IN early April, 27-year-old John Price will set off from his family home in Ainslie for a remote corner of Nepal, where he and two New Zealanders will try to reach a 6900m-high peak that has never been climbed before.
“It’s a two-month expedition,” he explains. “We leave from a town called Taplejung, then we trek for a few days to a town called Ghunsa, and then from there we have a further three or four days trek to where we’ll set up base camp in the Ramthang Valley. That’s at around 5000m, so from there we’ve still got around 2000m to climb.”
The distance from base camp to the top is similar to the height of Mt Kosciuszko – from sea level – but at that altitude, every step is exhausting, and there’s no helpful chairlifts or pathways.
“We expect it to take six to eight days up to the summit and down, depending on conditions and how we’re all doing healthwise.”
Remarkably, Price only started serious mountaineering less than three years ago and the highest he’s climbed is little more than half the altitude of the mountain now in his sights: Anidesha Chuli or “The White Wave”.
“It’s a big question mark for me to see how I’ll do at altitude because there’s no way to know,” he says casually.
“I’ve climbed a lot of mountains in Canada – stood on a lot of summits – but the altitude in Canada is not very high. In general, in the Canadian Rockies you usually climb to around 3500m.”
His highly experienced companions, Paul and Shelley Hersey, are at opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of acclimatising to high altitude, he says, “…so if I’m anywhere in between it should work out quite well.”
About five years ago, Price did what a lot of Canberrans dream of doing and packed in his public service job in search of adventure.
“I was working in IT for the Government and it wasn’t for me, I didn’t enjoy it, so I decided to move to NZ and study adventure recreation and guiding, at a tertiary level,” he says. “I did a paper on rock climbing and mountain climbing and fell in love with it. That was 2009 and from then on, it just dictated my life.”
After the course he spent six months in Christchurch with his new love until the earthquakes shattered his home and the outdoor shop where he worked, which is also where he met Paul, his first mountaineering mentor.
Back home in Canberra, Price worked in rope-access cleaning as he prepared for his next move, to Banff in the Canadian Rockies.
“All my mentors had said: ‘Go to Canada if you want to be a good mountain climber’, because it’s the best place in the world to climb ice,” he explains. “The access is a lot easier than NZ and they have a long winter with much colder temperatures, so there’s a lot of water ice to climb there and you can get very good, very quickly, if you put your mind to it.”
Not content just to attempt to climb Anidesha Chuli, Price and the Herseys also want to make a documentary about the adventure so they’re bringing photography and video production equipment to base camp, with the help of porters, as well as all their food and climbing gear.
“We’ll also have a cook on the way to base camp, but then after that on the climb, it’s just us,” says Price.
To get to the top they have to cross the Ramthang Glacier, take a left where it gets steep then find a path through 1000m of very steep ice, before they get to the relative safety of the col, a saddle in the long ridge that runs to the summit.
Along the way, they’ll have to avoid crevasses, ice falls, extreme cold and altitude sickness, as well as avalanches, like the one that forced a team of four New Zealanders to abandon climbing “The White Wave” last year.
“There’s a few risks to mitigate,” says Price, “but we’re a strong, conservative team, and I think we’ll make good decisions up there.”
John Price writes a blog at john-climbs.blogspot.ca