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Kula Kangri exploration
A Wheelchair in the far remote Tibet.

The team :
H. Guyetand (nurse), L.Honnilh (M Doctor), N. Honnilh, R. Jessup (climber),
A. PÍcher (Geologist and climber), J.F. Porret (Quadriplegic),  G.Sťvenier (climber).

October 86: After our succesful ascent of the 25,500 ft.Makalu II, in Nepal, Richard and I start looking for another high, exotic and hopefully unknown peak to climb. On an old tibetan map, we pick up the 24,790 ft. Kula Kangri. With the assistance of the French National Scientific Research Center, I discover that the only available litterature on this mountain relies on a survey done by the major Bailey from the British Indian army, who explored the area in 1922.

We also get in touch with Augusto Ganser, an expert of the Himalayas and more specifically of the Buthan. Ganser provides us with the only existing picture of the South face of the KK, which allows us to discover another totally unknown and high altitude range of mountains.

April 88:  We receive by fax the permission to climb the KK by its mysterious South face. We start getting prepared.

March 89:  The Kampa tribes from East Tibet decide to fight the chinese red army and trigger riots all over Tibet. Hundreds of tibetans are killed or thrown into jail in Lhassa. The Kula Kangri area is closed once again.

In California my two-footed life abruptly ends up. I get reincarnated on a wheelchair.

March 93: The dream is back. Richard decides to lead an exploratory expedition into the Kula Kangri mountain range. The French Center for Scientific Research, enthousiastic about this project, nominates one of his best scientists, Arnaud. The chinese Government seems to agree with our plans.

My goal will be to climb as high as Iíll be able to with my Offroad Wheelchair.

May 1st:  Itís been a week since I havenít slept before 2 in the morning. Sleeping bags and freezed dried food are spread out all over my family room. Air France accepted transporting our 500 pounds luggage and I, only by himself, contribute to one third of the total load.

Usual expedition departure with a lot of excitement for the travellers and familiesíemotion.

After a long trip, we reach Katmandu, which hasnít changed a lot since our last visit in 1985, except for the raising of pollution and car traffic.

May 4: We leave Nepal by bus and arrive in Zangmu, 1st village in Chinese territory, dirty and mud, rather depressing. We meet our staff, Dawa, our tibetain guide, a student looking guy, who shares a true love and knowledge of his country. Our 3 drivers who always remain cool in any circumstances, but are extremely effective on the rough and bumpy tibetain roads. And finally our 2 sherpa cook always smiling, and very dedicated.

May 8: After 550 miles of dirt road, we discover Lhasa and its famous Dalai Lama summer palaceL the Potala. The 13 stories building, 1300 ft large, lies on a rocky buttress above the city. More than a thousand rooms are networked through steep staircases or even ladders: a model of wheelchair unaccessibility!

An outstanding dedication of my companions as well as of the tibetan monks will however enable my wheelchair and myself (sometimes separated) to visit the place up to its roof. ďFrench Dalai LamaĒ was the password used by the monks each time I ran into a praying assembly. Dust and altitude having likely started to take their toll on us, an old tibetan woman grants me a 10 Yuans note, unless this is by religious beliefs or due to blindness!

I canít resist to symbolically take my Cobra ORWC down the main frontal Potala staircase, an old fantasy that comes to reality.

May11: We are at the head of the dirt road leading to the forbidden South Tibet. The chinese military authorities prohibit us from accessing the area. The expedition ends up here before having even really started.
Stress, debates, we brainstorm alternatives to other parts of Tibet. We remain stuck for 24 hours till the authorization eventually comes back from Lhassa.

May 13: Chola, small and remote 14,400 ft. el. Village, start of the trekking trail we want to take. We sleep on the benches of the Peopleís assembly meeting room. The pictures of Mao and Deng Dsiao Ping protect us in our sleep. 
The protection mustnít have been very effective, as I have a lot of fever. I shiver day and night and feel exhausted. Lucien, the expedition doctor, and Helene, my accompanying nurse, inject me every 6 hours high doses of antibiotics. I take aspirin every 4 hours.

Guy, Arnaud and Richard head without us for the trekk.

Richard describes their 3 day walk:

We leave our friends with a real concern for JFís health conditions. We walk through a deep valley, leading to the 17,000 ft. Mandala, feeling like real explorers, since to our knowledge, only one westener group has ever been here before, and since the Chinese maps of the area are totally unaccurate.
Weíll realize as we keep on walking during this 3 day trek , that the distances in Tibet do not look the same as in Europe, that the passes which seem close are actually endless. The weather gets worse on the 2nd day, and gusty winds warn us of possible high altitude storms. The 1st 18,300 ft pass is tough. The spirit is as low as the altitude is elevated, and we feel badly the lack of oxygen, with headaches and breathing difficulties.
We set up our camp at the end of a very long valley.
The 2nd pass is crossed in much better conditions.
We see from it the KK north face which will be after these 5 years of dream and preparations a moment of intense emotion.
The walking down towards Manza village is fast and by the end of the day we meet our friens coming from the Tibetain south border. Jean-Francois is in  a much better shape and the whole group gets together again with great enthousiasm.

