Asia, China, Everest, The Hornbein Couloir Direct from Tibet

Publication Year: 1987.

Everest, The Hornbein Couloir Direct from Tibet. Swiss Erhard Loretan, Nicole Niquille, Jean Troillet, as well as my wife Annie and I from France, arrived on July 17 by jeep and truck from the Nepalese-Tibetan border. Troillet wanted to solo the central pillar between the Hornbein and the Great Couloirs. We put two tents on the Central Rongbuk Glacier at 5800 meters, two hours from the bottom of the north face. After that, we acclimatized on small peaks around Everest, but we did not go onto the north face. At the beginning of August, Loretan injured himself jumping with his parapente (parachute). His ankle was very bad and we were afraid it was broken, but after two weeks he could walk again. Bad weather with snow and clouds went on to the end of August. My wife had to go back to France at the beginning of the month and Niquille left for Switzerland at the end. On August 29 it was clear and cold, perhaps the famous “break” during the monsoon. Troillet decided to join Loretan and me to have a better chance for the summit. We left Advance Base at 5800 meters before midnight to try a route similar to the 1980 Japanese route. Our loads were very light; no tent, no climbing equipment, no rope, one light sleeping bag each, one stove and a half pound of food apiece. During the night and the morning of the 30th, we climbed the broad, 50° couloir, taking turns breaking trail. Happily, the deep snow was stable. After 12 hours we reached 7800 meters. We dug a cave to rest during the afternoon. Just before dark we started for the summit via the Hornbein Couloir. At 8000 meters I was so sleepy that I decided to go back to the snow cave to have another try in the daylight. But I could not find it! I sat in the snow to bivouac without any equipment; we had left the sleeping bags at the cave. There was no wind and so I passed the night without frostbite. Meanwhile Loretan and Troillet climbed the Hornbein Couloir and at 2:30 P.M. on August 31 they reached the summit. I think this may have been the quickest ascent of Everest. Three hours later they reached the cave where I was. And two hours after that they arrived at Advance Base! They glissaded on their backs, with their ice-axes to control their speed. In the night I did make another attempt, but having had little to drink and little sleep, I had to stop at 8300 meters; I began to fall asleep and lose my balance and returned to the cave. The next morning in two hours I reached my skis at the foot of the north face. One half hour later a huge powder-snow avalanche swept the whole couloir. On September 5 we returned to lower Base Camp where the jeep was waiting for us.

Pierre Beghin, Groupe de Haute Montagne