Mountain Madness and Mountain Love. Here is my story about my last expedition to the Himalayas.
Written by: @elisarotterud
“Take me down to the paradise city. Where the grass is green and the girls are pretty…”
What the hell? I’m trying to chillax in bed while I’m thinking about lice.
I pop out of the window to see with my own eyes how hazy they feel outside. Singing to Guns N ‘Roses, which to me, means celebration of an accomplishment. My adventure, in contrast, has just begun.
I jump back into bed, throw a blanket over me and revel in the delight at being back here. “This strange country which no one leaves before it has set its mark upon them”. It can only be one place: Nepal.
Because it's there
The land of superlatives! I had little idea, back in 2011, that Nepal would become a turning point in my life; The mountains, the people, the colorful sherpa culture. I fell in love.
It was like coming home to something I’ve longed for all my life.
Since then I’ve been here eight times, and climbed peaks like Island Peak (6186 m.,2011) Ama Dablam (6812 m.,2013 and 2015) and Manaslu (8126 m.,2017).
The travel companion this time is my friend Moa, the climbing sherpas Tsering and Lakpa, as well as four porters. A small team with the goal of becoming the first Norwegians to climb the 7000 meter Himlung Himal.
Himlung Himal (7126 masl) is located in the Manang district of Nepal’s Annapurna region. The mountain scenery includes the Annapurna Massif (Annapurna I-IV), Dhaulagiri, Machhapuchhre, Manaslu, Gangapur na, Tilicho Peak, Pisang Peak, and Paungda Danda. This is in addition to countless other peaks of 6-8K meters.
This mountain is not as “rock ‘n’ roll” as Ama Dablam. Neither does it have the same macabre draw as Manaslu, which has claimed nearly 10% of all the climbers who have attempted to reach its peak. No, Himlung Himal mountain, with its location close to the Tibetan border, makes it an incredible hub for the fascinating sherpa culture, is surrounded by spectacular landscapes.
We start our acclimatization from the town Besishahar (900 m.). This colorful town is the starting point on the Annapurna Circuit route.
We move slowly into the Nhar Phu valley to acclimatize our bodies. The few who live in the valley survive on potatoes, eggs and get their meat from goats and chickens. It’s a fascinating travel back in time. An added bonus is the no phone connection. Full digital detox!
Mighty waterfalls, villages built of stone and dirt, colorful Buddhist monasteries and smiling people meet us along the way. It’s always a powerful experience.
The atmosphere is filled with hospitality and we enjoy the primitive diet of potatoes and lemon tea. This route was opened and adapted for tourists in 2003, but we don’t meet many trekkers nor high altitude climbers. The experience of walking here, almost alone, tastes like a delicacy.
We have to acclimatize for a week to get to Base Camp at 4900 meters. The places we sleep are named Koto (2600 m.), Meta (3560 m.), Kyang (3 840 m.) And Phu Gaun (3900 m).
On the third day, I detect something wrong with my stomach and regularly hide behind bushes to find a place to shit. I’ve managed to get food poisoning, and that’s definitely not a bonus when you’re on acclimatization. Aside from the obvious inconveniences, my physical condition is paramount to the success of the expedition.
When we arrive at the village of Phu Gua, which immediately impresses with its intricate constructions of clay and stone, majestically placed on a mountain, however, at this point, I am most concerned finding places to, well you know what…
Fortunately for me, we take a rest day in Phu Guan. I try to get some rest in my room, but it’s challenging since I have a fat rat under my bed.
“Is this some kind of omen, or what?” I begin to wonder.
Finally Base Camp
My climbing sherpa Lakpa is chanting to motivate us while we ascend our final meters into Base Camp. When we arrive at Base Camp at 4900m, I collapse in the kitchen tent.
It’s hard to keep motivated when you’re sick and you feel that everyone around you is as strong as bears, while you yourself have become a thin shadow of yourself.
