American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Nepal, Mahalangur Himal — Makalu Section, Pethangtse (6,739m), South Face to Southwest Ridge

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 2010

Pethangtse (6,739m), south face to southwest ridge. The summits of Everest and Makalu are 20km apart. Halfway between is Pethangtse, on the border of Nepal and Tibet. On October 30 Stephen Graham, Colin McLean, and I, with climbing Sherpas Dawa Gyalzen and Pema Tsering, were the first to reach the summit since the peak was officially opened for climbing in 2002. Our GPS read 6,770m on top. Ours may be the first ascent for 25 years. [Pethangtse was first climbed in May 1954 by Michael Ball, Norman Hardie, Brian Wilkins, and Urkien Sherpa from Edmund Hillarys Makalu reconnaissance expedition. After various ascents in the 1950s and 60s, a Spanish climber, Nil Bohigas, soloed the south face and descended the southwest ridge in 1984. Since that time there are no known ascents, though it is possible that members from expeditions with Makalu permits also climbed it].

We made our base camp at Makalu upper base camp (5,300m).

Above, it was exploratory for all of us, as our Sherpas had never been so far up the Barun Glacier. We followed the canyon of the Barun to a sprawling glaciated plateau, and after two days placed a high camp at 5,880m. The situation felt remote. From the start of our approach march in the foothills it had taken 17 days until we first caught sight of Pethangtse. From high camp we headed across the moderately crevassed upper Barun Glacier to the foot of Pethangtse’s south face, at 6,000m. We climbed the face on 40–55° snow, avoiding obvious crevasses. A massive bergshrund 150m below the summit caused a pause for reflection before we worked left, mounted the rolling southwest ridge, and followed it to the top. The grade was AD-

The proximity of Chomolonzo, Makalu, Shartse, Lhotse Shar, the mountains of Tibet, and the Kangshung Face of Everest provided one of the world’s great mountain vistas. It was Pethangtse’s spectacular location, lost by the passage of time, which drew us to this utterly amazing place. For more information and photographs, including a summit panorama, visit

David Graham, Canada

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.