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    Snow Tsunami in Tibet – A Mentoring Expedition for Young Slovenian Alpinists

    By Luka Krajnc, photos by Marko Prezelj


    After years of discussion, the Alpine Association of Slovenia (formerly Slovenian Alpine Club) established a program for young motivated alpinists in order to help them get the experience needed for achieving the goals they dream about. Mentoring seven different characters with various goals and ambitions (and our soaring egos), is not an easy task. We needed a leader.

    Marko Prezelj is a strong character himself and someone who has plenty of experience. He proved to be perfect for the job. He helped combine us into an active group of friends who, over a series of trips around Europe, developed a strong bond. In September, we headed towards Tibet in a search of unforgettable moments and colorful experiences. Looking back now, I think we succeeded...

    [Above: The town of Nyalam, two hour’s drive from the Nepalese/Tibetan border, proved to be a good starting point for our initial acclimatization climbs. Sadly, what was once a small, pristine Tibetan village is now a concrete-covered town full of soldiers and wealth-seeking traders. Photo: Marko Prezelj]


    The local Tibetan tribes still make their living by helping expeditions and trekking groups pack their food and equipment to base camp. One of the yaks became fed up with his load and started running down a steep hill, wildly kicking and trying to get rid of everything attached to it. In the process, it sent our insulated meat box flying through the air, scattering all of our meat around a steep hill. Photo: Marko Prezelj


    Marko jokingly asked me if I ever thought I would have to pick up frozen meat from a steep hill, and I replied that I didn’t but those chickens probably never thought they would fly again either. Photo: Marko Prezelj


    The first nights were chilly and it was obvious the local animals have adapted to the cold environment way more than us. Photo: Marko Prezelj


    The first view of our objective, Phola Gangchen, and its neighbors amazed us. The energy of the group changed and our jokes stopped for a while. You could feel the vibe in the air as our minds swirled with a million different thoughts. Photo: Marko Prezelj


    We set our base camp on a flat grassland next to an idyllic lake. It served as a great starting point for our climbs and provided scenic views of the amazing landscape that surrounded us. Photo: Marko Prezelj


    A sense of exploration guided us towards undiscovered terrain. Photo: Marko Prezelj


    Marko, the two Lukas, Nejc and Martin found an aesthetic line following a series of ridges and slabs with variable rock. Photo: Marko Prezelj


    After a comfortable bivy under a steep serac band, snowy ramps led to the top of Ice Tooth. Photo: Marko Prezelj


    Cleaning and preparing the steep moraine bank occupied us for a whole day before we were able to start exploring the approach towards Phola Gangchen’s east face. Photo: Marko Prezelj


    The approach itself demanded plenty of ingenuity. Photo: Marko Prezelj


    A broken glacier followed. The next morning Luka Lindič and Marko went on another reconnaissance mission with the goal of finding a passage through the seemingly endless labyrinth of collapsed ice. Photo: Marko Prezelj


    Additional snowfall didn’t make the job any easier but after another day of searching, they came back to base camp with the discovery of a dangerous exit to the plateau. Photo: Marko Prezelj


    A week of unsettled weather followed and we used the short sunny windows for bouldering around base camp. Photo: Marko Prezelj


    We kept our bodies and minds occupied with a wide spectrum of activities. When the good weather arrived, we again split into three teams for two objectives. Photo: Marko Prezelj


    Tadej Krišelj and I got tempted by the Eiger Peak’s north face. After an early start and steady progress the weather turned bad and it started snowing heavily. In the middle of a snow storm we decided it was time to go down. Some stressful hours of snowy rappels followed. An avalanche, that on the last rappel buried Tadej neck deep, provided extra spice to a day already full of close calls and intense experiences. Photo: Tadej Kriselj


    Digging out a friend and hoping that the next avalanche would wait just a few more minutes gave me extra strength – more likely it was my body releasing adrenaline as a reaction to all the stress it was under. In those moments, our survival instincts were even more intensely felt. Photo: Luka Krajnc


    After a day of waiting in a tent under the wall, we woke up to a meter and a half of fresh snow and no sign of improving weather. During a tough day of gazing through deep unsettled snow in thick fog I developed snow blindness which pinned us down in the middle of the glacier for another day. Photo: Tadej Kriselj


    Improvisation was the name of the game. On the seventh day, we returned to base camp exhausted but happy to be alive. Photo: Luka Krajnc


    In the same period of time, Marko together with Luka Lindič, Nejc Marčič, Martin Žumer and Luka Stražar approached the northeast ridge of Phola Gangchen. Photo: Marko Prezelj


    Searching for moderate passages in virgin steep terrain proved challenging due to poor conditions on ice and snow. Photo: Marko Prezelj


    Reaching a snow couloir helped with the fluidity and speed of our progress. Photo: Marko Prezelj


    The first day of climbing ended late at night on steep terrain with an exposed bivy and a magnificent view in the morning. Photo: Marko Prezelj


    Although the clouds were visually attractive, the message they carried was everything but that. Photo: Marko Prezelj


    With the end of the snowstorm nowhere on the horizon, the seriousness of the situation became obvious. Photo: Marko Prezelj


    Hibernating and hoping for the snow to stop. Photo: Marko Prezelj


    Empty hopes resulted in the decision to escape. The chaos of avalanches created a unique atmosphere during endless rappels. Photo: Marko Prezelj


    Our awareness of how much snow actually fell became apparent when we reached the glacier. Photo: Marko Prezelj


    What was once a two-hour approach, transformed into a physically and mentally exhausting descent that lasted two full days. Photo: Marko Prezelj


    “Maybe they are okay, maybe not. We go!” Those were the words of our kitchen staff when all three of them decided to escape from base camp while we were on the mountains. However, too much snow prevented them of doing so – they were only able to break trail for a couple hundred meters towards Nyalam. When everyone finally returned to base camp, we were overfilled with feelings of joy and friendship. It created an evening full of positive energy and pristine moments, our eyes sparkling from excitement and relief. Photo: Marko Prezelj


    The unexpected “snow tsunami,” caused by a typhoon in the Indian Ocean, dumped almost one-and-a-half meters of snow (five feet) in only three days. Evacuation from the destroyed base camp was necessary. Photo: Marko Prezelj


    Happy faces back in civilization with all the comforts of modern life. Our equipment is still in base camp; we took only bivy equipment and personal gadgets. It was an interesting feeling to leave all of our material goods behind, without any regrets. Photo: Marko Prezelj


    The team. Back row (left to right): Laza (cook assistant), Tadej Krišelj, Luka Krajnc, Marko Prezelj. Middle row: Tsering Dorje (cook assistant), Miha Gašperin (doctor), Martin Žumer, Luka Lindič, Nejc Marčič. In front: Karma Sherpa (cook), Luka Stražar. Photo: Marko Prezelj

    Luka Krajnc lives in Celje, Slovenia where he is a member of the Celje mountaineering club. During the last few years, hes been actively traveling around the world, searching for vertical challenges that inspire and motivate him, including new routes in Patagonia, Venezuela, Morocco and around Europe. When he needs a break from climbing, Luka enjoys windsurfing and running.

    Fellow Slovenian climber, Marko Prezelj, feels drawn to mountains because the outcome of every day is a mystery. He’s a Chemical Engineering graduate from Ljubljana University, and a husband and father of two. Marko and longtime climbing partner Steve House have shared previous stories on The Cleanest Line from K7 West, Cayesh and Makalu.


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