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Shisha Pangma Debrief: Ralf, Gerlinde, and Hirotaka's Alpine style traverse, part 1
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May 18, 2005 19: 21 EST
Previously published May 11, 2005 17: 45 EST

Ralf Dujmovits, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner and Hirotaka Takeuchi summited Shisha Pangma on May 8th, after climbing the difficult south face in Alpine style. The guys descended via the northern side, completing the South-to-North traverse of the mountain.

Back in BC, they have put together their impressions, memories, and a set of super cool images of the climb.

Tears of joy

“We are back in our small BC at Shisha’s South side. We have left our cook Sitaram and his helper Phintso alone for ten days. Yesterday when we finally arrived, they greeted us with friendly tears in their eyes.”

It’s no wonder that the team’s BC crew was worried: The guys had gone climbing and left them with no news for ten days. However, if the cook and his assistant had known the details of the climb…they would have cried harder. Without the help of ropes, set camps, or good knowledge of the terrain, nothing was easy on that expedition. The trio had to fight against avalanches, snow storms, low visibility, iron-hard ice, and rotten rock all the way up to the summit.

The following is an excerpt from Ralf’s expedition diary:

Facing the wall

Sunday, May 1st – Monday, May 2nd

Working day: The long way to the ‘real’ BC, just 4 hours despite backpacks overstuffed with supplies and gas for 6 days; then three extra hours to the Norwegian’s camp, where we left a depot. Meanwhile, snow started falling. By the time the climbers had planted their mini-tents, the dusting had turned into a blizzard.

We woke up very early the next morning. Our weather forecasts predicted wind and high humidity every day starting at midday. They were right every day, except that first one.

We slowly approached the south face. At midday we reached the Bergschrund. It took us three tries to find a place to cross it. 50 vertical meters higher we found a place flat enough to carve a platform and set our tent. The weather held… for the moment.

“If this mountain didn’t want you, you would have fallen already!”

Tuesday, May 3rd – Wednesday, May 4th

We set off early and started climbing the steep 50º flank on sheer ice that was occasionally powdered with some fresh snow. We had to climb on the front points of our crampons most of the time.

The slope became steeper, up to 60º. Then suddenly, one of my crampons decided to think independently and followed the force of gravity. I put my weight on the front points of the other crampon and felt a wave of fear: “Is this going to be over so soon, as it happened last year?” I asked myself and Gerlinde, who luckily was climbing just meters above me. She descended the ice towards me. “No!” she shouted: “If this mountain didn’t want you, you would have fallen already!” I hoped she was right; I had 80 meters of ice wall below me. She came by my side, climbed down all the way to retrieve my crampon, climbed back up and helped me out of there.

The feeling of fear lasted for 45 minutes. And then it passed! Clouds came up and wrapped us in fog. After 450 vertical meters there was nothing else we could do except to find a place to bivouac. Once we had done that, it took us another hour to carve a platform big enough for the tent. In the afternoon it snowed heavily.

Rotten rock

We had to stop 200 meters below our planned goal for that day. The next day we got a chance to progress a little bit more. We climbed on ice sections leading to a long rock section. Not a great one actually - overloaded with snow, almost vertical, and fragile - but it would have to do. “This is the most rotten rock I’ve ever climbed,” said Gerlinde.

But pitch after pitch, we manage to overcome it, and got to the top of the 800-meter-long ice gully. We even climbed 100 meters more until the intensifying snowstorm forced us to finish the climbing day sooner than we wished. As we were looking for a place to camp on the ridge, we heard the first fresh snow avalanche roaring down the gully below us.

Avalanche’s lullaby

Thursday, May 5th- Friday, May 6th

That morning, two hours after we started climbing, it started snowing heavily. In those conditions we reached 7400m, but we still had to retrace on our steps 100 m back to try to find a place to bivouac. Three times we tried to carve a platform to set the tent in different places, and each time we found rock or extremely hard ice.

Therefore we descended to 7300 m, where I had seen a small ledge on our way up. We could at least plant our tent there without further problems, and rest while the snow fell non-stop. Avalanches roared all night long down the couloir.

Doubts and convictions

On the next morning, the forecasts were crystal clear: We would have to wait until Saturday for drier weather. In those conditions, we could not even dry our sleeping bags. For the first time doubts filled my mind: We were in a very exposed place, unable to properly rest and recover in our wet sleeping bags, we had no appetite, and the avalanches were roaring outside. I don’t remember feeling so uneasy or sleeping that bad before any other summit bid. But Gerlinde kept the spirits high. She is not easily intimidated… “We are gonna make it,” she simply said.

Tomorrow part 2, final: Summit and beyond

German climber Ralf Dujmovits, Austrian Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, and Japanese climber Hirotaka Takeuchi have rejoined forces this spring for some doubleheader action in the Himalaya.

Their first – accomplished – goal was an Alpine style climb on Sihsha Pangma’s South Face. They summited on May 8th and traversed to the north side.

The next goal, also in alpine style, is Everest North Face though the Supercouloir (combination route on the Japanese Ridge and Hornbein Couloir).

Ralf Dujmovits started climbing at the age of 7 at The Battert, a climbing school near Baden-Baden (Southern Germany). Currently he is in charge of Amical Alpine, and has summited 10 8000ers: Dhaulagiri in 1990, Everest in 1992, K2 in 1994, Cho Oyu (1) in 1995, Shisha Pangma Central Summit in 1996, Shisha Pangma main Summit in 1997, Cho Oyu (2) in 1998, Broad Peak in 1999, GII in 2000, Nanga Parbat in 2001, Annapurna I in 2004, GI in 2004. He has guided teams on all those peaks, except Annapurna.

In 2004, Ralf, Gerlinde and Hirotaka summited Annapurna, after a serious attempt on Shisha Pangma South Face. In summer, they planned on climbing both Gasherbrums and K2, but poor weather conditions left them with only enough time to summit GI.

Ace female climber, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, has summited Cho Oyu, Makalu, Manaslu, Nanga Parbat, Annapurna and most recently Gasherbrum I: Six 8,000ers. Gerlinde is considered one of the top female high altitude climbers and is the 6th woman to reach Anna's summit. She has also summited Shisha Pangma Central and Broad Peak.

Japanese climber Hirotaka has summited Makalu, Everest, K2, Nanga Parbat, and in 2004, he summited Annapurna and GI. He summited Everest and K2 back to back in 1996 and, at the age of 25, became the youngest climber to summit the world's two highest mountains. He now has six 8,000ers.

Images, courtesy of the expedition team/Amical.de:

1. Gerlinde in a bivouac
2. The first 100 vertical meters on the wall.
3. Gerlinde climbing up after retrieving Ralf’s crampon.
4. Ralf on the rotten rock section.
5. Gerlinde climbing down 100 meters to find a place to bivouac.
6. Hiro trying to sleep

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