early finish and cut a ledge in the top of a snow fluting. At 3pm they settled down for a rest and some food. Neither carried a bivi bag but they had a prototype single-skin Pertex bivi tent supplied by Outdoor Designs.
At 7 a.m. on the 24th the two started to climb and the angle of the face increased immediately, approximately 70° on average. Rock belays were sought to the right of the line, although due to the compact nature of the rock these were difficult to find. The climbing also became more tenuous with the increase in angle and the snow took on a very Peruvian feel. Protection on lead was virtually non-existent. Occasionally a driven-in ice hook or a dug out ice-screw could be placed if the ice, covering steep slabs, was thick enough. Lengthening sections of 80° powder-covered, hard-ice now had to be climbed (Scottish 1V). The grade of the climbing had no real relevance at this point, as within seconds of climbing one of the steep sections, hands and feet were wooden, making the whole experience more interesting. A race for a rest point where frozen digits could be re-warmed became the crux of the pitch. A long, rising traverse right, (approximately 50m beneath the summit crest) was led by Carter at a grade of Scottish 1V 80°.
Bullock led the final pitch, which consisted of much digging, chopping, burrowing and levitation. (Ungradable and one for the Peruvian connoisseur: 85°). He finished on the crest of the west ridge in the dark at 7:00 p.m. Carter joined Bullock and the pair cut a shelf/cave beneath a mushroom, completing the task at 8:30 p.m. The height was 6,210m and this final 300m of climbing had taken 12 hours.
Through the second day it had become obvious that the west ridge was going to present some very special techniques to try and forge a way onto the summit proper, which stood approximately 1 km away (and now clearly visible from the bivouac, as they were higher than the lowest point of the west ridge). With this in mind the pair decided to leave this joy to some other more deserving party.
After a particularly cool evening the descent was started at 7 a.m. on the 25th. This was virtually the same line as that used in ascent. The top half of the face was descended by rappel, with rock, ice and snow anchors all utilised. The weather chose this point to turn, causing some concern as large powder avalanches poured down the face. (Bullock was buried by one such avalanche while hanging from the end of the abseil rope, having unconnected from the end and about to start down climbing).
Fortunately the snow abated but the slopes now gave cause for concern, as they were freshly loaded with powder snow. The bottom half of the face was down climbed with speed, and it was with relief that the two safely reached the base, 12 hours from starting their descent, at 7 p.m. An overall grade for the route, Edge of Darkness, was thought to be TD+/ED1 Scottish 1V, 1,600m.
Nick Bullock, United Kingdom