A High Ambition –Andrew Locke’s Project to Climb 14 ‘Eight –Thousanders’ by 2008
Friday 12th October 2007
Call of the Mountains
Just as a seasoned sailor cannot stay away for long from the sea, a hardy mountaineer too lies eagerly in wait for the next climbing season. Andrew Locke, an Australian, is a frequent visitor to Nepal. As soon as he lands in this country, he heads straight for the mountains. He says, he just can’t wait to be near the mountains. To quote him in his own words, “From my first expedition to the Himalayas in 1988, when I came to climb the Pumori peak, I fell in love with the Himalayas and with this beautiful country. This love affair has continued and I love to come back every time.”
Andrew Locke is no ordinary climber. He possesses an impressive climbing record. He has climbed all the world’s tallest peaks, except for Makalu and Shisapangma. He has made twelve ascents to 8000m peaks and has reached the summit of sixteen peaks. He climbed the mighty K2 (regarded as the most difficult peak in the world) in the year 1993. Though he has made it to the central summit of Shisapangma twice, he is trying to scale the main summit. He says, “The central summit doesn’t count. It’s the main peak that matters.” Back in Kathmandu after an unsuccessful attempt to scale the main peak of Shisapangma, owing to bad weather conditions, Explore Himalaya caught up with the climber extraordinaire for a tête-à-tête at the Italian tratorria, Nuovo Marcopolo .
What Happened on Shisapangma (8027m)?
The problem that we faced was too much snow on the mountain. After we reached the base camp, we had two to three days of very heavy snowfall. After this, we needed at least a week of good weather and some winds to clear the snow away. But we only got the wind, the weather continued to get worse. Too much of unusual low pressure system brought in more winds. It became so windy that we had to abandon our plan to climb the main peak and return back. To climb Shisapangma is not so difficult. It is not a technical peak, but the problem is with the avalanches that occur time and again. Good weather is also quite rare in Shisapangma.
Makalu(8485m) and Shisapangma(8027m)
Makalu is the fifth highest mountain in the world. It is considered to be one of the most difficult 8000m peaks to climb. Located 22 km east of Mount Everest, on the border between Nepal and Tibet, Makalu is an isolated four-sided pyramid peak. There are steep pitches and knife-edged ridges and the final ascent to the summit involves technical rock climbing. Makalu is the only Nepalese 8,000m peak which has yet to be climbed in true winter conditions. It was first climbed on May 15, 1955 by Lionel Terray and Jean Couzy .
Shisapangma at 8027m is the fourteenth highest mountain in the world. It is located in south-central part of Tibet, a couple of kilometres away from Nepal. It is the only eight-thousand m peak located entirely within Chinese territory .Due to its location, it was the last 8,000m peak to be climbed. Since this peak is entirely within Tibet, there were restrictions on outside visitation to the region imposed by the Chinese a few years ago.This peak was first climbed on May 2, 1964 by a Chinese expedition led by Xu Jìng
Andrew Locke’s Special Project
I would like to climb all the fourteen 8000m peaks by 2008. The first 8000m peak that I climbed was the K2. K2 is a very a difficult peak and I lost two of my team members while returning from the summit. It was a big tragedy. Climbing is very scary and very difficult, but I love the physical and mental challenge. Once I started to climb the 8000m peaks I wanted to climb all the 14. This has become my special project. I have completed 12 ascents. Only Makalu and Shisapangma are left, and if everything goes well I plan to ascend these two peaks by 2008.
I am the only Australian climber who has made twelve ascents to 8000m peaks. Another Australian climber climbed six peaks, but he retired after his sixth ascent. I think there are some young Australians out there who would like to do it .But they have a long way to go. They have just made it to one or two peaks. So if everything goes well I shall be the first Australian to climb all the fourteen 8000m peaks.
What drives him?
There are many reasons. I do it to overcome the danger and the fear. I love the climbing environment, the physical and mental challenge. Sometimes it’s very scary and difficult but I try to push myself through all the difficulties. The mental blockages that result out of fear, I try to overcome it. When I reach the summit I am filled with an overwhelming sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. But that’s only part of it. The other part is, the Himalayan Mountains are in such a beautiful location in Nepal and Tibet that an expedition to any part of the range is fantastic. From Kathmandu to the summit and back is all part of an unforgettable journey.
