In March Steven Fortune, Mike Rowe, and I arrived in the Solu Khumbu and established base camp at 5,050m, below our first objective, the northeast face of Kyajo Ri. Initially we attempted the standard route up the southwest ridge, starting from a high camp at 5,500m below the unclimbed south face. We retreated at just over 6,000m in deteriorating weather, when I was struck on the hand by falling ice and unable to continue climbing.
There followed a rest period at base camp, where we waited in vain for the weather and my injured hand to improve, ultimately leaving Steven and Mike to attempt our proposed new direct line up the northeast face. Early on the morning of April 15, when conditions eventually improved, the pair climbed steep ice below the hanging glacier, before making a rising traverse left on moderately angled snow to gain the glacier itself. They then tackled the upper face via the major ice gully followed in 2009 by an Italian team, gaining a maximum height of 5,700m before continuous spindrift avalanches forced them to abandon the climb.
[Editor’s note: In December 2009 Enrico Bonino and Nicolas Meli tried to climb directly through the lower serac barrier on the northeast face but retreated when an axe broke. They returned and climbed the rock buttress to the right at 6b with a little A1. Crossing the hanging glacier they climbed the upper face, with a section reminiscent of the Ginat on Les Droites, to reach the northeast ridge 120m below the top. Here they abandoned the climb, as it was getting late. The upper section had presented difficulties of M6+, WI5+, and A2.]
Despite our lack of success, we remained quietly optimistic as we retraced our steps down the Gokyo Valley to attempt our second objective, a new direct route on the southwest face of Kusum Kanguru. Leaving the main Namche-Lukla trail at Thado Khoshi, we struck up the lower reaches of the Thado Khoshi Khola (Kusum Drangka) by a series of well-defined logging trails, camping for the night at the first major fork in the river. Above, all evidence of an established trail quickly faded, and it was only with the assistance of a local guide that we made good progress through dense bamboo forests on the true right bank of the river, to reach our proposed base camp at 3,850m.
Here we were greeted with our first close view of the face, which although largely bare of snow, still held potential in the form of an appealing gully just left of center. This contained significant ice and looked to provide access to the upper face. However, conditions quickly deteriorated, and we were again plagued by the daily snow storms that had hampered us on Kyajo Ri. They covered the entire face in a thick layer of unconsolidated powder, triggering widespread avalanches and all but rendering our intended route unclimbable. After waiting over a week for weather and conditions to improve, during which time we made three separate climbs to our high camp at 4,900m, we abandoned our attempt and shifted focus to an alternative objective.
On April 28 we climbed a possible new line up a rock rib on the far left of the face, reaching the col on the northwest ridge where the crest begins to rise toward the west peak. We think this is left of the line climbed in 1981 by Bill Denz on the first ascent of the mountain. [Editor’s note: During early October 1981, in what is now acknowledged to be one of the most remarkable first ascents on lower Himalayan peaks, New Zealander Bill Denz spent one and a half days soloing a mixed buttress on the left of the southwest face to reach the west peak, where he bivouacked while waiting for the ridge ahead to stabilize. The following day he made a trying ascent to the main summit. He bivouacked on the summit and next day traversed the narrow connecting ridge to the 6,350m northeast summit, before descending the northwest flank and then spending a further two days bushwhacking to the standard Everest approach trail.] We gained the base of the rib at 4,800m by a series of interlinked snow and ice fields, and then climbed 1,000m of mixed ground to the ridge, encountering difficulties up to M5.
The abundance of fresh snow insured that we progressed slowly, and on reaching the ridge, with dwindling food supplies, early on the afternoon of the second day, we opted not to continue over the west peak to the main summit as initially planned. We returned to our bivouac site of the previous night, on a narrow snow arête just below 5,300m. Early next morning we continued down, rappelling a wide gully left of our ascent route.
We believe that, given the right conditions, the proposed direct line on the southwest face would be climbable. It remains a great challenge. There is also potential for an appealing line up the prominent prow of the left (west) buttress, directly to the west peak. We extend thanks to all our supporters and sponsors, in particular the Mount Everest Foundation, New Zealand Alpine Club, and Sport and Recreation New Zealand.