Benegas Brothers Expeditions: 2018 Himalayan Season Round Up
From back-to-back summits of Everest and Lhotse with absolutely perfect summit days, to intense snow and unsafe conditions on Baruntse, our 2018 Himalayan season was complete with all the ups and downs that unfold when climbing the world’s highest mountains.
From back-to-back summits of Everest and Lhotse with absolutely perfect summit days, to intense snow and unsafe conditions on Baruntse, to uncertainty with ski permits, our 2018 Himalayan season was complete with all the successes, incredible teamwork, and exciting ups (as well as occasional downs) that unfold when climbing the world’s highest mountains.
Unfortunately, the toughest news of the season came right at the end. Charlotte Fox, a beloved member of the BBE family, and member of this season’s Mera and Baruntse Expedition, passed away at home in Telluride, Colorado, on May 24. Our deepest condolences to her family and friends at this incredibly tough time. Charlotte had summited no less than five 8000m peaks in her lifetime, and was a beloved member of her Colorado community. We will forever remember Charlotte’s passion for the outdoors, loyalty to her friends old and new around the world, and zeal for life in general.
Let the climbing begin
BBE’s 2018 Himalayan season kicked off in early April in Kathmandu as our team members arrived in time to rest after the trip, make last minute purchases and preparations, and enjoy the chance to sit down and review plans before the expedition started proper! In total, our teams this year were comprised of fourteen individuals from Argentina, Uruguay, Norway and the United States, ranging in age from twenty to sixty years old. After packing, unpacking and yak-proof packing each and every one of our bags and barrels, listing, re-listing and meticulously triple checking all supplies, bags and equipment from hardware, to tents, and electronics, we finally flew from Kathmandu to Lukla on April 9, home to one of the world’s most infamous landing strips.
It is in Lukla—gateway to the mighty Khumbu and Hinko Valley Systems—that at last our teams begin to travel on foot; after months and months of preparation and training, we finally arrive in a world with no vehicles, no high speed Wifi, and often no service at all; finally the chance for some real connection! So it was that, on April 9, we arrived in the Khumbu and split up into two teams, to begin our ascents of Mera Peak and Baruntse to the east, and Lobuche East, Everest and Lhotse to the north. Energy and fitness levels were high, and everyone was ready and raring to go, happy to be setting out in Lukla and out of the bustling city of Kathmandu. While taking in the Himalayas’ awe-inspiring vistas and fresh air, spring flowers, waterfalls, and friendly faces, we got used to living, hiking and sleeping at gradually higher elevations. Here’s the play-by-play of each ascent.
At 6,462m, Mera Peak is the highest permitted “trekking” peak in Nepal. Although climbing Mera Peak is technically straightforward, getting there involves trekking over some high passes. This season’s Mera Peak team was comprised of Damian, Charlotte, Bjorn, Kolbjorn, Kristoffer, Tine, Astrid, Hege and Orlando. The team spent the early days of the trek staying in local tea houses in Paiya, Pangon, Ningsow and Khare—villages which do not appear on Google Maps—and are truly away from the crowds.
After nine days of walking, on April 18, following multiple days of low clouds and even some snow, the clouds finally parted and the skies turned the deep blue that only previous visitors to the high Himalaya can comprehend! Delighted by this, and ready to climb after our carefully planned and suitably gradual acclimatization program, the entire team departed the remote village of Khare for Mera Peak Base Camp at 5,300m, for their first night in tents of the trip, under an intensely beautiful blanket of stars. The following day, they continued on as planned, to reach Mera Peak High Camp at 5,600m, and summited Mera Peak on April 20 with absolutely stunning weather. Mera offers one of the most extraordinary summit views of all of Nepal’s peaks, with no less than five 8000m peaks to contemplate—Everest, Lhotse, Cho Oyu, Makalu and Kangchenjunga—in addition to all the surrounding Himalayan mountains, literally as far as the eye can see. Congratulations to Damian, Charlotte, Bjorn, Kolbjorn, Orlando and Kristoffer for this amazing summit! A bit of bad luck for the remaining ladies on the team who, after battling with colds and flu, decided to stay back at camp; nonetheless this was a truly outstanding effort to have even made it this far.
In late April, after summiting Mera Peak, Damian, Charlotte and Bjorn bade their farewells to the remaining Mera crew, headed down to Lukla via the Khumbu, visiting Dingboche, Pangboche, Namche and finally Lukla again en route, and trekked on up to the beautiful lakeside Baruntse Base Camp for their next climb. Meanwhile, it started to snow, and the trio waited out snowy and cold conditions for a number of days before ascending to Camp 1, from where they aimed to wait for the ideal summit window. The opportunity never came, and as the snow continued to fall and conditions became more and more unsafe, Damian, Charlotte and Bjorn wisely decided to take a deep breath and end the expedition early, and return home safely. There was indeed avalanche activity on the mountain in the days to come, thankfully only with minor casualties. Always with the utmost collaboration in mind, Damian then opted to stay on in Nepal and join Matt, Willie and Kike at Everest Base Camp, adding himself to Kike’s Lhotse permit to climb high yet once again with the BBE family!
Backtracking, over in the Khumbu our dream Everest team—Willie and Matt—accompanied by Kike, Mike and Jake (our Lobuche East team) arrived at Everest Base Camp on April 15 and settled into our deluxe camp, their home for the next 45 days! Kike, Jake and Mike then headed over to Lobuche East for the same fantastic weather window we’d enjoyed over on Mera Peak, summiting Lobuche East on April 20 in perfect conditions. Meanwhile an important day took place at Everest Base Camp: our puja, a prayer ceremony, which must take place in advance of any climb up the mountain. A Buddhist monk from a local monastery blessed the entire Everest team—Willie, Matt, Dawa Sherpa, Lopsang Sherpa, Pasang Bhote and Cheten Bhote.
