climbing is about finding yourself at the end of your comfort zone !
After Stef climbed Everest in 2007 (with use of Sherpa’s and O2) he climbed in 2013 as first Belgian, 2 mountains higher than 8000m during one expedition; Gasherbrum I & II , without the use of O2.
Sofie climbed Everest in 2016 (with use of Sherpa’s and O2) but wants to return to the pure way of climbing like here solo expedition of Khan Tengri in 2015.
We have chosen to climb Lhotse because our permit remained 2 year valid after the earthquake in 2015 ( Makalu expedition ) and this mountain is a good choice for climbing the way we love it : independent
and without the use of supplemental oxygen.
Lhotse is the 4th highest mountain on earth with his 8516m and lies next to Everest,
bonded together by the South Col.
The Lhotse standard route follows the same path as Everest's South Col route up. They have also the same basecamp. The first 3 high camps, that we will place by our on means, are the same as Everest.
After camp 3, 7200m the Yellow Band route diverge with climbers bound for Everest taking a left over the Geneva Spur up to the South Col, while Lhotse climbers take a right further up the Lhotse face.
Here we will place camp 4, 7850m.
The last part to the summit leads through the narrow "Reiss couloir" until the Lhotse main peak is reached.
According to the Himalayan Database Lhotse (2016) has a 67% summit success rate and
with about 604 summits through the Autumn of 2014.
From the total 604 summits,165 have been climbed without O2.
The summit has been reached by 44 women’s in total and 9 were climbing without oxygen
As we will climb without the use of Sherpa’s, our backpack will be very heavy and some camps will stay
(like camp 2) others will be removed like camp 1.
Climbing with light weight tents, the final climb towards the summit, we will move up camps in alpine style until camp 4 at 7850 meters on the snow covered steep slopes of Lhotse.
From C4 is almost 700m to the summit on 50 to 60 degree slopes and mixt climbing in the couloir.
We will use the ropes placed by other expeditions and the Khumbu icefall doctors between the camps.
Basecamp is organized by Sevensummitstrek NEPAL.
Our departure towards Kathmandu NEPAL is 16 April with TURKISH AIRLINES.
Flight towards Lukla : 19 April
Arrival in basecamp : 22 April
Stef Maginelle reached 8100m until the base of the couloir but had to return.
Sofie reached just above camp 4 (7950m).
We were happy to be able to reached this point without use of oxygen
and climbed self-supported.
You can read the story here below
REFLECTIONS ON LHOTSE EXPEDITION , part 1
In the possession of 2 extended permits for climbing lhotse 8516m and makalu 8463m, due to the earthquake in 2015, we had to make a choice: wich mountain could we climb independently , using only basecamp facilities and fixed ropes, provided by our Nepali outfitter sevensummittreks?. Taking all collected information together ( including summit statistics from Himalayan database ) the route to lhotse is easier and more straightforward then makalu, except for the notorious khumbu icefall !. Placing 4 high camps on the lhotse face seemed more doable and the final summit push route from the last highcamp, is shorter in distance and less difference in altitude meters.
Besides the technical and structural parts, we needed also to look at the safety; there where makalu has less people in case of emergency, the khumbu ice fall has pros and contras ; to much climbers hang on the same rope but rescue has never been so high as on Everest and lhotse.... taking all things into consideration (+more then mentioned above) climbing without the use of supplementary oxygen and Sherpa support we hade more chance summiting lhotse, then we would on makalu. The choice was made.
Training in Belgium in our health centrum Fisiotics, we prepared ourselves on the hypoxic trainer to adapt our body to the altitude. Combining this with conditional and strength workouts, we where interested if we could minimize the acclimatization process by shortening the trekking towards base camp and maybe also the rotation towards the high camps to avoid more then 2 passes into the dangerous khumbu icefall.
Finding out how we can adapt to this new challenge , physically and mentally, is the thrill behind every expedition. It's makes the experience instructive and alive even when it is unsuccessfully.
REFLECTION ON LHOTSE EXPEDITION Part 2 :
Thanks to our partners berghaus, the De Berghut and adidas Sport eyewear we were anxious to test our brand new gear. This year we needed to pay more attention to the weight of the gear and the thermal capacity. Climbing without the use of supplemental oxygen increases the chance of getting frostbite and extra gear means more passes through the icefall, which we wanted to avoid.
Our plan consisted of maximal two acclimatization rounds (instead of the normal 3-4 rounds)
In the first round we would try to get as high as possible touching 7800m and sleeping one or two nights in camp 3 (7200m)
In the second round, we wanted to push towards the summit.
For the 4 highcamps we would use only 2 tents. One tent ( MSR dragontail ) serving as base in camp 2 at 6400m and one small alpine tent ( MSR advanced pro ) for camp 3 + 4, weighting only 1.3 kg. This allows us to climb with as little gear as possible, but it also means we have to buildup and break off tents as we climb on.A alpine strategic that we didn't use before on a 8000m peak...
