Here is the story of his last attempt on Nuptse south face (7861m), Nepal, with Benjamin Guigonnet.
As you make your way up the high valleys of Solukhumbu, two mountains inevitably catch your eye when you reach the small village of Tengboche. On the one side, there is the magnificent Ama Dablam, and on the other side, at the head of the valley, is the immense southwest face of Nuptse Lhotse. All along our journey to base camp, our gaze rarely strayed from these tall, impressive mountains. Everest almost seemed small alongside them, in spite of its altitude of 8,848 m.
Ben Guigonnet and I advanced towards Nuptse, as if magnetically drawn to the mountain’s south face. This giant Himalayan face is more than 2,000 meters tall.
Three weeks later, difficult weather conditions would lead us to join forces with Ueli Steck and Colin Haley on this same mountain.
We were sharing the same climbing permit, but our initial plan had been to attempt two different routes. Now the four of us had agreed to attempt an alpine style ascent of the legendary Anglo-Nepali Bonnington route.
On 23 October at about 4:30 a.m., we left Chukkung, at an altitude of 4,700 m. This beautiful day in the mountains felt just about perfect. It was sunny and mild, and it seemed like our team was in perfect harmony with the mountain.
Our friend Ueli, who fully merits his nickname, “the Swiss Machine,” broke trail from start to finish. Watching him climb, I knew that I was in the presence of the best alpinist of our generation, and someone whom we can thank for inspiring both the present and the future of alpine climbing!
By 2 p.m., we had reached an altitude of 6,900 meters!
We set up our bivouac on a magnificent perch high above the world below.
But then the snow arrived, and it continued to snow all evening long. And then came the wind, in ever-increasing strength. We spent a cold and unpleasant night listening to the tent rattling in the wind.
By early morning, it was time to face the facts. The winds from the west had devastated the conditions on the south face of Nuptse, and our sleeping bags were white with snow and rime. Nuptse had closed its doors to alpinists for the 2015 season. The jet stream had come earlier than usual and the Himalayan winter was here to stay.
Sparkling and beautiful, the mountains called to us, but we had no choice but to turn back before we lost our bearings.
We set out to downclimb all of what we had climbed the day before.
After another day of effort, there were delicious plates of pasta waiting for us in Chukkung. We savoured every bite, with the firm intention of returning one day!
My personal gear for this expedition:
– 1 Choucas harness
– 1 45L Blue Ice pack
– 2 locking carabiners and 1 cordelette for auto block
– 1 ice screw and 1 titanium piton
– 1 30 m, 5 mm rope for two
– long underwear and warm clothing (down suit)
– 1 Triple Zero Barbat 500 sleeping bag
– 3 pairs of gloves (liner gloves, warm gloves, expedition mittens)
– 1 lightweight tent for two and sleeping pad
– 1 Reactor stove and freeze dried meals