Saturday, September 23, 2017

Mustang Winter Magic - December 2016

In 2016 December I organized a trek into Mustang in winter for three guests who have trekked with me on other trips. Due to managing snow safety operations at Gulmarg Ski Resort in Kashmir, India I was unable to attend and guide the trek. Karma Samtuk Gurung, a local guide from the region, lead the trek and here are some photos and feedback from the trekkers on the trip:

"Again, it was another well organised and fantastic trek. Karma and Fenso looked after us really well - Karma was so informative and helpful, Fenso cooked us some fabulous meals, including a cake on New Year's eve and an apple pie on another occasion! Staying in the lodges was a different experience for us and to be involved with the families in this way was a lot of fun. Karma seems to know everyone in Mustang  and this opened opportunities for us that we may not have experienced with a different guide.

Thanks, Luke, for providing another fantastic trek for us."

Photos below courtesy of Kathy (trek member). 






Kyajo Ri Expedition - April 2017

     Kyajo Ri is a 6186m mountain in the Solu-Khumbu region of Nepal. It is often climbed by large expedition companies utilizing Sherpa teams and fixed ropes. Teams climb to a high camp at 5700 meters, and then wake up early and jumar up to the summit. Our plan for the Spring 2017 Kyajo Ri expedition was to climb Kyajo Ri in alpine style from a high camp at 5300 meters near the lake.
     Alpine style? Alpine style refers to mountaineering in a self-sufficient manner, thereby carrying all of one's food, shelter, equipment, etc. as one climbs, as opposed to expedition style (or siege style) mountaineering which involves setting up a fixed line of stocked camps on the mountain which can be accessed at one's leisure. Additionally, alpine style means the refusal of fixed ropes, high-altitude porters and the use of supplemental oxygen.
     Martin, Lisa and Lilian arrived and we went around Kathmandu getting last minute items, then with a smooth flight on the 3rd April with no delays (!) we spent the night at Monjo after a couple hours trek. The weather was breezy, cool, early Spring in the eastern Himalayas and I was fresh from a 90 day run of skiing every day in Gulmarg managing snow safety operations and other circus acts. It was a good ski (work) season, and my knees were still sore as I walked up the trail to Monjo with the group.
      Martin and Lisa had prior experience in Chamonix on rock and alpine routes and were looking for their first alpine climbing experience to 6000 meters in the Himalayas. Lilian wanted a two week trek with some climbing as a lead in to a longer expedition in the future. We were joined by Gomba Sherpa as assistant guide, and Karma Gyaltsen Sherpa as cook.  I worked with Karma on Shishapangma in 2012, and on Himlung in 2012 as well. Gomba and I have worked together every season since the Spring of 2013. Images below highlight the experience.
 -Luke Smithwick, guide, Himalaya Alpine Guides
instagram.com/himalaya_alpine_guides
https://www.facebook.com/himalaya.alpine.guides
Gomba, Lisa, Martin, Lilian, Luke (left to right) on trek in the Khumbu (Everest) region.

Alpine Skills in the yard in Phortse, these skills practice days with my guests are key for smooth days high in the mountains. - Luke

Alpine rock climbing above Phortse on Lu Ri Peak. This was Lilian's main objective for this trek alongside trekking Gokyo Ri for the best views of Mount Everest. She will be able to use these skills on future climbs. This day was also important for Martin, Lisa, Gomba and I as we cycled through pitched out climbing in 4th and 5th class terrain.

Lilian with the lovely lodge owners in Phakding.

Spring blooms along the Dudh Khosi.

The group trekking in warm sunshine (Martin, Lisa, Lilian)

Lilian on the summit of her objective (Gokyo Ri), with Cho Oyu in the distance.

Summit cake celebration for Lilian

Gomba and I with cool guy (no smiling) photo on the summit of Cho Oyu. We're both nice guys (and not very cool). :)

Spring blooms at the fork in the trail where we climbed to Kyajo Ri base camp

Lisa rappelling from the technical terrain on Kyajo Ri.

