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The Wild West of the East

The Wild West of the East

[ September 21, 2009 - 2:46pm ]
nepal map
Until recently western Nepal had been mountaineering no-man's land: dangerous, politically unstable, and nearly impossible to get to. Now, three ski mountaineers from the U.S. are attempting to summit and ski peaks in the remote Saipal region.

For decades, far-western Nepal has been ski-mountaineering’s version of outer space — a collection of 20,000-foot-plus Himalayan peaks begging for company, but no safe and easy way to get there.
Even before the Maoist revolution of 1996-2006 — a peasant’s uprising that was headquartered in the west, far from the royal army’s reach, that made traveling there a dangerous game — few outsiders ventured into the region. In fact, many parts remained closed until the late 1980s and early ’90s.
That has all changed. The far west is now wide open, and a team of three ski mountaineers are on their way to find out what the world has been missing. Jamie Laidlaw of Idaho, Kris Erickson of Montana, and California’s Kip Garre — all experienced expedition skiers backed by The North Face — are heading into a tantalizing crag of the Himalaya known as the Saipal region. I’ll be there to take notes and hopefully join them for some skiing.
The Saipal area is sand-spit-in-the-Pacific remote: Depending upon whether certain roads have been washed out by this summer’s monsoons, the travel from Kathmandu to base camp alone could take eight to 10 days. Still, the adventure should be worth it: Erickson was told by a longtime friend who has traveled extensively in Nepal that the far west delivers “a cultural experience on a new level” — not to mention exquisite steep terrain.
The glaciated mountains look impressive enough in the Google Earth images Laidlaw consulted when conceiving the trip. None of the peaks are tall enough to warrant a government liaison officer (who, from what I understand, accompanies any party set on tackling a summit above 6,500 meters), but that’s kind of the point of this expedition: to pursue the smaller (if you can call 20,500-foot mountains small) yet equally worthy objectives. And a bunch of them, not just one monstrous one.
If all goes well, we should be settling into base camp, at about 13,000 feet, sometime around the fourth or fifth of October. From there my fellow Americans will decide which mountain they want to pursue, acclimatize accordingly, and tackle the objective alpine-style from a high camp. Then: eat, sleep, and repeat.
We’ll keep you updated on how everything unfolds. —Devon O'Neil

Devon O’Neil is a freelancer writer based in Breckenridge, Colorado. His website is: 


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