Sunday, April 29

Questions for Mark

Mark answers some questions about his new attempt to climb Shishapangma.

*Why has Shisha got such an appeal for you?

In 2006, I was looking for an 8000 m peak that was non-technical and slightly off the climbing radar as I did not want to be stuck in a summit queue. When climbing Koskulak in western China (with Victor Saunders)  in 2001, he mentioned a mountain that rose up from the Tibetan plains. It was Shisha and it somehow stuck in my mind... 

Even though I got very sick when entering Zangmu in 2006, and my attempt at climbing Shisha was 
pretty weak, I found I had some affinity to the mountain. The lovely Base Camp, on the Tibetan plains with the view of Shisha, was inspirational though still pretty daunting, rising 3000 m rise directly in front of me. I am also attracted to The Penitentes (upside down ice teeth),  a massive  along the approach route from ABC to the start of the climb. The view from Camp I, down past the Penitentes and the Tibetan plains, is spectacular. 

*Why are you climbing Shisha again?

I suppose the main reason is that I really believe I can do it.  But it's not only the summit that's the lure. The journey is amazing though, I have to admit, from the Penitentes onwards it is a real struggle. I have done a number of endurance events over my life (three South African Ironman triathlons, three Comrades Marathons, three Two Oceans marathons) so I'm pretty used to testing my endurance. Two years at One Parachute Battalion (in the South African army) also taught me a lot, mainly about myself but also that with the right mind, a positive approach and good planning,  anything is possible. Also I learn more and more with every attempt. 

*What is the point of the climb for you? 

My objectives have always been the same:

*Live life. 
*Dare mighty things.
*Experience the freedom of the hills.
*Get above 8000 m.
*See the curvature of the earth from land.

The climb also provides me with a sense of maximising the opportunity I have of being on this earth.  Hopefully others can be drawn along for the ride and they can be inspired to do something they want to do. Perhaps I see myself as a catalyst. Later on in life, I hope to use all my knowledge and experiences to inspire young people who may not be able to see the opportunities which present themselves. 

*What do you need to reach the summit? 

There are many factors that all have to line up  for the summit to be reached. My mind needs to  be focussed on my objectives. As I'm on my own, with no support, self-motivation needs to be maintained. It is a continual battle to keep my belief in myself going.  

My body needs to be in perfect condition, and my aclimatisation has to be fine-tuned to allow me to go  higher. The weather needs to play ball too, not only on the day of the summit attempt, but also before, as I  need to get to the final camp (Camp  III) and if the snow is too deep, it might not be possible. 

The technical aspects of the mountain, in this case I mean strength of the snow bridges over the crevasses, need to be approachable. Before Camp I and Camp II, where the gradient is steep, the compacted snow is drawn downwards which forms cracks which can become large crevasses. In 2010, on a few occasions I popped though the bridges, luckily only up to my waist, but with my legs dangling into the crevice, and with my ice axe driven into a firm side. If I had gone down, anything can happen as crampons can catch the side, twisting my legs, and I could also be knocked unconscious. This year, there are more guided clients, and the guide companies will often protect the route by staking ropes over areas of danger. I'm hoping that I can clip my harness onto these ropes and hence cross
the crevices without going down all the way. 

(More questions and answers tomorrow). 

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