Asia, Tibet, Himalaya, Shishapangma (Xixabangma), Attempt in Winter and First Winter Ascent of the Southwest Face

Publication Year: 2004.

Shishapangma (Xixabangma), attempt in winter and first winter ascent of the southwest face. Our aim was the southwest face and main peak (8,012m) of Xixabangma in winter. For our attempt we chose the Spanish Route toward the right side of the face. It has only been climbed once: in the summer of 1995 Carles Figueras and Josep Permaé climbed the face more or less in alpine style, but unfortunately were not able to reach the summit. They retreated from the final ridge at ca 7,900m. To our small team comprising Simone Moro (Italy), Piotr Morawski, Jan Szulc, and Darek Zaluski (the last three from Poland, with Zaluski also acting as cameraman), a completion of this route in winter seemed very attractive.

Our expedition started from Kathmandu on December 6. By the end of the month base camp had been established at 5,200m (two days walk from Nyalam), advanced base positioned one day higher at the foot of the glacier below the south face at 5,600m (there was no snow until this point), and camp 1 set up beneath a big serac below the face at 6,100m. On January 4, Morawski, Moro, and Zaluski reached 7,000m during their first attempt to establish camp 2. However, they found no place to put the tent and had already fixed almost 1,500m of rope above camp I. On the 9th Morawski and Moro fixed another 200m and were finally able to establish camp 2 at 7,150m on a small platform. The preparations for a summit push began.

On January 17 Morawski and Moro set off from camp 2 around midnight. They wanted to fix another 400m of rope, but at 2 a.m., after fixing half that amount, they decided to come back to the tent and warm themselves up using a stove. It was below -50°C and the wind was really strong. The second attempt started at 6:00 a.m. They fixed the last 200 meters of rope, but did not reach the top of the face. Expecting the final ridge leading to the summit to be relatively easy, they set off up the last section of the couloir with a 60m Kevlar rope. Parts of the final section were very steep, and just before the top there was a rocky wall a few meters in height. At 11:30 a.m. Morawski stood on the ridge at 7,600m and a few minutes later was joined by Moro. It turned out that the way to the summit wasn’t as easy as they had been told. The simplest solution, going straight down to the big plateau ca 100 meters below on the north flank of the mountain, was impossible. The rope was too short and the plateau was cut off from the face by a crevasse some six or seven meters wide. Instead they were forced to traverse the ridge to gain the plateau at 7,700m. However, this took time, and when they arrived it was already 3 p.m. It was too late to safely continue to the summit, which they felt was another three or four hours distant. The wind was getting stronger and an unplanned bivouac would have certainly resulted in severe frostbite. They did the only thing they could: descend.

Morawski went right down to camp 1 but Moro stayed at camp 2 with Zaluski, hoping to make another attempt the next day. However, the wind only blew stronger and the sky became overcast, so the pair broke camp and descended to base. All members were back in Kathmandu on the 22nd. The Spanish route to the top of the south face had been repeated, but the summit was not reached. However, this party proved that climbing Himalayan giants in winter by a very small team is indeed possible.

Piotr Morawski, Poland