NUPTSE EAST

Posted on: March 1, 2004


Vladimir Suviga at ca. 7200 meters on the southeast pillar of Nuptse East (7804m), Nepal Himalaya, Nepal, during the spring 2003 attempt. Valeri Babanov, Suviga’s partner on the climb, returned in the post-monsoon to make the first ascent of Moonlight Sonata (ED+: 6b M5 A3 90°, 2500m, Babanov-Koshelenko, 2003) with Yuri Koshelenko. The pair fixed the initial ca. 1300 meters of the route before climbing alpine style to the top. [Photo] Valeriy Babanov

In the fall of 1998, I was a member of a Russian team that attempted the Lhotse Shar-Lhotse Middle traverse. On a day of rest in Chukung during the descent, I could hardly tear myself away from the thick rock wall wrapped in a shell of ice before me. The south face of Nuptse stretches from west to east for almost six kilometers. Perhaps it is difficult to find a man who would stay indifferent at the greatness of such a sight.

According to Elizabeth Hawley, eight attempts had been made on the southeast pillar of Nuptse East (7804m) by the time I arrived at the base of the mountain in the fall of 2002. I was there to try the wall solo, and in October I reached approximately 6250 meters, the point where "The Devil's Tower," a steep, 250-meter rock pillar with more than a kilometer of exposure on either side, begins. My next attempt, this time with Vladimir Suviga, was in the spring of 2003. On May 10, we reached a high point of ca. 7550 meters; the weather didn't favor us, and we barely escaped with our lives.

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My third attempt, this time with Yuri Koshelenko, began in September. On September 22, the day after arriving in base camp, Yuri and I went out to the wall. By October 4 we had reached a height of 6200 meters, where we put a tent to use later as an interim camp. On October 15 we climbed up the snowy shoulder of the southeast pillar to 6900 meters, where we established our assault camp. At this point, the pillar ends, turning into a snowy ice slope of sixty to sixty-five degrees. It is riddled with wide bergschrunds and threatened by huge hanging ice towers in many places. At 7400 meters the most difficult part of the wall begins—what we called "The Top Tower," a beautiful black pyramid of rock. The rock here is steep and very shattered; in many places it is rather problematic to organize a reliable belay.

After several days of rest in base camp Yuri and I climbed upward again with the goal of the summit, but evidently our time had not yet come. On October 22 we began to descend: hurricane winds left no chance for success. They had changed direction, from south to west, and suddenly it was cold. Huge plumes hung over the summits of Nuptse and Lhotse. We were absolutely aware of the fact that with every passing day our chances for a successful ascent were disappearing.

Our descent and the following days of rest corresponded to the beginning of bad weather. Continuous snowfall went on for three days. Almost a meter of snow fell at base camp. We descended to Deboche at 3700 meters for several days to rest fully.

On October 29, we left base camp at 7 a.m., spent the night at 6200 meters, then bivied the next night at 6900 meters. From 6400 meters we climbed alpine style, without fixed ropes. We brought four snow pickets, five screws, five cams and seven pitons. We also brought a minimum of food, two gas cylinders, a stove and a tent.

On October 31 we continued the ascent, passing the night in a half-conscious state at 7200 meters. Piercing cold left no opportunity for sleep. On the first of November we climbed to 7450 meters, to the place where Suviga and I had made our last bivouac in the spring. Making use of the fact that it was just the middle of the day, I began to tackle the lower section of The Top Tower. Climbing hard mixed at such an altitude requires colossal attention and concentration. At night I lay on a narrow mattress with a high temperature, shaking with cold. Only after having swallowed a large amount of various medicines and having thrust my legs deep into Yuri's feather coat did I manage to stop shivering and gradually sink into a short but deep sleep. Yuri didn't manage to fall asleep at all that night.

At 5:30 a.m. we began to boil a kettle. Only when the first sunbeams touched the tent did we start moving upward. At 8:40 a.m. we continued with light rucksacks, spare mittens, a camera and a flashlight. Having quickly climbed up the rope we had fixed the day before, we began swinging leads. Steep insecure snow alternated with steep rock bands. A severely cold western wind struck us. I wore two down jackets and I was cold.

By 5 p.m. we had reached 7700 meters. From where we were standing, a ridge leading to the summit was clearly visible. By the time we had climbed almost all of the ridge two hours later, it was already dark. Driven on by an icy western wind I reached the highest point. I understood that I was on the summit but still I couldn't believe it. It was 7:20 p.m. Mount Everest shone in the moonlight. I shouted to Yuri that the piton belay was ready; fifteen minutes later he reached me and stood stock-still from the view as well.

We descended by turns, into the night, into obscurity, having established Moonlight Sonata (ED+: 6b M5 A3 90 degrees, 2500m).

— Valeri Babanov, Omsk, Russia

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