American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Annapurna Himal, Mahalangur Himal - Khumbu Section, Cholatse, Northeast Face, Third Ascent, with Variation Finish

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

Cholatse, northeast face, third ascent, with variation finish. After our ascent of Kyajo Ri described above, we trekked to the foot of Cholatse (6,440m), arriving below the northeast face on November 2. This was Seth’s second visit to the mountain. His proposed route followed a mostly continuous ribbon of ice up the face. Closer inspection convinced us that we could access the ribbon despite a blank section near the bottom. [At the time the pair was unaware that this face had previously been climbed—Ed.]

On Nov 7 we began climbing around 7 a.m. The first pitch was an amazing 60m flow of WI4+. A couple of traversing pitches and easy rock led to a buttress of unique turf climbing. The first pitch on this buttress we called “Turf Wars” (M4), not knowing that it was only a warm up for the climb’s mental crux. The next pitch, dubbed “Tuff Reliance,” was a bit of a third eye opener at M6 R/X. These pitches were the key to the climb and led us into the icy meat of the route. We continued for another 400m of excellent terrain, which included a couple of very cool and often thin pitches up to WI5+ M5, then after some 780m of climbing, at an altitude of 5,300m, we found a decent bivouac site.

Next morning, after an easy scramble up to a cave, the Hobbit (Seth) led a slightly overhanging cool whip, thinly plastered in a granite corner. Dubious protection insured that the Hobbit would send. A few hundred meters of easy ice and crunchy névé led to the heart of the route: a silvery blue ice flow 360m long. In the middle of the flow the “Dragon” bared its teeth. The first shot was a rock to Seth’s right hand, which we first thought was broken. I set off on the next lead, only to be stopped by a second barrage of stone fall. Again, one of the rocks found the Hobbit’s belay and smacked him on the head. We needed shelter fast, whether it was up or down. We chose up. Pitch after pitch of sustained grade 4 and 5 ice, combined with the rockfall, took everything we had. As darkness fell, we luckily found a safe, reasonably comfortable bivouac site, where we were able to pitch the tent, albeit in a precarious position.

On the following morning, leaving our high camp in place, we began simul-climbing several pitches of 60° and 70° alpine ice. Then the route steepened, as we hit the headwall. The Hobbit headed right up into the maw and found himself in the middle of one of the highest-quality mixed pitches either of us had ever climbed. Steep black rock led through a series of bulges into a wickedly steep corner (M6), all with positive holds and great dry-tooling. I got the consolation prize above, a steep smear of 85° to 95° ice snaking up to the summit ridge. Six full pitches of AI4 led up the crest to the summit mushrooms; we arrived at the top in the dark a little after 6 p.m. It was cold, and there was no time to hang around. Sixteen rappels got us back to our high camp and our warm down bags, and the following day we rappelled the rest of the route, which we graded VI WI5+ M6.

John Kear, AAC

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