Deep snow led to energy-sapping travel at the foot of Chombu

Deep snow led to energy-sapping travel at the foot of Chombu

Freakish weather thwarted plans by two British mountaineers to post a first ascent in the Himalaya.

Mick Fowler and Vic Saunders had hoped to summit Chombu in the Sikkim state in northern India.

But heavy snowfalls and continuing warm conditions led to a high avalanche risk and the pair abandoning plans to climb the 6,362m (20,873ft) mountain. The pair vowed to return to make a second attempt on the peak.

The expedition was supported by outdoor brand Berghaus. The venture also enabled Mick Fowler to evaluate high-altitude mountaineering with a colostomy bag. Mick and Vic’s original plans to summit the mountain had to be abandoned when Fowler was diagnosed with cancer, leading to an operation to remove his anus, rectum and surrounding area.

On arrival in the remote area where the mountain is located, they were met with the aftermath of what locals claimed were the heaviest winter snowfalls since 1995, and then by persistent fresh snow and warm conditions at base camp, and the attendant high risk of avalanches. Although the team was able to achieve a probable first ascent of a smaller peak, Chombu remains unclimbed and the two men have vowed to return as soon as they can.

They began their journey to Chombu at the end of March and, after a long journey, set up base camp near the old Himalayan Club hut at the foot of the Sebu La, the pass that connects the Lachen and Lachung valleys.

From there, with a support team of Sherpas, cook, kitchen boy and porters, they acclimatised, studied lines on the west face of Chombu and prepared for their summit bid.

However, the weather intervened, and successive nights of snow and above-freezing-level conditions prevented a viable attempt on the mountain. With time running out, Fowler and Saunders were able to climb a 5,322m (17,462ft) peak they named Chungukang North, located on a ridge stretching north from the mountain Chungukang, which is across the glacier from Chombu.

Mick Fowler, left, and Vic Saunders on Chungukang North

Mick Fowler, left, and Vic Saunders on Chungukang North

Mick Fowler said: “After finally setting my eyes on Chombu, I almost felt quite emotional seeing the subject of my dreams for the last three years.

“It is a distressingly exciting objective, with uncompromisingly steep slopes leading up to an enticing curling summit snow ridge. Sadly, we were not destined to get close to that ridge this time, but that is very much the nature of exploratory mountaineering.

“Chombu beat us, but we have seen first-hand what a special mountain it is. And we have a plan. We will be back.

“As always, our Berghaus kit performed admirably and while we weren’t able to challenge test it with a summit push on Chombu, the gear certainly helped us stay comfortable during a frustratingly long stay in base camp, with a lot of wet, snowy weather.

“A small tent was not the harshest of testing grounds for using my colostomy bag, but my experience thus far suggested that all will be well on the more difficult bivouacs.”

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