by Sebastien Galisson, Moise Sutter and Eric Wintenberger
PART 1 PART 2 PART 3 PART 4
The next day, while waiting for Moise, Seb and I made a carry to Advanced Base Camp and checked out the snow slope leading to the ridge crest. It was warm on the glacier, there was no wind and the sunshine was strong. When we returned to Base Camp, we found Moise already there. He had been dropped off at the same location as us the day before, and had to hike in for 6 hours to get to Base Camp, at 2100 m. Happy to finally be together again, we made plans to leave early in the morning to move to Camp 1. The weather was fine and after witnessing a great sunrise at 4 am, we started hiking towards the ridge. After a stop at Advanced Base Camp to get the gear from our cache of the day before, we started up the first slope with heavy packs (40 kg). The going up was tough but the snow was good. We were glad to go up early because of the high risk of rockfall in the afternoon. As we approached the top of the 50 degree slope, Seb, who was carrying my camera, dropped it and we saw it tumbling down the slope, jumping the bergschrund, and finally stopping below before the open crevasses swallowed it. No need to say that Seb and I had to go down and get it after we set up camp... Camp 1 was perched on the ridge crest, at 2700 m. We had to dig in a platform for our tent, and one had to be careful when going out of the tent not to slip and take a fatal fall down the slope... Probably the most exposed campsite I've ever used!
That same afternoon, Seb and I, feeling good, went up 3/4 of the way up to Camp 2 to do a carry. The climbing consisted of mixed sections, with one pitch of 4th class rock to start with. The next day, we all moved up to Camp 2, located on a wide snow dome at 3200 m. We were joined there by the skiers' group, who chose to bypass our Camp 1. Above us, we could see the most technical section of the ridge. It first started with steep snow and ice, up to 60 degrees, in a most exposed setting, before reaching the first knife-edge ridge, which we could only guess. We decided to do a carry the following day and move up to Camp 3 the day after. Leaving at 5.30 am, so as to climb before the heat softened the snow, we made good progress past some steep snow sections to a belay before the first knife-edge ridge. This section required good nerves, as we had to go "au cheval" on the ridge, looking down at a 1500 m vertical drop on one side, and a steep 60 degree slope on the other side... Holding on the front tips of our crampons, we made our way carefully along the 150 m-long ridge, protecting with snow pickets and icescrews. Upon reaching the end of the knife-edge ridge, we had to downclimb a 3 m vertical section of ice before climbing a snow slope with knee-deep powder. A short steep mixed section (70 degrees) led us back on the ridge before reaching Camp 3 (3700 m). At Camp 3, we were welcome by spectacular views of the glaciers around, and Mount Vancouver in front of us. The climbing to Camp 3 the next day was easier after breaking trail the day before.
On our fourth day on the ridge, after moving to Camp 3, we made a carry past the end of the technical difficulties, half-way up to Camp 4. Then the next day we moved up to Camp 4. We had to climb a sustained slope of 60 degree ice (the only place where we had to rapped on the way down), before tackling the second knife-edge ridge. It was easier than the first one, but more rising which made it more difficult to descend. After getting the gear from our cache of the previous day, we climbed a steep icy traverse before the climbing eased off with easy snow slopes. We now had to make our way among crevasses before climbing on top of a snow dome to reach Camp 4 (4200 m). We were now as high as MacArthur Peak and higher than the Hubsew Ridge. The views were fantastic and the immense Seward Glacier shone brightly in the afternoon sun, with Mount Cook towering behind it. I had never before felt so lost in a sea of mountains like this.