Carrying a Sandbag to 7000 Meters

Slow and heavy, that’s the ticket, says the Piolet d’Or winner. Wait, what? says the other guy.

Oh, my. The short film below—okay, at 12 minutes, it’s long in internet terms—is bloody, acutely real and hilarious at the same time. Nick Bullock, who’s 50 and making a living from climbing and writing about climbing and has never won the sport’s highest accolade, the Piolet d’Or, agrees to attempt the first ascent of a little known peak in a little known valley in Tibet with Paul Ramsden, who’s won not one but two Piolets d’Or, and then quickly understands how baited and switched he’s gotten.

“Nick, light and fast spells failure,” Ramsden tells him. “Slow and heavy works. The weather is never as bad as it first appears and the secret is you don’t come down until you get to the top. Stop early, make a big ledge, get comfortable, start again the following day.”

On their first night up the 7046-meter North Buttress of Nyainqentangla South East, they carve out a bivvy and sleep in a precarious, exposed section. Big ledge, ha. Stop early, ha.

The two ventured to Tibet in October 2016. Ramsden has a real job and schedules one big expedition a year come hell or high water. He insists that the speedy approach is the wrong one, as he told Alistair Humphreys:

I’m going to sound a bit old here, a bit Zen, a bit Yoda. But most people climbing in the Himalayas rush. They stress. Alpine climbing is all about speed. In the Himalayas you need to relax, and just be slow and consistent. People also treat mountains like an enemy that needs to be “beaten”. But you can’t beat a mountain. They don’t care. So relax. I love being on the mountains so I want to take as much time up there as I can manage.

Well, indeed they do, take as much time, that is.. The pair work their way successfully to the summit and then Ramsden leads them down another way. Weather moves in. Food runs low.

“Soon after dark it began to snow, and snow and snow some more,” wrote Bullock. “I lay, not sleeping at all, while admonishing myself for not forcing the issue and abseiling the line we had climbed. Now we were stuck somewhere teetering on a ridge above 6500m in a dump of snow with limited food and limited knowledge how to get off. What were we thinking? We had climbed the line, we had our prize, this was just the way off, it didn’t matter, it was a fucking way off, that’s all and it was going to kill us.”

They didn’t die, or get lost, or need a rescue, or this would be a different story. Instead, they sucked it up, with Bullock playing off Ramsden’s foil, and had a right good adventure. And while most alpine expedition films are about as enjoyable to watch as having a root canal, this one’s good from start to finish. Press play and go along for the ride. You might not win a Piolet d’Or, but you won’t run out of food, either.

Photos by Nick Bullock (top) and Paul Ramsden.

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Steve Casimiro is the editor of Adventure Journal.
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  • RM2Ride

    Sublime suffering. Wonderfully captured. Thanks for sharing.

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