…our speaker Cathy O’Dowd, South African climber and adventuress, just before the start of her Mazeno Ridge-Expedition. Together with climbers Sandy Allan and Rick Allen she attempts the 1st ascent of Nanga Parbat via the Mazeno Ridge. The longest ridge on any 8000m peak, this route is considered “the ultimate endurance challenge“. The Nanga Parbat forms the western anchor of the Himalayan Range and is an extremely serious climb. The route via the Mazeno Ridge was tried by eight teams before – but all attempts failed.
Cathy, what’s going to be the biggest challenge in this expedition: Your physical condition or the weather?
This expedition is a whole set of challenges laid one on top of another. To start with we need good weather and firm snow. High winds, days of storms, thigh-deep soft snow – all of these are things that will stop the climb. Then with good conditions we need good acclimatisation and luck with our health.
Finally, we need to find the right balance: we need to carry enough food/gas/supplies that we can complete the climb – this is alpine-style, so one big upward push, moving the camp each day. Yet if we carry too much we become too slow and too heavily-laden to manage the difficult technical climbing. Trying to find the right path through the many variables is part of what makes this kind of climbing so fascinating!
Eight other teams failed in completing the climb via the Ridge. What will your team do differently?
We are going with a rather bigger team than normal. The two teams that got the furtherest were both two-man teams and by the time they’d done three-quarters of the climb they were exhausted and virtually out of supplies. They had to retreat while they still had food and energy to get down again.
We are a 6-person team, so we hope to be able to spread both the weight and the work. However, a bigger team can slow you down in other ways, so we are taking a calculated risk in adopting this approach
The Nanga Parbat is often called the „killer mountain“, your route is especially challenging. Why do you take such a risk, why is it worth it?
There is considerable risk involved in this, but we also have a lot of experience in judging and reducing risk. In the end, coming home alive is more important than reaching the top.
But for me getting out there and challenging myself in this way, finding out whether and how I cope in such difficult conditions, is more important than simply staying safe on the sofa. I’ve learnt so much about myself by tackling such challenges, I’ve grown in confidence and ability and ambition. The rewards I’ve gained have far outweighed the risks taken.
The Expedition starts on 9th June when Cathy O’Dowd flies out of London and meets with her teammates in Islamabad. Once the three have reached the Mazeno glacier, are acclimatised and have the chance of good weather, the climb will begin. We keep our fingers crossed for Cathy and her team!