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Despite the heat that struck the Himalaya’s last summer, temperatures weren’t mounting around BC or the surrounding mountains. Our liaison officer had promised us the snow would melt away within days, but a week has gone and I’m still digging trenches between the tents and our hole-in-the-ground toilet.

Basecamp at night

Basecamp at night

We had a violently windy night and Kivik is barely awake at breakfast. He hardly eats and once back in his tent it’s only at the third effort Sam receives the sat phone from him. Kivik offered him a power cord and the massive solar battery first. A bit worried about him being so confused and sick Sam and I decide to let him rest for a day and catch up on some sleep.

Basecamp life

Basecamp life

As on none of our acclimatization trips we had a good view on the north face of Barnaj – mostly due to the ever present cloud coverage – Sam and I get ready to go hike up to the face and take pictures with Sam’s monstrous zoom lens to try and find ourselves a climbable line, yeah!
We left pretty early in hopes of some hard snow but by 8AM, arriving on the Barnaj glacier, we’re already sinking through again. On top of it all it somehow turned out to be amazing weather, and we were totally fried on the glacier – fresh white snow all around us merrily reflecting the suns blasting rays scorches our skin. Already before noon I start peeling of flakes of epidermis on my arms. #gottalovealpinism…

A first good vieuw on Barnaj 1

The first good view on Barnaj 1 and the perfect spot for our advance basecamp.

Despite dying from a heatstroke the day went pretty smooth. By now we were getting really good at tracing knee-deep sugarsnow and we got a closer look at the face. Sam got out the big guns and took some close-up shots. We were pretty sure to have found a sick line that went straight through the face. Though quite impressive it looked like the perfect line on an amazing mountain. The stoke was high. Very high. Maybe a little too high as I remember Sam saying “If we manage to climb this, I’ll quit climbing”. Looking back – and looking at all the awesome stories and pictures Sam brings back from the mountains – it might have been for the better that we did not succeed…

A look on the Barnaj Glacier

A look on the Barnaj Glacier

A closer look on the summit part of Barnaj 1

A closer look on the summit part of Barnaj 1

A couple days later – Kivik back to life, but dying to get going after his lazyday in BC – we prepared for the climb. We took our gear up to the ABC and sorted everything out. Despite our “light is right”-attitude the backpacks were quite full and heavy but well, we packed four days’ worth of food.

Charging batteries

Charging batteries at basecamp

Sorting out food and gear at our Advanced Basecamp

Sorting out the necessary food and gear at our Advanced Basecamp

Sorting out food and gear at our Advanced Basecamp

Sorting out the necessary food and gear at our Advanced Basecamp

We left at 3. The moon was but a thin scythe in the sky and walking in the dark towards an ominous north face that dooms over you gave that typical eerie sensation a nightly approach so often provides. At the end of the tracks Sam and I had made a couple days before, we started tracing again. The snow was deep again and with the backpacks we sunk even deeper. But as if sirens were singing to us from the summit the face drew us nearer.

The nightly approach

The nightly approach to Barnaj 1 north face

At first light we were at the foot of the wall. We roped up and Sam started to climb our first pitch. He disappeared behind a corner and a few moments later I heard him cheering and giggling. For a moment I was wondering if he had been taking some of the expired antibiotics I had been tripping on two weeks ago, but as soon as I started following I realized why he sounded so excited. Our first pitch was bomber solid, almost vertical ice, flowing under a giant bridge of snow. We had found and entered the gate to Barnaj!

Nelson starting up our first pitch on Barnaj 1

Nelson starting up our first pitch on Barnaj 1, with the gate in the background © Kivik Francois

Despite the amazing first pitch, we didn’t find as much ice higher up the mountain. It looked like the heat of the summer had melted most of the ice and what was left of it was now covered in half a meter of – pardon my French – neige de bordelle (shitsnow). As Sam made the traces and Kivik stepped in them as well it kind of destroyed their structural integrity, so as the third man, what I was left with was disintegrating snow on ice or rock. Awesome. #gottalovealpinism…

Kivik climbing the first pitch

Kivik climbing the first pitch

Kivik and Nelson on the lower snowfield

Kivik and Nelson at the end of the lower snowfield

Kivik and Nelson on a sketchy traverse linking the two lower ice fields

Kivik and Nelson on a sketchy traverse linking the two lower ice fields

Sam climbing up an ice runnel connecting two snowfields

Sam climbing up an ice runnel connecting two snowfields

We ‘joyfully’ continued through this until we reached the foot of the blank part of the wall. Using the zoom lens, we had seen some snow filled cracks and terraces we could climb to link it to a snowfield higher up. Or at least that’s what we thought. It turned out we were standing at the base of the most compact granite wall in the universe. Like for real. The dawn wall or even reticent wall is nothing compared to the lack of cracks and weaknesses on the north face of Barnaj. Apparently all the snow filled cracks were just little bumps with snow sticking to it… “Well this sucks!”.

We traversed to the right, into another possibility: a giant corner system, where we could see some cracks and a possible way up. We wanted to freeclimb it, but after a second glance Kivik and I were both quite stoked to try and cheat our way up with ladders and daisies. Kivik took all the gear and headed off, but just as he started leaving the belay a block of snow/ice fell almost on top of him. A little shocked he continued up a couple meters, soon to find out that everything in the corner system was falling apart.

Nelson and Kivik approaching the main difficulties

Nelson and Kivik approaching the main difficulties

The 3 of us

The 3 of us

I concluded that the wall must’ve once been two layers of bomber granite held together by a weak layer. The left half of the outer granite layer must’ve come off at one point, leaving the hyper blank wall, with a very weak corner system right next to it. Thumbs up for geology. As I was making up my mind whether or not I would give it a go as well, it started snowing already. We were getting used to the (late)afternoon clouds, and were prepared for a snowy bivy later that day, but now – at only 11 AM – we were already engulfed in thick white mist while thick snowflakes came floating down on us. Screw this, we’re out of here.

Kivik descending in what looked like an incoming storm

Kivik descending in what looked like an incoming storm

Sam and Kivik in search of good abalakov placements

Sam and Kivik in search of good abalakov placements

With not a lot of ice available and rock as blank as my exam papers during the finals in my first year at uni, it turned out not to be straightforward to get off the face. As I was the lightest of our three (although I was seriously doubting the difference was all that big) I had the honor of going last and taking away the shitty backup piece for the shitty one-nut-belay we were rapping off. #gottalovealpinism…
All in all, the descent went pretty smooth though, and after a day of sleeping and chilling in ABC we headed back to our cooks for some awesome food. With only a couple of days left we had to be quick about another attempt. Sam and I would try one last time, this time on the west ridge.

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Sorting out our gear. Typical morning blue skies in the background. Wondering when the clouds roll in

Demotivated resting in ABC

Demotivated, back in ABC

That part of the story is coming soon!
Stay tuned for the conclusion of our Kistwar trip!

Back in basecamp playing cricket

Back in basecamp playing cricket

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