In November the three-man Polish team of Michal Krol, Andrzej Sokolowski and Przemek Wojcik climbed the North Face of Phari Lapcha via the Central Couloir, a much-eyed ice line of high technical difficulty above the Gokyo Valley in Nepal's Khumbu region.
As noted in a previous news report (Thacker and Turner repeat Snotty's Gully), since 2003, when the French duo Seb Constant and Jérome Mercader first climbed the right side of the c1,000m steep mixed North Face of 6,017m Phari Lapcha, a number of parties have come to the mountain hoping to add a direct line up the centre of the face, or climb the equally fine-looking gully system to the left.
These have included Japanese, Norwegians and several British teams, including Jon Bracey and Nick Bullock, and Andy Turner on two separate visits.
Last November, when Turner and James Thacker arrived at Gokyo, they heard rumours that the central line had just been climbed. Some days later they inspected this line but decided it was just too thinly iced: instead, they attempted the prominent gully system on the left side of the face, climbing to around half-height before being stopped by a rock barrier of compact granite.
The three Poles took only two 60m ropes and very light rucksacks, maximizing their ability to climb sustained technical pitches but ensuring two uncomfortable bivouacs before reaching the summit.
The couloir turned out to be a very mixed affair, with thin ice, fragile rock and very poor belays. And despite the cold, the climbers were periodically bombarded by falling ice. Towards the top of the route unconsolidated snow over steep mixed ground made for tenuous climbing, slowing the party and forcing a second bivouac just 100m below the summit ridge. Next day it only needed a few hours to reach the top, just right of the East Summit of Phari Lapcha.
The Poles have named their route Independence Day: it gave 1,300m of climbing with a crux ice pitch in the lower section of WI 5+, and a section of M7 high on the wall.
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