The first few days living at 5350m are tough and breathless. Travel from afar and a long trek even to reach this point take their toll. It was time for a few days off for Willie and Matt. After rest, recovery, good food and of course the necessary mental preparation for an upward push, Willie and Matt then climbed to Camp 1 on April 29, in absolutely great time and feeling strong. A week later, they made their second rotation, this time to sleep at Camps 1 and 2 and touch Camp 3. After touching Camp 3, they skied from 7200m to Camp 2 (6400m)—achieving a ten-year dream of Willie’s and, most unfortunately, stirring up scrutiny from Nepali officials. The ensuing days were some of the most stressful of our Everest history as Willie, Matt and the BBE team worked around the clock to make arrangements to pay for the permit and comply with regulations that we had been unaware of. Willie, Matt and BBE of course have the utmost respect for Nepal’s mountaineering rules and regulations, and this misunderstanding turned into one of our team’s biggest challenges this season.
Fortunately, everything worked out in the end, but once again we can’t thank the Everest climbing community enough for their help during this time, which came in so many forms, from phone calls to letters to simple hugs or messages of encouragement, when they were most needed. It is the camaraderie, teamwork and long-lasting friendships, that keep BBE coming back again year after year to climb Chomolungma, and once again the magic prevailed.
On May 18, Willie and Matt’s summit push was finally underway, in the very best of company. It’s always a dream for us at BBE, when we have members climbing, to know we have the best-of-the-best support on hand. Kike and Damian’s permits would allow them to climb all the way to the South Col, and this was the plan: Willie and Matt would have Damian and Kike online at the South Col during their Everest ascent, climbing with Chedden Bhote and Pasang Bhote, whilst Lopsang Sherpa and Dawa Sherpa would rest at the South Col, on standby to head up and help if needed; the next day, the gods willing, Willie and Matt would climb Lhotse with Damian, Kike, Lopsang and Dawa….
On May 19 the crew reached and rested all day at the South Col before making an overnight push for an early summit on May 20. Unexpectedly high-speed climbing meant they stopped for a long rest at the South Summit that night (whilst family and friends around the world waited on tenterhooks! …in Base Camp, Kathmandu, New Zealand, Utah, Colorado and Portugal amongst other locations!). The four reached the top of the world that Sunday just before 0500, a sunrise to remember for ever—Matt’s 1st Everest summit, Willie’s 13th and Pasang Bhote and Cheten Bhote’s 2nd summits. It was BBE’s earliest calendar summit day for years, with perfect wind (so warm they could even take gloves off!) and a truly breathtaking reward for the years of hard work and commitment from Matt that had built up to this moment.
In Matt’s words “As we climbed the final feet to the summit we could feel the much needed warmth of the sun and all we could do was give each other big hugs and watch the sunrise from the highest point on the planet”.
By lunchtime they were safely down, and the latest weather report was looking good for objective #2….
The day after Willie and Matt’s Everest summit, the duo, as well as Damian, Kike, Lopsang and Dawa, made an early start to make the steep climb to the summit of Lhotse. They climbed together, had a blast, and summited at 08:30! This was the second time Willie and Matt have made back-to-back summits in the Himalayas! Lhotse marked Willie’s fifth 8000m peak (in addition to his now thirteen Everest summits, Makalu and Cho Oyu with Matt in 2014, and Manaslu in 2017 with Charlotte and Bjorn); Matt’s fourth 8000m peak; Damian’s second Lhotse summit; Kike’s first Lhotse summit and first 8000m peak; and Dawa Gyalzen Sherpa and Lopsang Sherpa’s first Lhotse summits!
What a way to cap off the season! Everest one day, and Lhotse the next!
Community comes first
For the BBE team, the highs and lows of our 2018 Himalayan season carried a theme of community. “Karma follows you,” Willie says. “Good karma follows you. The whole community and our huge network of friends in Nepal supported us, so that everything worked out in the end. It’s an amazing feeling to have close to two hundred Sherpas getting together and writing a letter to the Minister saying that we’ve been good members of the community and supporting us in an unjust moment.”
Willie also notes that, while BBE is one of the smallest companies leading expeditions on Everest, we are primarily focused on the impact we can have in the local community and always giving back. “Every time we have the chance, we’re helping other teams, helping with rescues, providing support to other teams, and teaching courses, just helping in any way we can” he says. When the team descended Lhotse on May 21, now suitably exhausted from the back-to-back climbs, they were asked to assist with a tricky crevasse rescue and helicopter evacuation for a Sherpa from another team who had fallen into a narrow crevasse in Camp 2 about 50-meters deep. Willie says, “It shows the trust they have in us. Nothing more, nothing less.” Needless to say they didn’t hesitate to rush to the scene.
The true identity of any community is really shown when the going gets tough. Throughout our many years of leading successful expeditions in the Himalaya, we are proud to have become a strong contributor and member of what is a unified community. Our Himalayan “brothers and sisters” help one another as a family. Everyone is strong in the good times, but it is the challenging moments that reveal our true colors. We are forever grateful to be a part of this.
So huge congratulations to all those who took part in what was truly an incredible season for BBE… and especially to Matt Moniz whose endless patience and hard work has been rewarded twice over this season! We’re looking forward to 2019!