Helen Sovdat - CMH Heli-Skiing Guide & Queen of Altitude
By Lilla Molnar, CMH Heli-Skiing Guide
Helen Sovdat is a Mountain Guide and has been guiding for CMH Heli-Skiing for over 20 years, currently she works in the Adamants. In September of 2009, Helen was part of a successful climbing expedition to Manaslu, Nepal. She is the first Canadian to summit the 8163m peak. Manaslu is the world’s 8th highest peak. In her career she has climbed many other high mountains around the world including; Choy Oyu, Ama Dablam, Mustagatah, Mt. Logan and Mt. Fairweather to name a few.
The planning for this fairly spontaneous trip started in the spring of 2009 with some vision of climbing something big with Val Pitkethy a trekking guide and friend of Helen’s with whom she has shared many other great adventures. Val has some great connections within the world of Himalayan climbing. And so, Helen, Val and their friend Mel Proudlock, piggy-backed with a commercial trip heading to Manaslu.
I sat with Helen to ask her about her recent adventure.
LM: How did the trip to Manaslu compare to other expeditions you have done?
HS:It was a holiday! – It was my chance to tag along as one of the members of an outfitted expedition. Food, portering, and camp set up were taken care of. We climbed on our own but we had full support. It was a nice treat as a guide to not have to take care of other people and focus on this climb for myself. Climbing at altitude is tough because it always takes a huge commitment in terms of time and energy. We felt like we were quite quick to acclimatize and we were on the summit within about 3 weeks of arriving in basecamp.
LM: How were the conditions on the mountain compared to other seasons?
HS: Great conditions on the mountain lead us to the summit, weather and conditions were perfect. We had the best conditions I have ever heard of after talking to others who have tried to climb Manaslu. At least 3 other Canadian expeditions had tried the climb in the past. About 20 other climbers summited while we were there, so that was considered a good season. Several other teams made it to just below the summit but turned around at the final corniced ridge. The day after we were on the summit, the mountain got shut down for the season, as the winter jet stream moved in over us. We anticipated the change in weather was coming so the last day of our climb we really went for it.
LM:What was your climbing strategy and what was the crux?
HS: We drove NW from Kathmandu and then started on the Manaslu circuit which was a 5 day trek to basecamp. We set up four camps between basecamp and the summit. The route was quite interesting and included several crevasses, steep avalanche slopes and a dangerous icefall between camp 1 and 2. It was a 300m section where you had to travel horizontally under the leaning towers of ice. It was just one of those places you had to run and hope you didn’t get hit. After we came down off the mountain a climber was killed there. Summit day was long and exhausting. It was a thrill to be on top, but going down drained the last of my reserves. It was a struggle to keep moving one foot in front of the next. While we were there Manaslu also had its first ski descent by two Brits and one Chilean who skied from just below the summit.
Helen’s next trip is to Mongolia for trekking and general mountaineering. She will also be guiding in Nepal and India in the fall of 2010. The main objective is top secret but if you’d like in on it contact Helen firstname.lastname@example.org. Or, if you'd like to join Helen next winter at the Adamants, contact CMH Reservations at 1.800.661.0252.
Helen in Icefall between camp 1-2 by Val Pitkethly
Manslu Summit, Front to back: Tensing Sherpa, Helen Sovdat, mel Proudlock, Ngima Sherpa, Val Pitkethly by Rob Casserly.