The pair faced a nerve-wracking long trudge across a crevassed plateau to reach the face of Chombu

The pair faced a nerve-wracking long trudge across a crevassed plateau to reach the face of Chombu

A bout of food poisoning finally put paid to two climbers’ second attempt to summit a Himalayan mountain.

Mick Fowler described a series of ‘rubbish’ conditions that defeated his expedition to climb Chombu with mountaineering partner Victor Saunders.

But he drew consolation from the success of his using a colostomy bag at high altitude.

The Derbyshire-based adventurer has a stoma after surgery to remove a cancer in his digestive system.

The pair returned to the 6,362m peak in Sikkim after a previous attempt on the peak was defeated by freak weather earlier this year.

After overcoming numerous permit challenges, bad weather and terrible climbing conditions, Mick and Vic climbed to within 250m of the summit before succumbing to food poisoning. They have now returned to the UK to consider their next venture.

The expedition was sponsored by outdoors brand Berghaus, which provided gear and clothing for the mountaineers.

The two men set out towards the end of September and, on landing in Gangtok, capital of the Sikkim region of India, were met by monsoon-like conditions and news that a key bridge on the way to their next destination in the Tangu valley had been washed away. This set the tone for much of the expedition and although, thanks to liaison officer Baichung, Fowler and Saunders were able to proceed without too much delay, the weather continued to hinder them.

Mick Fowler said: “As Victor and I sat in our tents at base camp listening to the rain, we agreed that, in a combined 75-plus years of expeditions, this was the longest spell of properly bad weather that either of us had ever experienced.”

Vic Saunders acclimatising, wading through tiring deep snow

Vic Saunders acclimatising, wading through tiring deep snow

When the weather finally improved on 10 October, the pair began their approach to the north face of Chombu, discovering that the next stage of the expedition was going to be very tough going due to deep snow, both on the way up to the face and during the climb itself.

Progress was slow, but after four days and some very difficult climbing, the two mountaineers reached a height of 6,100m above which easier slopes led towards the summit.

Unfortunately, the freeze-dried food that they consumed at this point proved to be their undoing, causing severe sickness and diarrhoea, and bringing the climb to a premature end. Exhausted and nauseous, Fowler and Saunders abseiled to base camp and after 48 hours of recovery, began the long journey back to Gangtok and then the UK.

Fowler said: “How do I feel now about Chombu? Well, in two trips, not once did I crampon up any firm snow or swing my axe into any firm ice.

“The weather there was rubbish; the climbing conditions were rubbish; the permit situation was rubbish, but curiously neither of us is dismissing the possibility that we might return one day. There is something very special about Sikkim, and something extremely special about Chombu.

The north face of Chombu, centre left, remains unclimbed

The north face of Chombu, centre left, remains unclimbed

“My most important – and encouraging – reflection on the expedition is that being an ostomate proved to be no obstacle at all.

“On our previous visit the weather precluded any climbing activity, but this time we spent plenty of time on the mountain and at altitude. As always, our Berghaus kit performed superbly and I found that using a colostomy bag did not hinder our progress. So, putting our initial disappointment about Chombu aside, Vic and I are already sizing up various exciting possibilities for the future.”

Mick Fowler will head to the Kendal Mountain Festival this weekend, where his third volume of climbing memoirs, No Easy Way, has been shortlisted for the 2019 Boardman Tasker Award. He will be heading to Kendal for the presentation and to meet up with Berghaus colleagues and other friends during the festival.

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