The approach to Kyoja Ri is remote and every bit as difficult as the climb itself. The route was up a huge terraced valley with three 1000-plus-foot waterfalls and a series of hillsides filled with loose boulders, stacked kitty-whampous from yak-sized to basketball-sized. It was nerve-wracking listening to rocks fall around you, having the expectation of one of these granite pieces steam-rolling you. The unstable footing was hell on knees and ankles.
The transition in the approach route went from cedar and rhododendron trees, to taiga and arctic sassafras, and finally to just rock and glacier.
We established three main camps: Base Camp at 14,858 feet, where the valley came to a substantial climb up a steep boulder field. Advanced Base Camp, at 17,285 feet next to a glacial lake that made booming sounds at night as the ice on the lake thickened in the cold, and Col Camp at 18,700 feet, a cold, sleepless night. When the sun went behind the adjacent mountains and the moon rose, the temperature dropped to a frigid 30 degrees.
We’ve had bluebird days, and even though it was nice as we were about to begin the final climb, we could see clouds and iffy weather forming. Furba, our Nepalese team member, said we were very lucky with the weather currently and that it could be our only chance for a summit.
The base begins with 3 pitches over polished granite with sections of 5.6/.7 Those sections made it even more difficult to climb with crampons, mitts and axe vs a climate-controlled climbing gym in shorts.
It always feels a bit sketchy scraping and squeaking your way up with crampons on bare rock.
We left the tent with headlamps on at 4:45am to start our climb. After two pitches, Furba, whom I was tenting with, said “Shit” (or the Nepali equivalent thereof)…”What?" I said. "We forgot our sunglasses in the tent”. I immediately was trying to figure out how to make some kind of makeshift sun goggles out of what we had - kind of like the ones the Inuit make out of leather, bone or driftwood. Without them we would both be snow-blind in 20 minutes once the sun came out.
Furba, using an old rope of questionable use, said “You continue, I will go back and grab glasses and meet you at next pitch”. As if superhuman, he was back before we finished the next pitch.
Being already acclimated to altitude from our previous explorations to Tenzing Peak, we free climbed Kyoja Ri in one push, alpine style.
Elias, being an extremely efficient climber and a strapping 6 foot 3 inches...is fast and led out 12 pitches, while Bridget, Furba and I cleaned up the tackle. The pitches averaged 55 degrees, so double ice axing and front pointing was the norm.
We all reached the summit at 11:04am, about 6 hours 15 minutes after leaving Col Camp.
Image: 15 feet from the summit. The mountains in the background from left to right is Everest with wind, Lhotse, Makalu, and Ama Dablam.
The summit comes to a sheer point with just enough room for the team to rest shoulder-to-shoulder. A mountain panorama unfolded as we reached the summit, which dropped off sheer to the north and west. Views of Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse, Cho Oyu, Ama Dablam and mountains in the Langtang region. Many seemed dwarfed from our summit position of 20,300 feet.
Out of food and hungry, we descended to Col Camp, then under headlamps in the dark to Advanced Base Camp. After 15 hours on the move, we were greeted by Pascale’s headlamp overseeing camp. Having seen us reach the summit that clear morning, she was surprised to see us after the arduous day's nasty rock terrain.
Early the next morning, we rose up and started descending, meeting up with our porters and continuing on all the way down to Namche - fueled by hopes of vast quantities of momos and milk tea (dudhchiyaa) and much-needed rest gained at lower altitudes.
Sore all over from descending 10,000 feet of boulders in 24 hours.
Eating chocolate cake now…life is good!
Image: Climbing team at Col Camp from left to right: Furba Tamang, Bridget Schletty, Yours Truly, and Elias de Andres Martos