(MountEverest.net) Last Thursday, Korean Um Hong-Gil, together with two teammates and one Sherpa, summited Lhotse Shar (8,386/8,400m) from its south side. It's still unclear if the climb was a repetition or a new route, but in any case it's the greatest feat in Himalaya so far this year. Lhotse's south face has rejected some of the best climbers in history - the Polish winter masters and Reinhold Messner included - and a simple glimpse at the mightly wall is enough to understand the level of difficulty and risks involved.
The fourth highest peak on earth, Lhotse is frequently underestimated, for the simple reason that it towers so close to Everest. Both peaks even share their normal route up to the South Col. Lhotses mere name, a literal translation from Tibetan for south peak, seemingly supported the British researchers who originally claimed the peak was nothing but a secondary point of Everest.
Those who care to turn the corner and peer at Lhotses south face, think otherwise.
Lhotse south face the real thing
The overwhelming rock and ice wall is over 3,000 tall, and provides one of the most challenging climbs above 8,000 meters. The few who ever dared to attempt its flanks were big names in climbing history. The south face of Lhotse is linked to the lives and deaths of men such as Jerzy Kukuzkca, Tomo Cessen, Ricardo Cassin, Reinhold Messner, Cristof Profit, et. al.
Succeeding on Lhotse is definitely not a question of being lucky with the weather. All those who have ever ventured up the face excelled at high-altitude climbing. For 14x8000er summiteer Hong-Gil, the south face of Lhotse has been a long-term project which has cost him a great deal of time, money, three failed attempts and two lost companions in the process.
Such is also the case of Osamu Tanabe - one of Japan's leading climbers with 8, 8000ers summited. Tanabe's team climbed the south face of Lhotse off-season, in December last year - the men completed the face, although they were forced back shortly below the summit. It was neither Osamu's first time on the face.
The Lhotse obsession
Wrote Tanabe after his first winter attempt at the face in 2001: JAC Tokai Section accomplished a remarkable ascent to open a new route from the west ridge to the west face of K2 in 1997. What would be most appropriate for the next target? It didnt take much time for us to come up with an answer. There was no other choice than the first winter ascent of the formidable south face of Lhotse, which remained one of the last problems to be tackled among the Himalayan giants.
Tanabe climbed with four team mates, hoping for a speedy ascent very different from the usual siege tactics used by huge Japanese teams. But Tanabe's expedition was forced down that time, and again in 2003, before completing the wall off-season in December, 2006, short of summit.
Um Hong-Gils Peak 16
As for Um, Lhotse Shar was the last stage in his 14+2 Summits project. After completing the 14x8000ers quest, Um hoped to reach the top of the two highest secondary 8000ers. With that in mind, Hong-Gil summited Yalung Khan (Kangchenjungas west point) in 2004.
Lhotse Shar, his personal Peak-16, proved much harder. In 2001 he and his team were forced back by bad weather; in 2003 two team members died in an avalanche; and last year the team chose to retreat before the peaks dangerous conditions could trigger further drama. In a fourth attempt and after 75 days of expedition, this spring Um Hong-Gil, Byung Sung-Ho and Mo Sang-Hyun, together with Pasang Namgyal Sherpa, reached the summit at last.
A debrief is still expected from Um Hong-Gil detailing the route: It is unclear if the Koreans made the first repetition of the 1984's Czech-Slovakian route - or opened a new direct line up the face.
Lhotses south wall climbing History:
The first attempts on Lhotses south face started in the seventies: A Japanese team from Kanagawa was the first to give the wall a try, turning back at 7,300 meters; an Italian expedition led by the legendary Ricardo Cassin was rejected two years after; and a Yugoslavian party was next to fail in 1981.
In 1984, a Czech-Slovakian team achieved the first ascent on Lhotse Shar via its south face. After setting up five camps, Z. Demjan reached the summit on May 20, 1984 via the SW spur, on mixed terrain up V+ and 60-degree-steep slopes. Mates Bozik, Rakoncaj and Stejskal topped-out the following day. The route has never been repeated, although Cristof Profit made a solo attempt in winter (January 1990).
Meanwhile, Polish climbers had their eyes on the face as well, aiming for Lhotses main summit. A strong team including Hajzer and Wielicki attempted a new route in 1985, 1987, and again as members in an international team led by Reinhold Messner in spring 1989. Jerzy Kukuczka (a member of the 1985 expedition), launched another attempt in 1989. Jerzi never made it back he perished when his cheap, Kathmandu market-bought rope snapped at 8,350m.
The first ascent on Lhotses south wall only came in the nineties. After a solo climb claimed by controversial Tomo Cesen in spring 1990, a Soviet team achieved the second ascent of the wall (after the Czech-Slovaks) and the first ascent to Lhotses main summit via the south face. Summitteers were S. Bershov and W. Karatajev, and the date was October 10, 1990.
Visit our new website