Climbing the Lhotse Face on Everest 2010

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On one of my Everest climbs, I was told outright – “If you can't getto camp 3 in under 5 hours, you are out.” After a discussion with mygrim reaper on people skills, the logic of the statement made sense.Speed is your friend on any mountain, much less the highest in theworld.

Right now, climbers are positioning themselves for the trip to camp3 and their ticket to the top. But first, they have to climb the LhotseFace. You hear and read a lot about the dangerous Khumbu Icefall andthe horribly hot Western Cwm but when it comes to the real climbing, Ibelieve the Lhotse Face deserves a place in this Hall of Horrors.

The Face is the eastern side of the world's 4th highest mountainLhotse, 8516m or 27,939 feet. Many climbers attempt Lhotse itself inpursuit of all 14 8000m mountains or as a difficult 8000 metermountain. The route is identical to climbing to the South Col but takesa hard right, upwards, just above the Yellow Band to the technical androcky summit.

But the Lhotse Face is the gatekeeper to all of this.

The face itself is best known for being icy and hard packed. TimRippel of Peak Freaks recently reported on the condition this year:

The Lhotse face is very dry, nothing but ice, no snow.If we get some precipitation in the form of snow we may have to adjustthings to allow time for it shed snow before we move up. All iscarefully being considered.

Dave Hahn posted this morning that :

We reached 22,000 feet in our acclimatization effort. Iwas stunned to see such dry conditions on the upper section of theWestern Cwm. The weather continues the normal pattern of clear in themorning and snow showers in the afternoon.

Sherpas spend a tremendous amount of energy placing anchors for thefixed ropes between camp 2 and the South Col. The Face starts about21,000' just above camp 2 and ends with the summit of Lhotse or at theSouth Col around 26,000'. In other words, about a mile of hard blue icewhere a simple misstep can easily mean death.

In 2002, a British climber did just that. The details remain unclearbut he was descending in a fierce storm and slipped midway betweencamps 3 and 2. He slid to his death into the bergshrund at the base ofthe face. A Sherpa had a similar fate in 1997.

Once on the Face, the goal is camp 3. Of note, Sherpas generallyrefuse to sleep at camp 3 preferring to return to camp 2.  Camp 3 is ona 30 degree angle so tent platforms must be chipped out of the ice -even then, the tent is rarely flat. The low oxygen density (40% of theavailable Os than at sea level) inhibits the simplest movements, youloose your appetite and sleeping is almost impossible. Have I said itenough times, how smart the Sherpa are?

Of course for the rest of us, extra acclimatization is part of thedeal. The general philosophy is to put the body in an oxygen deprivedstate thus forcing the creation of oxygen carrying red blood cells.Sleeping at camp 3, 23,500', does the trick.

But in recent years, not everyone agrees. This year multiple teamsare simply climbing to C3, resting and making a quick return to therelative comforts of C2. This approach is designed to avoid the wear onthe body of sleeping at high altitude. A kind of ROI calculation formountaineering. However, it is the wear itself that stimulates the bodyto adapt.

The traditional approach was the longer you can stay, the better butnot so long as to damage your body. The body begins to react to lessoxygen in a matter of hours but it takes much longer to startgenerating incremental red blood cells and days at that altitude tofully acclimatize. So time will tell if this climb and tag strategywill work.

Another approach now used by Himex is a slow and steadyacclimatization process on safer peaks such as Lobuche (6119m or20,075') before going into the Icefall. IMG also does early climbs onLobuche but still sends climbers on rotations to camps 1 and 2. Bothcompanies still ask climbers to spend a night at C3 prior to a summitbid.

And finally, there are some commercial teams that offer an extraoxygen program meaning climbers start using supplemental oxygen oncethey leave C2. The risk with this approach is that the climber is very,very dependent on the Os and if an equipment failure occurs higher onthe mountain, it is difficult to recover.

Even the best climbers in the world struggle with acclimatization.Last year, Ed Viesturs wanted to climb without supplemental O's but atthe last minute used it due to a concern of going too slow with thecrowds and not enough acclimatization for a no Os attempt.

Climbers trying without supplemental Os will try to spend a fewnights as high as possible, even the South Col, before their attempt tothe summit. Simone Moro, the elite Italian climber, is both guidingEverest and trying to create a new route on Lhotse this year – bothwithout oxygen. But a high fever prevented his climb to C3 thus changedhis plans:

For that reason I and Denis will use O2 (we should needmore time and steps to be fully acclimatized to climb without O2) toguide Aldo on the summit. Together with our 3 sherpas we decided o fixropes to south col till summit while we will do the summit attempt. Theother expedition planned the summit push 2 weeks later than us and thisis the reason why the fix ropes will be not ready for our attempt. Iand Denis also planned another climb without O2 within the end of Maywhen our power will be recovered from the actual guiding work.

In a bit of role controversy, as Moro said, he will fix the ropes tothe summit and not count on the combined commercial forces to fix theline because he wants to summit in early May, not mid month.

So the Lhotse Face is up. Peak Freak's Lucille documented her climb and tag this way:

We had a fantastic day today! What we did was we wentall the way up to Camp 3 and came all the way back down. The weatherwas fabulous! We got some really good shots, you know the summitdoesn't look all that impossible anymore, not like it has been lookingimpossible for the past couple of weeks, so that's kind of a big bonus.

The Lhotse face that we went up, of course it's all roped, down atthe bottom the big bergschrund that was a bit of a challenge today toget up and over, but I was able, and then parts of it, parts of theLhotse face are just solid ice, solid, solid ice so it's really nice tohave the jumar there to have a little bit of backup there when you arecrampons slip off the ice. We got up there and had a bite to eat,stayed up there for about 45 minutes or so and then we came back down.Got back down and it was starting to snow and clouding over and stuffand cooling off. So we had some food, our sherpa boys up here have somenice warm food for us and some hot liquids.

However not everyone will comment on their experience so casually as we will see over the next few days..

The headwall below the North Col is a miniature version of theLhotse Face. Activity is a bit quiet on the north right now. look forit to pick back up today or tomorrow. Jordan Romero is looking to spendthe night at the North Col and tag 8000m soon, this will be a hugemilestone for the young climber. His highest ever was about 7000m onAconcagua.

The search for Hungarian climber, Laszlo Varkonyi has ended according to a statement released on their expedition website.In other sad news from the Himalaya, a Spanish alpinist has died onnearby Annapurna. Tolo Calafat became ill and was stranded around7600m. Helicopters failed to reach him due to adverse conditions.

Climb On!


Arnette is a speaker, mountaineer and Alzheimer's Advocate. You can read more on his site

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