American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Mahalangur Himal - Khumbu Section, Nuptse (7,864m), South Face, Are You Experienced? (Not to Summit)

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2009

Nuptse (7,864m), south face, Are You Experienced? (not to summit). October 11: Here I am again at the base of the south face of Nuptse. I see the superb line of gullies that cuts through the bottom of the wall for more than 300m, then fades into the unknown. Two years have passed since my first attempt, and my memory remains vivid: the south face of Nuptse is majestic, gigantic. The wall rises more than 2,000m, with huge bastions of rock cutting across the face. You feel reduced to nothingness in front of this wall. I am happy to be here with Stéphane Benoist.

October 15: We leave advanced base camp (5,500m) at 7 p.m. There is a full moon, and we decide to take advantage of it by climbing all night, trying to reach a bivouac site at 6,500m the following day, the place where I bivouacked on my solo attempt in 2006. The cold is intense, and a southwest wind hammers the face. We have never before experienced such brutal conditions on a climb. Stéphane freezes the tip of his nose, and our feet and fingertips are seriously damaged by this night in hell. After many pitches of gully climbing, we gain the 50-60° snow slopes at 6,100m. Dawn arrives, and eventually the sun. However, we have been tested and are now moving slowly. There is a sustained pitch of WI5/5+ at 6,450m, and then at noon we arrive at my 2006 bivouac site. Ironically, we are now almost hot.

Exhausted and dehydrated, we set up the tent. Something is wrong with me: I’m trembling, drained, and have stomach pains. We sleep well, and I think I can continue, but I haven’t completely recovered, and we spend the day resting. My condition deteriorates. I have no energy. Stephane spends the day looking for a bag of clothing that I left here two years ago. He finally digs it out. The night really tests me, and when morning arrives I have only one pressing desire: to descend and recover. Fifteen 70m rappels later, we are on the glacier. On the bright side, two nights at 6,500m were great for acclimatization, and we cached sleeping bags, parkas,and stoves, allowing us to go much lighter on our next attempt. I said the same two years ago, but bad weather never allowed another chance. This time it takes a week for me to feel ready for another attempt.

Days pass, and the violent winds up high do not relent. The expedition is coming to an end. But then a small weather-window appears.

October 27: Skies are cloudy; courage is waning. It’s 2 a.m. and -17°C at advanced base. We climb through the avalanches, through the cold, the wind, and the snow to reach the equipment at 6,500m. Fine weather returns, and the winds die. The following day provides pitch after pitch of superb technical climbing. We bivouac at 6,800m after an incredible sunset. On the 29th, while climbing into the summit couloir at 7,100m after two difficult mixed pitches, I say to myself that success might be possible. [Editor’s note: at 7,200m they joined the original 1961 British-Nepali route.]

At 7,500m the cold becomes intense, darkness descends, and the wind picks up. I have a sensation of being detached from time.At around 7 p.m., we reach the summit ridge at 7,700m. I am groggy and freezing, but profoundly happy. I believe we have gone beyond our limits.

At 3 a.m. we regain the shelter of the tent and immediately examine our feet. Signs of frostbite are visible. I quickly fall asleep, with no energy to dream. The sun hits the tent at 8 a.m. Twenty rappels later we cross the bergschrund as night falls. From the trail I take one last look at the face. Tears fall down my cheeks. Today I see this climb as a culmination, and I am a happy man. Trying to do something even greater doesn’t make sense to me. But I know that the beast is still in me, sleeping. Will it wake up one day? (Are You Experienced? 2,000m, M5 90°).

Patrice Glairon-Rappaz, France (translated by Todd Miller)

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