Alpine climbing on Kyajo Ri (notice the white rope which is rubbish left behind by a another group)

Dawn as we climbed on summit day for Kyajo Ri

The keyhole that brings you to high camp for Kyajo Ri (surmounting the first headwall)

Feedback from the guests on the trip:

--> "Just keep at it, I appreciate all that you are (Luke) and do. You treat the crew (porters, etc) and people you have to deal with (lodge staff, etc) with respect, and that gets a big tick in my book. And as someone who is from a third world country, and has had to watch westerners struggle to live/work in that part of the world, I can say you are doing really well in keeping your frustration with the inefficiency in check.

"I really appreciate the small group and the skills I get to learn and pick up, not just from HAG but also from the other guests."
"Overall, we had a great time and were very happy with the trip. Luke, who is the main guide and owner, is very knowledgeable, experienced, friendly and fun to hang out with. Because of the small group (three clients during the acclimatization trek and only the two of us during the week of the summit attempt), we got the chance to learn a lot during the whole trip. If you are looking for a trip with a small group of clients, want to get the chance to learn a lot and to go to a region/mountain without a lot of other tourists/people, Himalaya Alpine Guides is the company to go with! We can highly recommend them!
     

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Return to the Kingdom - Zanskar July 2017

Zanskar Exploratory Alpinism Notes

A few years ago I made a trip into Zanskar. It was summer. Warm. Barley growing in the fields, kids stepping aside in their school uniforms as we chugged past in our hired diesel jeep.  Not my first, and certainly not my last trip. I first went into Zanskar in 1999. Since then, roads have enroached the area, for better and for worse. I keep an optimistic and mostly positive perspective in life. The roads bring supplies to locals, healthcare, better supplies for education for the youth of the valley, and better access for tourism, which is now a boon to the local economy. And so there I was.
     A public works department road, made of stones that we bumped over as we passed through Shafat, Abrang and hamlets I'd once walked through as a teenager. My perspective anew. I was looking through the windows as well, and every valley held massive walls, ice clad peaks, and lifetimes of exploring. So there my plan began again. This time to take time in these valleys, get to know them, their weather patterns, their small shady areas. And catalogue each one. So I began in 2016 with three expeditions to the region, and again one more in 2017. This post is about that trip. I've stepped away from big peak expeditions in the area recently. Mostly because it's self defeating of the goal of the project. We aren't climbing big peaks in the area, yet are more focused aesthetic snow, ice and rock climbing lines on the massifs of the region. This allows us freedom to move with the yaks as we please. To new valleys, new locations, within a single trip. And so, my Zanskar project and love affair continues. This, my 8th trip to Zanskar.

Mankarmo | 4361m | 2113 | 5 July 2017

The blue sheep graze here without fear, in droves. The Dalai Lama walked down the Main Street in Leh this morning as we drank our final fancy flat whites and jumped in the jeep with Tashi to drive to the road head and come here, into the mountains. I always feel better the first night back, the logistics and preparations complete in whatever city or town it is; Kathmandu, Leh, Manali, Lhasa, Uttarkashi. This afternoon we climbed another four pitches on nearby chossy sedimentary rock, the goal of getting more mileage climbing rock in crampons complete for Lars.
Tomorrow, we will move up into base camp, and climb tomorrow night.

Sholo Karmo (not sure why I wrote this phrase)

Stok Kangri Base Camp | 4900m | 1154 | 7 July 2017
Summit this morning, Lars reaching the peak of Stok Kangri at 5:46 am after 5 hours 30 minutes of climbing. We were back in base camp at 8:17 am. It was a fast summit day, and good acclimatization for Zanskar. We opted to not climb Shuku and Pyramide, taking Stok Kangri as the best for acclimatization.
     There are four large groups up here, and they were climbing on the peak at the same time as us. It was a high overcast morning, and sunbeams were breaking through the high ceiling in Pangong and Saboo. On our descent, pockets of blue sky started to show, and the day became clear.

    
Agsho | 3828m | 2135 | 10 July 2017

It rained most of the afternoon, and then we crossed the Pensi La and the weather went hot, sunny even. Two days on the road, spectacular. I always enjoy the Suru valley, and I kick myself every time as I think, why aren't you living here (!). Sunny rock to climb for miles around, warm kind people, and fertile ground for growing. Next year I will make a rock trip to the Suru valley. Lars is good. He has a cold, but is psyched to be here. The mountains look great, more snow than usual. The rivers are really high, and the fields are verdant green. July in Zanskar is tough to beat. Tomorrow we walk towards the Agsho glacier, this time with donkeys. I am excited to return to this valley again, it is extraordinary.

