Buddi says expeditions are run on eggs. BC Hunku Valley. Nick Bullock
- The Hunku Valley Team. Buddi,Jack Geldard,Andy Houseman,Hippy,Gary Smith,Santosh,Me,Rob Chopper Greenwood.
Place a soft boiled egg in an egg cup with the pointy end up – hold – tap a few times near the top – the shell cracks. Then take the top off with a knife. As a kid I would douse the egg-filled cap with salt before scooping the white with a spoon.
After walking-in for eight days which included crossing two mountain passes, Andy Houseman, the team, (also featuring intrepid doctor Tanya, Garry’s partner) Buddi and Santosh - the cook and cook hand – and me, set up BC on a dry, cracked meadow in the remote Hunku valley beneath Peak 41, Hunku and Chamlang. Chamlang, a monster mountain standing and shimmering, busting through the blue and tickling 7300m was the reason Houseman and I were there.
Rob Greenwood and Jack Geldard walked in with us to attempt a new route on Peak 41 and Garry Smith and The Hippy, Graham Desroy, hoped to make the first ascent of an unclimbed peak called Hunku. Hunku was also on Youth and my radar but the Hippy was getting territorial so we thought we would leave it alone for a while.
After about two weeks Rob, Jack, Garry and the Hippy left BC empty handed, they headed back to Blighty leaving Andy and me a further five weeks to climb a new route on the two thousand meter North Face of Chamlang.
Andy Houseman at 6200m on the West Ridge of Chamlang. Nick Bullock.
At this stage in the game we had already been to 5300m beneath the north face, to 5700m on the ridge opposite the north face, to 6200m on Chamlang’s West Ridge and to 6100m to Baruntse’s West Col. We WERE acclimatised – well, at least to 6000m – then the wind kicked-in. Great plumes of snow flew from the mountains and the overnight temperature at BC averaged around minus thirteen – one night it hit minus sixteen. Chilly! But we decided to have a look at Chamlang’s North Face anyway, so we walked the walk of the pointless and had a pop. Surprisingly (No irony intended) the snow on the face was perfect névé. The face was steep and complex – runnels, twists and turns, flutings, ice – Hadrian’s Wall on Ben Nevis – we were cranking – well no we weren’t, but we were making a small dent, a bit like that egg shell. At about 5700m we looked up to a maelstrom of madness happening above – happening in the just the place we knew we would be bivving. “Bugger that!” We ran back to BC to wait for another go.
Andy Houseman setting off on the North Face of Chamlang. Two thousand metres and counting! Nick Bullock.
Andy Houseman reaching the top of the snow cone on Chamlang’s north face. Nick Bullock
Andy Houseman on one of the steeper sections of Chamlang’s north face. Nick Bullock
As it happened, the winds didn’t abate and in a brief lull between gusts we decided on fall-back-option-one, a route Garry and The Hippy had looked at on Hunku, which would fill the time before another go at Chamlang.
Hunku is a long crumbing 6100m hill devoid of snow and ice for most of its several kilometre length. Actually it does look quite beautiful from the other end of the valley – all pointed and proper mountain-like – but mostly it is the slobbering bulldog surrounded by pointy beauty and its teeth are so loose a bite would not break the flesh of a baby.
Walk beneath Hunku’s crumbling walls for several kilometres toward the Amphu Labtsa Pass. And right in the middle of the dry and sunny east face there is a fault – a fold in the loose skin of the Bulldog, which, like fleas, we hoped to crawl – and this fold defends the snow and ice from the heat of the sun. And in this shivering oasis, slap bang in the middle of the barren, there is a white streak and the streak leads direct to the unclimbed summit.
