Lhotse (8,516m), West Flank
Asia, Nepal, Mahalangur Himal Khumbu Section
The idea of a route up Lhotse from the South Col had been floating in the air for a long time. The north ridge is a logical line, but what about the pinnacles on the crest? What about climbing lower, along the west flank, along the rocky ledges that run toward the couloir of the Normal Route? For many years I had looked at this variant as a possible means of completing an Everest-Lhotse traverse. I’d tried it with Simone Moro. In spring 2010 I was back again with Simone, and together we reached Camp 3 (7,300m) on the Lhotse Face. Then the situation became complicated and put me under great psychological pressure. A Russian on the expedition died; our client refused to continue with the ascent; Simone fell ill; the wind was strong, and the rocks of the ridge looked sinister. And I could not forget my friend Sergey Samoilov, who died in 2009. [Editor’s note: Samoilov and Urubko climbed new routes in alpine style on Broad Peak in 2005 and Manaslu in 2006. He died in the spring of 2009 during a Kazakh expedition attempting the Everest-Lhotse traverse.] On May 15 when I reached the South Col alone and pitched my tent at 7,900m, all these negative thoughts were in my mind.
At dawn on the 16th I decided to go down, but having passed the Geneva Spur I realized I was not doing the right thing. I sat in the wind, thinking for several minutes. There was a real chance to do it, and I had to make an attempt. I climbed back up to the col.
At 6:10 a.m. I started up the moderate 400m neve slope above the col. At its top I only climbed 50m up the loose rocky ridge before leaving the crest and traversing equally loose rocky ground on the right. Above 8,100m the slope gradually steepened, and I climbed several sections of UIAA II and III. I moved up to a snow-covered ledge and followed it around the first pinnacle. Further on I reached a chimney. I wasn’t keen on this, as I didn’t know what the ground above would be like or whether I could reverse it. So I continued in the same line with no height gain. The climbing wasn’t difficult, but it was delicate and dangerous. Little slabs fell away toward the Western Cwm, and below these the ground appeared even steeper. It reminded me of the tiled roofs in Europe. Then I began to gain height, climbing up to the ridge below the second pinnacle.
Ahead of me now I could see the couloir that forms the upper section of the Normal Route. But I couldn’t cross the slabs and was forced to lower myself five or six meters down a chimney to a good ledge. From there I could make a rising traverse through the slabs, and after a few hundred meters I could “slip” into the couloir. This was just below the narrows at an altitude of 8,300m.
The rest of the route is well known; the difficulties were slopes of névé with no fixed rope, as the gear had either been buried by recent snowfall or ripped out by the wind. At 11:30 a.m. I stepped onto the summit, having completed, in my opinion, a logical and interesting route [Urubko was the first to summit Lhotse that season]. During the ascent the weather has been clear, and the wind no stronger than 50km/hour.
I descended the Normal Route as far as Camp 2 (6,400m), where I spent the night. I had no desire to wander about in the Khumbu Icefall during evening. The next morning I slipped out at 5 a.m., and three hours later had reached base camp.
(Translated by Luca Calvi)