Agsho Base Camp | 4399m | 2041 | 12 July 2017

The rain ceased in the afternoon, and I took Gomba and Kunsang multi pitch rock climbing. Lars rested and walked up later, snapping photos and getting a lay of the land. We're surrounded by rock, ice and snow climbs. This is what we have come for, and utilized the past 11 days preparing for. Acclimatizing, cycling through movement as a team on rock. Tomorrow, we'll go multi-pitch ice climbing, and then bring all those skills together on a climb in the coming days. For now, the weather is stable, some clouds moving around on the peaks above.


Agsho Base Camp | 4399m | 0834 | 13 July 2017

Today's goals
Ice climbing movement review with Lars
Multi pitch ice technique for group of three
Multi pitch ice rappelling with O thread


Estimate
45 mins to venue
45 mins return to camp
2.5 hours climbing

Actual
Fairly close to estimate



Gear Bringing
6 ice screws
2 ice tools
Crampons
Rain Gear
Two 50 meter ropes
4 alpine quickdraws
One liter water



Skills reviewed:
Equipment Discussion - Rope, Crampons, Axe.
Movement on Ice with Crampons
Movement on Ice with Axe
Ice Anchors - V Thread, Equalized Three Ice Screw anchor, Ice Bollard
Multi-Pitch Ice Anchors

Lars climbed well and feels good. He is out for a walk now and has been gone for about an hour now after going ice climbing this morning.  If the weather is good tomorrow we will climb a peak.
Peak climbing the following day at 5000 meters, Hagshu and bunch of other secrets in the background.


Blue rope
Small set of rock gear
Two ice screws
Pitons
One axe each
Crampons
Head torch
Helmet
Harness
Boots and Shoes

Karzoo, Leh Ladakh | 3500m | 1825 | 20 July 2017

Full Circle. It’s been a whirlwind of a trip. We’ve traveled to four different mountain ranges over the past three weeks, climbing in three of those ranges. The Ladakh range and its granite. The Stok range and its sedimentary fins. The Zanskar range and its majestic peaks and towers. And finally the eastern Karakoram range, yet none too far to breach into its core, only on the periphery.  We’ve seen mask dances of the temples of Tibetan Buddhism here in the Indus valley, summited a 6000 meter peak, climbed virgin rock in Zanskar, and been to eastern Baltistan.
     I love Nepal, but when I go on expedition in one of its deep corrugated valleys, I am committed there for the duration of the experience. Here in Ladakh, you have mobility with a road system and topography to go where the weather and conditions are right, when it’s right for the team. I love that about Ladakh and the western Himalayas. Tibet as well, yet things are too regulated there these days. The western Himalayas of Jammu and Kashmir are truly where it's at in so many ways. I am psyched to continue to quest here.


-Luke Smithwick,
instagram.com/luke_smithwick
facebook.com/himalayaslukesmithwick





Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Changtang Silence - June 2017

Changtang Peaks notes. 
There is something beyond what I have seen. I am in Delhi now after completing the 2017 Changtang Peaks Exploratory. It was a well rounded trip complete with cultural interaction with the Changpa nomads, a 6000 meter remote summit climb, an introduction to multi-pitch rock climbing (for those that were interested), and a downhill mountain bike trip from the 5300 meter Khardung pass.
Phuntsok, Kunsang, and Gomba trekking to base camp. We have worked together as a team continuously for four years now.

Approaching base camp with thunderstorm skies one afternoon.

Making Italian bruschetta with freshly made bread, yak cheese, olive oil, tomatoes, and sauteed garlic.

Peak objectives that still await for future seasons.

A snowy morning at base camp.

Pema and Gyatso. It is our second season working with them and their team of twelve horses. Sometimes we work with Ram Lal and Sanjay from Kullu.

The team celebrating with a glass of wine at the end of the expedition in our simple dining tent.

The horsemen stay in their own parachute tent. Here they are getting ready to walk towards the start of our next trek in the Stok range.

Beautiful mountains to the East of Lake Tsomoriri, with Changpa nomads camping with their flocks in the foreground. This is Peldo, one of our camps while on the Changtang Peaks Exploratory.

