Sunday 11 January 2015

Day 213: Ice camp - Grubby-faced glaciers

Heading down the moraine to get on to the glacier
From 'Who Needs Water?' campsite, we took our first ginger steps along the side of the glacier, gradually moving onto the ice itself.  It was slow progress.  This glacier has not washed its face since time began and it sports more blackheads of moraine than the most pained of acne sufferers.  As a result, each step was a delicate balancing act on unstable rocks, ice or snow, all jumbled together so randomly that a correct decision about whether or not to wear crampons and whether to step left or right - whether to do anything else for that matter -- was impossible to take.

The campsite lay only six kilometres away but the journey took seven hours.  We had not even gained a metre of height towards the Tesi Lapcha pass in this time; Ice Camp occupied the same altitude as Bone Dry Camp.  We had simply crawled along the inhospitable flanks of the glacier.

Navigating by cairn over the dry glacier
Fortunately cairns marked the route and roping-up proved unnecessary.  This does not mean the journey felt entirely safe.  The glacier creaked and groaned under our feet and rockfalls thundered around its fringes.  Even in the centre, pools of water inhabited holes in the ice and a mound of debris would trickle downwards for a swim every so often like so many stone penguins.  Each time, the rumble stopped us in our tracks until we had spotted the thread of moving rock and ascertained that it did not threaten us.

After making such disheartening progress, we were relieved to find the campsite spread across a stable-looking section of moraine out of the path of rock fall.  The tent pitches were flat and, as glacier camps go, relatively comfortable.  We even found water after a short ice axe attack by Paul, who did the heroics on the water collection front all evening.  Then we began the slow job of cooking a second night's pasta.  Ian and Paul's stove wasn't working so we had to cook in shifts.  Thank goodness we had a second stove with us.

Glacier camp is a levelled, stony trash-strewn area about 600m from
the ice fall. This shot is looking back down the valley
The Polish team joined us at camp a short while later but there was plenty of room for everyone.  When a glacier is so universally uninviting, there need be no fighting over the best tent pitches!

No doubt Paul, Ian and Guy would tell a slightly different tale about this part of the trek.  It was the adventurous section, after all - the mountaineering section - where we travelled through a remote and challenging landscape under our own steam.  But I have been in the mountains many times this year and I'm tiring of rock fall and benumbed toes, of pasta and exhaustion.  The views could be as breath-stopping as they liked, but I was not looking forward to the crossing of the Tesi Lapcha.

The path ahead! The campsite is in front of the dark rock buttress
in the middle of the photo, just down and to the left of the icefall.
Ian takes in the scenery
A close up of the icefall (the snout of the Drolambau Glacier where it meets the Trukarding Glacier).
The route onto the Drolambau Glacier follows the rock buttress on the right of the photo.
Sunset over glacier camp. The peak on far left above the glacier is possibly Parcharmo.

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