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Hummel Meets the Mountain

The Story of
the First (and Only)
All-American, All-Cat
Himalayan Expedition

Part 6


After setting up Camp III, the cats took a closer look at the two routes available. They made good use of the expensive camera equipment they brought along. They decided a CATapult would be the ideal tool to use. But lacking that Hummel and Winston came up with a different plan.

It was decided that two climbing teams would proceed from camp III. When the climbers make progress on the mountain they set up and leave fixed ropes on the hard or dangerous parts of the climb for the rest of the climbers to use. In this way it is easier to go up and down the mountain. By attacking both routes the cats could then choose the easier of the routes and use the fixed ropes to go higher on the mountain.

Winston suspected that a group of cats, being lighter of foot than humans, would have a better shot at traversing the ridge from the col. So he led Monster and Sherpa Pahu up to the col and the nearby snow hump for a better look. Indeed, the east face offered nothing but potential CATastrophe but the ridge itself was intriguing. It was sharp and corniced. Cornices are where the snow piles up and reaches over the edges of the rock. It is easy for the snow to break off and fall from the top, especially if weight is put on the cornice. Thus it was especially dangerous for humans ... but for careful cats...? Winston decided to set up camp IV below the snow hump in preparation for a traverse on the ridge.

Meanwhile Hummel, Marley and B.C. were taking the direct approach to the ridge ... 3000 feet of essentially vertical snow. The going was slow and difficult but built in retractable crampons eliminated the need for the bulky ice tools that humans use and progress was steady. After two days fixed ropes stretched all the way to camp IVa, atop a bulge in the ice at over 20,000 feet and only a few hundred feet from the ridge. Here Hummel decided to wait; with the hard climbing over, his team deserved a rest and it would be only a short jump to the ridge itself. He also wanted to give the 'ridge team' time to complete their traverse, thus establishing a new route on the mountain.

On the afternoon of May 28th, the six climbers were reunited on the north ridge of Macchupachere at 21,000 feet. The traverse had been a mere CATwalk.

Ahead the ridge beckoned. It continued as a knife edge up to and over a rock buttress, a spire above the snow, and then to the steeper summit slopes. Below, some 200 feet below the ridge, a snow field hugged the east face. The humans had gone this way. Hummel again concluded that an attempt on both routes was called for.

Chapter 15: THE EAST FACE

Winston and his team were eager to attack the east face. They set up a rope and lowered themselves onto the east face snowfield. Here they established Camp V for what they expected to be the major assault on the summit. They followed the snowfield up to another ridge that ran at right angles to their higher north ridge.

From here the humans had lowered themselves again. They were able to reach a snow shelf that formed a bridge to a glacier that led up to the summit itself. The cats anticipated that once on the glacier, their retractable crampons would have them at the summit in a few days. The only danger they could foresee were crevasses, huge deep cracks in the glacier. These were often hidden by new snow and an unsuspecting cat might fall through the snow never to escape the crevasse. The cats intended to be roped together to cross the glacier.

But when they came to the ridge and looked down on the glacier the cats received quite a jolt. The shelf was gone! In the 20 years since the humans had last been there, the shelf had probably collapsed from its weight and crashed thousands of feet to the Seti Khole, the river that flowed below. It must have been an awesome avalanche.

But now the glacier which they hoped to follow to the summit was unreachable. So after another day of fruitless search for an alternate route to the glacier a mournful CATcall was heard on the mountain. Only one route to the summit remained ... the North Ridge.

On the ridge Hummel, Marley and B.C. had continued to the rock buttress. The buttress itself proved to be a difficult climb. They spent 3 full days climbing the buttress, their crampons of no use on the rock. After each day of climbing they would come back down to the ridge where they had to bivouac for two consecutive nights hanging in hammocks on the side of the ridge. Each morning they would climb their fixed ropes and continue to lead up.

Finally they reached the top of the buttress. Here they downclimbed to the ridge again only to be met by a smooth face on the ridge. The face was broken only by a wicked looking crack that was their only way to the easier summit slopes above. Could they have come all this way to be stopped so close to their goal?