Why climbing a peak from the Nepal side is much easier?
It is much easier to approach a peak from the Nepal side. Tibet is windier and colder, and also very high. I find the expeditions from the Tibet side very short. One has to get acclimatized before attempting to climb the summit. From the Nepal side, you approach the mountain from a much lower altitude. The base camps are at a lower altitude so you recover faster when you come down to rest. The climate is also much nicer in Nepal.
On Bureaucracy and Government Formalities
I think the whole process of getting a climbing permit in Nepal has been simplified in the last two years. In Tibet, I look for an agency that has good experience and provides good service. The agency should know all about the details and government formalities that an expedition requires. I guess the CTMA and the Chinese government have worked out a good system of providing a good service to mountain climbing in Tibet. The liaison system in Nepal is a very poor one. It doesn’t work well. The better idea would be to have only one liaison officer at the base camp to oversee multiple expeditions the way the CTMA does it.
On His K2 Experience
(K2/Godwen Austen, at 8611m lies on the Baltoro Karakoram range. Considered to be one of the toughest peak in the world, many climbers have lost their lives on this peak.)
When I climbed K2 there were no sherpas or support climbing staff.K2 is very difficult .It was my first 8000m summit .We were a team of four. Two of my team mates got killed coming down from the summit.
K2 is a very remote mountain. Getting to that mountain is much harder then getting to any of the Nepalese mountains. Nepal offers a good support service. If there’s an accident its easier to get rescue from the base camp on a Nepali mountain than in Pakistan. Climbing in Pakistan is very different. Although Army helicopters are available during emergencies yet sometimes they are not available. So you have to be very careful. Also the sherpas and high altitude porters in Nepal are much more stronger and technically capable then the high altitude porters in Pakistan. That’s why most of the expedition parties to K2 take sherpas from Nepal.
On the Sherpas
I don’t normally climb with sherpas but mostly climbing sherpas provide good support. I use base camp services, cooks and porters. The base camp services are very good. On the mountain I think there’s a big disparity, a wide range of experiences and skills .There are some sherpas out there with very little experience, but they call themselves guides. I would very much like to see a requirement, that all sherpas who are providing guiding or support service have some sort of assessment and qualification, so that the climbers can be assured that the sherpas can, not only do a good job, but also keep themselves safe. I have seen a lot of sherpas who say that they are experienced but are really not, and get involved in a lot of accidents. When that happens, it’s too bad!
On the need to Popularize the Lesser Known Peaks in Nepal
There are more then 350 peaks in Nepal, but the international media pays attention to only a handfulof the big peaks. It’s either Everest or a couple of big mountains that gets the media coverage. I think people usually feel that the kudos come from climbing the bigger peaks. They normally don’t have any idea about the 350 or so peaks. Most people tend to go to the usual areas and the usual mountains because they know about those peaks. I think its up to the Nepal Tourism Board to market very heavily the range of the lesser known mountains and for the trekking agencies to identify cheaper mountains that are not too technical and are in really interesting areas. If you start advertising and marketing these mountains, then yes, you will be able to get groups to go to those peaks. If you want people to venture further afield from the popular peaks, you need good advertising and heavy marketing for these lesser known trails and peaks.
Nepal – A Safe Haven for Tourists
Even though there’s political instability in Nepal, the security is very good for tourists. I hope it stays that way! In the past, I have been stopped by Maoists and asked to pay a levy on a couple of situations, but there was no threat or intimidation involved. I have never felt scared in Nepal. At this moment, I would happily bring my friends and family to Nepal without hesitation!
|SHISHAPANGMA EXPEDITION 2008||46 days|
Very professional, clear instructions & on time - we were all very satisfied with the entire crew and had a wonderful time. Service was excellent everywhere and the quality of food varied. We had good drivers managing very difficult roads. Thanks for a wonderful experience in Nepal!
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