A First Ascent of a Himalayan Mountain
Peak 5735m, Labse Khola, Damodar Himal, Naar-Phu
After the trip was shelved twice, firstly due to Covid, then last year due to Maria unfortunately braking a collar bone in a mountain bike accident, we finally achieved our goal!
Myself (Richard Goodey), Sarah Allard, Mike Ferguson and Maria Dixon had been planning an attempt on an unclimbed peak in Nepal for 3-years. We set off as a team of 19-people and just over half a tonne of equipment on 31st October 2023.
The journey to the start was manic; two days from York via train, two flights, two car journeys, 12 hours in Dubai, 3 long days checking kit, buying food, gas, medical supplies and meeting crew in Kathmandu, as-well-as-a 14-hour jeep ride and a night at the trail head.
Not to mention the 3-days a week spent planning in the UK for the 6-weeks prior to departure.
We arrived at our tea house in Koto on the Annapurna Circuit in the dark, when the cold air gave us a reality check, the vehicles drove away and the daily rigmarole of the unpack/repack started.
We trekked up the Naar/Phu valley to the village of Naar, the last habited settlement before heading up the Labse Khola valley for 8 nights of camping.
Starting 3-days walk north of the Annapurna Circuit, the Labse Khola required 8-nights of camping between heights of 4500-5200m in a rugged arid valley. There have been very few recorded accounts of visits, so we had to rely on locals for information, mainly about water sources.
We agreed to pay for 5-donkeys. The deal was done over the phone and the donkey man and his donkeys walked across mountains for two days to meet us in Naar.
He arrived on time and all donkeys were present, correct and above all, healthy and happy looking. There were however 6-donkeys and we were expected to pay for 6!!!
Obviously, the donkeys needed to eat and have their own necessities, so a 6th donkey would be needed to carry the provisions for the other 5-donkeys. How were we not to realise this!?!
Negotiations were delicate, we needed the donkeys and would share a camp with the donkey man as we explored further, and we needed a well-bonded team. Costs by now had spiralled well beyond our expectations, so this was just another outlay to begrudgingly be added to the growing stack.
Our little group of 4-people needed porters to carry our food, which in turn needed more porters to carry the food for those porters, then donkeys were needed to carry food for them and of course, another donkey to carry food for the donkeys.
When would it stop?
After these dodgy donkey dealings and 3-years of planning, we were finally realising our dream of heading into the Labse Khola valley
The conditions were extremely tough, the altitude exasperated the bitterly cold temperatures, which would cut through our down clothing shortly after sunset each day. The sun would hit our camps at 9am and be gone by 3pm. These were the only comfortable hours to be doing anything and so after several litres of mint tea we were mostly in our huge down sleeping bags by 6pm, after washing our teeth in the river through small gaps in the ice.
Our Base Camp was remote, but a welcome sanctuary, albeit extremely dusty – dust got everywhere!
All our Nepali crew stayed incredibly upbeat, always smiling and working tirelessly to keep us stocked with a continual stream of tea and food. Their working conditions were extremely tough, but they were always happy, playing cards and sleeping together in a big huddle.
Three of the lads even went back to the Death Ledges with ice axes and carved out steps for the return journey – absolute legends!
From Base Camp we launched some reconnaissance missions to see what was climbable.
After a few recces were concluded, Mike had spotted a line up a 5735m peak that looked a goer. With time running out, we needed to make a decision and start moving. The beauty of having 15 support staff, is that when you want to move a camp higher up a mountain, there are no shortage of provisions you can bring, including ten litres of water rather than needing to boil snow. This was quite the luxury!
Mike and I were left alone shortly after lunchtime on a very clear and calm plateaux at 5200m high, 600m and 3km below our summit. Mike dug a latrine, I went for a look at the line.
We cooked some food, drank some hot beverages and laid out gear ready to immediately put on after breakfast. With harnesses racked and ready to step into, alarms were set for 3am, hot Nalgene bottles placed inside the sleeping bags and we were fast asleep by 7pm. We woke warm but with a robust sheet of ice on the inside of the tent, checked the weather on the Garmin InReach and set off.
The climb was mainly a snowy walk but crossed a large virgin glacier that had all sorts of ominous ripples and divots with a thick, 2ft blanket of snow masking the imperfections. It was quite spooky with only two on a rope, as the chance of holding a fall is a lot less likely. We took it in turns at the front breaking trail and probing suspect bits with the axe’s shaft. The glacier seemed about 30-metres thick and falling unexpectedly fast through the crust into its icy, hard and jagged bowels lingered on the mind.
The glacier bent steeply away to sheer drops on each side, and if the snow sent us for a ride we’d stop either back at our camp or at the base of Chulu East, a thousand metres or so below. Mike set off first, belayed me from a rock spike and I set up the second pitch to the top on an easy scramble and snow slope to a fine pointy summit.
Pausing to take in the view and the experience, I almost forgot about Mike as he shouted up, “are we going to stand on the summit together?” It felt good to tick off a childhood dream of summiting a virgin summit in the Himalaya and I was in awe of the situation, but these things are best shared together, so I brought Mike up on a single nut and we hugged amongst an uncoiled tangle of rope on the floor. We vaguely stood on the summit block at the same time, but it was a precarious perch.
We had unencumbered views of Dhaulagiri, the word’s 7th highest mountain, Chulu Himal and several 6000-7000m summits on all sides. We were on the summit for midday, belayed each other down and glissaded the glacier to a warm welcome from Sarah, Maria, Dipak and the team who’d come to our camp, made us tea, packed our tent and prepared snacks for our arrival, a welcome sight after 12-hours on the go! My head was throbbing from the altitude and I welcomed a paracetamol and a big block of cheese before another 2-hour walk to Base Camp.
Our climb was not the most technical, it would maybe achieve a PD or PD- but was a highly enjoyable experience and a lifelong dream. I can assure you that the many days leading up to this point and the ones to get back to the relative normality of the Annapurna Circuit were exceptionally tough going and involved a lot of suffering, but I wouldn’t change it for the world!
Sincere thanks to KP Dhital and Nepal Nirvana Trails for organising everything, Dipak and Bhir for managing the staff, and for the porters who did the back-breaking work of carrying our food and kit.
Lost Earth Adventures originally started out as a trekking company specialising in Nepal, fifteen years ago in 2009. After some political issues, an earthquake and then Covid, we unfortunately ceased overseas trips in 2020 to focus more on our UK Adventures.
We’ve stayed in touch and still visit every year, I’m honoured that our colleagues have become life-long friends and we plan to keep visiting as much as we can.
Richard Goodey – Lost Earth Adventures’ Co-Founder
If you’re interested in organising a trip to Nepal, you can contact KP and his team on the form below.