It is over forty years since the first ascent of Everest, the world’s highest mountain. Many, if pressed, world say that its summit is the one place they would most like to reach. Even those who scorn peak baggers cannot fail to understand its draw. So strong is it that some mountaineers are fully prepared to litter the mountain and its base camp sites with packaging, discarded tins of food, glass, ropes, oxygen cylinders and tents that will never decay only rip in the wind or lie frosted each year buried in snow and stripped again by winter winds. Such desecration and disregard for Everest was sadly inevitable. In order to conquer this peak man has felt moved to disarm it trussing it up in tens of kilometers of fixed rope. But many now consider such a siege style outdated and unacceptable. The emphasis among modern mountaineers, visiting peaks of any size, is not to reduce the mountain in this way but instead to raise them and climb it in a lightweight, environmentally sensitive manner. Everest has witnessed every phase of the development of Himalayan mountaineering. That is not remarkable, but the scale of the achievements is. Its history is known well enough seven determined efforts in the twenties and thirties reaching over 8,500m on the North ridge with minimum of technological aids the first proven ascent in 1953 from Nepal the stupendous traverse by Tom Hornbein and Willi Unsoeld ten years later, the ascent of the South-west face in 1975 the first ascent without oxygen assistance in 1978 by Peter Habeler and Reinhold Messner. Two years later Messner succeeded in making a solo ascent from the north in just three days showing that a rapid time was possible if one could catch the correct conditions. Messner chose a calm spell at the end of the monsoon when the mountain had a heavy snow cover which had consolidated just enough to allow rapid progress. He took the pre-war route to 7800m and then made a long tracerse across the North Face (below the level of the pre-war attempts) to gain the Great Couloirs and thence the final summit pyramid. Earlier in the year a Japanese party had forced a route (using extensive fixed rope) directly up the right hand side of the North face to link up with the Hornbein Couloirs. After the Messner ascent other climbs notably the 1984 Australian ascent of “White Limbo” – confirmed that by catching good snow conditions it was possible to reach the summit quickly and this point was powerfully confirmed by a rapid ascent of the Face in 1986 by two of the world’s greatest exponents of the art of extreme climbing in the Himalaya. This ascent more than any other in this book, and appropriately enough on the world’s highest peak, expresses alpine-style in its most natural and powerful form.
The story, by its own design is simple. Erhard Loretan and Jean Troillet (Swiss) with Pierre Beghin (French) crossed Tibet and approached the North Face of Everest in the monsoon season of 1986. They made advance base at 5850m on the Rongbuk Glacier and spent five weeks acclimatizing, with only two forays to 6500m on neighboring peaks. Then at 10PM on 28 August they left advance base for the foot of the Japanese Couloirs. They climbed through the night and by 11 AM reached 7800m. Here they stopped to spend the next ten hours of warm daylight relaxing and melting snow for drinks. At 9 PM they set off again, but at 8000m Beghin turned back. Unable to locate the snow cave where he left his sleeping bag, he was forced to spend the night in the open, luckily with out ill effects. Loretan and Troillet continued up the Hornbein Couloirs and at 8400m, after four hours climbing, they could go no further in the dark and were forced to wait for dawn. At 4 AM they were again on the move and reached the summit at 1 PM. They lounged here for ninety minutes in the warmest part of the day. Finding the snow conditions perfect, they descended the entire face by sitting glissade in just five hours three hours to the snow hole where Beghin was resting and a further two hours to the foot of the face! Away from advance base for less than two days, they had been to the roof of the world and back. They had climbed un-roped mainly at night. They took no tents, ropes or harnesses. They did not use bottled oxygen and they carried only lightweight sleeping bags and minimal food rations. Above 7800m they did not even carry a rucksack. It was as Kurtyka quipped, ‘night naked-ness’. They took nothing and left nothing. Such pure expression of control on the world’s premier peak requires more than a little fitness and confidence. It demands a full understanding of nature and of one’s own physiology and psychology. It is interesting to note they only acclimatized to 6500m before starting their bold ascent and that they were then in the so-called ‘death zone’ for just sixteen hours. This ascent of Everest, one of the very few in pure alpine-styles, stands alongside Messner’s solo ascent for its careful planning and confident execution. Both carried a bare minimum of weight in order to move fast and so limit the amount of time at high altitude. Messner, however, did carry full bivouac equipment, including a small tent his climb was longer and taking everything into account probably more difficult. The evening Troillet and Loretan descended Beghin made his attempt, but at 8300m weakened by his night in the open he decided that the task was too great and returned to the snow hole. At dawn he descended, taking two hours to reach the Rongbuk Glacier. An hour later a huge powder snow avalanche swept the entire couloirs.
