American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Kangchenjunga Himal, Kangchenjunga, Southwest Face, Partial New Route/Direct Finish, La Luce del Nirvana

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2004

Kangchenjunga, southwest face, partial new route/direct finish, La Luce del Nirvana. Of the five expeditions attempting 8,586m Kangchenjunga, two were successful with all summiteers reaching the top on the same day. Four of these teams were attempting the Standard Route up the southwest face, while the fifth, a multi-national expedition led by Ralf Djumovits, including experienced high-altitude climbers such as Veikka Gustafsson and Michi Wärthl, was trying the north face-north ridge via the 1979 British Route. However, they failed to get above their Camp III at 7,200m, having fixed ropes on the difficult mixed face leading up to the col on the north ridge. Heavy snowfall in the region thwarted most climbers and those who succeeded had simply positioned themselves for a summit attempt at the right time.

Summiting on May 20 from a high camp at 7,600m were Italians Christian Kuntner, Mario Merelli, and Silvio Mondinelli with the Spaniard Carlos Pauner, all from a five-person expedition led by the 8,000m collector, Kuntner, and Kobi Reichen from a Swiss expedition.

This five-person group reached Camp 2 at 7,000m on May 17 and Camp 3 (7,600m) on the 18th. They had a rest day on the 19th before leaving early on the 20th to continue their climb up the glaciated slopes above to the start of the Gangway at ca 7,950m. Here, instead of following the Normal Route up the Gangway and then out right across a series of ramps to reach the west ridge above a large tower, they broke out right on new ground and climbed directly up the mixed rocky face to the summit. This gave between 450-500m of quite difficult climbing, starting with a 150m gully from 45-65°, a 20m rock wall of UIAA IV+, and then a horizontal traverse to the right to gain a deep couloir that splits the middle of the face. This was climbed for 200m (45- 50°), above which they were forced to climb a difficult rock buttress on the right to reach easier ground. The buttress had a system of corners at III-IV, with one little section, thought possibly to warrant V, at an altitude above 8,400m. Another 100-150m of relatively straightforward mixed ground led to the top, which understandably was not reached until quite late in the day, at approximately 4:30 p.m. This is reported to be Mondinelli’s 10th 8,000m peak and Kuntner’s 12th. The new finish has been christened La Luce del Nirvana.

During the descent and as night fell, they separated. The Italians and Swiss were quicker on this difficult ground and although for much of the time they could see Pauner’s headlight above them, they had lost contact in poor weather by the time they had regained Camp 3 (7,600m) at 1 a.m. on the 21st. No ropes had been fixed on the upper section of the climb and Mondinelli, having spent the winter in the Karakoram attempting Broad Peak, must have been very well-acclimatized. The three left lights outside the tent during the night and also went out on several occasions to shout for Pauner but at 9 a.m. on the 21st, with no sight of the Spanish mountaineer, they continued their descent, reaching base camp at 7 p.m.

Fortunately, late on the 22nd the feeble light from a headlamp was seen on the lower part of the face and two Sherpas were immediately dispatched. They found Pauner alive and able to walk unaided but badly frostbitten in the fingers. He was escorted safely to base camp that night. Unable to regain the tents at Camp 3 on the night of the 20th-21st, he had been forced to bivouac in the open after reaching the base of the Gangway at around 8,000m. The following day he had descended slowly, reportedly taking a 100m fall at one point and eventually bivouacking for a second time between 7,400m-7,500m. Back in Spain he was later to loose two fingers and toes.

Lindsay Griffin, High Mountain INFO

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