Puja and Climbing Strategy
Already on day two in base we have the Puja. This is a ritual where we will receive the blessings from the Lama to climb the mountain. It’s a spiritual event where we toss rice and beer on each other and pray for good health, weather and conditions.
In the kitchen tent afterwards we plan our strategy for the ascent of Himlung Himal. I’m still a bit worried about my strength at this stage, but can feel it coming back.
The plan is a rotation to camp 1 (5450 m.), sleep there and return to base camp and wait for a weather window. When this happens, we would return to camp 1, sleep there, and then go to Camp 2 (6000 m.). Following that we would rest there for eight hours and then push for the summit. Camp 3 which stands at 6350 m. “is for wimps”, my climbing sherpa Lakpa laughs.
We stick to this plan.
Powder and Noodles
“Bad weather”, says my climbing sherpa Lakpa, he looks skeptical. “No one will try to summit Himlung this week”. I receive the information with sadness, .
Heaven and Hell
We follow the plan and sleep at Camp 1. My stomach is starting to get better, humor certainly helps. You can’t be shy when you climb a mountain in high altitude. If you gotta go, go for it!
The next morning, we pack the tent and start our journey towards Camp 2. The route up consists of loose stones, then a glacier before we reach the wide snow-covered slopes of 20 degrees. It’s powder here too – this is a nice ski mountain… but not today!
We arrive at Camp 2 at 6200 meters in the afternoon. The plan is to wait here until midnight and then push for the summit. We set up our tents and prepared noodles and tea. I love this feeling. Listening to the sound of the wind cascading through the mountain. The waiting game.
The wind rises in the tent, but inside, I lie comfortably and prepare myself mentally.
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At midnight, we start our summit push. The stars are beaming above me, and I feel grateful to witness this beautiful scenery.
But then it comes. The wind. Blistering ice-cold wind. Hell.
My headlight suddenly shows a monstrous snow wall towering ahead of us that seemingly never ends. Luckily, the crevasses are easy to spot. Himlung is definitely not a technical climb, but it is quite literally as cold as ice. This wall reminds me of the Dablam at Ama. It’s vertical!
Lakpa and I go first, we have the team of Moa and Tsering behind us, that’s all. Our weather window is short, so we have to keep moving. The temperature was minus 40 degrees with winds of 16 meters per second, I’m later told.
After what feels like an eternity with the jumar, I need a break and push my ice axes into the snow wall. I lie down on the ground with the wind against my back, but before I know it I’m in deep sleep. All of a sudden I see daisies on a green meadow and sun.
“You have to wake up!” I hear a voice in the distance shout.
“You must wake up! You’ll get frostbite! You could die!”
Confused, I open my eyes as Lakpa fires up the oxygen I have in my bag as a backup. The plan was to go without any supplementary assistance, but we brought it due to my poor health.
We continue to fight against the wind. “Bottle is better than dying”, says Lakpa.
This is certainly a fight, though. Even with oxygen.
The steep snow wall stands in complete contrast to the sunrise on the horizon. We are here almost completely alone, no queue, no discussions to be had with other teams. “This is so beautiful”, I whisper to myself and chuckle. We are like angels playing in the clouds!
The only section of real technical difficulty is in the meters before the summit. Here, an ice section leads to an airy snow wall, which can prove to be quite challenging. After traversing this final obstacle, we stand there on the summit, fighting against the wind. I glance at my watch where the time shows quarter past nine in the morning. Nearly 10 hours of fighting the elements and here we are!
Lakpa and I try to trigger some joyful shouts, but we know the summit only means we have reached the halfway point.
Back to base and Beer
The journey down to Base Camp is long and hard. We arrive at seven in the evening. By this point, I lost all control of my emotions which have become a steady flow of tears and laughter.
We enjoy a beer and a slice of cake in the kitchen tent before I collapse in my tent.
The next day we clean and pack up our camp and start our journey back to Kathmandu.
We sang and danced the whole way home. Over the suspension bridges and through the tea houses, for the five days it took us to return to modern civilization.