Snotty’s Gully. ED+, WI 5, M5+.1000m.
Dawa Peak Gokyo, Khumbu region, Nepal.
(Pic Credit, Jon Bracey.)
Jon Bracey and I landed in Lukla on the 6th of October. Four days later we arrived at B.C. which was Gokyo Resort Lodge situated at 4800m. Day five was spent stashing gear beneath the face and on day six we thought acclimatising to a height of 5500m would be advisable, so that’s what we did.
The following day, Friday the 13th! Bracey and myself bivvied beneath a stunning gully leading directly to the unclimbed west summit of Phari Lapcha, 6000m. The line was spotted as we had walked from Machermo village to Gokyo on the 10th. A truly fantastic line, sporting water ice plastered to the back of a deep cleft promising similar climbing to the Super Couloir on the Mont Blanc de Tacul in France and leading to an independent pointy summit.
The first section beneath the gully looked straight-forward, but unfortunately an imposing, overhanging rock band would have to be climbed before the gully could be entered. As much as we tried from below, it was impossible to see into a corner that promised passage. In-fact we were unsure that what we hoped was a hidden ice filled corner, was a corner at all. The only other alternative was a direct ice-blobbed line (suspected WI 9 or more) that neither of us wanted to throw ourselves at, before exploring the hidden corner option.
Saturday 14th October.
Leaving the bivvy at 0630, we reached the base of the climb at 0700 where I took the first pitch.
Pitch 1. WI 4+. 50m, an awesome chandelier leading to open ground beneath an arcing left to right overhanging band of rock.
Pitch 2+3. Moving together, 60 metres apart, we followed the corner of ice leading to the massive overhang of rock, 60º. 150m.
Pitch 4. A rising left to right traverse beneath the overhang, 60º. 80m.
Pitch 5. The suck-it-and-see pitch. Bracey continued around the corner hoping for hidden ice, 60º. 70m.
Pitch 6. “It should go but it looks hard.” Bracey’s shout floated from his hidden position. I followed in excited anticipation. It should go was good, but I wondered what the Bracey version of hard would entail. Stomping, panting, I peered up. Bracey stood, hidden, belayed in a cave beneath a flowing cascade of icicles. To the left a fluted, ice-mushroom-covered-conical lead to a steep mixed corner, relieved I grabbed the gear.
Hooking ears of perfect ice the conical was dispatched easily, all be it out of breath. The corner was vertical, mixed, and similar to the crux sections of climbs like the Beaumont Goulotte, on The petites Jorasses or the Charlet/Ghallini on the Pre de Bar in the French Alps. Bridging and thrutching, relieved the weight from my arms. I was thankful that my rucksack was attached to an ice-screw below, as grovelling into the confines of the corner would have been testing had the rucksack still been on my back. The ice was thin, but perfect, first time placements, two or three teeth of the pick stuck like chewing gum to the base of a training shoe. Up, progress with confidence. Escaping the corner a small gully of loose rock and sugar was wallowed with caution. A belay was constructed at the top of the gully with all four of our pitons. 70º, M5. 50m.
Pitch 7. Bracey disappeared traversing right and down-climbing over thin ice-covered slabs, cunning took the form of esoteric protection, a thread, a stubby screw and faith. At the foot of a vertical off-width a hex was persuaded into the crack before venturing into the corner/off-width. Fortunately, good hooks, torques and technique helped with upward momentum, before belaying at the top and hauling his sack. M5+. 50m.
Pitches 8+9. 50º/60º snow/ice. 120m. At the top of the snow-field and about to enter the couloir we thought it prudent to consider options. Benightment, floundering and digging a bivvy in the dark, confined and covered with spindrift belching from above, did not appeal. A tactical talk took place. It was decided that an early finish was called for, even if a feeling of being useless and slacking ran through both our heads.
What should have been a relatively comfortable night was not, but we were thankful for the use of a hanging bivvy tent from Messers Powell and Cross.
Pitch 10. Starting at 0630 Bracey’s early morning wake up was a fantastic and sustained entry into the narrow confines of the couloir.
“Ten metres left Jon.”
The rope moved up until there was no-more to give. Perturbed, a voice called,
“Strip the belay and move up, I’m on some pretty steep ground.”
Moving together for ten metres enabled Bracey to find a belay, which in turn enabled me to discover the delights of WI 5, with a sack at 5700m.
Pitch 11. The gully continues all be it at an easier angle. WI3, 60m.
Pitch 12. Iron hard, rippled and vertical, the walls squeeze, and Bracey pops like a cork from between. The crux of Point 5 gully on Ben Nevis at 5800m. WI 4+, 55m.
Pitch 13. Yet more of the same, iron, glass coated, un-relinquished torture. The search for slightly more forgiving ice as calves and shoulders fatigued with the constant bash and crash, balance, teeter, kick, kick, kick, proves fruitless. WI4, 55m.
Pitch 14. The final ice pitch proves as sustained and challenging as anything below. Belayed for some reason directly in the fall-out-zone beneath the flowing vertical maze, I find the pitch slightly more testing than Bracey, who gasps and fights with the altitude. WI4, 55m.
Pitch 15. Deep unconsolidated snow, loose blocks, crumbling rocks, all lead to the crest running between Phari Lapcha main summit and the west summit. The views are spectacular and the belay is non-existent! 60º, 60m.
Pitch 16. The ridge leads directly to the rocky coffee table sized summit, where at 12.38 we both complete the climb. 70m.
The descent was a four-and-a-half-hour, smooth and trouble free affair. Other than two rock anchors and the initial snow-bollard abseil from the crest, we abseiled the line by using ice v-threads, competently constructed by Bracey.
The initial snow cone was reached at 5pm, and Gokyo was stumbled into at 6.45pm.
Nick Bullock and Jon Bracey would like to thank The MEF/BMC and the Sports Council of England.