American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Tibet, Himalaya, Rolwaling Himal, Shishapangma Main Summit (8,027m), Southwest Face, Solo in December with New Variation

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2005

Shishapatigma main summit (8,027m), southwest face, solo in December with new variation. Over the years I had a simple idea in mind: to climb a big Himalayan route solo in the inhospitable conditions that typify winter in the Himalaya. During all my outings in the Alps and from when I first encountered the high Himalayan summits, I wanted to attempt such a project. Since my start in alpinism I have had one central belief: “Things always seem impossible when you haven’t tried them.”

The idea is simple on paper but difficult to realize. Even with all my experience at high altitude, I was still full of uncertainty as I flew to Kathmandu. Would I be able to make the needed effort in the cold and rarified air? Would I be able to climb fast enough on such a technical face to get up between windstorms?

I arrived at base camp on November 14, acclimatized until December 8, and left advance base camp (5,700m) on December 9. That day I reached a bivouac at 7,000m. Then I rested on “stand by” mode, climbing only a mixed section of the British route of 1982 until 7,200m, where I bivouackcd. I started climbing again at 4:30 a.m. on December 11 and reached the summit (8,027m) at 11:30, Nepalese time. Despite my elation, I had to concentrate on the cold that lived in my feet and my entire body, and on the descent that awaited me. Four hours later I bivouacked at 7,000m. Bad weather hit on the morning of December 12. All the mountains were consumed by heavy black clouds. It snowed intermittently and blew violently. Very tired, I concentrated hard, alternating between rappelling and downclimbing while descending the thousands of vertical meters that plunge to the glacier. Around 6,600m my 7mm rope got stuck; it is still on the route. Finally I regained the security of the glacier and reached base camp that day (December 12). My project ended as it had begun, in infinite solitude. I had proven that I was capable of climbing a grand Himalayan route under winter conditions, alone, with no support, and without artificial oxygen.

Jean Christophe Lafaille, France (translated by John Harlin III)

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