Sunday, January 24, 2010

Two New Routes on Tawoche (with Remarks on Fowler-Littlejohn)

In the last two months, two new routes have been climbed on Tawoche (~6500m), a spectacular peak near Mt. Everest.

Tawoche on the left (photo by Uwe Gille, Wikipedia)

In late November, Fumitaka Ichimura and Genki Narumi climbed the Direct North Face, which involved 1500 meters of steep and dangerous ice/snow. The climb took four days round trip from a base camp at roughly 5000 meters. They spent two nights on the face sitting on ledges with no tent. For more details, see Alpinist and Climbing.

Just a few days ago, Renan Ozturk and Corey Richards climbed Tawoche's South Central Buttress. From a base camp at around 5000 meters, two days of rock climbing and a third day of ice climbing brought them to the summit. They then rappelled their route of ascent. Though they were able to set up a tent at their two camp sites on the wall, there was no water or snow at their first site, so they went 36 hours without water. Sophisticated video dispatches are posted on Ozturk's blog, which are well-worth watching.

Reading about these recent climbs reminded me of the first ascent of the Northeast Buttress on Tawoche by Mick Fowler and Pat Littlejohn in 1995. Though Fowler's American Alpine Journal article, entitled Tawoche: A Retrospectively Pleasurable Ascent, is well-written and even hilarious, it has one glaring omission: it neglects to mention the extremely minor contribution I made to the expedition.

For 45 days in the spring of 1995, I was trekking in the Khumbu Himal. Near the end of my trip, I was lounging around the Peace Zone tea shop in Pheriche when four British guys approached on the trail. They looked like novice trekkers who were out of their element. After they settled in at the tea shop, I inquired about their plans, assuming that what I had already done would be more impressive than what they were going to do. Mick Fowler, who was one of the novice trekkers, said, "Well, do you want to have a look?" That was the first indication that something was awry. From the path outside of the Peace Zone, I was astonished to watch as he pointed out a route up the jaw-dropping Northeast Buttress of Tawoche. Speechless, it was clear that I was the novice and they were the pros. As if to emphasize the point, Chris Watts handed me a picture of Tawoche torn from a magazine. Absentmindedly turning the page over, I was amazed to see a full-page advertisement featuring him rock climbing.

Having been put in my place, I hung around the Peace Zone for a few more days while Fowler, Watts, Pat Littlejohn, and Mike Morrison acclimated and waited for porters to arrive with gear. Eager to establish base camp below the buttress, they huddled to figure out how to deal with the lagging porters. Overhearing their discussion, I offered a solution which was promptly dismissed. A day or two later I asked how the logistical problem was solved and was surprised to hear that my solution had been adopted.

Mick Fowler was awarded the Piolet d'Or in 2003. He has also written two excellent books: Vertical Pleasure: The Secret Life of a Tax Man (1995) and On Thin Ice: Alpine Climbs in the Americas, Asia and the Himalaya (2005). Had I not met Fowler below Tawoche, I probably would not have read his books, which in my opinion are among the best in the mountaineering genre. For a sample of his writing, see the AAJ link above or Fowler's occasionally updated blog.

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