AAC Publications - http://publications.americanalpineclub.org

Asia, Nepal, Lhotse, South Face

Lhotse, South Face. Detailed study of previous attempts resulted in our deciding on a classical style with a 22-man team, plus a doctor, radioman, two TV men and a cook. We fixed rope and had a running chain of climbing teams working one after the other on the face. Sherpa support was only on the lower face. Our first goal was to escape avalanches. Much of the 3000 feet below the west shoulder is overhanging. (The shoulder is some 1300 feet below the summit.) Left and right of the overhang are possibilities. The right was more directly towards the summit. The left one looked promising since we could finish on the west face in case of unexpected difficulties near the summit. We eventually tried both routes from Camp VI. This year’s spring conditions complicated work on the face. Short periods of climbing in the morning ended daily in snowfall at noon. Immediately the face smoked with avalanches and made us keep our heads down in shelters. We often ascended without time to make advance preparation on the route because of the weather. Protecting teams on the face was another problem. The rock had no bends nor small protective overhangs and was mostly exposed snow and ice. We had brought metal tent platforms but did not use them because of avalanche danger. We had some frame tents with a vertical side to be dug into the wall over which avalanches would pass and used snow caves wherever possible. Normally we pitched one tent at a campsite first and immediately tried to dig a cave. It worked except at Camp II, where the ice was mixed with sand and stones, and at Camp V, where the snow was too shallow and soft. Our first group reached Base Camp on the western glacial moraine of the Lhotse Glacier on March 16 via Lukla. The second group could not fly to Lukla until March 21 because of bad weather and reached Base Camp four days later. Camp I was under the first rock band at 19,000 feet. Four rope ladders were fixed on the rock step above Camp I. Camp II was first established on April 4 at 21,000 feet and later reestablished after avalanche damage. We placed Camp III at 22,300 feet below the first big overhanging part of the face. Camp IV at 24,125 feet was placed on a snow saddle connecting a small rock tower with the face. Ladders were fixed below Camp IV and in the big rock wall above it. Camp V was established at 25,750 feet in a snow gully in the center of the Yellow Band on May 1. Shallow, unstable snow and avalanches made this camp the worst of all. In the last part of the climb the camp was avoided and carries were made directly to Camp VI. Camp VI was placed on May 8 at 26,400 feet. The snow quality changed from sand mixed with water ice in the middle part to soft, unstable snow from Camp III above. Until May 14 all efforts were made on the direct route to the summit ridge. Two attempts were made on May 10 and 14. On the second, Pavel Podgornik, Andrej Štremfelj and Nejc Zaplotnik pushed from Camp VI up the east (right) side of the overhang and onto the last rock step below the exit onto the snow ridge at 27,075 feet (8250 meters). At eleven A.M. they had to stop because the upper ridge was swept by strong winds and drifting snow. On May 18 Vanja Matijevec and Francek Kenez made a last effort to exit from the face onto the west shoulder via the left variation. At five A.M. they left Camp VI, traversed the upper snowfield left and followed the steep and extremely unstable terrain on the upper edge of the exit slopes. The weather was bad; by eight A.M. the mountain was in fog above 23,000 feet. At noon it looked as if they would have to return. Loose snow made the approach to the ridge risky. They kept on until they were at 26,575 feet (8100 meters) at six P.M. All they could see was fog in the Western Cwm. Because of the risky return, they first planned to descend into the cwm and be helicoptered from the icefall, but the plan was abandoned and they returned to Camp IV at four A.M. after 23 hours of uninterrupted climbing. Two days later Base Camp was cleared and the 63 days of climbing on the south face finished.

Aleš Kunaver, Planinska Zveza Slovenije, Yugoslavia