Southwest ridge of Cholatse: the videos

Last week I posted a trip report of our ascent of 6440m Cholatse in Nepal’s Khumbu region. The report was a bit of an epic, stretching to a strapping 6000 words, and I imagine quite a few of you couldn’t be bothered to read all of it.

Since I posted it I’ve been furiously editing our video footage from the climb and putting together some short films to provide a taster for those of you who like to watch a bit of action. I’m really pleased with the footage we took and I think the videos deserve a separate post.

I’m indebted to my team mate Chad Brenner, who took some spine tingling clips with the GoPro camera attached to his climbing helmet, and has kindly allowed me to use them. I made several videos and created a complete playlist of them on YouTube, but the following three in particular provide a good flavour of the climb.

1. Acclimatisation on the Cholatse Icefall

Cyclone Hudhud passed across the Nepal Himalaya the week before we arrived, and our early forays were through deep snow, but we enjoyed perfect weather conditions throughout our time on the mountain. This meant clear blue skies and surprisingly mild temperatures for the time of year.

We had two acclimatisation rotations before our summit push. Above base camp a 400m hike up banks of grassy moraine led to a snowy, boulder-laden combe, which we crossed in boots to get to the foot of an icefall and the start of the climb proper. The icefall looked steep and intricate from below, but there was a route through which zigzagged up folds of ice. At the top, a 150m headwall led up to a flat col with fantastic views into the Gokyo Valley. This was the site of Camp 1 when we came to our summit push.

This video contains footage up the moraine to the combe, and our initial ascent of the icefall and headwall.

2. Summit push from base camp to Camp 2

The initial part of the second video contains more film of the icefall and headwall, before moving onto the second day of our summit push up the bulk of the southwest ridge from Camp 1 to Camp 2. This 600m section contained the most prolonged and sustained exposure of the whole climb, and it was a day I confess I did not particularly enjoy.

Above Camp 1 we had to scramble up exposed slabs to get past a rocky pyramid at the bottom of the ridge. Above this the route was entirely on snow, up a ridge that fell away dramatically on both sides. The left hand side was unclimbable, falling away down the sheer west face, but close to the crest the right hand side offered a passage up.

Chad and I changed places during this part of the ascent, filming each other as we climbed. The film alternates between his head camera shots and my own footage filmed with my handheld camera. Beneath Camp 2 is the area of seracs and crevasses we nicknamed the Fairy Grotto. It looks beautiful in this film, but it was nerve-wracking to climb through.

3. Summit day

From Camp 2 we had only 240m to climb to reach the summit, along slopes that looked so gentle that we planned to reach the top and descend to base camp in a single day.

This video offers a vivid glimpse of the knife edge ridges and ice cliffs that slowed our progress, causing us to return only as far as Camp 2 that night and spend an extra day on the mountain. It also provides good evidence of why we chose not to climb the final 5m summit ice mushroom.

Those of you with a poor head for heights should ensure you have a solid object to cling to when you get to Chad’s sickening head camera footage of himself crossing the ludicrous snow ridge we called the meat cleaver at 3:00 in the film. You may also want to keep a firm grip during the closing seconds as he returns down the knife edge part of the southwest ridge the following day.

In last week’s post I compared Cholatse, which we had to ourselves, to nearby Ama Dablam, which gets hundreds of climbers every season. I hope that after seeing these videos more people who have their hearts set on Ama Dablam will consider climbing this alternative peak, which is every bit as striking.

You can see all my photos from the climb here, and the rest of the videos here.

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5 thoughts on “Southwest ridge of Cholatse: the videos

  • November 26, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    Incredible footage! That settles it. I’m staying in Arizona. Looking down those ice ridges would give this desert dweller a heart attack.

    I’ve very much enjoyed reading all your books and your blog is a treat.

    Thank you for sharing your adventures.

  • November 27, 2014 at 8:40 pm

    Thanks for the kind words, Ruben, glad you like the writing. Ice ridges, no problem. Sand dunes, now that’s another story!

  • November 28, 2014 at 12:00 am

    Brilliant video Mark, really gives a sense of the place 🙂

  • November 28, 2014 at 5:18 am

    Thanks for making me 100% jealous!! How I wish I’d gone with you on this amazing climb. Congratulations on a fantastic summit.

  • November 28, 2014 at 7:09 am

    Yes you should have, Robert. Phil says he’s not going there again, and we needed you to deputise at happy hour!

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