We have returned to base camp. The bad weather finally hit us. But I am happy to lie in my warm sleeping bag, inside of my tent.
Everything happened very suddenly. The day after we reached base camp, my partner Don Bowie, Rob Frost (the camera man) and I, went to the advanced base camp, or ABC, to get acclimated for our expedition. Our backpacks were heavily packed, and we had plenty of food, and a big comfortable tent.
The ascent lasted about 3.5 hours. From the foot of the wall, it was about 2.5 hours away. Don and I were overwhelmed by the face. She looked amazing. We discussed the procedure. Don was not yet adapted to the thin air. He needed some more time. I had already spent one month in Khumbu Valley, and theoretically I could try to go for the summit. But I wasn't certain that I could conquer it.
Don decided to stay two nights at 5800 meters. I had the weather forecast in hand, and it looked like the Sunday's weather would be great: no winds at 8000 meters, and -12 degrees, relatively warm for this time of the year. But we were still concerned about the conditions at the face. Don still needed one more day at the camp. But I wanted to go take a glance at the face.
I asked Don if it would be alright if I climbed without him, and he told me that it was fine, go so far as to tell me that I should attempt summit if it was possible. I didn't think that I would be able to climb to the summit, and furthermore, we decided from the start that we would climb together. After all, we were there as a team.
Rob and Don agreed that I should go for summit. I decided that I needed to take a look at the mountain at the 7000 meter point, then descend. That way, I would have additional acclimatization to aid with my breathing.
I left the camp at 22.30 on Saturday night so that I could be back before the storm arrived. After 5 minutes I heard Don behind me: “Hey Ueli!”. I turned around. “You will definitely need these!” He handed me my trousers. I forgot them in the tent. Great start.
I descend again amongst the small frozen lakes beyond the glacier. Once I reached the edge of the ice, I put on my expedition shoes, and moved quickly across the ice.
My plan was to move as quickly as possible. After only 2.5 hours I reached the bergschrund, and climbed a channel which was 55 degrees steep with perfect snow conditions (just like on Cholatse a few weeks ago). I looked around. The moon had lit the entire face. How practical!
I made my way to the traverse into the British route and looked at the altitude: 6800 meters. My minimal goal was 7000 meters. On the right hand side a wide snow channel was running along, but I had no idea where the channel ended. But with only 200 meters to climb, I figured I could climb it.
The climb went quickly. I finally reached 7200 meters; I needed to decide whether or not I should descend. I promised my wife that I would not do any more solo climbs. But this was not really a solo. In this area a roped party would not really belay, since you would loose too much time, and it was not really necessary. I figured that I could do it since I could already see the exit. Up or down? Down is also quite far. So I decided to go up!
The wall became a bit steeper. The air got thinner, and the first sun rays reached me on the ridge. The channel also became narrower. I felt tired, but not too bad, and the hits of the ice ax were still precise.
Once I reached the ridge there was no wind, and the sun gave a warm feeling. The summit was still quite far from this point. So I decided to leave my equipment there. The number of kilos weren't much, but I knew it would be much less strenuous to climb without such a heavy burden. Meter after meter I gasped over the ridge until I reached the summit.
At exactly 11.40 am I reached the summit. I quickly looked around then started my descent. I still had a long way back, and I wanted to reach ABC again today. Meteotest sent me a warning on my satellite phone: “the jet stream has changed its direction, you have to be back before Monday midday. Storm and bad weather front”.
The descent to the saddle was pure horror. On the north side there was hip-deep powder snow. I regretted not having taken the same route down as I climbed up. When I reached the saddle I could not believe my eyes: before going down, there was a channel of steep loosened rock. Then snow, ice and rock alternated with each other. The channel seemed as if it would never end. I had to rest, concentrate and then move on. I saw the glacier becoming a bit flatter in the lower end. Step after step I went further and further down the mountain.
The ground became a bit softer, allowing me to slide down on the front tooth of my crampons. In order to avoid going too quickly, I hit my ice axe into the ground. This cost me a lot of energy in my calves just so that I could keep my feet stable. But it also allowed me to move quickly.
I finally reached the glacier which still required me to descend 1000 meters until I hit the entry point. I remained on high alert while on the glacier, making sure to control each step to avoid crevasses. The last 200 meters leading to the entry point weren't very steep, so I was able to move quickly. I was very relieved.
From that point forward, I didn't encounter any more technical problems. I used my GPS to guide me back to my equipment, and made my way back to the ABC. Although I walked quite slowly up the moraine towards the ABC, I moved better than I thought I would. Surprisingly, I am not completely exhausted.
I reached our tent at 18.30 hours on Sunday. It was great to see Don and Rob, two friends I could share my experiences of the past hours with. I wrote my wife Nicole an SMS to tell her that that I summitted Shisha Pangma.
Cordial Greetings and Happy Easter,
Shisha Pangma route.
Rob Frost, Ueli Steck and Don Bowie at ABC. Ueli and Don checking the route.
Ueli and Don head towards ABC.
Ueli Steck at Shisha Pangma's south face (5800m).
Ueli Steck before summit ridge.
Ueli Steck on the way back to ABC.