The East Face of Hunku with the bulldog’s fold. Nick Bullock
Garry and The Hippy had bivvied beneath the fault and on close inspection found exceptionally rotten snow so they ran away. Sensible. But the day before Andy and I thought we would have a look, I had scrabbled the four hundred metre scree cone and looked up at white fingers clutching shallow grooves and thought, ‘Well if that isn’t névé I’ll eat my hat,’ and my hat was made of Gore-Tex, so I knew that would be rather chewy and nearly impossible. There was also the other benefit driving me which was the joy and satisfaction it would give me to let the Hippy know we had climbed his route. This may sound mean but I knew if we failed on Chamlang he would be on it like a rash, sending me messages with hot sweaty tapping fingers, fingers tapping quicker than a rat up the proverbial and imagine my joy to be able to say, ‘Ah well, no we didn’t climb Chamlang, but, oh, hold on a second…’ [*NOTE: Exactly this did happen! The Hippy is so predictable. ]
We left BC at 5am, on the 11th of November and bloody hell, was it chilly. The sky devoid of moon looked like a TV set left on all night – fuzzy, a million flickering electrical stars. An hour later we reached the scree cone and an hour after that we geared up with not a lot. I took a few steps, crampons biting perfect névé, “Rotten snow my ass.” Then I proceeded to flounder in waste deep wallow. “How the fu#k is this not consolidated, it’s at the base of a massive fault that must run with spindrift and shit and all of that?”
It was light now and really bloody cold but the thrashing and sinking warmed us, and when Houseman reached the steep finger of snow and swung an axe and it went ‘THUNK’ we both warmed even more and began what turned into a great 600m climb somewhat resembling The Swiss Route on the Courtes in The French Alps. Flutings, pure ice bulges, streaks of névé and all in the most mind blowing of setting. Everest and Lhotse, black and massive with plumes pushing into the sky to our right, Baruntse, Makalu, Hunku Chuli and Chamlang behind.
Makalu and Hunku Chuli from half way up The East Face of Hunky. Nick Bullock
Andy Houseman starting up Hunku in pretty fridgid temps. Nick Bullock
Andy Houseman contemplating the second streak band of Hunku’s east face. Nick Bullock
Nick Bullock climbing the second band of snow streaks. Hunku East Face. Andy Houseman.
Nick Bullock climbing ‘The Ice Pitch’ in the centre of Hunku East Face. Andy Houseman.
Andy Houseman in the middle of Hunku’s East Face. Nick Bullock
Nick Bullock on the Summit of Hunku. Andy Houseman.
Nick Bullock & Andy Houseman on the Summit of Hunku. Nick Bullock
And at nearly 2pm we stood on the small summit, agog with the spectacle of standing amongst a thousand hills, a thousand dreams. Life was good.
After abseiling the route we trudged back to BC in the dark reaching the glowing tent at 9pm where Buddi and Santosh presented us with egg (fried not soft boiled) and chips. We would have been earlier but we had spent half-an-hour searching for my shoes, which I had stashed beneath a boulder at the foot of the scree and then forgotten which boulder was hiding my shoes.
Chamlang never happened. We waited and waited – Houseman called his Dad for weather updates from the internet – we sat and looked and waited – but the forecast was predicting high winds (70kmh at 6000m) for nearly everyday and in the end we bailed.
Now, going back to that soft boiled egg. Himalayan climbing can be cruel. No, in fact it can be a real bitch. After six weeks and loads of effort and gales and regular -15 in the valley, we crossed the Mera La and dropped into the Hinku valley. Something was missing. I stood looking out over deep valleys and pointy mountains, Mera, Kyashar, Kusum Kanguru – and for the first time in weeks it was still and warm – the weather resembled something like the Costa Blanca. Pools of glacial water sparked like the Mediterranean. I wore shorts and a t-shirt. ‘What the hell.’
For a day or two reports had been filtering to us that a three man Japanese team had summited Kyashar and on the second day of our walk-out we caught up with them in Khotte Village. The sun flitted through the pines, warmth seeped into my bones.
THE BOYS! The successful Kyashar team. Nick Bullock.
