“Breathtaking Summit on Bibi’s Birthday: A Touching Moment Atop Dhaulagiri”

This mountain is dear to me. It is my third time to come back. I never really climbed this mountain. I had only reached almost Camp 3, and that was when the weather was bad.

This year, the mountains look nice and gentle. Looks softer and nicer to me. I am having a good feeling so let’s see.

The climb kicked off well. Initial days in Kathmandu involved meeting fellow climbers, engaging in discussions about routes, speeds, and plans for tackling 8000-meter peaks. It’s the usual small talk, but it’s a decent start.

Honestly, these gatherings don’t always resonate with me, particularly in today’s world where conversations tend to be superficial and lack depth. It’s mostly empty chatter, lacking the authenticity of genuine friendship.

As the days unfolded, we embarked on treks towards the base camp. Originally planning to traverse through Marha, weather conditions and snow prompted the company to reroute us to the renowned Annapurna Circuit—a top ten trek in the world. I must admit, I was thoroughly impressed by the breathtaking landscapes, majestic mountains, and picturesque valleys along the way.

The Manang area was truly breathtaking. Over our 2-day stay, we enjoyed leisurely walks, sipped on coffee, and indulged in a delightful apple crumble cake with a Dutch twist to its recipe—sold with a touch of humor, yet incredibly delicious. Moving on from Manang, our trek led us towards Trogolapass, the highest point on the entire route.

We found accommodation in various huts and houses along the way—some charming, others not so much. Despite the mixed quality, they were always bustling with people and fellow trekkers. It was a unique experience to engage in conversations, learning about their countries, and, most fascinatingly, their journeys. Their tales were filled with plans to visit different places, embark on extended breaks to savor life and travel, creating a stark contrast to the stories shared by those who conquer the peaks of 8,000-meter mountains.

The night before conquering the high pass felt akin to the anticipation of a summit push. We lingered in the lodge until 7-8 PM, engaging in conversations with fellow trekkers. Dinner, some tea, and an attempt at sleep preceded the long hike and the impending challenge of the high pass. Unfortunately, I couldn’t manage even a minute of sleep that night—whether due to excitement or the uncomfortable bed, I couldn’t tell.

The following day commenced at 3 AM amid a bustling lodge filled with numerous early risers. After a quick breakfast and the essential tea-filled water bottle, we set off on the trail. While the adrenaline made me feel like I could sprint, I restrained myself. Racing wasn’t the goal; instead, a slow and safe ascent was the priority.

Post-pass, the journey continued towards Manang Valley, offering breathtaking and awe-inspiring views.

The landscape, adorned with rocks, presented a unique and striking contrast to many other valleys I’ve explored. Amidst the captivating views, we journeyed through Muktinat Village, where a fascinating Hindu ceremony unfolded. Witnessing numerous devotees, some traveling from India and Nepal, engaged in prayers at the temples added a cultural richness to our trek.

Muktinat boasted a blend of Hindu and Buddhist temples and monasteries catering to monks and devotees alike. After a late lunch in Muktinat, we embarked on a drive to Marpha. Our stay in Marpha spanned a few days, marking my second visit to this charming village. Exploring the old quarters, savoring coffees with delectable cakes, and sharing evening beers with a Sherpa became cherished moments. In the daytime, the hotel provided a serene space for yoga with a breathtaking view of the hills and the village. Marpha, renowned for its apples, takes pride in crafting its own Marpha Brandy, a unique apple-based raki. While tourism has traditionally sustained the local community, recent years have witnessed a decline due to deteriorating hiking trails, creating challenges for the inhabitants.

After spending a few days in Marpha, our journey led us to Tato Pani, aptly named for its hot springs. This village attracts both international trekkers and climbers, as well as locals seeking a night or two of relaxation in the therapeutic hot springs. Naturally, we indulged in the hot springs multiple times during our stay from April 12th to 15th.

Our time in Tato Pani was not just about soaking in hot waters; we explored the surrounding area through hikes and even managed a few CrossFit sessions, adding an adventurous twist to our routine.

On the 15th, we were informed that we needed to embark on a day-long drive to reach Takam. From there, a helicopter would transport us to the Italian Base Camp. The drive was a challenging adventure, navigating through treacherous roads and even crossing a river, which added an extra hour to our journey. Meanwhile, the helicopter efficiently transported cargo to the base camp.

