No-Go on Gangapurna

Topo Mena and Jonatan Garcia are back from Gangapurna with empty pockets. Poor snow conditions prevented them from even starting their climb.

The pair aimed for a new ice-and-snow route up the South Face. “Ideally, a beautiful line of ice that made our palms sweat and our eyes shine,” as Mena described it in his blog.

They had hoped that the very snowy winter would have covered the face, which would remain in good condition through the still-cold month of March. However, the wall was drier than expected, and their hoped-for ice route had not formed.

Hip-deep snow

As plan B, the climbers considered finding a line on rockier sections or following the West Ridge. But the problem was getting to the ridge. On a first acclimatization rotation to 6,000m, the pair wallowed through deep, crusty snow that gave way at each step. After hours of struggle, they turned around at 5,400m.

Jonatan Garcia swims through deep snow. Photo: Topo Mena

 

“The cold temperatures and wind direction, plus the deep snow under a 15cm wind-affected layer, were enough to make us realize that conditions weren’t going to change,” Mena admitted.

Such snow conditions were present in the entire area, so other nearby peaks were not an option. That was the end of the expedition.

Higher goal ahead

Gangapurna was to help Topo Mena prepare for a major goal: the South Face of Annapurna, which he hopes to climb with partner Carla Perez. For now, Mena will guide on Makalu, which Perez will climb as part of her project to summit the five highest peaks on Earth without supplementary O2.

Mena and Garcia’s base camp at 4,700m, at the base of Gangapurna’s South Face. Photo: Topo Mena

 

When we first reported about the expedition, some commenters expressed surprise that on this pure alpine-style climb, the climbers chose to fly to base camp instead of trekking in. Here is Topo Mena’s explanation:

The last part of the approach is very difficult and therefore dangerous for someone not used to the hazards. We couldn’t find porters willing to do the walk at this time of year, carrying loads…We also didn’t feel comfortable pressuring the villagers to do something that might harm them. So instead, we flew by helicopter as close to the wall as possible.

Jonatan Garcia’s take

In a video, Garcia shows one of the nearby avalanches they experienced and the crusty snow in which they sank up to their hips on every step. The expedition suffered many surprise setbacks: “Avalanches, crevasses, a base camp that was not as safe as we would have liked, and loads of heavy snow on the lower sections.”

Otherwise, he told ExplorersWeb, “the place was incredible, completely wild, like a hollow surrounded by brutal peaks: Machhapuchare, Annapurna III, Gangapurna West, Gangapurna Central…”

One of the avalanches seen from Base Camp. Photo: Jonatan Garcia

 

“Perhaps we failed to choose the best possible dates, although we believed that March could be a great option. But reality proved otherwise.”

Garcia, who had a bad experience last spring on a too-crowded Dhaulagiri, praised Mena as a climbing partner. “You can go climbing anywhere with someone like Topo,” he said.

Senior journalist, published author and communication consultant. Specialized on high-altitude mountaineering, with an interest for everything around the mountains: from economics to geopolitics. After five years exploring distant professional ranges, I returned to ExWeb BC in 2018. Feeling right at home since then!


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Mac
Mac
1 month ago

Why didn’t they take skis, or even snowshoes? In steep terrain it might have been tricky, but they could have got a bit higher up at least.

Last edited 1 month ago by Mac