American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Mahalangur Himal (Khumbu), Nuptse, South Pillar Attempt

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2003

Nuptse, south pillar attempt. The Nuptse International South Face Expedition (a.k.a. the Slo/Can/Am—emphasis on Slo) was concluded at the end of May, 2002. Team members were Marko Prezelj (Slovenia), Barry Blanchard (Canada), Stephen Koch (USA), and myself (also USA) as leader. In support was Barry’s wife Catherine Mulvihill and our wonderful cook, known to us as Prakash.

We arrived in B.C. on April 15. Basecamp was on the western side of the Lhotse Nup Glacier, about a two-hour walk from the small village of Chukung. We spent about two weeks acclimating and all members climbed to 6,800m on the 1961 British route—the route of first ascent. On the last trip up that ridge Stephen Koch had a small mishap with a snow cornice which dropped on him from a height of 50cm (really) and tore his medial-collateral ligament on his right knee. Stephen left for Thailand four days after this incident.

The three remaining members stayed healthy long enough to see the season’s good weather spell. Barry, Marko, and I started up an untried route in the center of the face between the ‘61 route and the often-attempted-not-yet-completed south pillar route. We left B.C. early the morning of May 15. We soloed to about 5,400m, and then belayed the ensuing 400m-450m to establish a bivy site at approximately 5,800m. That first day offered excellent mixed climbing on fine granite up a very natural and objectively safe line. For all of us this day was the best of the trip—the quality of the climbing combined with the joy of discovery made for an exceptional day in the mountains. The second day on the route saw five more belayed pitches of moderate mixed terrain that led to easier climbing. We then unroped and climbed to 6,600m. The third day we climbed to 7,200m and bivied in the bergshrund at the top of the south face névé.

Marko and I continued with the ropes and rack a bit higher on the ice face to 7,300m. This eventually proved to be our highpoint. On the fourth day we woke up to windy and much colder weather with a lot of black clouds down valley. We spent the day in the tent and woke to the same weather on the fifth day at which point we elected to descend. We downclimbed to 6,500m where we joined the ’61 route and continued down now-familiar terrain to reach B.C. at 9:30 that night. Nuptse East, 7,804m, is still unclimbed.

We are happy to report that Stephen didn’t require surgery and his MCL is apparently healing up nicely. We saw no Maoist insurgents, though we heard many rumors and the steets of Thamel were strangely quiet without normal tourist volumes.

We had originally proposed to attempt the route in a single-push variation of alpine- style. Upon climbing on the lower ’61 route and trekking two days to the west to get a view of the summit rockband, we collectively decided that there appeared to be too much hard climbing up high (between 7,300m and 7,600m) to make that approach feasible. We switched to “classic” alpine style, carrying a bivy tent and two sleeping bags in addition to our food/stove/fuel/clothing. Having climbed to 7,300m on the face I would elect to use the same “classic” approach if I were to attempt the route again.

Steve House, AAC

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