Steve House reports on his trip to Nuptse. The expedition had many ups and downs, but was largely positive. Steve was partially supported by a Lyman Spitzer Award, an annual grant offered by the AAC. Read on for the full story!
The Nuptse International South Face Expeditions (aka the Slo/Can/Am—emphasis on Slo) was concluded at the end of May. Team members were Marko Prezelj (Slovenia), Barry Blanchard (Canada), Stephen Koch (USA), and myself (also USA) as leader. In support and was Barry’s wife Catherine Mulvihill and our wonderful cook, known only to us as Prakash.
We arrived in B.C. on April 15th. Basecamp was on the western side of the Lhotse Nup Glacier, about a two hour walk from the small village of Chukung. We spent about two weeks acclimating and all members climbed to 6,800 meters on the 1961 British route—the route of first ascent. On the last trip up that ridge Stephen Koch had a small mishap with a snow cornice which dropped on him from a height of 50 centimeters (really) and tore his medial-collarteral ligament on his right knee. Stephen left for Thailand 4 days after this incident.
The three remaining members stayed healthy long enough to see the season’s good weather spell. Barry, Marko, and myself started up an untried route in the center of the face between the ‘61 route and the often-attempted-not-yet-completed South Pillar route. We left B.C. early the morning of May 15th. We soloed to about 5,400 meters, and then belayed the ensuing 400-450 meters to establish a bivy site at approximently 5,800 meters. That first day offered excellent mixed climbing on fine granite up a very natural and objectively safe line. For all of us this day was the best of the trip—the quality of the climbing combined with the joy of discovery made for an exceptional day in the mountains. The second day on the route saw five more belayed pitches of moderate mixed terrain which led to easier climbing. We then unroped and climbed to 6,600 meters. The third day we climbed to 7,200 meters and bivied in the bergshrund at the top of the south face neve. Marko and I continued with the ropes and rack to a bit higher on the ice face to 7,300 meters. This eventually proved to be our highpoint. On the fourth day we woke up to windy and much colder weather with a lot of black clouds down valley. We spent the day in the tent and woke to the same weather on the fifth day at which point we elected to descend. We downclimbed to 6,500 meters where we joined the ‘61 route and continued down now-familiar terrain to reach B.C. at 9:30 that night. Nuptse East, 7,855m, is still unclimbed.
The expedition left B.C. on May 21st and everyone has safely returned. We are also happy to report that Stephen didn’t require surgery and his MCL is apparently healing up nicely. Those of you familiar with Nepal will be interested to know that we saw no Maoist insurgents, though we heard many rumors and the steets of Thamel were strangely quiet without normal tourist volumes. Our L.O. collected his equipment allowance ($1,200) but never left Kathmandu and did not attend my debriefing with the minsitry. As a result we withheld his salary, which we had held to the end of the expedition. I only saw him for 30 minutes before we left Kathmandu and he never met any of the other members. Also, many will be relieved to know that the Ministry has officially changed the rules and no longer requires letters of recommendation from each member’s alpine club. We are awaiting the English translation of those rules which to date, have been published in Nepali only.
Committee members may remember that we had proposed to attempt the route in a single-push variation of alpine-style. Upon climbing on the lower ‘61 route and trekking two days to the west to get a view of the summit rockband, we collectively decided that there appeared to be too much hard climbing up high (between 7,300 and 7,600 meters) to make that approach feasible. We switched to “classic” alpine style where we carried a bivy tent and two sleeping bags in addition to our food/stove/fuel/clothing. Having climbed to 7,300 meters on the face I would elect to use the same “classic” approach if I was to attempt the route again.
Myself, and all of the team members, would like to thank the American Alpine Club for funding the Spitzer Grant and the committee members for believing in our vision for this route and helping us come as close as we did to making it a reality. We certainly would not have pulled this trip off without you. We would also like to thank the Canadian Himalayan Foundation, who provided us with B.C. tents and all our kitchen supplies. And the Slovenian Alpine Club who provided B.C. tents, a mess tent, and a kitchen tent.
Thank you everyone,