Saturday, October 26, 2013

"Windy Couloir", First Ascent of Amphu 1

I and my two Korean friends made first ascent on Amphu I in Makalu-Barun National Park in Eastern Nepal.  Here I note the climbing trip.

Route map of "Windy Couloir" on the south-west face of Amphu 1

“Amphu 1” that we aimed is the name given by the Nepalese government to the peak east of Amphu Laptsa pass and west of Baruntse.  The height is Nepal-officially known 6840m as HMG-MT and Schneider map describe so, while sometimes referred 6740m as HMG-Finn map does.  As we acknowledged, previously only once a permit for intending the peak was issued to a four-member Japanese team in the late Autumn 2012.  Also, we found two teams—one German and one Spanish—tried what they call “Amphu” in 2008.  However, we believe we have climbed a different one.  The Japanese recalled that they approached their peak through Chukung glacier, which lies south of Chukung, east of Ama Dablam, and north of Ombigaichan, while from the north of Amphu I flows Imja glacier and Amphu Lapcha glacier.  Therefore, we guess they actually tried to climb P6402, northeast of Ombigaichan, or another in the area.  At November 2012 they climbed the north face but retreated due to avalanche danger.

Also, in Spring 2008, five Germans have reported to summit P 6238m (Schneider map) from its north ridge, and they called the peak “Amphu middle” since it has two neighbor near.   Again in the Autumn of the year, a Spanish climber Jordi Tozas solo-climbed what he called “Amphu South” (6146m) and “Amphu Middle” via new route.  

It is true that the name “Amphu” is frequently used to refer the peaks and pass in the area, by the maps and probably by the locals.  However, the highest one is Amphu I, between Amphu Laptsa and Baruntse, and we think it is a bit awkward to call lower peaks of other group “Amphu middle” or “South” and so on, since they are rather quite afar from Amphu I, the main peak of, if any, Amphu group.  

On 19th Sep., we fled over to Lukla.  The trek to the objected peak was planned through two high passes of Zatra la (4610m) and Mera la (5415m).  In addition to that, we firstly included to our acclimatization trip to climb Mera (6461m).  Because we had no climbing Sherpa we did not know the route.  We mistakenly climbed through not-normal route, north-east of the normal route.  However, there were heavy snows which have induced snow avalanche that resisted us to climb only up to 6200m.  Indeed, the snow of the late monsoon in the Eastern Nepal continued up until in the early October. 

Arrived at the Amphu I Base Camp at 27th Sep.  The elevation of which was 5250m, near the highest pokhari (lake), which we called “Nilo Pokhari” (blue lake) in the “Panch Pokhari” area.  The leader An Chi-young had visited this area a month earlier to reconnoiter, and by which it was easy all for us to set the camp at a best place. 

We three have all climbed and got to the top of Mt. Everest in different years.  An has climbed many Himalayan peaks including Himjung of first ascent the year before.  Kim Young-mi has also climbed numerous peaks in Himalaya and other region.  I myself also have similar mountaineering experience.
After twice of reconnoiter climb up to the 500m-long glacier, we started to climb 8th Oct. as we got a good weather window after twelve days of stay in the B.C.  The route in the glacier was a bit complex but without serious danger, and we fixed ropes a few meters in order to rappelling down.  We planned to climb the south-west face of the peak through a deep couloir left in the wall, taking one of the numerous and various wrinkles, climbing over to the west ridge after exiting out through a ramp.  At the foot of the glacier, 5480m, however, we have to have spent hours to recover our gears we deposited days ago, finding some broken: my helmet and Kim’s crampon.  Hers was usable, although mine was not.  So I climbed the face without it.
The first day of climbing, a quite strong wind swept up.  At the base camp, we heard later, tents were damaged due to the gale.  Snow showers and falling icicles bothered us to climb on.  The first nine pitches which I leaded were relatively easy, although the other two have been attacked by falling huge icicles.  The wall became steeper and steeper as we progressed.  The ninth pitch was all blue ice, could be graded WI5 and 80°.

Myself leading the lower part of the face

Getting dark soon.  However, it proved almost impossible to find a bivouac place on the ice wall.  I felt quite tired and Kim took the lead.  Two more pitches were climbed in the night and at 20:30 when, suddenly and fortunately, we found an ideal place to spend the night: by all means a-small-tent size, with ice-clawed its upside, for which we call the place “Alligator’s Mouth”.  We have had a good night, and decided to left all the camping gears there and lightly go to the top and return the next day.

We started 8:30 in the morning.  Kim leaded again.  Two more pitches brought us just below a ramp to the west ridge.  However, it was now almost vertical in soft snow!  An took the lead.  The last ten meters were quite tough, and finally we got up on the ridge.  We found that, to the contrary to our expectation, the ridge was quite sharp with soft snow.  Snow-bars sometimes upheld no security.  The first three pitches on the ridge necessitated quite delicate climbing.  The angle became low; long traverses continued and the wind, too.  Finally we got up the summit at 3pm. 

An leading the summit ridge

at the top of Amphu 1

After some rituals on the summit we hurriedly got down.  At the dreadful ridge, where no protection would work, we belayed each other to climb down carefully.  We have arrived back the Alligator’s Mouth, looking at sunset.

Kim descending down

Descending down the next day was not difficult.  We had to leave our gears on the wall for the rappel protection since V-thread did not work well on the snow-ice mixed ground.  We could safely come back to the base camp and have lunch.  We call the route name “Windy Couloir” (AI5 WI4 XI ED2, 1800m (incl. glacier 500m)).