Climbers from all over the world are arriving at the base camps on both sides of Everest this week to attempt the standard routes but one Swiss Alpinist has a special plan in mind.
Ueli Steck’s Everest Lhotse Project will be fun to watch. He and Tenji Sherpa will attempt to summit Everest by the never repeated West Ridge/Hornbein Couloir route, then descend to the South Col before taking the once climbed direct line just below the Lhotse Ridge to gain that summit.
What is unique about Ueli and Tenji’s attempt is that no climbers have ever connected all these routes. They will be climbing with minimal supplies and will not use supplemental oxygen.
Ueli and Tenji will begin their climb from the traditional Everest Base Camp at 17,300′ and move to Camp 2, 21,000′, located at the base of the Lhotse Face in the Western Cwm. From C2 they will ascend the West Shoulder of Everest to gain the West Ridge. Following the ridge they will drop off the ridge proper and into the Hornbein Couloir where they plan to bivy for the night. They are only taking sleeping bags, not tents so an almost perfect weather forecast will be required before they leave EBC.
After the short bivy, they will begin climbing the steep and sometimes very narrow sections of the Couloir to Everest’s summit. They will take the normal Southeast Ridge route to the South Col where they plan to rest for a few hours.
The last leg of the traverse follows the North Ridge of Lhotse where, just below the summit, they plan to join the normal route in the narrow and rock fall prone summit gully. Once on the summit, they will return to EBC via the normal routes into the Western Cwm and Khumbu Icefall.
There are 19 named routes on Everest with 97% of the activity happening on the South Col (Southeast Ridge) or North Col (Northeast Ridge) routes. In recent years, there are 300 to 500 summits via those routes annually. 2017 will be very busy.
The West Ridge of Everest is the highly visible ridge forming the north side of the Western Cwm and is also very prominent when viewed from the Tibet side.
According this excellent article on ExWeb, there have been about 17 summits using either the West Ridge Direct (10), from the Western Cwm (5) or from Tibet (2). There have been 11 deaths, including five French climbers from an avalanche in 1974. It was last climbed in 1989 and attempted by 21 teams over the years. The last effort was in 2013 led by Conrad Anker
For background on the West Ridge route, Croatian mountaineer, Stipe Boži?’s documented his 1979 climb on this link. It is a great story with some amazing photos.
The West Ridge Direct is a difficult and fatal route. According to historian Pete Poston, the route has more fatalities than summits. There have been ten summits but eleven fatalities, for a fatality rate of 110%. Many of these deaths were descending the Hornbein Couloir, or in the catastrophic avalanche that killed five climbers on the West Shoulder in 1974, including Frenchman Gérard Devouassoux.
The West Ridge/Hornbein Couloir also has a fatality rate over 100%. Five climbers have summited, including Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld who established the route in 1963, while nine have perished, for a fatality rate of 180%.
The Lhotse section has only been done once by Denis Urubko in 2010 who climbed from the South Col to Lhotse’s summit in five hours. The Himalayan Database has these route notes:
On 16 May Urubko left C4 at 6:10 am to forge a new route on Lhotse. He moved from the Col to Lhotse’s North Ridge and along the ridge for 600m. He then traversed for 1.5 km below the ridge, avoiding the pinnacles on the crest of the ridge, to the couloir at 8300m on the West Face, which he gained at about 10:00 am, and finished his climb up the normal route through the couloir. He did this entire day’s climb without fixed ropes, making it difficult, and without oxygen, and reached the summit at 11:30 am. The weather was clear, the wind blowing at 40 km/hr. He descended to C2 by the normal Lhotse-Everest route at 4:00 pm and rejoined Moro in BC at 8:00 am on the 17th.
Ueli Steck is a carpenter by trade, but has made a nice living with sponsored climbs. His long time sponsor, Mountain Hardwear is no longer on his site and the financial company EFG has taken center stage.
He is best known for his daring speed climbs on rock faces like the Eiger. He also has gained attention with solo summits of Shishapangma and Annapurna. He often sets records when he climbs including a speed record on the Matterhorn where he summited in a scant 1:56.
So why this climb? He said in his blog:
When I’m in the mountains, I’m where I want to be. That’s where I feel happy and content. I feel free and can do what I want. I set my own parametres. I have always enjoyed solo climbing. I love the interaction with myself and nature. There is nothing but you, the rock, the ice, the mountain. Even though I feel small and insignificant, in the mountains I can live life to the full and play like a child! This is where I feel most comfortable and do what I think needs to be done.
Why do I have to attempt Everest and Lhotse? Yet again, the answer is simple: I get to stay longer in the mountains. I get to spend more time with myself, Tenji Sherpa and the Himalaya. And now I’ll just go; and only worry about the events that lie ahead of me. Day by day, one by one. It is the here and now that counts. What comes next is uncertain in any case. Learn from Yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.
In an interview Ueil added:
“There must be perfect conditions and the weather must be good and stable. I think it’s important to have ideas, but in the end you have to decide on the mountain what is possible and impossible.”
In another interview, he addressed the possibility of adding Nuptse to the traverse making it extra special as no one has ever tied the summits of Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse together in one push via the ridge lines.
In the video below he described climbing, actually he ran it!!, to the summit of Island Paka aka Imja Tse 6189m/20,305′ five times. He summarized his stats for those 13 days:
- 16,000 vertical meters
- between 4,200m and 6, 200 m
To hear from Ueli directly, watch this short video:
Ok, I know we are all hoping he and Tenji will get this one this year. After his disappointing time in 2013 on Everest, it would be nice to see him accomplish this goal.
Memories are Everything