Friday, November 11, 2005

Home is a Hole

Here's an absolutely wild tale from Jonny Copp, who recently emailed a wrapup of his latest trip to India to attempt Nanda Devi and other peaks. The team was Copp, Chuck Bird, Sarah Thompson and Pete Takeda (right to left in photo). The following is excerpted (with permission) from Jonny's email:

"By week three our Nepali cook, Depender, said he had never, throughout his fifteen years working in these mountains, witnessed a worse spell of bad weather. 5 or 6 feet of snow had fallen. We had broken many tent poles. Bouldering was out of the question! Slopes were loaded. We were chowing through our precious supply of books and rum.

Finally a break in the weather: [We] started up on our first route, East Ridge of Nanda Kot, retracing the steps of a 1966 CIA expedition in which the team placed a nuclear powered surveillance device at 22000 feet to spy on the Chinese. By the end of day two we were hit by a big storm at 20,000ft and eventually escaped into a crevasse. Just past midnight an avalanche poured into our icy home like tons of cement. While it was pushing us deeper into the crevasse and burying us at the same time, I snapped a pole that ended up near my face and ripped out of the tent that was squeezing down around us. Pete was in the other tent and was able to latch one of the ice screws that were in the wall of the cave. Chuck swam out just in time. Their tent ended up six feet under. All our boots were lost. So was the shovel. It was pitch black. Sarah and I were two feet from the bottomless opening to the crevasse. But we were all breathing air.

We found a headlamp. We dug with axes and hands for six hours until we had found all of our boots, crampons, fuel, shovel and food. Then the sun started sifting in through the still raging storm outside. Then, the rumble of another avalanche overhead.

It was light, and then it was dark. We were now completely sealed in to the icy hollow, no one speaking. Then a headlamp popped on. Pete and I began digging a wormhole. Like moles, we started a hole 2 feet in diameter - Pete on the shovel and me clearing behind. At fifteen feet long, we popped through to the outside, then backed back in, dropping to our feet into the hollow where the four of us spent two and a half more days. The storm cleared and the avalanches stopped tearing down around us when we had half a can of fuel left. We went down to Depender’s excellent food triggering only one avalanche on our descent."

Did you get that last part? "...where the four of us spent two and a half more days."

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