Loading up camp to head back to Leh. Here you can see our gear truck, the green tents that each trekker gets on our summer lightweight trips in Ladakh, and views of Lake Tsomoriri in the background.

Chris Trafford making friends with shepherds.

An introductory rock climbing day during one of the trip days.

Mountain biking from the Khardung La (5300m)

Our interim camp on the way to base camp.



I saw the following species during the trip:

Tibetan Sand Grouse
Citrine Wagtail
Common Tern
Common Raven
Ladakh Pika
Marmot
Horned Lark
Plain-backed Snow finch
Black-headed Gull
Ruddy Shelduck
Bar headed Goose
Rock Pigeon
Wooly Hare
White crowned redstart
Kiang (Tibetan Wild Ass)


Peldo, Tsomoriri, Ladakh | 4544m | 6:36PM |

The wind is kicking this afternoon. Yesterday, the Tibetan Buddhist monks that passed through our camp said the wind would persist for another ten days. I recall over the years in this same spot how the wind persisted in October. Most people visit Tsomoriri and the Changtang in July and August. We are early. There is more snow in the mountains, yet not too much. It is giving definition to the ridgelines, showing off the true climbing around this massive high altitude lake. I'm enjoying seeing Tsomoriri with such snows in this cold desert, this perhaps my tenth visit to the region.
       Today is purposeful. Acclimatization. My guests arrived three days ago to Leh, Ladakh at 3477 meters. They spent two nights there, trekking with Gomba Sherpa on their second day over a nearby pass to acclimatize. Next we drove here, a massive jump to 4544 meters. Everyone in the team feels fine, and this is the fourth trip we've run this way, always taking the textbook rest day after such a large gain in altitude. Today we spotted 8 bird species, including the rare Tibetan sand grouse and the Plain-backed snow finch. Being a climber and skier, I've learned to enjoy Himalayan expeditions because of their variety.
One day I'm viewing rare bird species, the next we're boulder hopping up a perennial stream to base camp, and then we're climbing unclimbed faces, seeking out new experiences, yet everyday just high quality in a pristine environment.
Tomorrow we'll walk into the Lublung river valley, closer to climbing objectives and have higher ground. :/:

Lublung Nala Camp, Tsomoriri, Ladakh | 5272m | 4:33pm

Underpromise, Overdeliver. Chris Trafford says today. Storm clouds pass by overhead, some threatening to drop rain and snow on us, yet it remains dry here in camp. The Lublung creek we are next to was dry until about half a kilometer below us. If you haven't been here before, it gets you thinking. 14kms from our lake camp in Peldo to here. Locals pronounce Peldo (Beldo). It's early summer here, there are many nomad camps around, white canvas with blue trim and the classic brown yak hair tents stretched between poplar poles worn smooth from the years of movement, of storms, of the hands of work.
     The winter snows are starting to melt during the warming days, yet it still isn't full summer here on the high plateau. Two days prior I noticed the monsoon has arrived to Rishikesh, an Instagram photo posted by a friend.

15 kilometers
4 hours 26 minutes of walking
6 hours of travel 
5284m

Lublung Nala Base Camp, Tsomoriri, Ladakh | 5592m | 5:41pm

The snow showers come and go, in pulses throughout an otherwise mild day. Yesterday, we acclimatized at a lower camp, and shifted up here today, 1046 feet higher. The weather continues to appear unstable, yet tomorrow morning we will start at 4 am, for a nearby 6000 meter summit. Everyone feels healthy, and some of us will climb to 6000 meters for the first time in their life tomorrow. That's exciting.

Lublung Nala Base Camp, Tsomoriri, Ladakh | 5592m | 6:03pm

We all reached a 6200m Himalayan summit this morning.  Guests say it was fulfilling. Gomba, Chris, and Chuck climbed together on a large ridge. Will wasn't feeling well last night so we planned a rest day today. He woke up feeling strong and we went for a walk into a nearby cirque to scout new climbing routes. Halfway up the valley, with clouds covering the peaks we'd planned to scout, I asked him, "what do you want to do today Will?" There was a clear route straight to the summit of the peak the others were already climbing. I gave that option, and he was up for it. We began climbing, reaching the group an hour later. We all summited together in brilliant sunshine, descending to camp for lunch. Evening, we'll shift our base camp tomorrow, and climb another 6000 meter peak in the coming days. Snow showers and marginal weather continue.

