Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Himalaya Fall 2011: Weather Window Slams Shut

At the end of last week, the climbing teams in the Himalaya seemed poised to take advantage of a favorable weather pattern to make summit bids early this week. In fact, a number of them had planned on standing on top of their respective mountains today, but that weather pattern shifted, preventing any serious summit attempts. Now, most of the climbers are simply hoping that they'll get another chance before the season ends. 

Weather forecasts last week seemed to indicate that a front would move through the region, depositing some snow, but would quickly move on, bringing clear skies and low winds for the first part of the week. That front stalled out over the mountains however, and as a result, most of the teams saw two to three days of snow fall. That heavy snow was the reason that most aborted their summit bids over the weekend, and now find themselves back in Base Camp, watching the skies. 

Not all of the teams missed their window however. ExWeb is reporting that a Korean team topped out on Cho Oyu last Friday after the lines were finally fixed to the summit on that mountain. Their forecasts indicated that the jet stream would change, moving directly over the summit, and if they were going to have a successful climb, they would have to make a dash up the mountain. They did so, and now Jae Soo-Kim can claim to have "legally" climbed all 14 of the 8000-meter peaks. He had previously climbed Cho Oyu without a permit, which is illegal. 

The IMG squad on Cho Oyu wasn't so lucky however. They climbed up to Camp 1 before the snow started flying, and have since retreated back to ABC. The same holds true for their counterparts on Shisha Pangma. For now, both teams wait to see if they'll have the opportunity to go back up, but their forecasts indicate that as soon as the snows leave, the jet stream flow in, bringing colder temperatures and high winds with it. As a result of the continued bad weather, both the Adventure Lovers and Jagged Globe teams abandoned their summit attempts over the weekend as well. 

A similar story is being told on Manaslu, where the Altitude Junkies and Himex teams saw their summit bids stalled out by heavy snows in Camp 1 and 2. Both report that the snow continued all through the weekend and into yesterday, which means that the higher slopes on the mountain are covered with lots of fresh powder. That makes breaking trail a much more challenging task, and at the moment, the fixed lines are all buried. Over the next few days, the Sherpas will be moving back up the mountain to inspect the conditions of the high camps and free the ropes. While the teams wait, some members of the AJ squad will head down to Sama Goan, to rest at one of the teahouses there. Whether or not they'll get the chance to make another summit bid remains to be seen. 

Hopefully this big snow storm isn't the end of the fall season in the Himalaya. The next few days will probably decide the fate of most of the teams, as the skies clear, it'll all depend on where the jet stream falls. If they have a few days of good weather, there is still a chance for some summits. But if the jet stream settles over the region, it usually is in place until the spring, bringing an end to climbing for all but the most experienced and hardy mountaineers. Stay tuned for more updates. 

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