Height: 6187 m
10 May – 29 May 2003
When anybody talks about climbing in Nepal, the first thing that comes to people’s mind would be Mt Everest. However, there are many other peaks in Nepal that are worth climbing. Parchamo is one of them. Although categorized as a trekking peak under Nepal Mountaineering Association, it is by no means an easy mountain to climb. This mountain is no base camp trek. It involves a higher element of risk taking, much higher fitness level and for Parchamo, a certain level of technical skills is required. Even for a trekking peak in Nepal, dangers such as avalanches and crevasses (a gap in the ice that can be more than 5 storeys deep) are to be expected.
Parchamo is found at the edge of the Rolwaling valley, which is a neighboring valley of the Solo Khumbu (Mt Everest region). This region was first explored by Shipton in 1952. However, it was not until 1955, when Dennis Davis and Phil Boultbee reached the summit of this mountain. Generally, this mountain can be approached from two different directions, one is from the Rolwaling valley and the other is from the Solo Khumbu valley. Although the approach from the Rolwaling valley may be more scenic as mentioned in many trekking diaries, the approach from the Solo Khumbu valley is much faster which is also the route that my team had taken.
The cultural shock begins immediately after we step out of the airport. Porters would be flocking to help carry our bag. There would be no escape or refusal. Their helpfulness soon becomes clear when they ask for tips after the bags were loaded onto the vehicle. While on the main tourist street of Thamel, Kathmundu, people and vehicles move side by side and frequently on the verge of collision. It seems that miracles were happening every second on the streets of Kathmundu. The single syllable language (honking of the vehicle) used on the streets seem to convey a lot of meaning behind it, although the new arrivals would not be able to make any sense out of it. To survive the mountain, we must first survive the city.
Away from the city, the traditional culture of the Nepali can be seen. Their perseverance, adaptability and hardworking nature are everywhere for all to see. Their houses are made of granite rocks. Each rock is meticulously chipped into blocks using just hammer and chisel and laid on top of one another. Both men and women can be seen carrying heavy loads weighing as much as 40kg when we walk along the trail. Schools are few and far between. The children have to walk for as long as 2 hours to reach the nearest school. They are the lucky ones. Others may not even have the chance to study, either because the school is too far away or they have to help in the farm. Such was the qualities of Nepali shaped by the harsh condition of the mountains.
Our expedition began in Lukla. The trek to the base camp may seem straight forward on paper, but that was not our destination. We had to make sure that our body was in optimum when we were at the base camp. This was by no means easy. Other then battling the cold and altitude, we must be able to adapt to the local food and living conditions. Out there, there was no flushing toilets, no television and no heater in the cold Himalayan night. Despite our vigilance, two of our climbers were down with diarrhea on the second day of our trek. Fortunately, the whole team was fit again by the time we reached Parchamo base camp at 4600m.
Reaching the base camp was not easy, to the high camp and staying there was much more difficult. The path to the high camp was laden with snow and ice. Not to mention a steep slope which required the use of a rope just before we reach the high camp. At 5600m, the high camp certainly poses its own set of problems. Even a few of our supporting crew (local Nepali), was suffering from its effect, and some of us were also affected by mild cases of altitude sickness.
Looking at Parchamo from the high camp, it really looks like a big ice cream. But this was one tough ice cream to climb. The start of the climb seems reasonable with slopes of about 30 degrees. But this was just the prelude. A 70 degrees slope up to 200m high soon greeted us. It was there where our technical skills come into play. With one hand on the fix rope and the other on the ice axe, we kicked our crampons into the hardened snow and made our way up. After the steep section, the most difficult part was over, but the rest of the way was by no means a walk in the park. With each step feeling as if I had completed a 5km run, the summit was so near yet so far. Moreover, our legs were never given any chance to rest, either we were going up a slope or traversing it with our ankles straining at the angle,
which they were placed on the slope. To add some excitement to the climb, there were crevasses as well as cornices to overcome. The cornices, although less “well-known” then the crevasse were very dangerous. Falling through one would mean falling off the side of the mountain literally. From where we were, it would mean a one-way express ticket back to the base camp 1500m below.
After a final 50m steep ascend which required a fix rope, to the summit ridge, our guide tell us that this was the end of our journey. Our wrist top computer registered 6120m. The true summit was not far away at 6187m. But it was apparent that the journey along the ridge to the true summit was too dangerous. It was covered with cornices and crevasse which only the most experience and well-equipped team could attempt to reach it. According to local climbing guides, there were very few teams that make it to the true summit over the pass ten years due to the presence of huge crevasses and for most climbers, this was the summit of Parchamo. And so, at 6120m, we had arrived at our summit of Parchamo.
For most people, their adventure ends at the summit, after all, it was just back tracking on the way down. It was certainly not true for our case. As we leave the summit, the weather quickly turned bad. A total white out with visibility less than 50m soon descended upon us, and a snowstorm started to sweep across the mountain. The only consolation we had was that we were very near our campsite, less than half an hour walk under normal circumstances. But with the white out, we were not able to see the campsite or any landmarks to guide us back. With crevasses on the mountain, we had to be careful where we tread. With the weather clearing slightly, our guide was able to make out some features and we slowly made our way back to our campsite. We must had trapped out there for more than an hour.
Just as we thought that everything would be smooth going, the next morning, one of our teammates had knee injury that was so bad that he could hardly bend them. As a matter of fact, he was not able to walk, let alone trekked down to base camp. But, with the help of our assistant guide, we were able to send him down the mountain. Although painkillers provide temporary relieved from the pain, it soon become apparent that a heli-evacuation was necessary when the pain returned the next day.
With the end of each expedition, there would be a party just before we return to Kathmundu where everybody, porters, cooks, guides and of course ourselves, party and make merry. This was definitely the finale of the expedition. Everybody danced to the local music and drink the local brew called chang.
Despite all the difficulties that we had faced, this is still a wonderful experience for me. For those who wanted to do more than a base camp trek, then perhaps, it is time to try a trekking peak. However, the trekking peaks have varying difficulties and technical skills required not to mention that all of them are high with very real danger of getting acute mountain sickness. However, with careful planning and lots of training, especially on the physical side, getting up a less technical trekking peak like the summit ridge of Parchamo should not be a problem.