In 2011 “Alpine Style Expeditions” Ltd organized and developed on behalf of “Li Ka Shing Foundation” (HK) and the University of Shantou (PRC) and in collaboration with “TRM” ltd and mountaineering program of which details we present below.
With the final goal of opening a new route, alpine style, on the South West Face of the 8013m peak Shishapangma in the Tibetan Himalayas and introducing a group of 20 university (STU) students to the life and rigors of expedition life, the project started with compiling the various teams that were to take part in this project and their preparation.
“Alpine Style Expeditions” was responsible of organizing the logistics, providing the safety staff and safety protocols, offer the climbing guides, the facilitation and instructional staff and prepare the climbing team. “TRM” was responsible of student coordination, liaison between the “Li Ka Shing Foundation”, “Shantou University” and “Alpine Style Expeditions” as well as supplying the medical infrastructure and staff for the expedition. The Hong Kong based production house “Beautiful Productions” Ltd was commissioned by LKSF to film the entire project and brought on board a 10 people crew.
Out of over 200 applicant students from STU the final selection retained only 20 after several grueling trips and selection phases. “Li Ka Shing Foundation” also sponsored two female climbers to attempt the new line on Shishapangma: Ms. Cristina Pogacean, civil engineer, Romanian citizen and Ms. Wang Lei, Chinese-American citizen.
The “Alpine Style Expeditions” crew included: Dr. Cosmin Andron, mountain guide, expedition co-leader (Romania), Mr. Waiwah Yip, mountain guide, expedition co-leader (UK / Hong Kong), Ms. Catrinel Enache (Romania) mountain guide, base camp manager, Mr. John Falkiner (Australia), mountain guide, Mr. David Tanner (Australia / Hong Kong) youth program facilitator and support staff, Mr. Josiah Skalsky (USA) youth program facilitator and support staff, Mr. Eben Farnworth (UK) youth program facilitator and support staff. Ms. Pogacean was also to play the role of assistant guide during the climb.
The “TRM” crew included: Mr. Justin Leal (UK) paramedic and youth program facilitator and Dr. Peter Kraler (Austria) expedition medic.
The climbing team met for a training / trial program in the Alps during the month of April 2011 while the student group and the film crew took part in several training camps of which most significant were those in Nan Ao (Southern China) and Shangrila (Eastern Tibet).
The expedition proper started on 25th of August when the entire team met in Kathmandu (Nepal). During the expedition the students learned climbing and safety skills on workshops organized on glaciers at an altitude of 5600m and experienced fully the expedition life.
For acclimatization two teams: Mr. Waiwah Yip and Ms. Cristina Pogacean as well as Ms. Wang Lei guided by Dr. Cosmin Andron ascended Pungpa Ri (7200m) alpine style up to the altitude of 6800m.
Due to independent and objective reasons Ms. Wang was not able to join Ms. Pogacean, Mr. Yip and Dr. Andron on the attempt of Shishapangma.
The final climbing team approached Shishapanngma SW face advanced base camp with a summit attempt directed towards the interval 2-4 October 2011 due to the weather forecast indicating as favourable the interval 1-4 October. After the heavy snowfall and the changes in the topography following the earthquake of 18 September having such a weather window was essential.
The departure towards Advance Base Camp (ABC) was delayed by an incident involving a search and rescue during the interval 25-26 September so the climbing team arrived in ABC on 29 Sept. night. They spent 30 Sept. as a rest day and sorting out the appropriate gear and on 1st Oct they set up a bivy below the wall.
On 2 Oct. at 6 am the trio (Cristina Pogacean, Cosmin Andron and Waiwah Yip)) began the ascent from around 5600m alt. left of the Slovenian Route of 1989.. They made good progress until 10 am when the heat of the day began releasing avalanches of snow and rocks down the face. They took shelter at around 6000 m alt and had to wait until 5 pm to resume the climb. They reached around 6200 m that evening and made a sitting bivouac (no place to erect the tent).
3 Oct. morning they resumed the climb after studying the face. They carried on upwards on the buttress on poorly consolidated snow. No protection. Slow going due to both the poor snow conditions and the altitude. They made several stops to avoid rock and ice fall due to the heating of the face. The team bivied for the night on a rocky outcrop around 6700 m alt. Another sitting bivouac.
4 Oct. morning they abseiled back to the gully and they carried on left on the buttress. They maintained radio contact with ABC. The forecast was: “Day to summit 4th of Oct. Wind will be picking up on 5th and that night 10cm of fresh snow. Weather progressively worsening for the following week.” The trio went on up to 7000 m alt (7200m on altimeter reading but comparing the photos and the high point reached it was most likely at just about 7000m) where they were forced to take a decision. Based on current snow conditions they would have needed 2 to 3 days to summit which would put them in the “red zone” for the descent. With 10 cm of fresh snow within 36 hours and higher winds the chances of a safe descent were seriously compromised. The Korean and Swiss teams ascending fixed ropes and having camps already set up on the British route having already descended that morning sent also a signal. Around 4pm the team decided to descend.
They traversed the width of the face onto the British route and descend that way. On descent Cristina Pogacean was briefly caught in an avalanche but managed to exit unscathed. The team arrived that night (around 11pm) back to ABC.
For the ascent the team used no fixed ropes, no sherpa support and no fixed camps. They carried all the equipment used including fuel and food, both up and down.
With visas expiring on 10th of Oct and no foreseeable weather window within that interval the team broke down the camp and returned to Nyalam within 48 hours then followed back to Kathmandu.
The project was entirely financed by “Li Ka Shing Foundation” on behalf of “Shantou University”. Dr. Andron and Mr. Yip are Arc’teryx sponsored athletes.