Stepping into the middle of the wooden platform – kind of like a bandstand in a park – it was probably used for Maoists a few years ago to swing machine guns and charge tourists -I introduced myself “Hi, congratulations on Kyashar, I’ve tried to climb it once and Andy here has attempted it twice, which way did you climb it?” The three of them turned to look at me with puzzlement. One of them was young, really fit looking with a nasty tare in his cheek. One was mid-thirties, bright eyed and no-doubt a hit with the girls and the third guy had short, slightly thinning and greying hair, a goatee beard, a gnarler with a massive smile and a warm attitude. “Ah, you from England, do you know Andy Houseman?” Pointing at Youth I shouted, “That’s him!” Serious faces, a-million-mile-stare-faces, cracked then, huge smiles spread across tanned and we all had a laugh. “You nicked our route.” “Yes, but it was a vewy good route, vewy difficult, loose rock, sugar snow.”
Turns out they climbed the exact line both Andy and I had dreamed, the line I picked out and raved about in 2008 when we were there for another mountain, the line which the year before we had sat and waited beneath for four weeks. The snow on that occasion had poured down the face, covered the boulders scattered randomly around the meadow, plastered the Granite and scuppered our dreams.
I had no animosity or ill feeling, and I had no reason too, climbing is free, is open mindedness, (Hmm!) its for all and anyway these guys were cool and good fun, I was chuffed for them, but looking into their minds, delving beneath the skin, into bone, connective tissue, muscle – feeling their contentment, their weary sereneness, this is what I wanted, I craved this feeling, I crave this feeling, this is one of the reasons I climb big hills, this is the reason I push as many anti-acid tablets down my throat as possible to resolve the indigestion of repeated failure, it was like someone was scooping out that white egg cap with a spoon – a scraping-scratching, a sucking from deep inside my intestine. This is why Himalayan climbing is cruel; this is why not so many people do it – it’s an egg cap of white sucking away at you which at times leaves a void, a wanting, a craving that is seldom satisfied.
These Japanese guys were not Giri Giri Boys – they were as good though – and they were friends and climbed regularly with the before mentioned – so I asked, “Was it really windy, was is very cold, did you suffer, are you hardcore to the marrow, was the climbing nails?”
“Oh no, it was warm through the day with no wind.” Was the answer I didn’t want to hear and the climbing sounded technical and a tad scary but certainly not completely out-there.
The egg schlurrped from the side of my intestines more, I should have added extra salt to increase the burn and I had used all of my Renne as we crossed the Mera La, leaving the cold, entering Costa Blanca Hinku. We had been in the wrong valley, attempting a hill that was too big given the weather conditions.
But then another thought hit me and made me wonder. (It still is actually) When is it that climbing a beautiful new route to a previously unclimbed summit in the Himalayas can leave you thinking you have been short changed? And then another thought hit me harder. Maybe I need to stop eating eggs.
Hunku East Face, 6100m. The Hunku Valley, Nepal. Houseman/Bullock. 11th November 2012.
The climb is easily seen on the left just past the White Lake camp spot as you head towards The Amphu Labtsa Pass.
Thrash the scree slope. 400m, then climb the obvious snow and ice – direct at first – then a little bit right passing the crux ice pitch, (Scottish IV) until motoring direct, via flutings, to the summit which is just over the top of the face by way of a tricky mixed step. 600m.
The descent for the top half was on ice screw threads and rock gear on the lower section.
The ascent and descent took approximately 12 hours.
In my mind, (a scary place I know) this climb deserves a few more ascents, it’s fun and high quality and lands you in the middle of some of the most stunning mountains in the world. If you can climb Scottish IV and are reasonable fit and competent, combining this climb with a trek out via the Amphu Labtsa would be a really rewarding trip away from the crowds.
Hunku East Face with the Houseman/Bullock line. Nick Bullock
This climb is not the hardest, the biggest, the best – it is not cutting edge, the last great problem or worthy of a major spray, what it is, what it was, is a really good, safe, fun climb, in a spectacular situation and that is what it’s about isn’t it?
Loben Sherpa, from Loben Expeditions who pulled out all of the stops to make this one work especially in the airport at Kathmandu.
Ian Wall, Steve Findlay and Chris Horobin for info, pictures and motivation.
The Chris Walker Memorial Fund
The Welsh Sports Council
The Alpine Club
And my sponsors, Mountain Equipment, DMM and Boreal.