Under 8,000 Meters, Under the Radar, on Himlung Himal

Long ago, but still very relevant, I wrote an article for Climbing magazine: “The Search for Obscurity in Well Known Places.”

It covered my winter solo on the Matterhorn, night solos in Eldorado, Colorado of the Yellow Spur and new routes along the fiords of Norway.

Everest in December, a very lonely place, and no winter ascent ever recorded from this side.

The value of the climbs was in the joy of the climb, whether alone or in a team, yet often in popular areas, but done at a different time, in a different season, or just around the corner from where everyone else was.

In a way, our new route on Everest Kangshung Face embodied the same approach, it just happened to be Everest.

The personal reward on these climbs was high and the social value pretty much nil, which also heightened the sense of adventure as it was ours alone.

A small team, a big mountain. Base Camp on Everest Kangshung Face. Photo: Stephen Venables

As much as we can track our every move on expedition through Garmin, post photos to Instagram and detail and post our every move, that is still optional. One can still go quietly and enjoy the serenity and peace of the mountains.

So as the monsoon fades slowly this year, the triumph of Kristin Harila and the ever so sad passing of the inspirational Hilaree Nelson, a host of expeditions move onto the smaller and often more remote peaks of the Himalayas.

While Ama Dablam and the peaks of the Khumbu are well known and often ascended, move to the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri regions and a host of more obscure opportunities open up.

Beyond regulars in the Himalayas, going off to climb Putha Hiunchuli (Dhaulagiri 7, makes it more recognizable perhaps), or Himlung Himal illicites a, what? And where?

As these peaks live in the obscurity of being under 8,000 mètres, they are still big mountains with options for both more accessible routes and desperate first ascents and where more activity has been seen recently. But being a touch lower, they are often below the radar.

The unknown, little traveled peaks are for some climbers a good thing, for others an unrecognizable peak has no appeal. Which may beg the question are you a climber, or do you want to say you have climbed?

As Reinhold Messier explained it to Jim Clash writing for Forbes, following the normal route up the ropes is very much an activity like skiing down the piste, (ski run for my American readers). You are either on piste or off piste.

As we head for the heights of Himlung Himal, we will inevitably be obscure and with the team virtually devoid of social media activity, low profile.

A late monsoon for the Himlung Himal team who opts for a walk in the rain along the Annapurna circuit.

Our most well known member is probably our Sirdar Pem Chhiri, who I’ve climbed Everest with and who recently was on the successful winter ascent of K2. With great climbing skills, a low key manner and a very welcome humble demeanor he is the ideal compliment to our obscurity.

The monsoon which has never left and disappointed so many on Manaslu is yet to fully fade, but suns are now popping out from our weather reports timed for our arrival in Base Camp.

It will be a welcome return to the heights, high in the Himalayas, to peer again over into Tibet and to climb up into the darkness and onto the summit ridge for sunshine. It won’t be a first or last ascent, it won’t elicit a headline.

It should provide some great climbing, some good laughs with a personable and strong team and perhaps should we be fortunate, a 7,000 meter summit.

And in the end, what could be better?