16 April we flew with Turkish Airlines to Nepal, where we made the trekking from Lukla towards Gorak shep in only 3 days instead of the normal 7 days itinerary from 2830m until 5180m. We felt in good shape and had no problems with the rapid gain of altitude. A result of the hypoxic training preparation.
On day 4 we were building up our dome tent in base camp 5380m and on the 7th day of the expedition, we were already on our way for the first acclimatization round with a 20kg backpack.
Climbing at night should lower the chance on incidents in the icefall but the truth was far from it. Frightened by an avalanche that turned us into a snowman the first time going up and getting blocked by a tower collapse by going down, the popcorn of the khumbu icefall, is not a place where you want to linger!
incredible how fast the icefall doctors can repair the route ! It would be impossible for anyone to climb Everest or lhotse without the dangerous work of these sherpas.
REFLECTION ON LHOTSE EXPEDITION part 3 :
first time towards camp 1 (5900m) was hard due to the heavy backpack: it took us 6 hours and we were happy that we started that early (2am) so we had plenty of time to setup the tent and recover. The walk to camp 2 (6400m) was longer than expected due to the burning sun in the valley of silence.
The first acclimatization round went a little bit different then we wanted; staying more time in camp 2, spending only one night in camp 3 ( 7200m ) and we weren't able to climb higher due to the high cold winds that gave Stef's first frost-nip on his fingers....
29 April we talked in C2 to Ueli Steck about his and our project just before he and yannick went out to explore the Nuptse-face.... the day after we heard the shocking news. We were devastated; who could imagine this would happen to him? He will always be an inspiration to us; he lived for what he loved the most.
After 7 nights on altitude, it was time to return to basecamp for recovery and wait for the first weather-window to appear. That waiting time was long; 10 days in BC and the gamble for the first window was short; only 2 days with low wind (25km/hr) and temperatures of -25c. This was now or never, because we could lose the acclimatization effect. If we waited longer we needed to reacclimatize and wait for a second or 3th window, together with maybe 700 people.
For this reason we grabbed the chance and pushed towards the summit, skipping camp 1 and not taking one day of rest. While climbing towards camp 3, we found ourselves trapped between many other climbers and Sherpas. It took us a long time to get to camp 4 (7900m) where we arrive around 5pm and we still had to make a ledge to place our tent on the steep snow face. 2 hours later, we finally installed the tent but were too tired to eat and we’re constantly busy melting snow.
That night we made our first summit push but we had no energy left. After a half hour, I returned to the camp wile Stef proceeded further until nearly the base of the couloir, but he was also tired and cold. He returned to camp 4. In the morning, it was sunny and warm. Clients from SST with oxygen and personal Sherpa headed out for a summit push but weather forecast predicted 60km/hr in the afternoon... and more than 80 km/hr the day after so Stef tried again and went to the base of the couloir, 8100m , before turning around.
Here we putted an end to the expedition; we didn't want to risk getting trapped in bad weather and the energy was gone.
Back in basecamp other climbers asked why we didn't want to try again or why we didn't stay more days up for a second summit push. Climbers who climb without Sherpas or oxygen, they understood our response. Those with Ox and Sherpas didn't .... and I know why.
It makes a huge difference climbing by own means. The effort you make at altitude , is an energy-lost that is hardly renewable and it can cost your summit. If you do this without oxygen, than the energy-lost goes even more quickly.
We ( Stef in 2007, Sofie in 2016 ) climbed Everest north side with O2 and Sherpas installed our camps, just like the hundred other climbers around us, and in the end, it gave us little satisfaction.
Now we were like strangers amongst a sea of shuffling climbers with oxygen masks and small backpacks, but it felt so good to be able to move free and independently !
Looking back at the expedition, we are convinced that one day of rest in camp4 , would have been the difference to a expedition with summit. Unfortunately we cannot rewind the time and choices were made with the info we had at that moment, but it was a great experience and it learned us more about self-reliant climbing.
On these mountains, a large variety of climbers have the same dream but they are realizing it, in totally different ways. The majority are people who climb fully assisted by Sherpas and oxygen there where independent climbing is only given to a few adventurers ... Sadly I also witnessed that these 8000m mountains become more and more overrun by people incapable of climbing on their own.
Better infrastructure, professional guiding, adapted gear, helicopter mountain rescue... it all helps to extends our capacities and it opens doors to new altitude possibilities but it also has changed the way of climbing. Where it was in the old days a true adventure ( sometimes heroic ) to go on expedition, it now seems nearly a business.
The glamour is fading away because by all means, everyone can climb Everest. The spirit of conquering these secret mountains has turned into a race; the youngest, the oldest, the fastest…. Just be the first in something.
Climbing is for us, about finding yourself at the end of your comfort zone, no matter what you climb. The reward is in the enjoyment, the learning process, companionship and to stand in the most beautiful places on earth.
It was great to be among friends with the same spirit and to be able to share this expedition with you, many thanks to Christophe and Dorien ! Climb on :-D give all you’ve got, enjoy every step and get back safely to climb again !