There is something heavily comforting to all in the room. No one had much to eat for  dinner tonight, and silence is our moniker. Yet I can tell that something is in the air. And everyone seems ready for sleep.

We are down from the high mountains. A monk came by, asking for the fee to sleep on his monasteries land. We paid it politely, opening a bottle of South Australian Cabernet to share amongst ourselves. We are nine, two horsemen, Phuntsok, Gomba, and Kunsang.

Back to Leh, we have gone multi-pitch rock climbing and downhill mountain biking the past two days. A great trip. We will return to this region in 2018.







Thursday, May 11, 2017

Tibet - Lhakpa Ri Base Camp and Acclimatization - Lhakpa Ri Expedition - May 2017

Rongbuk Valley, Tibet | 0916 | 5144m/16,820ft | 12 May, 2017 | Lhakpa Ri Expedition



    Hello from our base camp. We arrived here on the morning of 9 May, using the first day to review multi-pitch alpine climbing skills. We will be climbing 7045m/23,037ft Lhakpa Ri in alpine style as a team of 5. I will be leading the pitches where it is needed and otherwise we will be traveling as a roped team with running belays.  We are Luke Smithwick, Gomba Sherpa, Charles De Courval, Wilmars Mikelsons, and Francis Lawrence.  Charles and I are also carrying skis on our backs to the summit, with intentions to ski from the summit.  Over the past days the weather has continually changed throughout each day. Cloudy mornings, clear afternoons, snow showers, sunny skies. Continually changing. This forecast will continue while we are here. It is manageable and we will be climbing in this weather. We have not had the opportunity to look at Lhakpa Ri this season, but I do know from Kyajo Ri a few weeks ago that we need snow. The snow showers we are getting will help in the icy sections of the route up to the summit of Lhakpa Ri, and may enable a complete ski descent.
    Everyone finally got a good nights sleep last night. It’s a big jump to drive directly into a 5100 meter base camp. For most other base camps you take a slow approach to reach such an altitude.  Each day we’ve made forays onto the hills around base camp here, reaching 5700 meters as a high point.  Tomorrow we will walk to an Interim camp on the Far East Fork of the Rongbuk glacier, and then onwards to our Advanced Base Camp at 6200 meters, very near Everest Advanced Base Camp.  We will have several days to acclimatize around Lhakpa Ri ABC, with plans to ski tour and walk up to the Rapiu La for views of the Kangshung Face of Everest and a walk up to Everest ABC.  When we feel ready and the time is right with the weather, we will walk over to a camp 1 on Lhakpa Ri, and then climb the following morning to the summit. The purpose of a camp is to ensure we have time to deal with in difficulties on the summit day.  Gomba and I will carry tents and some equipment over to the camp 1, giving us an opportunity to check out the upper mountain before we bring the team over for the summit day. Wish us luck. I’ll send an update when we return to base camp, likely on 22 May 2017.

-Luke Smithwick, guide, Himalaya Alpine Guides (www.himalaya-alpine.com


Sunday, May 7, 2017

Tibet, Progress and Ancient Tracks - Lhakpa Ri Expedition - May 2017

Xegar (New Tingri), Tibet | 2147 | 4330m / 14,210 feet | 7 May, 2017

Views of the end of the Himalayas and the start of the Changtang plateau on the flight from Kathmandu to Lhasa.

