Snow, snow, snow, constant avalanches drizzling down the mountain sides; This is Dhaulagiri,
the seventh-highest mountain in the world, with an elevation of 8,167 m (26,795 ft) above sea level, and the highest mountain within the borders of a single country (Nepal). It is located in the Himalayas of north-central Nepal and is parted from the Annapurna Massif by the Kali Gandaki River which flows in the Kaligandaki Gorge, said to be the deepest gorge in the world. In this gorge the clouds build up every day, and a lot of what’s carried by the clouds is all dropped at Dhaulagiri.
The name comes from Sanskrit and means Dazzling white beautiful mountain. Dhaulagiri is considered one of the most challenging mountains to climb, due to its weather and the frequent avalanches.
My journey began in 2020 when I prepared for my 2021 Dhaulagiri expedition which had to be aborted when we reached camp 2, due to avalanche risks and challenging snow conditions.
Trying again spring 2023, here is my story:
Base Camp (BC)
I arrived at a base camp full of snow. It was so much snow resulting in pathways nearly above the heights of the tents. Those who had been in BC for long time, had been shuffling snow every day and making tunnels between the tents. I moved into my tent and filled my second day with snow shuffling, building rock platform, doing laundry, walking to crampon point and down to where the heli crashed a month ago. My third day in BC was special as it was my birthday and we had Puja. We were celebrating all day. I got gifts and a birthday song at breakfast. Then we had a wonderful Puja with very good blessings and dancing. And the day ended with a big birthday cake with candles, and everyone sang for me again.
Base Camp (BC) to Camp 3
After the Puja ceremony, the rope fixing team went up to C1 (Camp 1). We followed the day after in poor weather conditions. I had analyzed the situation to be stable as it had been some days without too much precipitation. It still drizzled down from the first rock face, but we climbed up and crossed the traverse without too much snow coming down the hillside. Then we were to cross the big glacier before climbing up the icefall to camp 1. In the middle of the crossing of a large glacier full of crevasses, we were completely caught in the whiteout. So, to not fall in crevasses, we had to just wait at the same spot until we could see the bamboo sticks marking the route. We arrived safely to camp 1 after a 12 hours climb due to the whiteout and a lot of snow, we had to break trails. Normally it will only take us four to five hours. Fortunately, we arrived at camp 1 before it got dark.
The following morning, I climbed to lower camp 2 (6200 m – C2) in amazing weather. But then the snowstorm started our waiting game. Several climbers went to the main camp 2 and started their summit push. They had to return due to high wind and snow. We were only four people left up in the mountain. We decided to wait in low camp 2 as we had enough food and fuel. The waiting game went on. After four nights in lower camp 2, we finally got the right weather window and manpower. We used only three hours up to upper camp 2 at 6,630 m. There we used one hour to dig out a platform for our tents.
The morning after we started the very steep climb up to camp 3 (7260 m – C3) where we again had to dig out platform for the tent in a very, very steep slope.
We arrived C3 at around 3 pm, “stuffed” ourselves into the tent (4 peeps in a small tent), ate, hydrated and slept a bit before starting the summit push at 11 pm.
We started climbing around 11 pm in the night after some 8 hours in the tent cramped together. I managed to get a couple of hours “sleep” which was very valuable. OMG what a circus when we started to prepare for the climb inside that little tent 😅
Off we went, in the dark night with nearly no wind. Perfect conditions. The climb was so nice, something happening all the way, very steep snow slopes, rock walls and boulders to climb, traversing slopes leading far down to the glacier below. This all kept me focused and made the climb interesting all night through.
As the first rays of light were about to break through, we were stuck behind a line of climbers and the fixing team. Suddenly one climber slipped and fell. He slid down the steep snowfield, but luckily, he was clicked to the rope and the rope was well fixed. My friends Sito and Carlos were right behind the climber who fell, and they secured themselves and the climber with their ice axes. The situation was safe again, we thought. Then the climber fell again, this time Sito and Carlos were dragged down with the one who fell. They slid down the steep slope…they were hanging in the rope that was fixed. But something was wrong. Carlos was lying in a weird position.
Carlos is a true hero: he is an 84-year young climber with knee replacement who has been climbing all his life and is running up the mountains like an ibex (mountain goat). Now he was not moving. It turned out he had broken his leg. That is fatal in this altitude. He had to be evacuated, which is very difficult from up there. Sito and a sherpa team started the evacuation and were joined by Oswald and Bartek who flew in from Kathmandu to camp 2 with rescue equipment to help.
Oswald, Bartek and Sito showed Superhuman strength and focus during the whole day and evening of evacuation. Thank you so much!
After all was settled, I continued towards the summit. After 2 hours climb the fixing team was too tired and returned. Some other climbers also returned. We were now nine climbers including five sherpas who continued.
We roped up as there were no fixed ropes anymore. We saved the last bit of rope we had for the last steep part towards the summit. Unfortunately, the weather was closing in on us as we reach the summit, so the view was not the best. I enjoyed celebrating the Norwegian national day at the summit of Dhaulagiri.
A day to remember, amazing!
On our way down, the weather was getting worse, so we had to wait out in the whiteout. When it was clear enough to see some meters ahead, we continued, but only for some meters, then we stopped again.
It took us four hours of small steps down the mountain before it cleared up. I was breaking trail, and I realized, when it cleared up, that I was in the middle of that scary traverse where Carlos fell.
Well, FOCUS and keep on! I got down to camp 3 and started packing. Climbers on their way up now occupied our tent. I packed up my things and waited for my sherpa. He was not too happy with continuing climbing down, but we did. It is safer to sleep further down. It was getting dark, and we still had some hours to reach our tent in upper camp 2. The only tent left in upper camp 2.
I met my friends Sito, Oswald and Bartek one hour above our tent, and I was happy to offer them our tent, as the next camp with tents was camp 2, which would have meant additional four hours more exposure for Carlos in the freezing night.
I informed on the radio that they could use our tent in upper camp 2, then I continue and started to prepare the tent for them. When my Sherpa came down to the tent, he was furious with me for giving away our tent. He wanted to make food and sleep. I said we could make food and boil water here in upper camp 2 before we descend to camp 2, but he was just very angry and wanted to get finished with today’s climb. He didn’t want to give me his radio, jet boil, lighter or mat, but I was firm in my decision and sent him off to camp 2 where I knew he would find friends to share a tent with.
I helped Sito with getting Carlos into our tent before I climbed down to camp 2 where I tried to find a tent to “crash” in.
The climb started the 16th of May at 11 pm, and at 3 am on the 18th of May I had found a tent, gas and a stove and was ready to melt snow so I could hydrate before crawling into my sleeping bag. Some kind of a long day, a 28 hours climb.
Altitude of the camps:
Basecamp is set at (4,650m/15,255ft)
Camp 1 (5,700m/19,700ft)
Lower Camp 2 (6,200m/20,341ft)
Upper Camp 2 (6,640m/21,784ft)
Camp 3 (7,400m/24,278ft)
Summit Dhaulagiri (8,167m/26,795ft).