Back to base camp. The announced bad weather front has reached us. I am happy to lie in my warm sleeping bag in my tent. Everything happened all of a sudden. The day after we reached basecamp my partner Don Bowie, Rob Frost the camera man and I went to the advanced base camp or ABC. Our backpacks were heavily packed. We go to get acclimatised. We have plenty of food and a big comfortable tent. The ascent lasts about 3 ½ hours. From the foot of the wall it’s about 2 ½ hours away. Don and I are overwhelmed from the face. She looks great. We discuss the procedure. Don is not yet so well adapted to the thin air, as I am. He needs some more time. I have already spent one month in Khumbu Valley and theoretically I could try to go for summit. But I am not so sure about it. In Khumbu Valley I reached with Cholatse a height of 6640 meters. If this is enough or not – difficult to say. Don decides to stay two nights at 5800 meters. I have the weather forecast and it looks like that for Sunday the weather will be great. Practically no winds at 8000 meters and with – 12 degrees relatively warm for this time of the year. We are curious about the conditions in the face. For don is clear: one more day in the camp. I would like to go to have a glance at the face. I ask Don if this is fine for him and if this does not stress him. He said that I should go, if possible to the summit. I am skeptical. I do not think that I am already able to climb to the summit. And further we decided to climb together. We are here as a team rope. He emphasizes once more that I should go, I should try. Of course it is a big dream of mine to climb a great wall in the Himalaya solo. The best would be to climb it in one day. But I see in here an idea which I never be able to achieve. Don and I agree, that I have a look at the 2000 meter high face. Rob and Don agree that I should go for summit. My plan is, to go and have a look, maybe to 7000 meters, maybe to 7200 meters and then descend. So I have an additional acclimatisation.
I leave the camp at 22.30 of Saturday night. So early to be absolutely back before the storm will come in. After 5 minutes I hear Don behind me: “Hey Ueli!”. I turn around. “For sure you will need them!” He hands me over my down trousers. I forgot them in the tent. Great start. I hope I have everything now. I descend again until the small frozen lakes beyond the glacier. Here I stop und change my shoes. I already have put on my gaiters on the shoes. This means with the over gaiters I can only climb with the crampons. To go down the moraine in this way would have been a pain. That’s why I packed my shoes on my backpack and descended with my running shoes. Now I am at the edge of the ice and I put on my expedition shoes. I move on over the glacier. The moon is shining so bright that I can recognise the shape of the face. But I do also see the scaring seracs over me. My thoughts are to go as fast as possible to the entry. But only after 2 ½ hours I reach the bergschrund. I climb a channel. 55 degrees steep, perfect snow conditions, like on Cholatse a couple of weeks ago. I climb calm and regularly. I look around. The moon lightens the whole face. How practical. I climb to the traverse into the British route. Before the traverse I notice stone fall. And this in the middle of the night. I do definitively not go into the couloir if it hails stones already now. What when the sun is shining. Descend? I look at the altitude. 6800 meters. My minimal goal is 7000 meters. On the right hand side a wide snow channel is running along. I think its good and I can not hear anything strange. But I don’t have any idea where this channel ends. Minimum 200 meters I can climb up here, I think, then I would have reached the demanded acclimatisation height. I move on. I am fast and it goes on well. I do not have any bad feelings. Not of too much strain, nor that I am too much exposed in a high wall. I have a confident feeling. I go further. I see how the snow couloir ends in the steep rock over me. I climb on keeping on the right hand side in another couloir. Still 55 to 60 degrees. I can feel my calves slightly. In between the hard snow is interrupted by ice, but only for a short time. 7200 meters. Descend? I promised my wife not to do any solos anymore. But this is not really a solo. In this area a roped party would not really belay. You would loose too much time and it is not really necessary. I think I can do it and I can already see the exit. Up or down. Down is also far. So up! The wall gets a bit steeper. The air gets thinner and the first sun rays reach me on the ridge. The channel gets narrower. I am in a small couloir. The exit is not far anymore and icepack is quite thin. I feel a sort of tiredness, but not too bad. The hit of the ice ax are still precise and I hit the ice exactly there where I want it to be. The ice is a bit brighter, say less hard. The most efficient way is if I hit the ice ax once hard into the ice. On the ridge there is no wind and the sun gives me a warm feeling. From here it is quite far to the summit. I leave my equipment here. The few kilos are not much, but though it is much less strenuos to climb with all the burden. I look if my camera recovered. But the cold temperatures in the night let the battery go down. No more power. Meter after meter I gasp over the ridge until I reach the summit. It is nearly exactly 11.40 am when I reach the summit. I quickly look around then start my descent. I still have a long way back. I must reach ABC again today. Meteotest sent me a warning on my sat phone. “The jetstream has changed its direction, you have to be back before Monday midday. Storm and a bad weather front.” said the message. Quite fast I am back to the place where I left my equipment. The sun is hot and I drink a sip of my energy drink.
The descent to the saddle is pure horror. Here on the north side lies hip deep powder snow. I regret not having taken the same route down as I climbed up. Now I have to go to the saddle at approx. 7200 meters. Here also the British climbers descended. They must have had a reason to descend here. When I reached the saddle I can not believe my eyes. Before it goes down a channel of loosen rock, pretty steep. Then snow, ice and rock alternate each other. The channel seems a never ending thing. Then I find myself in a wide couloir. Quite good firn conditions but so steep that I have to climb down backwards. Everywhere old rests of fix ropes are hanging around. Always I have to rest. I have to concentrate. I move on. I can see the glacier becoming a bit flatter in the lower part, but he comes closer to me only very slowly. Step after step I go down. The firn becomes a bit softer. I can slide down on my front tooth of my crampons. In order not to get too fast I hit my ice axes in the firn. This cost me a lot of energy in my calves in order to keep my feet stable. On the other hand I move on fast. I reach the glacier. Here I have to traverse to the ascent route and then down to the entry. Still 1000 meters of altitude until the entry. On the glacier I am extremely alert. I control each step. Here there are crevasses and I have to be careful not fall into one of it. I slow down. In the entry channel I take my tintan ice screws and my 4mm 60 meter rope. I abseil myself as much as I can. My material does not last until the end. But the last 200 meters are not so steep anymore and I reach the entry. I am relieved. From here until our tent I do not encounter any technical problems anymore. One more energy bar and I take off my down pants. Since hours I am swetting in these pants. But I wanted to get down as fast as possible, so only now I take my time to get rid of them. Totally relieved I go the moraine. At the beginning of the glacier, close to the tiny lakes I have left my running shoes. I marked the place with a man of stone. But there is no more man of stone anymore. My GPS helps me to find it and my shoes. I take my time. Cook some tea. I am on my way since 18 hours and I have drunk 1 ½ liter. Now 1 liter runs fast down my throat. Another bar and then I pack my backpack. The expedition shoes on my back as well. How comfortable to walk in my running shoes. Although I walk quite slowly up the moraine towards the ABC I walk better that I thought. I am not totally exhausted.
It’s 18.30 hours of Sunday and I am back in the tent. Great to see Don and Rob. Two friends I can share my experiences of the past hours with. I write Nicole an SMS. Back to ABC. That I summitted Shisha Pangma I will let her know with a bunch of flowers the next day.Route
Rob Frost, Ueli Steck and Don Bowie, ABC Ueli and Don checking the Route
Ueli and Don to way to ABC
Ueli Steck Shisha Pangma south face 5800 Meter
Ueli Steck before summit ridge
Ueli Steck on the way back to ABC
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