Dawa Peak (5,920m), northeast face, new route and possible first winter ascent. Fearing too many trekkers and expeditions in the Khumbu in summer, I chose winter and established myself in the comfort of the Gyoko Resort (4,800m). Opposite was the good-looking mountain Phari Lapcha. I noticed a big gully leading to the west summit (Dawa Peak) but was unaware that it had been climbed twice previously (Snotty’s Gully, Bracey-Bullock, 2006). There wasn’t much ice when I was there—essential for my style of climbing—so I didn’t go onto the large face on the left, which leads to the higher summit of Phari Lapcha. Instead, the line that caught my eye was the face right of Snotty’s Gully. It appeared to catch some sun—very important in winter.
Victor Saunders and I had imagined a style of climbing in winter on low-altitude peaks like this: no bivouac gear, just a down suit, high-altitude boots, and a stove. Being solo I had a certain amount of stuff that would usually be divided between two climbers. But my ropes were light: two 50m Dyneemas. At 5.5mm they are worryingly thin, but strong, and a blessing for the soloist. At nightfall January 1, 2008, I began climbing the initial diagonal snow couloir, planning to go slowly and wait for the sun to show me a line through the upper wall. Low on this section I discovered an old piton set up as a rappel anchor. Straightforward climbing led to a point at 5,500m that I knew would catch the first sun. Hacking out a ledge and brewing kept me warm and occupied, but eventually the cold took hold. My feet went numb. I slapped and banged my mittened hands on legs and torso to get the blood going. I have never been colder. Slowly the sky over Makalu lightened until a ball of fire poured its heat into me. Then the stove’s handle broke. I had survived the night, but I couldn’t face the prospect of another one, higher up. I’d had enough and stiffly climbed back down.
Two days later I was back. Beyond my previous bivouac, at the very end of the snow ramp, I spent a better night, this time with a sleeping bag. When the sun warmed me, I found a more obvious way up an arête of snow and ice bordering the true north face and then winding back onto the northeast side. Delicate balance-climbing led to superb grooves of 80° ice and mixed, the most reassuring ground of the climb. The line paralleled the skyline ridge, until a traverse led back to the center of the upper wall. Below my cramponed heels, emptiness: rather
like being on the north face of the Matterhorn. The rock was probably worse, though, and I became seriously worried in a few of the dry-tooling sections. A few blobs of frozen turf saved the day, and my life. There was no problem keeping warm as I crabbed along tilted ledges wishing I was anywhere but here.
I kept chanting “Om Mani Padme Hum,” calming my flailing spirit but not my tiring arms. There was high-angled snow on really bad rock, and the nearer I got to the top, the worse it became, like a bad dream. Twenty meters from salvation—the very top—I had to overcome a sort of “dry stone wall,” over which I did a vaulting mantelshelf, like a fish out of its element. The summit was a couple of perfectly dry, eroded towers. And below, down in the land of the living, Gokyo village was being swallowed by the shadow of my mountain. It was 4 p.m. and time to look for a home for the night. Tomorrow’s another day, as they say, and I would get off this hill, one way or another.
Andy Parkin, Alpine Club