Beghin returned to the face in 1987 with a Spanish expedition. They pushed a new variation up the left side of the Japanese Couloirs and in a spirited effort Beghin and Luis Barcenas continued up the Hornbein Couloirs and reached the west Ridge at 8700m before heavy snow stopped them. All the ascents were made in August or early September, in short spells of settled weather at the end of the monsoon season. It is usually warmer at this time of year and there is more snow, too, which in good condition reduces the technical difficulty of the climbing and the risk of stone falls. The North Ridge is notoriously exposed to winds but, further right on the face in the lee of the West Ridge, the Loretan/Troillet route is usually more sheltered. Our topo shows the line of Loretan and Troillet’s route, the most direct on Everest. It is a hybrid of two other climbs. Up to 7800m the route follows the line of a wide curving gully cutting vaguely through two rock bands at c.6990m and c.7400m. This gully line was used by the Japanese in 1980, but they reached it by a rising traverse from the left side of the face to join the gully at the first rock band, whereas in 1986 Beghin, Loretan and Troillet climbed more or less directly up its right side. Above 7800m the route follows the Hornbein couloirs as taken by the Americans is 1963. At its top the route moves right to gain the west ridge at around 8700m. Between the bergschrund and the first band, the angle of the slope varies between 50degree and 70degree above that the angle is kinder, averaging about 45degree until it steepness again Hornbein couloirs. In spring there are several awkward rock pitches in the couloirs, but after the monsoon it is usually banked up with snow, leaving just two rock pitches at the top before the exit on to the west Ridge.
SUMMARY STATISTICS AND INFORMATION
Mountain:- Everest: Sagarmatha (Nepal)/Chomolungma (Tibet)
Location:- Mahalungur Himal, Khumbu Subsection, East Nepal / Tibet
Route:- North Face (Loretan/Troillet variant) 2600m of ascent from bergschrund, mostly on steep snow fields (in places up to 70degree) but with some mixed ground (IV) possible in places.
First ascent of Mountain:- 29th May 1953, by Edmund Hillary (NZ) and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay (Nepal) as members of the British expedition led by John Hunt.
First ascent of Route:- Hornbein Couloirs –Tom Hornmein & Willi Jusoeld (USA), May 1963. Japanese Couloirs/Hornbein Couloirs Takashi Ozaki & Tsuneo Shigehiro (Jap). 10 May 1980.
First Alpine-style ascent of route:- By lower variant – Erthard Loretan & Jean Troillet (Swiss), 29-30 August 1986.
Height of b/c:- 5600m, near the junction of the East and central Rongbuk Glaciers.
Roadhead:- From Shegar on the Friendship Highway it is possible to take a truck to within a days walk of base camp.
Season:- Both the Japanese and Hornbein couloirs are technically easier after the monsoon snowfall. Comparatively warm weather in late August also aided the Loretan/Troillet ascent. However, they were lucky to find the right combination of consolidated snow and clear weather.
Permission:- China-Tibet Mountaineering Association, Lhasa (Tibet)
Success Rate:- This route has been climbed only once in alpine-style against a background of several serious attempts.