Appalling weather conditions have foiled Mick Fowler and Victor Saunders during their latest Himalayan expedition. After a cancer diagnosis for Mick had delayed his long-held dream to climb the mountain, he set out with Vic on a trip sponsored by Berghaus, to attempt a first ascent of Chombu, a 6,362m peak in the Sikkim Himalaya, India. However, on arrival in the remote area where the mountain is located, they were met with the aftermath of what locals claimed were the heaviest winter snowfalls since 1995, and then by persistent fresh snow and warm conditions at base camp, and the attendant high risk of avalanches. Although the team was able to achieve a probable first event of a smaller peak, Chombu remains unclimbed and Mick and Vic have vowed to return as soon as they can.
Mick and Vic began their journey to Chombu at the end of March and after a long journey, set up base camp near the old Himalayan Club hut at the foot of the Sebu La, the pass that connects the Lachen and Lachung valleys. From there, with a support team of sherpas, cook, kitchen boy and porters, they acclimatised, studied lines on the west face of Chombu and prepared for their summit bid. However, the weather intervened, and successive nights of snow and above freezing level conditions prevented a viable attempt on the mountain. With time running out, Mick and Vic were able to climb a 5,322m peak they named Chungukang North, located on a ridge stretching north from the mountain Chungukang, which is across the glacier from Chombu.
Mick and Vic had originally planned to attempt Chombu in the autumn of 2017, but that was delayed by Mick’s cancer diagnosis. Following extensive treatment, including the removal of his anus, rectum and surrounding area, Mick was able to use the expedition to establish whether a colostomy bag could perform effectively at high altitude and in extreme weather conditions, with products supplied to him by Coloplast.
Mick Fowler comments: “After finally setting my eyes on Chombu, I almost felt quite emotional seeing the subject of my dreams for the last three years. It is a distressingly exciting objective, with uncompromisingly steep slopes leading up to an enticing curling summit snow ridge. Sadly, we were not destined to get close to that ridge this time, but that is very much the nature of exploratory mountaineering. Chombu beat us, but we have seen first-hand what a special mountain it is. And we have a plan. We will be back.
“As always, our Berghaus kit performed admirably and while we weren’t able to challenge test it with a summit push on Chombu, the gear certainly helped us stay comfortable during a frustratingly long stay in base camp, with a lot of wet, snowy weather. A small tent was not the harshest of testing grounds for using my colostomy bag, but my experience thus far suggested that all will be well on the more difficult bivouacs.”
Mick Fowler has written a full account of his and Vic’s first expedition to Chombu, which can be read here.