French climb Kamet new route alpine-style

Posted by Lindsay Griffin on 07/10/2012
The southwest face of Kamet. Didier Jourdain
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News is arriving from India of a bold alpine-style ascent of the previously unclimbed southwest face of Kamet (7,756m) by four members of the French Groupe Militaire de Haute Montagne.

Sébastien Bohin, Didier Jourdan, Sébastien Moatti and Sébastien Ratel climbed the face in a six-day round trip from an advanced base camp at 5,800m on the  Pashimi Kamet Glacier, returning to this camp on the 27th September.

These four, together with Lionel Albrieux, Arnaud Bayol and Antoine Bletton reached base camp at 5,300m on the 12th and began acclimatizing a few days later, the first party on Mana Northwest (7,092m) and Albrieux, Bayol and Bletton on the unrepeated 1985 Indo-French route on the west ridge.

Unsettled weather prevented them staying high, but shortly after returning to base camp, they received the forecast, via satellite phone, of an excellent weather window.

All seven moved up to advanced base on the 20th: the four-man party would attempt the ca 2,000m unclimbed southwest face in alpine-style, while the three-man team would try to make the first alpine-style ascent of the west ridge.

The latter climbed the far left side of the west face and reached 6,600m by the end of the first day, both teams keeping in contact by satellite phone.

However, at this point Albrieux was unable to renew contact, unaware that earlier in the day the other team had dropped its phone. The west ridge team decided to descend.

The southwest face team climbed snow slopes to their first bivouac below a rock barrier left of the central couloir. Next day the four traversed into the couloir, and then over the subsequent two days climbed it (steep snow slopes cut by difficult icy rock barriers) to an exit onto the south ridge at 7,500m, where they made their fourth bivouac.

Jourdain reported sections of high difficulty; F5+, 90° and some overhangs, terrain on which the leader was forced to haul his sac.

On the fifth day they climbed the remaining ca 270m up the south ridge to the summit, descended to the bivouac by mid-afternoon, and the following day rappelled and down-climbed the south ridge until they could eventually cut down right to rejoin their team-mates at advanced base. Apart from minor frostbite injuries they arrived safe and sound.

The route was named Spicy Game and given an overall grade of ED1.

Earlier in the season Bletton and Ratel had climbed a new route on Latok II in Pakistan's Karakoram, while towards the end of last year Albrieux, Bodin, Jourdain and Ratel were part of a GMHM team making the impressive first lengthwise crossing of the Cordillera Darwin in Tierra del Fuego.

The GMHM is a small group of soldiers (currently about 10), whose role is only to advise and train. Based in Chamonix, this select bunch has, over the years, made a string of highly impressive ascents throughout the world's mountains, starting in 1978 with the second winter ascent of the Harlin Route on the Eiger.

Members have included such great French alpinists as Christophe Profit and Antoine de Choudens (first person to reach the 'Three Poles' without using oxygen on Everest).

Kamet was first climbed in 1931 by Frank Smythe's British expedition, with Holdsworth, the Sherpa Lewa, Shipton and Smythe the first summit party, reaching the top via the northeast face from the East Kamet Glacier.

The ascent was a landmark in mountaineering history, being the highest summit in the World to be climbed at the time. Holdsworth was in such good shape on the summit that he was able to smoke a pipe before descending.

In 1983 an Indian Army expedition tried the "west face", reaching a height, reported to be around 7,000m. However, their line is unclear. Two years later a joint Indo-French Army expedition, led by Balwant Sandu (with deputy leader Jean-Claude Marmier), fixed 4,000m of rope up the left side of the southwest face and then the west ridge, overcoming difficulties of UIAA VI and icy goulottes of 75° before a total of 13 climbers reached the summit.

In 2008 Japanese Kazuya Hiraide and Kei Taniguchi made the first ascent of the ca 2,000m southeast face, climbing difficulties of M5+ and AI5+ in alpine-style. For this ascent they were awarded a Piolet d'Or, Taniguchi being the first female to receive this honour.
 



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