Sunday, April 15, 2012

2012 Shishapangma Expedition - Mountain History

 Shishapangma was first reconnoitered by a Chinese - Tibetan team in 1963, who reached 7200 meters on the north ridge before descending in poor weather.  It was the following year, on May 2nd, 1964 that it had its first successful summit, also by a Chinese team.

The North - Northeast Face of Shishapangma (image: Luke Smithwick)

With Tibet closed, Shishapangma, known in Sanskrit as Gosainthan ("abode of the gods"), didn't see another ascent until an Austrian team in 1980, equipped with the first permit into Tibet since 1959,  succeeded in repeating the north flank route the Chinese pioneered.

Shortly after, the flood of serious alpinists hit. The year 1982 brought the first ascent of the south face, notable as the first alpine style ascent of the mountain, with no fixed lines and no intermediate camps.  Doug Scott and his British team descended the southeast ridge after a single push ascent of the 3000 meter south face, no small feat and groundbreaking during the "expedition era" of Himalayan mountaineering.

Kukuczka - image from Polish archives
Bold in his day (and to this day!) Jerzy Kukuczka and Artur Hazjer came along and upped the ante more, with an ascent of the west ridge in alpine style, with a ski descent from high on the peak. Considered the "first decent" Kukuczka just kept adding to his range of adventures.  The nineties brought a notable alpine style traverse of the mountain from south to north by Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner and Ralf Dujmovits.  With now annual attempts, Shishapangma has grown into a mountain of relatively recent popularity.

Most expeditions to Shishapangma these days climb the central summit, leaving alone the higher and true Main summit that early expeditions sought.  Ascents of the Main summit from the north side are tricky to time right, with avalanche danger or serious exposure on loose snow as your two options.  The images below highlight selected successful ascent routes of the true (main) summit from the north side.


Image: Ed Viesturs collection

Option A: Among the few who have accomplished this traverse, Ed Viesturs horse backs the saddle ridge between the central summit and the main summit.  This ridge is rarely "in", and usually sports slabby unconsolidated snow, with huge exposure down the south and north faces.  He and his mates "caught the window" to achieve this rare prize.

Image: Luke Smithwick

Option B:  The thin green line highlights the route Andrew Lock and Neil Ward climbed successfully in 2009, with a forced bivy on descent above the seracs on the north face.  A cold night out, they "focused on keeping their hands and feet warm" and were able to complete the route safely.  

Image: Jarle Traa
Image: Jarle Traa
Option C:  Jarle Traa's successful traverse line across the north face, shown in the photos (left and below).  You can see the central summit in the horizontal image (prominent point on the left hand side-which Viesturs horse backed across).  This particular "route" was roughly the way of the first ascent by the Chinese, and by Messner in his 1982 summit of the mountain in atrocious monsoon conditions (it arrived early and they climbed the mountain in horrible conditions with waist deep snow and looming slab avalanches). 

 Deep Himalayan snows are the talk of the mountains this spring.  We embark for Tibet from here in Kathmandu on the 24th April. Stay tuned..


All 14 Eight Thousanders.  R. Messner. 1991. The Mountaineers Books: Seattle.

Conversation with Andrew Lock.  Kathmandu and Tibet. 2011-2012.

Conversation with Jamie McGuinness.  Kathmandu and Rongbuk Valley. 2011-2012.