Questo post è disponibile anche in: Italian
Our expedition starts on August 16th when we arrive in Delhi and only a few days after, on August 21st we reach our base camp, located in Nandanban at 4400 meters, with a fantastic view on Kedarnath, 6940m and Shivling, 6543m.
We were told the monsoon this year is very weak and in fact the weather is pretty good and the mountains are in relatively dry conditions; the two following days the tail of the monsoon brings a little humidity, mist and light rain in the afternoon, then the weather becomes clear and warm.
We immediately start ferrying our gear to the Advanced Base Camp, which is almost at 5000 meters, in the middle of Bhagirathi’s arena.
The goal of our trip is to open a new free climbing route on the unclimbed wall of Bhagirathi 4 (6193m).
When looking to the Bhagirathi group, the most aesthetic and striking mountain is for sure Bhagirathi 3, and it’s characteristic and mysterious amphitheater. Bhagirathi 4 stands behind and looks relatively smaller and easier to climb.
However, for a strange optical effect, appearance does not match the reality.
On August 26th Luca and I approach the wall for the first time, with the aim of bringing the portaledge and some gear to the base of the line we would like to attempt.
Getting closer and closer to the wall we soon realize that it is much much steep than what we thought, and that the climbing is going to be damn hard. After some vertical or slightly slabby 200 meters, the gradient of the wall dramatically changes and it becomes slightly overhanging for some 500 meters until the black scist band below the summit. All in all, the shape of this wall, I think is damned similar to El Cap, with also a “nose” in its center dividing the left and right side!!
Well, we pick up a line in the middle of the face and decide anyway to give it a try.
After three rest days, we are once again at the base of our giant, this time also with “Giga”, that meanwhile recovered from his sickness, and we are ready to climb.
Since we reached the base camp less than 10 days before we can feel that our acclimatization is not yet perfect. However, Giga, the young gun, takes the lead and after a first warm-up pitch the difficulties immediately rise up.
We fight our way through the first part of the wall and soon we are in sight of the steepest part of the face. The omens are not good: it looks like there is a slightly overhanging 50 (or more) meters almost blank section for reaching the obvious big corner in the center of the face. Besides that the afternoon sun fully hit the wall, bringing higher temperatures (which is nice for climbing), along with constant rock falling.
Well, we were aware that rock falling was one of the main problems of this face, and the reason why apparently other pretenders in the past failed, so we were ready to accept that risk. Moreover, the rocks were falling on the first 100 meters, than due to its overhanging nature the line looked sheltered.
We soon realize that this direct line is too hard for our style of climbing. We don’t have any gear (and we are not able) to do hard aid climbing and that sections looks just too hard and scary for us to be free climbed. (Well our goal is also not to place bolts, despite having with us a hand drill and some 8-10 bolts in case of emergency).
The same evening we bail under a scattered rain of (small) rocks falling from the top; luckily no one got hit.
For sure we’re not the kind of people who give up so easily. So our argument is the following: “if the line we thought we could free climb is too hard and steep for us, well so, when we stay on the right side of the wall, which looks less steep, we should encounter some terrain which offers some climbing not easy but doable, at the right level of difficulty for us”.
A few days after, we’re back for another attempt, starting 50 meters lower and right from the previous one. Unfortunately, during a 3 weeks period of stable weather we manage to pick up the only stormy day for our push. After one pitch the wind rises, after two pitches the sky covers with clouds and at the end of the third pitch it starts snowing!
“Bad luck within good luck” we say in Italian. Not knowing how the weather would have been the following days we decide one again to bail.
Once at the base camp the weather is perfect and after one rest day we start again for what we think it could be the decisive push.
On 12th September we start climbing and everything seems to click perfectly. Luca takes leads the first whole day, until the snowfield before the second part of the wall. His progression is smooth and effective despite the cold temperature (-5 to -10 degrees). When the sun hits the face also the technical difficulties rise: a hard face climbing pitch (Luca’s style) leads to the beginning of the snowfield. We decide the set the portaledge on its upper margin, hoping to be a little sheltered from the falling rocks, which meanwhile, had started to crash down.
While Luca and I set the portaledge and the fly, Giga has the task of putting a bolt for hanging it. Unfortunately, after some minutes we hear a metal sound falling down to the wall…the wrench is lost and the worn out bolt is stuck on the hand drill…Ok, if before putting no bolts was our choice, now it is mandatory!
We wake up early after sunrise and after packing, it’s my turn to lead. Temperature is well below zero degrees and I’m quite afraid because I can’t bear the cold as good as Luca. As a matter of fact after a couple of moves my hands and feet are completely numb; circulation in the feet is totally blocked despite the large Tc pros and the thick socks. At least the climbing suits my style: a corner, with a crack and mainly jamming and stemming, that’s what I’ve been training on for the last few years and it’s a kind of climbing I can do also with cold and wet conditions.
Well, what with higher temperatures would have been an enjoyable climb, now it becomes pain and suffering, but little by little, I can go up in good style and with a good rhythm, despite we are at about 5700 meters.
The corner gets steeper and steeper and despite the sun hits the face, and my hands get warmer, my feet will remain numb and insensitive for the whole day.
At a certain point we are in front of a big decision: we can choose to continue up straight in the corner and arrive to a point where the black rock (scist) looks much wider, but broken and easy, or take a very steep corner/ramp, traversing left for the whole length of the wall and leading to the a place where the scists looks steep but short.
A bit afraid of going left due to a difficult (or impossible with the heavy loads?) retreat we stick to the original plan and keep going straight.
Unfortunately, on the last part of the corner, ice, stepness and fatigue force me to abandon our dream of complete onsight ascent for some aid climbing.
We set the portaldge right before the first scist band.
The night is cold and windy, but thanks to the fly we can rest. We estimate that we are at about 5900m, more or less 200-250 meters from the top. Between us and the summit only the black scist; the big unknown of the climb.
The morning is even colder than the previous one and in a few seconds my hands are so completely frozen that packing the portaledge and the rest of the gear takes about 3 hours. Luca takes the lead but this time it’s too cold for climbing and after some attempts we have to wait for the sun.
When the sun comes he tries to proceed first right, then left, than straight. There is no way he can go on, everything is loose and chossy and unfortunately, like always on this wall, is much much steeper than what we thought. We spend some time trying to find a way to go up and assessing every possibility: we consider also rappelling in the couloir between Bhagirathi 4 and 3, but unfortunately it’s way too far right and out of our reach.
We conclude that trying to go on would be too dangerous for us, we think that rock not only is not reliable for any protection but also for progression it keeps braking in the hands, we know that at 6000 meters in such a place no mistake is allowed.
The decision this time is though and hard to digest. Coming so close to the end, after such a brilliant climbing and a brilliant route and then retreating for not being able to pass, is not easy to accept. Honestly, who knows me a little, know that I’m usually a risk taker, and I’ve overcome some dangerous situation in the mountains. But this time I just can’t, I am not bold and brave enough to take the situation in my hand and try it, I have a bad feeling on that rock and I know that if I try I cannot fail. It’s hard to accept for me and for us, but the decision is to go down.
Once at base camp we think more consciously about what we have done. I am anyway happy for our attempt and even if we failed I think we did well and our choice was after all, wise. I have the feeling that it is a bit like a soccer game, when you play well the whole game, you score a goal and control the whole match, until the last minutes where the others score a goal and then in the injury time they score another and win.
We did our best, we tried hard, but the interesting thing of alpinism is that also when you do well, there is always the possibility to fail.
Matteo Della Bordella – Ragni di Lecco