Bold new route on Nuptse South Face

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 12/11/2008
The South Face of Nuptse (7,864m). Jules Cartwright Trust

Although complete details are still not available, one of the highlights of the post-monsoon season in Nepal is likely to be the new route, climbed Alpine-style, by Frenchmen Stéphane Benoist and Patrice Glairon-Rappaz on the South Face of Nuptse. Unfortunately, although the top of the face was reached, the pair was forced to turn back below the summit.

Nuptse (7,864m), which lies just south of Everest, was first climbed in 1961 by a British-Nepali expedition under Joe Walmsley. It was a classic siege, following a tricky rightward-slanting central ridge on the South Face to a large snowfield, then a long leftward traverse along these snow slopes and over a difficult rock barrier to reach a couloir breaking through the upper rock walls to the summit arête. After establishing eight camps, the first summit party, Dennis Davis and Tashi Sherpa, reached the top on the 16th May. A day later Chris Bonington, Les Brown, Jim Swallow and Pemba Sherpa followed in their footsteps. To date, no other party has reached the main top from the south, and the original route is considered one of the first technical 'big walls' climbed in the Himalaya.

In 2006 Glairon-Rappaz attempted a new line directly up the western side of the South Face to the upper couloir of the original route. Remarkably, his was a solo expedition and the high point was 6,600m, a little above his third bivouac and some distance short of the upper snowfield. High winds drove him down and forced a premature end to the attempt.

On the 27th October this autumn Benoist and Glairon-Rappaz crossed the rimaye at 5,700m and, following Glairon-Rappaz’s previous attempt, made their first bivouac at 6,500m. Their second was at 6,800m, by which time the pair had already overcome goulottes of 90° and a section of M4+. On the third day they went for the summit, negotiating a passage of M5 at 7,100m before joining the British Route on the upper snow slopes where they left ropes and most of their gear. Persevering through the final couloir, they reached the summit ridge at c7,700m. The time was now 7pm and it seems that caution and cold temperatures forced them to turn around. They only made it back to camp by 2.45am, by which stage Benoist had frostbite in the toes.

The two made a safe descent to the base of the wall on the 30th and subsequently Benoist was evacuated to Kathmandu by helicopter and then onwards to France for medical treatment. Fortunately, initial reports suggest his toes should recover. The 2,000m route, which linked with the original above the snowfield, has been named Are You Experienced (2,000m: 90° and M5) and was thought to be a little harder than the North Face of the Droites (Mont Blanc Massif), though twice as long. Benoist commented that the technical difficulties were less than on most of his previous Himalayan new routes (Kwangde, Chomo Lonzo etc), but the length and altitude taxed him to the limit.

So Nuptse's main summit still awaits a second ascent from the south and a sixth ascent overall - Babanov and Koshelenko's much acclaimed 2003 ascent of the South Face leading to the previously virgin 7,804m Nuptse East I.

Nuptse had to wait until 1979 for a second ascent, when it was climbed via the North Ridge leading out of Everest's Western Cwm by Georges Bettembourg, Brian Hall, Al Rouse and Doug Scott. This route was repeated in 1996 by Germans Ralf Djumovits and Axel Schloenvogt and again in 1999 by Americans Pete Athans, Andy Lapkass, Jeff Rhoads and Gyalzen Sherpa. In 2003 Damian and Willie Benegas from Argentina completed a partial new route by climbing a harder alternative line to join the upper section of the North Ridge.



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