On Bonington’s shoulders | AspenTimes.com

On Bonington’s shoulders

Tim Mutrie
The northwest face of Sepu Kangri with the Turquoise Flower the striated pyramid formation at right. The peaks true summit, not pictured, lies just up the ridge at left. Jordan Campbell photo.

In the fall of 2002, a party of six Americans and a Swede set out with skis to attempt the 22,950-foot Sepu Kangri, an unclimbed Himalayan peak dubbed “Tibet’s Secret Mountain” by the famous British mountaineer Chris Bonington.Bonington, as the story goes, had spied the huge, little-known massif located in remote Nyencheng Tanglha, eastern Tibet, by plane but kept mum about it for years as the region remained closed to climbers per Chinese authority. Equally deft with snow slopes as diplomacy, however, Bonington gained access in the 1990s and led three expeditions to Sepu Kangri – a recon in 1996 followed by two climbs in ’97 and ’98. But British teams never quite reached the summit, with one push falling some 150 meters short.”The British exhausted themselves wading through waist-deep snow,” said Jordan Campbell, an on-and-off again valley resident who now lives in Basalt and works in men’s apparel and design at Obermeyer.

Campbell, 37, who is also a photographer, was one of the members of the 2002 post-monsoon expedition to Sepu Kangri.”We were standing on Chris Bonington’s shoulders to get this done,” Campbell said. “And what we ended up doing was using skis as a way to get up the mountain.”Two members of the team, expedition leader Mark Newcomb of Jackson Hole, Wyo., and world-renowned alpinist Carlos Buhler of Bozeman, Mont., reached the summit in a storm. Then, six of seven in the party skied off the peak from their Camp III, at 21,000 feet, Campbell included. Campbell, who joined the party last minute – three weeks before they departed for Tibet – elected to retreat on summit day, however.

Tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, as part of the ACES Potbelly Perspective Series, Campbell will present a slideshow from the expedition and screen a film by team member Frank Pickell, of Boulder, titled “Last Horizon, The first Ascent of Sepu Kangri.” Admission costs $3.Ace Kvale of Ophir, Colo., Carina Osteberg of Jackson Hole and Kate Clayton of Boulder rounded out the team.Hailed as the most successful American mountaineering expedition of 2002, the climb was written up in numerous magazines and Internet ‘zines.”It touches on the real nerves of high-altitude climbing,” said Campbell, 37, “and what people are willing to risk.”

“I was on the summit team, but I turned around, which was a good decision for me. It was also hard, because I was really close to the top, so it was kind of a bummer, too.”As for the ski descent from 21,000 feet, Campbell put it this way:”There were definitely places you didn’t want to make any wrong turns. The top was really survival skiing, descending with huge packs, and nasty, whiteout conditions. Once we got a little bit lower, we were able to make some turns.”Tim Mutrie’s e-mail address is mutrie@aspentimes.com

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