Following a historic winter in which the first winter ascent of Nanga Parbat was achieved, the spring climbing season is set to begin in earnest with the Swiss alpinist Ueli Steck attempting to open a new route on the south face of Shishapangma this month. This marks Steck’s return to the 14th highest mountain in the world, which in 2011 he ascended solo up its south face in a record time of 10.5 hours. On that occasion he had identified a 2,000m direct line to the summit, upon which he and German mountaineer David Gottler shall now attempt to open a new route.
For the Swiss Alpinist, whose preeminent 2015 achievement was the retaking of his Eiger speed record, this spring Shishapangma expedition follows on from numerous high-altitude achievements in recent years. Most notably Steck speed climbed the south face of Annapurna in 2013 solo and in a remarkable 28 hour round trip. Steck described the feat as his ‘high altitude limit’ and the achievement landed him rightly the prestigious Piolet d’Or. Summiting Shishapangma would mark Steck’s second ascent of the mountain following his 2011 record and Gottler’s 6th 8,000m summit.
Steck and Gottler are making final expedition preparations in Kathmandu, planning to fly to Lukla today, April 1, should the weather hold. From there they plan two weeks of acclimatisation and preparation in the Khumbu Valley, before travelling to Tibet for the planned ascent.
Expeditions Planned Across the Himalaya
Spring 2016 is an important climbing season for Nepal in its recovery from the catastrophic earthquake and avalanche it endured last year, after which the majority of climbing expeditions were cancelled or postponed to 2016. Only two 8,000m peaks were summited last spring – Annapurna and Manaslu – by only three expedition teams and so it is positive news that several expeditions have ascents of numerous 8,000m peaks planned for this spring.
Annapurna is set to experience much early year activity, as teams resume expeditions abandoned last year and begin in early spring to avoid warming of already notoriously avalanche prone slopes. Notably amongst those challenging Annapurna is Turkish climber Tunc Findek, who is attempting Annapurna as his 11th 8000er as part of his bid to climb all 14 8,000m peaks. Findek and his climber partner, Romanian Alex Gavan, have established C2 on Annapurna which they plan to climb without supplementary oxygen, following a period of acclimatisation in the Khumbu Valley which included a 5900m camp on Imja Tse.
However there is much uncertainty over the route above C2, with large crevasses forcing the Annapurna teams right of the normal ascent route and with huge seracs setting off large ice avalanches across the climbing route towards C3. Alex Gavan has described the conditions as ‘totally unpredictable’ and like ‘Russian Roulette’ on his blog and heavy snowfall and serious avalanches have grounded teams at Base Camp for much of the time, plaguing plans for an early spring summit bid.
Other notable expeditions this spring include an attempt to climb Manaslu’s north ridge via a new route. Slovak Peter Hamor and Romanian Horia Colibasanu are returning from an abandoned expedition last year to attempt this new route Alpine style, following acclimatisation on the mountain’s normal north east ridge route. A British Joint Services Expedition on Dhaulagiri is also a spring expedition worth following, with a team of Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Airforce servicemen and women planning to summit the 7th highest mountain in the world whilst simultaneously conducting medical research projects involving the expedition team members.
Finally there is hope that business will return to normal on Everest this season following the avalanche disaster last year and numerous expeditions are planned, including an attempt at a speed record on Everest’s North Face by Spanish ski mountaineer Kilian Jornet this season.