Upon reaching Takam, I barely got a glimpse of the village before boarding a helicopter. A swift 15-minute flight brought us to the Italian Base Camp, where everything and everyone, including our bags, had already arrived. The routine of DalBhat, a local dish, and a night’s rest in a lodge followed.

The next day’s hike was lengthy, spanning around 8 hours. We paused at the Japanese Camp for lunch and a meeting with Ago, a Taiwanese climber I had encountered in Annapurna. Enjoying the company and a well-cooked meal, we continued the hike for another 2 hours until we reached the base camp, marking the beginning of the true adventure on the majestic white mountain, Dhaulagiri.

Dhaulagiri, 16 April till May 18

Reaching Dhaulagiri’s base camp holds deep emotional resonance. In 2021, I spent three days there, recalling the precise spot where I learned of Bibi’s passing—an event I struggle to fully accept. His enduring presence feels like a supportive force beyond the physical realm, a belief that he resides somewhere in the sky, watching over me.

Returning in 2022 for the autumn season intensified the complexity of my Dhaulagiri journey. Autumn proved even more challenging than anticipated, with a five-week stay involving navigating the terrain, reaching C3 for the summit push, and experiencing profound relief upon descent.

This year’s trek revealed the mountain’s harsh reality—a poignant encounter with a lifeless body on the trail and 22 mules, casualties from the previous autumn, unable to withstand the brutal weather. Conversations with fellow climbers affirmed a unanimous sentiment: Dhaulagiri is a formidable challenge.

Despite these challenges, my fundamental belief in treating mountains with respect and kindness, mirroring how we treat people, remains steadfast. I continue to hold onto the notion that extending goodwill to the mountains will evoke benevolence in return.

So, hello Dhaulagiri.

Weather poses a persistent challenge from the first day to every other day on Dhaulagiri, setting it apart from other mountains. The unpredictable shifts and the relentless snow depth add complexity to the climb. Although the ascent itself isn’t excessively technical, the prolonged journey coupled with deep snow makes it particularly demanding.

However, I choose to focus on the positive this time, envisioning the summit day in my dreams.

In between our stays at the base camp, we engage in treks up and down the surrounding hills. A memorable excursion took us to French Pass, standing at an altitude of 5400 meters. The hike was no easy feat, with the deep and unpredictable snow conditions—sometimes sinking to the hips and at other times encountering icy patches. Nevertheless, it offered a welcome alternative to the routine of staying at the base camp every day.

After days of waiting due to snow-covered ropes, the fixing team’s efforts led to the decision to embark on the first rotation. Despite the base camp manager’s advice to wait, I, along with my Sherpa and two friends, Paola and Jam, initiated the rotations on April 24th at 3:30 AM.

Starting early was crucial for navigating the perilous first trail section, prone to falling debris when exposed to sunlight. We ascended slowly, laden with heavy bags containing essentials for a three-day stay – tents, food, and clothing.

On the first day, we camped at 5400 meters due to tent deposits. Weather conditions intensified, but the fatigue ensured a sound sleep. The following day, we reached the actual Camp 1 at 5700 meters. I assisted in setting up the tent, explored towards Camp 2, reaching 6000 meters before returning to Camp 1.

On the third day, we ascended to lower Camp 2 at 6200 meters, relishing breathtaking mountain views. While sleep wasn’t always optimal, with just 2 hours, I remained resilient.

Descending on the fourth day, we reached Camp 1 for a brief chat before continuing to the base camp. The infamous traverse weighed on my mind, but an early start ensured safety. Returning to the base camp marked the successful and safe completion of the first rotation, lightening our load for the next phase.

A night of heavy snowfall, covering tents, brought challenges as we shook and shoveled snow. Despite the trials, reaching base camp was a relief, setting the stage for the upcoming summit push.

Unprecedented snowfall heightened the team’s concerns for those still in the mountains—20 members and Sherpas. The risky descent, navigating avalanches and crevasses without ropes, kept us on edge. Fortunately, everyone descended safely, relieving immediate worries but intensifying concerns for upcoming rotations.

Discussions turned tense, with frustrations about the slow progress. A pivotal meeting ensued, led by Brad, emphasizing patience and mutual respect. However, tensions with the Sherpa team surfaced during their statements, emphasizing self-sufficiency and downplaying assistance.

The base camp manager, Mikel Sherpa, prioritized safety, refusing to send people up in unfavorable weather. A subsequent day saw gossip and tension, revealing interpersonal challenges within the diverse expedition members.

