|Our Really Big Adventure|
Assault on Chhukhung Ri
| It was doubtful we
would make the summit of Chhukhung Ri (5,545m), but there would be no shame
in retreat just an awful lot of slagging. It was a full 800 meters
above the small Sherpa settlement where we had spent the night and we had
not allowed sufficient time to acclimatise. The undistinguished mountain
looked little more than a brown hillock against the backdrop of Himalayan
giants, but it would take us right to the edge of our endurance.
The morning started as normal, we huddled in the chilly dinning room spooning our over-sweetened porridge and clasping our milk tea, wringing any warmth we could from it. We glanced skywards, looking for the telltale signs of golden summits that betray the sun's imminent arrival. The first rays, created by the mountains ragged outlines, glistening off the dust and moisture in the air are clearly golden, like spring sun through a window but on a massive scale. Immediately the cold was banished and the reflected heat and glare from the snow-lined valley would demand t-shirts and two pairs of sunglasses: double glazed as we called it.
The climb was difficult right from the start; we simply were not used to the altitude. We could only walk 50 meters or so without having to stop for a rest; bent double over our ski poles we gasped at the rarefied air for at least two minutes before we were able to talk. This was just the beginning! We had 800 unremitting vertical meters to climb. We drove forward at a consistent, if slow pace, rewarded at every step with an unfolding panorama of the worlds tallest peaks. Nuptse and Makalu reared their towering heads above lesser-known but equally majestic giants, however as always, it was Ama Dablam that stole the show; seemingly changing its personality with every step we made.
Halfway up and our steady 50-meter gains were being eroded. We were now making about 20 meters between rests. My breathing was so fast and hard I was amazed I had the energy to do anything else. Still we plodded on, very slowly placing one foot just inches above the last, straightening the leg and locking the knee before taking the next step. Like an elderly couple recovering from a double hip operation we progressed. The summit was over 200 meters up and looked totally unattainable, however a morale saving ridge lay just 100 meters away and we fixed our blinkered eyes upon the prayer stones that lined it.
The vista that welcomed us to the ridge blew us away. In front of us lay Pumori, Lhotse and the vast expanse of the Nuptse glacier, behind us, a lake surreal in its frozen flatness. So awestruck were we that we continued our struggle to the top. We stayed there basking in its splendour for about 20 minutes, until altitude headaches started to make their presence felt. A speedy descent was necessary. Actually we didnt really summit, there is a minor summit about 50 meters lower and that was as far as we got, so we cheated so sue us.
We now were really looking forward to getting back on the beaten path and racing ahead of unacclimatised tour groups. We had already been to the trips high point and we would no longer have to worry about altitude sickness, or so we thought.