They did it! May 17 to 23. Zdeněk Hák aka Hook and Márek Holeček. The Northwest Face of the 7,321 m high Nepalese mountain Chamlang. A giant, which numerous expedition attempts have failed to master in the past. Two mountaineers, who successfully faced the challenges of the 2,000 m high face in the central Himalayan mountains. A report by Mammut Pro Team Athlete Márek Holeček.
The story of our ascent started 20 years ago when I saw Chamlang's elegant outline for the first time. As I imagined that I might one day attempt this massive vertical face, a mixture of awe and fear washed over me. Last year, Chamlang caught my attention again. Despite my respect for the mountain's challenges, I could only think of one thing: What am I waiting for?
THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
Hook and I set up our base camp at the foot of Chamlang. Acclimatization went smoothly, occasionally helped by a decent bottle of San Miguel beer. We were alone in the middle of nature. A stunning place without people, surrounded by the snow-white ridges of wild mountains. For several days we camped close to Chamlang. We spent a lot of time below the massif to commit the sight to memory. Meteorologist Alča Zárybnická sent us promising weather forecasts every day via satellite. In fact, the weather was good. However, for a successful ascent, we needed at least three consecutive days of the best possible conditions without rain and strong winds.
Then it was time to get started. Our gear included a bivouac tent, an 80 m long rope with a 7 mm diameter, 6 ice screws, 5 hooks, 5 friends (cams), food for five days, three gas cartridges and a generous portion of luck. The morning of Mai 17 was frosty. The first few meters meant fighting for each span: unfavorable mixed climbing on bad rock with loose, sugar-like snow. Once we had overcome this critical initial phase, our crampons crunched and our ice axes jumped back as they struggled to grip the ice.
After long hours, we searched for a rock overhang to protect us against rock and snowfalls. Avalanches showed us the darker side of the mountain. All we could do was hope that we wouldn't have to face any. The second day was overshadowed by a huge serac, and the pieces of ice that constantly broke off. We had to move through this section as quickly as possible to minimize the risk of being hit by fragments. After mastering this challenge, we found a spot above the serac for our bivouac and the next camp.
"We had to squeeze onto a very small ledge, where we hardly had room to sit side by side. And so we had no choice but to take turns sitting on each other."
NO GOING BACK
The third day involved the longest section of climbing. This took us to a point from which there was no turning back. Snowfall. Gale force winds. A relentless steep face. But we made the decision to move on. In some places we encountered pleasant firn, in others ice as hard as concrete. There were few securing opportunities and the climb felt like it would never end. Exhaustion and snow pushed us until we couldn't go on. But we didn't find a place for our bivouac.
In the end, we had to squeeze onto a very small ledge protected by a rock edge, where we hardly had room to sit side by side. And so we had no choice but to take turns sitting on each other. Each of us slept for a while and was able to conserve some strength. I'm deliberately avoiding the term "relax" or "recharge our batteries" here. It was purely about not losing energy unnecessarily that night.
On the fourth morning, ice firn and a 70° gradient awaited us, and at times it was even steeper. It felt like the mountain was constantly growing above us instead of there being less to climb. But there had to be an end somewhere. And so we conquered the last section in the afternoon and suddenly found ourselves standing on a sharp ridge, from which we had an incredible view of the world on the other side. The winds were extremely strong and the temperature dropped below zero.
According to the GPS, the summit was about 200 m above the ridge, about 100 m above us. However, as evening approached, the storm became stronger. Clouds rolled across the summit. Suddenly they were everywhere and cloaked everything. Fortunately, this bleak location provided an adequate environment for our tent. The summit wasn't going anywhere.
OVERWHELMING VIEW OF THE SUMMIT
The next day we followed the ridge over a series of peaks of the Chamlang to the point where it merges into the mountain's southern shoulder. At 10 o’clock we reached the main summit. We only stayed a few minutes to take some photos. A couple of forced frozen smiles and a few spoken words that the icy wind immediately swept away into the void. Taking the photos made me lose all feeling in my hands. Hook looked as if he didn't want to spend much time up there. The splendor and misery of a mountaineering life, like success without an audience. The real joy kicks in once back down at the bottom, where you haven't actually been striving to get to.
OVER THE MOUNTAIN CREST INTO THE WHITE VOID
The summit was followed by a seemingly endless, kilometer-long ridge without any securing options. When a dense fog rolled in, we deviated from our course and decided on another bivouac. An easy decision when you can't see anything anymore and a wrong move could mean plummeting a thousand meters. The snowfall made Hook resemble Santa Claus and in the evening, after we had enjoyed our meal consisting of two candy bars, we ran out of food. We were gradually reaching our physical as well as psychological limits.
A wild glacier with cascading crevasses awaited us the next day and took us hours to scale. Again, dense fog stopped us. We were forced to set up the sixth bivouac under a huge mass of glacial ice. It was like sleeping in the mouth of a shark. A feverish recollection of the following night has stayed with me. The cold crept up through my feet and spread through my entire body. On the seventh day, our ordeal was over. In the morning, we still had to rappel a few more times and spend some time hiking over the moraine. And then it was done! After 160 long hours we escaped the mountain's merciless clutches.
"After 160 long hours we escaped the mountain's merciless clutches."
First of all, I want to give credit to those who first ascended and conquered the South Ridge sixty years ago. They possibly had more snow than us, climbed expedition style and who knows what else they faced. They were really tough guys!
Hook and I survived the first ascent of the 2,000 m high grueling Northwest Face climbing alpine style. We classified the marked route as ABO, i.e. "Abominablement difficile". Simply said: incredibly difficult. We named the route "UFOline" in recognition of the Chamlang North Face ascent, when Reinhold Messner and Doug Scott allegedly spotted a UFO somewhere up high. I had my very own extraterrestrial named Hook at my side! To finish, I want to thank Hook for making it possible to enjoy the mountains together in peace, without any of the unnecessary emotional strain that can sometimes arise when a team is under pressure.