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  Jean-Christophe Lafaille 2004 Winter Shishapangma  without oxygen and solo: Update


Jean-Christophe Lafaille

Jean-Christophe: Winter Shishapangma 2004
From 10 December 2004

Background: After returning from a 1300 kilometer bicycle tour of the American West, and after one week in France, Jean-Christophe set out again for Nepal  to try a project that he's been contemplating since 1996...  The first winter ascent of Shishapangma, in the most difficult style, like always: solo, using alpine technique and, of course, without artificial oxygen!

Jean-Christophe didn't wish to speak about this climb because he didn't want to have "the pressure" leading up to the project that he's been thinking about since 1996.

He climbed Shishapangma in 1994, going twice to the summit during the same expedition by opening a new route, solo on the northern face.

In 1996, he wanted to try Shishapangma in winter by using an alternative trekking route which starts in Langtang. However, this year was particularly snow-covered and Jean-Christophe could not reach the base camp of Shishapangma.

In 2003, Jean-Christophe set out again on this Shishapangma winter ascent, but a few days before his departure he learned that his father had become ill. He deferred the project to a later time when he could be in a better mindset, and so that he could be with his father and help him through his ordeal.

2004: This year feels good. He's ready and will attack the southern slope with a new route and approach to the mountain.

It should also be noted that the official winter season in the Himalayas begins on 1 December  and ends on 15 February. Jean-Christophe hopes to be able to summit Shishapangma during the first two weeks of December.

Climbing solo is the way Jean-Christophe likes it: managing the climb, fatigue, mental aspects, ascent strategy under extreme cold conditions... The major problem with a summit to more than 8000 meters in winter is related to a combination of severe cold and altitude. Very simplistically, what happens is that when one is in a state of hypoxia (lack of oxygen) blood thickens, and blood circulation is less efficient. The risks of frostbite is also higher in winter, with temperatures lower and days shorter.

Jean-Christophe doesn't want to summit the 8000 meter peaks just to collect them. He attaches a great deal of importance to the way in which he climbs a mountain... He likes the difficulty, engagement, autonomy and discretion. We worked very hard preparing for this project through specific training with the invaluable assistance of our partner LPG who develops and manufactures machines that work balance, coordination, muscular reinforcement, and recovery. We also attach  a lot of importance to diet, and with the help of Rene who works for LPG we can rely on certain nutrition under extreme conditions. We have a good balance between proteins, glucose, and lipids throughout the year, of food to be used during training, during recovery, etc.

Shishapangma: Shishapangma is the highest summit entirely situated in Tibet (China) as well as the closest 8000 meter peak to Katmandu. Its name in Tibetan means "the peak above the meadows". Its first ascent was made in 1964 by a Chinese expedition. With the opening of Tibet to foreigners in 1980, Shishapangma was climbed by many expeditions. The Southern face is very steep, a rise of 2300 meters. This is the face Jean-Christophe will attempt. The advantage of this mountain is that its access to base camp is easy. From the Friendship Bridge at the Nepalese border, Nyalam is 5 hours away. From this Tibetan village, Shishapangma base camp is a 2 day hike. The Southern face is then very close to base camp, situated at an altitude of 5400 meters.

The Ascent:

8 November 2004: Jean-Christophe flies for Nepal and arrives the same day at 2330. The time difference is 4 hours and 45 minutes (later in Nepal).

8 and 9 November: Occupied with the preparation of luggage and various purchases.

11 November:  Jean-Christophe, accompanied by his cook "Sera" (same one as for Makalu last spring -- very nice and good cook),  leaves Katmandu to go, the same day, to Nyalam in Tibet at 3800m. The NÚpal-Chinese border is crossed without
problems. The weather is beautiful and cold.

12 November: Jean-Christophe stays one day at Nyalam to acclimatize and settle different problems related to organizing the yaks.  Conditions are good, there is no snow at Nyalam. Cold with a lot of wind on high.

13 November: Jean-Christophe leaves Nyalam to begin the hike towards base camp. He camps midway.

14 November: He arrives at base camp. The trek is really easy, nothing to see and the same conditions he had last spring
while going on the virgin Tibetan slope of Makalu! He installs base camp sheltered against possible winds and near a large lake. The face is very  beautiful and close to the base camp! Ideal for Jean-Christophe!

15 November: The day is spent at base camp; acclimatization (already at more than 5000 meters) and preparation of the supplies that will go to advanced base camp, at the foot of the southern face at about 5700 meters.

The weather is always nice, with a wind from hell.... Up to 160 km/h at 8000m!!!

16 November:  Jean-Christophe has the advanced base camp installed at 5700 meters. The site of the camp is ideal... at the foot of the face!!! The conditions of the Southern face are overall dry, not a lot of  snow, some rock and ice, difficult and delicate conditions. The opening route Jean-Christophe had planned isn't in condition, and he decides to use a variant of the open British way used in 1982 by A. MacIntyre-R. Baxter-Jones and D. Scott. up to 7000 meters.

