50Years Of LHOTSE ASCENT

BY VICTOR KLENOV
A freelance journalist from Ukraine.

EVEREST group-the triumvirate of Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse, is often called the Horseshoe, and it arguably is the greatest mountain cirque in the world. Lhotse (8516 m) is the fourth highest mountain in the world. Its long east-west crest stretches upto 3 km south of Everest and the summits of the two peaks are connected by the South Col.

The mountain was initially reconnoitered in conjunction with earlier Everest expeditions. The second Swiss Everest Expedition under G. Chevalley established a route over the Lhotse Face to the South Col, which has since become the classic route.

The first climbing attempt was made by an international expedition under the leadership of Norman Dyhrenfurt in 1955.

Surveys were carried out on the south side of the peak. E. Schneider worked on a topographical map. After the monsoon, the Lhotse Flank was visited from the Khumbu Glacier and in September descent was made on short skis of the complete icefall. But a summit attempt from the Western Cum by E. Senn failed at 8000 m. because of the autumn storms.

Finally, the Swiss Everest - Lhotse Expedition under the leadership of Albert Eggler made the first successful ascent of Lhotse on 18 May in 1956. Fritz Luchsinger and Ernst Reiss were the first mountaineers to reach the summit through the West Face.

The Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research had outlined a mountain climbing expedition, involving a team of first-class mountaineers. The aim was to climb Everest for the second time, and Lhotse for the first time.

The total cost of the expedition was 360,000 Swiss Francs.

The team consisted of 10 climbers, a glaciologist and a geographer. Albert Eggler, 43 became the leader of the team.

Reiss and Luchsinger were part of the rope team with Reist. But from this outstanding rope team who would make the double ascents on Everest and Lhotse, only Reist could climb Everest in a week.

Ernst Reiss, 36, an aeroplane mechanic from Brienz, was linked to extremely difficult tours in the Alps. He was a man of a great physical fitness and unshakeable mountaineering idealism. Reiss was a member of the Second Geneva Everest Expedition in 1952, when he reached the South Saddle (8100 m) and was therefore familiar with a large part of the route of the ascent.

Fritz Luchsinger, 35, was an instructional officer in Thun, and enjoyed energy, stamina, selflessness and keen power of observation.

The team took 22 improved oxygen bottles, each weighing 6.6 kg (in 1952 the average weight was 14.2 kg).

Sirdar Pasang Dawa Lama (after he fell ill, was succeeded by Dawa Tenzing) took about 30 Sherpas from Darjeeling. The expedition had 10 tons of material which were carried by 350 porters. The Swiss expedition team hiked four weeks to the Base Camp.

When they reached Thyangboche Monastery, Luchsinger had an acute appendicitis, but was cured by massive doses of antibiotic.

The Khumbu Icefall was quite an obstacle. The team roughly followed the British route up the Icefall to the Lhotse Face. The Swiss used explosives to blow-up the most dangerous seracs. Two ladders and several wooden beams helped in crossing the crevasses, and in some places fixed ropes were installed.

The team established altogether seven camps.

On May 1, Camp IV (6800m) was built on the Lhotse Face. Luchsinger fully recovered and rejoined the team here.

 

The team opened the West Face route, following the ascent route of Everest to an altitude of 7800 m, then changed direction towards the narrow ice and snow couloir which leads directly to the top of Lhotse.

The things were going smoothly. On the evening of May 17, Reiss and Luchsinger were at Camp VI, other climbers correspondingly at Camps V, IV and III.

Assault on Lhotse : After a cold night at the camp, Ernst Reiss and Fritz Luchsinger started their climb to the summit of Lhotse on May 18, on a very windy day, and crossed into the Lhotse couloir.

They reached the crux around noon, climbing via a spectacular line of thin ice, and managed to overcome it using pitons. Six hours after leaving Camp VI, they reached the jagged peak of Lhotse. The two stood in the sun on the sharp summit for 45 minutes.

The view onto the jagged, desolate ridges of Lhotse and over to Everest was a magnificent wildness.

Their oxygen was used up, the wind was getting stronger-it was high time to climb down.

Reiss and Luchsinger carefully edged their way down the extremely steep and exposed slopes of fresh snow, moving one at a time. The large traverse brought them back to camp VI.

At 6.15 p.m., they stood exhausted and happy before their tent, which had collapsed under the snow.

Next day, they climbed down the mountain for rest and preparation to climb Everest. The ascent of Lhotse meant that Swiss climbers had reached the summit of an 8000 thousander for the first time ever.

A week later, Ernst Scmied and Jurg Marmet climbed Everest on 23 May. When the two Swiss ropers summited, Albert Eggler hesitated and decided not to send Reiss and Luchsinger to the Everest summit.

Who knows if Eggler would haven give the green light to Lhotse summiteers, probably, they would have made the first double in the Himalaya.

Anyway, as it is almost impossible to separate Lhotse and Everest ascents by the Swiss team, Swiss expedition of 1956 proved to be one of the most successful expeditions in the history of the Himalaya, with competent leadership, good will and cohesion within the entire team.

LHOTSE CLIMBING HISTORY AFTER 1956 :
After the remarkable Swiss ascent, forthe next 20 years nobody could summit Lhotse.

Only in 1977, Gertruda Schmatz and Urkien climbed it. But great attention during these years was there was for the Lhotse South Face. South Face, already been attempted half a dozen times, was one of the most exciting problems remaining in the Himalaya.

The Austrian, Japanese, Yugoslav teams failed around 8000 m. In 1975, R. Cassin, leader of the strong Italian team, also failed on the peak (R. Messner also was in that team).

Messner called the South Face the 21st century problem. But a 20-men-strong Soviet team leader M. Turkevich, put up a diretissima on the South Face, employing six camps. Climbers Sergei Bershov and Vladymir Karatayev, suffering from frostbites, summited it on 16 October, 1990.

Their route is the most difficult to date in the Himalaya. S. Moro, one of the strongest Italian climbers, this spring is going to climb Lhotse alone and without supplementary oxygen. Celebrating the 50 golden jubilee anniversary, he wants to repeat the only one route on the West Face, which has been climbed up until now during the first successful ascent on 18 May 1956.

SUMMING UP
Today, celebrating 50 years of Lhotse ascent, we can see Lhotse has been little developed and offers fascinating opportunities for the future. There are a few routes now from the North side. The East Face, the Tibetan side of the mountain is still unclimbed. Lhotse and today remains as one of the most treasured of Himalayan mountains to climb.nma