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Baruntse (7,219m), Northeast Face, Attempt

If you’re headed to Baruntse to seek a plumb line on a cleaved face, it’ll be techy, heady, whatever you want. If you want off, it’ll be scary. If you want in, it’ll cost you about $6,000. If you want the top, be prepared for a few goes. That’s what I think. When I met Elizabeth Hawley at the Nirvana Garden Hotel back in Kathmandu, she sat on my left, a man whose life I saved sat on my right, and Josh Butson was across from me. This was our first morning in the Nepalese capital after an exhilarating 10-day alpine-style attempt on a new line. We dis-cussed whether it had been a new line, but later research has shown that the central rib of Baruntse’s northeast face, visible from the west side of Makalu, had not been previously attempted. The ridge above it and the ridge beside it had been climbed to the summit decades ago. We wanted to climb the rib, reach the summit, and ski down the lower-angled normal route, the Southeast Ridge. This would complete a first ascent, first ski descent, and fun traverse.

Butson, Jon Miller, and I spent 17 days approaching the mountain from an altitude of ca 500m and then committed to our project with little acclimatization but a hearty knowledge of Himalayan north faces. Our line, cutting through an hourglass-shaped face, was in places steep with chossy granite. We made three camps, the highest at 6,400m, where we spent three hours chopping a site out of the slope and then called it home for five nights, as we weathered a storm. Jon Miller fell ill, with a swelling of his brain impacting an anachroid cyst, leading to HACE-like symptoms. Going up was not possible, getting down was not probable, and this is where we did things one should not do in the mountains.

We had told our Sherpa cook staff that we would be back in eight days, but we didn’t hit the moraine until day 10. We had self-rescued from 6,400m and were spent, though happy, with no scrapes or bruises. But we did have a time with the snow that accumulated in five days on the mountain. Avalanches were everywhere, steep slopes were settling. Somewhere in there is a spirit, even though we never reached the summit. I don’t know how that gets recorded.

For more, visit http://skithehimalayas.com/blog/category/ski-the-himalayas-video-podcast

Ben Clark, AAC