17 November: Jean-Christophe rests at  base camp.

18 November: It snows in small quantities all day with large gusts of wind. He is constrained to stay at base camp.

19 November: The weather is super nice, almost no wind. So he goes to advanced advanced base camp (5700m), heavily loaded with material, foods, etc., in order to spend the night there.

20 November:  He starts to climb the Southern face of Shishapangma until approximately 6300 meters. He installs some fixed
ropes because the first section is very dry--black ice, difficult, technical and tiring conditions... Moreover, the rimaye is very delicate to cross because it is very large. Jean-Christophe finds "the passage key" to cross it... He returns in the afternoon to advanced base camp to spend the night there. Today the weather is nice but with large gusts of cold wind which come down from the face. This evening, he is happy but tired.

Here's a story... Jean-Christophe's tent was looted by corbels while he was climbing. He had seen them the evening before, they had flown above his head... and he had made a trap a few days before at base camp. He had packed his food in a large tight bag. When he returned to his tent, the bag was shredded, torn by the corbels who could not steal his food...

21 November: He goes up to about 6500 meters--constantly demanding, technical difficulties with this very hard black ice. He finds the site where he will install the next camp, leaves some materials there. The camp site is ideal, on a great bank of snow, under a serac (safe!). In the afternoon he goes to advanced base camp to sleep there one last night before the return to base camp
 

22 November: In the morning, return to base camp. The weather forecasts for the next 10 days are not really that terrible with 5/6 days of snow, then good weather with 180 km/h of wind at 8000 meters, then.....the forecasts change completely within the space of 24 hours, difficult under these conditions to make a forecast.

On the morale and motivation side, it's perfect!!

25 November: In fact, the conditions are not so bad... After two and a half days of rest at base camp, Jean-Christophe climbs to
advanced base camp.

26 November: He climbs to 6500 meters on the face.

27 November: He continues to 7000 meters. Installs camp in a crevasse, sheltered from falling snow, stones, and ice. He leaves very early this morning in a deathly cold and moves on a delicate course on hard blue ice... His bag is heavy since it carries the gear (tent, bed, stove, gas, food, ropes, etc.).

He doesn't find his rhythm. There are some sections of stiff ice on a 75░ incline. The ice conditions change often, disappear sometimes. On short sections, they appear to be snow. There remain to him still 80 meters to climb to  reach the place where  he will install his camp at 7100 meters. Too tired by this trying day, by these 10 hours of glacial climbing, he decides to install camp in a crevasse and wait for tomorrow morning to go higher.  Also, it's a southern face, well-exposed to the sun...

When that the sun disappears, the cold is omnipresent... this night his small altimetre/barometre/anemometer and thermometer read -25░  at the beginning of night... Jean-Christophe estimates a temperature under his tent at -30░.   The mixture of cold and high altitude is terrible for the human body. Jean-Christophe suffers from it, knows it, of the importance of all this preparation over the last several months. Today, he manages this parameter in his head.

The short lull in the wind ends tomorrow, Sunday, November 29. In the afternoon, it will pick up speed again and reach values up to 180 km/h with 8000 meters! These forecasts, alas, for the moment, are planned through the first two weeks of December!!! Yan, our router, has been observing forecast changes since the beginning of the expedition. Spring is much easier for him.

29 November:  Jean-Christophe leaves the overnight campsite and transports it 100 meters higher before taking on 1300 meters of very delicate ice in the descent. In the afternoon he is at base camp.

Jean-Christophe is acclimatized; he feels ready to try the summit. Now he has to arm himself with patience to await the weather that will allow him an attempt.

6 December: Today, a ray of hope shines through because the weather forecasts for the next weeks are very average with some very strong winds at high altitude until 20 December! A crenel with a less extreme wind at 8000 meters has taken
shape in a more precise way for two days. If this forecast is confirmed Jean-Christophe will try to summit Shishapangma between 10
and  15 December. He will need a total of between 3 and 4 days to make it from base camp, summit, return to base camp.

Jean-Christophe is very happy with this news and is eager to finally be able to climb after this week spent at base camp!

9 December: Jean-Christophe is at his camp at 7100 meters. His morale, physical condition and motivation are super! He left base camp for advanced base camp 7 December. On 8 December he stayed at advanced base camp because wind forecasts had changed again... Tomorrow on 10 December he will continue his route and spend the night at his camp at 7000 meters. On 11 December he should reach the summit of Shishapangma! There is only one day with a wind of 50/60 km/h at the summit... If this timing is respected by Jean-Christophe, on 11 December he sleeps another night at 7100m before returning to base camp on December 12!

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