In this article Mark Thomas describes the challenges faced when tackling Nanda Devi East.
Day 19 - Saturday 26th September 2015
We wriggle from our pits at 1.00am, the canvas of the tent sparkling from another night in the deep freeze. It was a long, sleepless night. The snowstorm of yesterday afternoon, intensifying through the evening, sent avalanches down from the darkness above our little bivi tent, perched upon this airy arete at 6000m up this 2000m face. The constant roar and hissing of passing snow in the night, playing havoc with the mind. We spark up the stove and shuffle into our kit ready for another duel with the North-East Arete of Nanda Devi East.
The long snow arête leading to the First Serac is elegant and beautiful in the morning glow, the climbing somewhat arduous, with loose snow on bullet black ice. Finally we reach the First Serac, just as the skies begin their daily ritual. Clouds roll in and snowflakes begin to fall.
The next section is a wonderful mix of vertical blue ice and hanging chandeliers, the crux pitch of the lower section of the route. Above, we hope to find a place to set up the tent for the night. I swing my axes into the oncoming storm, throat dry, arms pumped from the steepness and extra weight from my sack. The pitch feels sustained. I drive in another ice screw then commit to the final headwall, lungs screaming at the effort, trying to find some air. The axes sink in above the lip. I gingerly step up, the sliding snow from above filling the void between my body and the face, trying to force me off. There is an awful noise, a high pitch roar and a buzzing sound, something’s not right. I duck my head, as flying ice blocks whizz past. The seracs above are releasing their fury.
I slump onto the belay, bowing my head, leaning against the ice wall; a posture interpreted by mountaineers of the world as, "I am totally f***ed!"
Thanks to Mark for the words and to Martin Moran for the images.
The pair reached 6,640m where a huge snow meringue barred further progress. With little confidence in its safety, they prepared for descent. Part two of their story is available to read now.