May 15: We take advantage of the permission granted to our drivers only to go south of the mountains range and reach the Buthan border and a small village that we will be the very first westeners to have ever seen.

May 16: We meet again the 3 climbers, very pleased about their trek. This trek happens to be very demanding with 2 high altitude passes. They had the extraordinary opportunity to see 2 ďhemionesĒ, those highly mythical animals, mid-donkey, mid-horse which can only be very rarely found on the high tibetain plateaus. Itís exactly like seeing the Yeti.

Arnaud is exstatic: we are exactly here where the indian continent sinks under Tibet, and the rocks around us are the living proof of this terrible fight.

May 20: 14,500 ft., the Base Camp is situated in a comfortable valley at the foot of the Kula Kangri whose huge North wall dominates us by more than 10,000 feet.
The landscape, as everywhere in Tibet, is arid and severe. The cold and never stopping wind is continuously shaking the tents, dust gets everywhere.

Richard, Guy and Arnaud have already installed an advanced camp at 17,700 ft. and are exploring the West glacier looking for a 20,000 ft. peak to climb up.

Local inhabitants very curious of the strange animals that we are give us frequent friendly but sometimes overwhelming visits. Here the hygiene is more than precarious and the dirt is an institution. So, when locals get under our tents, the air immediately becomes totally unbreathableÖ

I hired a donkey to pull me today, which changes from the mules and yack I tried so far, not to mention the strong legs of the friends I often sollicitated.
With the help of local porters, I climb up to a rocky shoulder, at 18,400 ft., overhanging the KK glaciers.
I run down from there to the Base Camp, 4000 ft. below, without any assistance, losing contact with my team, who will have to search which way I took to go down.
Those couple minutes of intense emotion lived at the edge of the world will give me a feeling of exhalirating fun and of total independence which is so difficult to gain in my everyday life.

Richard describes their mountain hike:

While JF is rushing down the KK slopes, Arnaud, Guy and I leave our advanced camp to meet the 2nd goal of this trip : the Alpine and Geological survey of this mountain range. The KK was climbed only once, 6 years ago, by a japanese team, and has never received any other visit since then.
We leave this camp and walk up the long glacier which leads to the KK west pass. Once again, itís an endless walk, full of illusions: always feeling like we were there by having still hours to go. From the west pass, we discover the Butanese mountains, almost as mysterious as this famous KK.
Arnaud picks up a couple of rock samples, and discovers that the current theories of the KK origins are likely to be wrong.
We also look for potential future climbing on the steep faces situated in the surroundings valleys.
Our way down turns out to be quite long and cumbersome. We take the center part of the glacier across ice ďpenitentsĒ and walk through unstable moraines.
After one day rest, Arnaud and Guy head again for a virgin 20,000 ft. peak, which they succeed climbing. Then they go down, unsettle the camp, and gather with the rest of the team at base camp.

May 23: Arnaudís birthday is an excuse to have a great party under the tents.
The sherpa cook prepares us a birthday cake and kill a mutton for us. The party is unfortunately troubled by the local Chief Deputy, very suspicious about our motivations to stay so long in the vicinity. He accuses us of conducting a scientific survey (we thought he didnít understand anything on our technological climbing gear!).

Anyway, we are not welcome here anymore and have to leave tomorrow at the latest.

May 26: We have used the extra days provided by being expelled from Kula Kangri to pay a visit to the Everest Base Camp. We are at 18,000 ft. and the night under our tents is very cold. Everything around us is frozen. But what a breathtaking view is to see this North face dominating us by its 11,300 ft. and by all the weight of its history.
Here many tumbstones keep the memory of all those whose passion burnt out the existence and who are still some place above.

May 28: I couldnít resist the temptation to wheel down the 30 miles and 11,500 ft. denivelation from the high tibetan plateau to the nepalese border.
Iíll make a couple of unexpected encounters, like this Yack stupidly staring at me, or like this very aggressive tibetan dog badly willing to bite me.
This will bring me down to the tibetan border and Iíll here again achieve an old fantasy, by propelling myself on this bridge in front of the puzzled red army guard.

What a long way accomplished through out all those years of dream and preparation, all those moments of uncertainty and stress before departure, in particular all those medical questions as to the possibility for a quadriplegic to survive in the high altitude, the wind and the coldness of the tibetain mountains, a way that we have accomplished all together, the whole team focused on this project.

What a long way accomplished since this famous day of April 1989, where my life changed, but which allowed me to realize that I could be back in the mountains...



Last update : 10/12/2002 18:17

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