W.C. Fields once said: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.” Sound advice for most people, but mountaineers tend to be obsessive.
I first attempted then-unclimbed Nyambo Konka (6,114m), a domed, heavily glaciated peak directly south of Minya Konka, in 2005. We tried to climb the southeast face to the east-northeast ridge but failed at a little over 5,000m when my partner got altitude sickness. I went back in 2009 with a strong four-person team and reached the east-northeast ridge, but it was heavily corniced and too dangerous to traverse. We were forced down by heavy snowfall (four feet in two days) and avalanches. Alas, I returned in 2011, failing this time on the southwest face because of insurmountable rotten rock.
Nyambo Konka was finally climbed by a large Korean team in 2015, using thousands of feet of fixed line and leaving behind piles of garbage. I thought their ascent wouldn’t bother me, and I could put this obsession to rest. I’d already made a damn fool of myself on this mountain, so good riddance. Right? Nope.
I returned to Nyambo Konka in the fall of 2017 with JJ Cieslewicz, a climbing and canyoneering guide from southern Utah. JJ was sending 5.13 in high school—putting up routes so bold he can’t repeat them today. One of his climbing partners told me that JJ was something of a legend around Zion, adding, “He has the ability to make good decisions very quickly.”
With no porters or beasts to hump our loads, we spent four days shuttling gear to the bottom (ca 3,960m) of the northeast face of the south-southeast ridge. We had intended to put two camps on the face, but after one sketchy bivouac on a chipped-out ledge in the middle of an avalanche-prone couloir, we pounded straight up mixed terrain to the ridge. We camped on the crest at 5,550m, a good 2km from the summit, which we reached the next day. We rapped our route in a storm and during the descent found our earlier bivouac ledge had been swept away by an avalanche.
The great British explorer Tim Severin, who has sailed a leather boat across the Atlantic and retraced Genghis Khan’s route through Mongolia on horseback, once told me that any expedition worth starting is worth finishing. Fourth time’s a charm.
– Mark Jenkins, AAC