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Asia, Nepal, Malahangur Asia, Nepal (Khumbu), Nuptse, North Face, The Crystal Snake

Nuptse, north face, The Crystal Snake. In terms of high-standard technical ascents at altitude the highlight of the season was the new route on the north face of Nuptse by Argentinean guides, Damian and Willie Benegas.

The brothers made their first sortie onto the face during early May and a second on the 15th of the month, when they climbed 10 hard pitches over good but brittle ice and wonderful orange granite. At 2 a.m. on the 16th the stove broke and the pair had no option other than to rappel, leaving most of their gear at the high point.

The third and final attempt began on the 18th. The first night they bivouacked at 6,500m, the second at 6,700m, and the third at 6,950m. At this point they exited from the steep triangular face onto the snowy crest of the north rib, having climbed ca 22 pitches up to 5.9 WI5 and M4 (for speed, pieces of gear were intermittently pulled on or hooked with ice tools). On the 21st they reached a small rock band on the rib at 7,100m and bivouacked for the fourth time.

The next day it snowed more or less continuously and the pair only managed a further 300m. The next day the weather began to improve and the summit was reached after midday. After rappelling the approximate line of the British Route they were back in the Western Cwm by 10 that night. The new route, 1,500m high and christened The Crystal Snake, involved 42 roped pitches and a considerable amount of unroped climbing during the last 800m on the crest of the rib. A lead article on this ascent appears earlier in this Journal.

Historical note: In October 1979 Georges Bettembourg, Brian Hall, Al Rouse, and Doug Scott climbed the snowy left flank of the north rib, joined its crest in the upper section, where they continued to the main summit to make the second ascent of Nuptse’s 7,861 m main summit. This route or variants to their original line have been repeated on three separate occasions to date, but by members of only two expeditions. In September 1996 Ralf Dujmovits and Axel Schlonvogt established a camp at 6,800m on the glacial shelf above the Western Cwm and directly below the start of the snow rib leading up the face to the crest of the rib. From this camp they climbed the intervening ca 1,000m to the summit in 12 hours. In May 1999 Andy Lapkiss, Jeff Rhoads, and Gyalzen Sherpa adopted the same tactic but started up the face right of the 1979 Route, crossed it, then followed a snow ramp left of and parallel to the crest of the spur to arrive directly at the summit. This was repeated the following day by Pete Athans climbing alone but from the same expedition.

Lindsay Griffin, High Mountain INFO