American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Annapurna Himal, Mahalangur Himal - Khumbu Section, Cholatse, First Ascent of North Face, by New Variants to French Route

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2006

Cholatse, first winter ascent of north face, by new variants to French Route. Koreans Park Jung-hun and Choi Kang-sik reached the summit of 6,440m Cholatse at midday on January 16, having made the first winter ascent of the north face. The two arrived at base camp (4,200m) on January 2 and climbed East Lobuje to acclimatize. Due to the onset of poor weather on the 9th, the two men were unable to begin their alpine- style ascent until the 13th. They traveled as lightly as possible, packing for only one night out and two days climbing. They took a 55-liter rucksack, two 55m ropes (a 7mm and a 5mm Kevlar), 15 pitons, 10 slings, two quickdraws, four screws, a fish hook, three RURPs, two snow stakes, a bivouac sack each, one gas canister, one stove, two Sierra cups, power bars, power gel, coffee, cocoa, and only two biscuits between the two.

Before sunrise the two men trudged through crusty snow to the main wall. They began the lower section with three pitches on a moderate 60° spur. After the fifth pitch they followed a seven-meter-wide, 80° couloir, where each pitch of blue ice took from 40 minutes to one-and-a-half hours. At around 1 p.m. the climbers reached a difficult section of black ice at 5,600m. One pitch above, at 5,650m, they made their first bivouac.

By 8:00 the following morning Park had worked through an overhanging section using RURPs and a hook. The pair then made a short traverse left and climbed four pitches of 75° mixed climbing to reach a fork in the couloir at 5,900m. Here, they made their second bivouac.

The next morning they followed the right branch, a 65° couloir, and made their third bivouac on the northwest ridge, just five pitches shy of the summit. They began their trudge to the top by 8:00 the next morning, summited around noon, shot three rolls of film, then began their descent of the southwest ridge. To speed their descent, they left pitons and ice-screws and by 4 p.m. had made it down to walkable terrain. There they shortened the length of rope between them.

Low on the glacier Choi suddenly fell 25m into a bergschrund 1m wide and 50m deep. He broke a leg, and Park fractured ribs in his fall. By the time Choi had been brought to the surface, freezing darkness had descended. Despite being only four hours from the nearest habitation, Na La, their injuries, lack of provisions, and exhaustion forced them to bivouac for a fourth night. The two men reached Na La the next day and asked an elderly man to summon a rescue helicopter. Both climbers were successfully evacuated, but Park eventually lost eight fingers, while Choi lost nine fingers and all of his toes. All the camera film was lost in thebergschrund, and while Park returned the following spring to see if he could find the camera and film, he was unsuccessful. This ascent is the most dramatic and, despite the injuries, most acclaimed effort of all winter alpine-style first ascents made by Koreans.

Lee Young-jun, Corean Alpine Club (translated by Peter Jensen-Choi)

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