by Kraig Becker
With the fall Himalayan climbing season now in full swing, there are a number of major expeditions underway on several of the world’s tallest mountains. Perhaps the most daring of those expeditions is an attempt by two Italian mountaineers to scale Lhotse, the fourth highest peak in the world at 8516 meters (27,940 ft). That alone would be a significant challenge at any time of the year but if they are able to successfully reach the summit, the two climbers also plan on making a ski descent back down the steep and perilous slopes.
Lhotse is located in Nepal and is directly adjacent to Mt. Everest. In fact, the two mountains share the same base camp and an identical route up to Camp 3, which is located at roughly 7470 meters (24,500 ft). From there, the two routes diverge with climbers going to the summit of Lhotse taking a right hand path that grants access to the top of that mountain. While nowhere near as popular as its taller neighbor, Lhotse still manages to draw a fair number of climbers each year, although this fall only the Italian team is making the attempt.
Edmond Joyeusaz and Federico Colli arrived in base camp last week and have already begun their acclimatization process in preparation for their push to higher altitudes. The two mean, accompanied by their two support Sherpas, have climbed up to Camp 1 and stored their gear and supplies at that location. To get there they had to pass through the perilous Khumbu Icefall, which is always the most dangerous section of the climb. During the busy spring climbing season the route through the icefall is built and maintained by a group of Sherpas known as the Ice Doctors. The Ice Docs place a series of ladders and ropes through this section of the mountain which makes it much easier for the climbers to pass through. That route isn’t maintained in the fall however, which means the Italians and their Sherpas must navigate the dangerous section on their own. While Edmond and Federico anticipated this challenge, the Sherpas it seems did not. The two young and inexperienced guides that are currently with the team will soon be replaced with more experienced mountaineers who will have less difficulty crossing the icefall.
The plan now is to continue shuttling gear up the route until the climbers have gotten acclimatized to the altitude. Once that process is complete and all of their equipment is in place, the Italians will launch their summit bid at last. The climb will be difficult of course, but after they top out, the real challenge may actually begin. Skiing down an 8000-meter peak is not for the faint of heart as it requires a tremendous amount of skill, not to mention nerves of steel and unwavering concentration as well. It certainly is a faster way to make the descent but it also an incredibly dangerous one as well. One wrong move could prove fatal.
You can follow their progress at the Lhotse Ski Challenge website, which is written in Italian of course. Google Translate will help to make sense of their dispatches however and keep you posted on the team’s progress. As of right now, they are likely still two or three weeks away from making a real attempt on the summit, which will ultimately be dictated by the weather.