Days in base camp were marked by routine activities, providing space for socializing and navigating complex relationships. Patience became the watchword amid uncertain weather conditions.

After days of waiting, the first fixing Sherpa team moved up on May 7th. However, progress was slow, and it took them two days to fix just 1.5 camps. On May 8th, a group of Sherpas and members, including my Sherpa, left for Camp 1, unclear about their objectives.

Amidst uncertainty, we had our Puja on May 7th, fostering camaraderie. On May 9th, I moved up to Camp 1 with heavy bags, carrying my OX bottle.

Weather on May 10th was harsh, preventing a move to Camp 2. The following day, despite the challenging trail, most of us moved to Camp 2. May 12th and 13th were spent at Camp 2, awaiting fixing updates.

While fixing progressed to Camp 3, the fixing team decided to descend, and we were hopeful for a summit push on May 14th. However, they chose not to proceed, and we stayed in Camp 2.

On May 15th, despite doubts, some of us started the ascent to Camp 3. However, a storm hit midway, forcing us to retreat.

Returning to base camp, we learned that a summit window might open on May 17th. Dawa arrived to support the team, and other teams planned their summit push for that night.

Challenges persisted, but the collective determination endured for the upcoming summit opportunity.

Despite frustrations with mismanagement and miscommunication, the prospect of a summit window on May 18th propelled my determination. Alongside Dorota and Paula, I prepared for the challenging ascent.

Starting on May 16th, I reached Camp 2 after a 6-7 hour trek. On the 17th, we progressed from Camp 2 to Camp 3 (7300 meters), encountering steep terrain. Camp 3 proved difficult, lacking space to sit inside the tents comfortably.

Amidst the challenges, Carlos Rescue unfolded, leading to disruptions. Nevertheless, I managed a brief rest and prepared for the summit push.

On May 18th, we commenced the ascent around 19:30-20:00. Climbing alongside Dorota, Paula, and our Sherpas, we encountered issues due to erased tracks and deteriorating weather. Communication with Dawa via radio became essential for finding our route.

As daylight emerged, we identified the couloir, confirming our correct path. By 5:30, we reached the pass, a prelude to the true summit on the east. May 18th marked the summit day, coinciding with Bibi’s birthday, a poignant connection.

After savoring the accomplishment, we descended to base camp on the same day. Late on May 19th, we reached Pokhara, followed by Kathmandu on the 20th, and home on the 22nd.

In summary, the Dhaulagiri summit on May 18th encapsulated a profound and emotional journey spanning 7-8 weeks.

Amidst frustrations over mismanagement, miscommunication, and uncertainties, I faced the pivotal decision of attempting the Dhaulagiri summit push on May 16th. Despite doubts and weariness, I, along with Dorota and Paula, resolved to embark on this challenging journey.

Commencing the ascent from base camp at 2 AM, I reached Camp 2 after 6-7 hours. The day was dedicated to rest and sleep. On May 17th, we started from Camp 2 towards Camp 3 (7300 meters), encountering a steep and challenging route through deep snow and ice.

Camp 3 on Dhaulagiri proved challenging due to its steep terrain and limited space in the tents. Amidst preparations for the summit push, a significant event, the Carlos Rescue, unfolded, adding complexity to an already intense environment. Despite these challenges, I managed a brief hour of sleep.

On May 18th, Dawa communicated through the radio, setting the departure time for the summit push between 19:30 and 20:00. Coordinating with Dorota, Paula, and our Sherpas, we commenced the ascent, encountering late-descending climbers on our way up.

Navigating the ascent with clear weather initially, we reached a point where the tracks vanished due to the wind. Facing confusion, radio communication with Dawa became essential to verify our route. With perseverance, we continued, eventually spotting the couloir and ascending it swiftly. By 5:30, we reached the pass, with the actual summit a brief climb away.

Amidst breathtaking views at sunrise, we reached the Dhaulagiri summit on May 18th – coincidentally, Bibi’s birthday. It became a touching moment, feeling my Bibi’s presence and support from above.

Following the summit, we descended to base camp on the same day. By late night on May 19th, we were in Pokhara, then Kathmandu on the 20th, and finally back home on the 22nd.

The Dhaulagiri summit on May 18th marked the culmination of an intense 7-8 week expedition, encapsulating a remarkable and emotional journey.