Hummel knew that he was not agile or thin enough for this crack. Proper technique would require jamming parts of your body into the crack and hanging on to them. B.C. was ready for the challenge.

"Hummel, I have been practicing for just this eventuality", she said. "I have become a real crack climber. Let me try it."

There were no alternatives. B.C. led up the crack with great determination. For hours she struggled with the crack, certainly sacrificing several of her nine lives in the process. But finally she moved above the crack onto the very slopes that led to the summit itself. It looked like only one more days climb would be needed.

B.C. left fixed ropes up the crack and camp VI was situated a bit further up. At this point Hummel made a fateful decision to return to lower camps for provisions and to make contact with Winston.

Chapter 16: The Storm

On the morning of May 5th the storm hit. Hummels team was just starting to down climb from the top of the crack that B.C. had worked so hard to climb. Hummel bravely led his cats down the crack and they fought fierce winds and chilling snow to make it down the buttress as well. From here, though, they couldn't see an inch in front of them. This condition, called a white out, is very dangerous especially on a knife edge ridge where a false step could send a cat tumbling thousands of feet. It was decided to bivouac here on the ridge. At least there was some protection afforded by the buttress. If they had been at camp VI above the crack they would have been exposed to the full fury of the storm.

Meanwhile, Winston's team had just begun the ascent from Camp V back up to the ridge and was forced to retreat. So they were stranded at camp V. Communications between the two climbing teams and between base camp were cut off and things began to look bad as the storm progressed. The cats at base camp were helpless since they didn't even know the exact positions of all the climbers. They couldn't see anything through their cameras because of the storm.

Tabby Cat, as any good Aunt would be, was worried about her Nephew Hummel. She thought that, if the storm let up, there was a chance that the climbers would be able to retreat to camp IVa, just below the ridge. However she immediately realized that there was not much food left at IVa. It would be necessary to send some cats up into the storm.

"We need volunteers to bring provisions to camp IVa. The success of the expedition could depend on it."

Would you believe it? Everyone in camp volunteered!!

Tabby chose Sherpa Mali, who had much more experience in bad weather climbing, to lead. Raison and Athena insisted on going with Mali.

"After all, its our brother up there on the mountain."

Alphonse was selected to round out the team and off they went. They bravely battled the storm for several days. Luckily the storm was a little less powerful down at lower elevations. Otherwise they might not have made it through. As it was it took 4 days to climb from base camp to IVa. The cats found the camp practically flattened by the storm. They dug it out and reinforced the tents before depositing a healthy supply of food and warm clothing. They also left some balls of yarn so the climbers could play a little. Then they headed back down.

Feline luck smiled once more on the cats. A lull in the storm came on the 9th, providing a few decent hours for movement. Hummel and Winston moved immediately, mobilizing their cats for a quick retreat. Hummel reached IVa first and was happily surprised to find it in good condition. He immediately found the provisions left by the support crew. They would have been out of food in one more day.

Hummel still worried about Winston. The storm was beginning to start up again. But just then Winston and his team struggled in. All the cats were now safe.

The climbers carefully analyzed their situation. They were tired. The effects of several weeks at high altitude were becoming apparent. You see, the higher one climbs, the less oxygen there is in the atmosphere. And oxygen is the fuel that keeps us moving. Thus high altitude expeditioners, like the cats, often experience difficulty in trying circumstances.

The logistics of the situation were also not encouraging. They knew they would run out of supplies in another week. It became obvious that they needed a good rest if they were to make a serious summit attempt. But the storm still kept them pinned. If it were not for the yarn they would have gone out of their minds.

But the storm continued in all its fury and on the morning of May 11th the weary and dejected cats had no choice but to descend through the snow to base camp. Here they could rest comfortably.

If you are enjoying the Hummel Mountaineering story please Let Us Know. We will be putting the rest of the book on the Web with some great photos of the peaks and images of the expeditioneers. Check back to keep in touch with Hummel.

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