American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Tibet, Himalaya, Chomo Lonzo North, Southwest Face to Summit Ridge

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2007

Chomo Lonzo North, southwest face to summit ridge. Although we left Kathmandu on April 15, it was not until the 24th that I arrived at my 4,750m base camp below Chomo Lonzo. There had been so much snow on the approach that in places I had to break a waist-deep trail for the yaks to follow. The depth of snow also promised much hard work establishing my proposed advanced base at 5,900m below my goal, the unclimbed west face of Chomo Lonzo (7,790m). Most mornings were sunny, but at midday the clouds rolled in, and by 3 p.m. it was snowing. I eventually managed to get all my equipment to the higher camp on May 2 and the following day made an attempt on the west face. On my second attempt I reached 6,600m and realized that this year I was not going to climb the face. Steep glassy ice led to smooth slabs of yellow granite. I estimated it would take me around six or seven days to reach the summit, and there were few places for even a sitting bivouac.

Back at advanced base I came up with an alternative idea: a new route to Chomo Lonzo North (7,199m). The southwest face rose from the glacier on which my camp was situated, and right of the summit fall line was a prominent steep ice couloir topped by a rock barrier. The face was ca 1,200m high, and there seemed to be several options through the upper cliffs to gain the summit ridge. Two routes had been climbed to this summit in 2005 by a French expedition. My proposed line looked logical and safe, and being mostly ice could be climbed fairly fast. I planned to spend no more than two or three days on the route and therefore did not take much food.

I crossed the bergschrund at 7 a.m. on the 16th with two 60m ropes, a hammock tent, light sleeping bag, gas stove, and jacket. As the top part of the route would require climbing rock, I also had Friends, stoppers, and pitons. It all came in handy, especially on the descent. I was able to climb unroped until ca 6,400m, after which the ice became harder and steeper and I needed to haul my 15-16kg sack.

Above, my protection in the couloir was rather symbolic: two screws per belay and for most of the time nothing in the intervening 60m. As normal, it began snowing at 2 p.m. By 9 p.m., I had reached the rock band at ca 6,800m and then during the remaining minutes of daylight, I managed to gain another 30m of height in a rock and ice couloir. I never did manage to find a comfortable spot for a bivouac. Half-sitting, half-lying, I survived that night without sleep.

I estimated that it should take me seven to eight hours to reach the summit, so I took only bare necessities. However, by 8 p.m. not only was I not at the summit, I had not even reached the summit ridge. There were times when the steep ice was as hard as granite. In darkening twilight I climbed the final rope length to the ridge. It was 9 p.m. and a voice in my head said, “That’s it, enough, stop! You are already at the limit. Go down.” I did not resist. I descended to my bivouac site then on down the couloir, reaching the glacier at 5 the following morning, crazy with thirst.

My route, Little Prince (1,100m, TD+ M4), joined the existing French route on the ridge connecting Chomo Lonzo North and Central at ca 7,100m, and most likely the top section of Unforgiven, the mixed route on the west face climbed by Stephane Benoist and Patrice Glairon-Rappaz (AAJ 2006, pp. 35-45). It took a round trip of 47 hours from advanced base. This may not be a long time in real terms, but by the intensity of the experience it could hold several years of a lifetime.

Valeri Babanov, Canada

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