A few thoughts on: Solo
As in 2015, Conrad Anker had joined me on Lunag Ri in 2016. In the end, I stood alone in front of the wall, and finally decided to make a solo attempt.
I certainly hadn't planned an attempt without Conrad on Lunag Ri. Just like the year before, we wanted to ascend the unclimbed peak (6900 m) in Nepal. During a first good weather window, we made an attempt. After about 5 pitches, Conrad suddenly felt extreme pain in his chest. We immediately rappelled and called a helicopter that picked him up at the base of the route and brought him to a hospital in Kathmandu. Diagnosis: Heart attack. After an emergency surgery, he was doing better and left.
Knowing that Conrad was safe and wouldn't return to the mountain, and because of the continuing high pressure system in the area, I decided to do a solo attempt. I was sure that I had a fair chance to summit.
The next day, I climbed ropeless on steep snow and ice flanks to just below the northeast ridge. The rest of the day, I waited and thought about the remaining 700 meters to the summit.
My thoughts were turning in circles and time after time I came across the same questions. Alone, there is no possible to distract yourself by talking to your partner. I keep myself busy by boiling water and drinking it. During the night, I continue upwards. The terrain became more difficult and started to impose the rhythm:
Soloing is extremely toilsome and elaborate once you start to belay yourself. Once you reach an anchor, you have to rappel back down to take the backpack and the gear, before climbing the pitch again, this time along the rope. Then, you lead again. There is no break while your partner would be doing something.
When I finally reached the second bivy, there were only 300 meters left to the summit. However, I was completely spent. If I would continue upwards the next day, I wouldn't have the strength to descent. It was no longer about reaching the summit - that would have been suicidal - it was about gathering my strength to descend safely.
The will to keep going is often a critical factor in the mountains, and a partner plays a decisive role in this. You are up there together and everyone is responsible for the entire party. Giving up effects more people than just the person who does it. Often enough, the collective will to keep going is the only remaining incentive.
The next day, I begin my descent. It's toilsome and extremely tiring, but there are no surprises waiting. After a bit more than 20 hours, I reach my camp at the base, where my friends are waiting for me. Solo ascents might be precious and intense experiences, but they can’t fully replace "normal" mountaineering. What's missing is the shared experience on the mountain, and the shared responsibility for success.