Greetings from Tibet. Over the past whirlwind days we’ve been traveling overland on the Changtang plateau in an expedition van provided by the China Tibet Mountaineering Association.  We have a permit to climb 7045 meter Lhakpa Ri on the Far East Fork of the Rongbuk glacier. During this Spring season, foreigners are required to enter Tibet by flying into Lhasa, hence why we are approaching the peak by such an indirect route. Gomba and Karma Sherpa are driving to base camp from Kathmandu over the Tibetan border and we will meet them there in two days time. Then we will be a team, of six, all together. Nepalis are the only people allowed to enter Tibet through the Nepal border. This Autumn foreigners will be allowed to enter through Nepal again, yet only Cho Oyu will be open for climbing this Autumn. All peaks will return to Open status for 2018, and foreigners will be allowed to enter through Nepal.  Permit fees have increased this season in Tibet. Foreigners are required to pay US$200/day to be in Lhasa in addition to their peak permit cost. Permit holders are required to pay for their meals while traveling to base camp now as well, which was covered by the permit in the past. All of the information above is from a meeting I had with the China Tibet Mountaineering Association two days ago in Lhasa, Tibet, China. It is fact. Moving on..
    We are Luke Smithwick (USA) - leader and lead guide , Charles De Courval (Canada) - climber, Francis Lawrence (France and now Australia) - climber, Wilmars Mikelsons (Australia) - climber, Gomba Sherpa (Nepal) - assistant guide, Karma Gyelje Sherpa (Nepal) - cook. I’ve climbed with Charles and Francis previously, this is Wilmars first trip with me. Gomba and I have worked together for four years now. Karma I’ve worked with since 2012, although he does work at Mount Kailas in the summers as a cook with mostly Indian tour groups on yatra.
Locals walk the daily kora (circle) around the Potala Palace, notice the snowy mountains in the background.

Views of modernising Lhasa from the steps of the Potala Palace.
     So let's begin in Lhasa, first impressions. I'd always envisioned Lhasa to be a place that time forgot. Tumbleweeds (not literally, but figuratively), ancient monuments, a place for one's imagination to run with thoughts of the past. While that is still very present, the modern world is quickly coming to Lhasa. Cranes work 24 hours a day, expensive SUVs ply the spotless streets, and the city is timely and efficient. Amongst this, there is the Potala Palace


The Potala Palace.
towering over the growing metro area.  Lhasa is the upscale Tibet, Tibetan couture, everyone dressed in their best. Within the Potala Palace, I presumed a museum, yet there is life. Monks pray and chant in each room, shukpa juniper incense wafts through the hallways and catacombs, and it is still bustling with the life of the Tibetan people. We were not accompanied by hoards and throngs of foreign tourists as we passed through the Potala, yet people from Amdo, from Shigatse, and from all over Tibet who were there to pay homage to this center for Tibetans.  It was an excellent experience, and the palace is so well preserved and respected.
A father and son from Amdo province enter the Potala.

Granite crags outside of Lhasa. There is a lot of cragging to be done around town on clean granite cracks.

Modern Lhasa, clean streets and new vehicles.

Tibetan locals converse under Chinese street lamps. An amalgamation of culture can be seen everywhere in Tibet now.

From Lhasa, we drove out of town towards Shigatse after fresh snowfall the night before, the nearby mountains covered in a dusting of snow.  We could see fresh tracks in the snow from locals crossing passes with their animals just outside of town. Francis and I have kept a keen eye for birds on this trip, both of us being keen birders when there are others interested. So far we've spotted Cattle Egret, Yellow Billed Blue Magpie, Common Lora, Greater Barbet, Common Pigeon, House Crow, Scaly Breasted Munia, Oriental Dove, Himalayan Bulbul, Yellow Naped Woodpecker, Large Billed Crow, Blue Thrush, Smew, Lammergeier, Citrine Wagtail, Ruddy Shelduck, Common Goldeneye. 

A roadside lunch stop on the way to Shigatse from Lhasa. Noodle soup being prepared by the restaurant owner.

The group with our driver and local guide (Tashi - second from left) at a lunch stop yesterday near Shigatse.

    You drive along the turquoise Tsangpo river to get from Lhasa to Shigatse, and it was clean and enticing. One of my goals is to raft it someday. Shigatse is larger than Lhasa (400,000) with 700,000 people. We drove in the evening and rested before having dinner and taking an evening walk to the Tashi Lhunpo monastery.  I was also impressed with how clean and modern Shigatse was.  This evening, we are resting here in Xegar (New Tingri) at 4300 meters.  The team feels good, there have been some minor stomach issues, and one person has a mild cold, yet all will pass. Tomorrow we drive to Tingri and will stay the night, driving to base camp the following morning. I will post the next update from our base camp, which is also the base camp for Mount Everest.

-Luke Smithwick, guide, Himalaya Alpine Guides (http://www.himalaya-alpine.com)