Everest ski descent via Hornbein Couloir?

The Tibetan north side of Mount Everest (in 2005)
The Tibetan North Face of Mount Everest (in 2005)

Fall projects on Mount Everest, once commonplace, have become rare. Because of the often rather bad weather, commercial expeditions give the highest mountain on earth a wide berth in the post-monsoon season, concentrating instead on Manaslu in western Nepal or the eight-thousanders Cho Oyu and Shishapanga in Tibet – provided the Chinese-Tibetan authorities clear these mountains.

In fall 2022, a Polish team led by ski mountaineer Andrzej Bargiel had attempted the Nepalese south side of Everest. Bargiel, who wanted to climb to the summit without bottled oxygen and ski down to base camp, and his companion Janusz Golab had aborted their summit attempt at the South Col at almost 8,000 meters. They had been greeted by such violent gusts of wind that they had not even been able to pitch their tent.

US expedition with entry difficulties

After the eight-thousanders Shishapangma (entirely on Tibetan territory), Cho Oyu and Mount Everest (with their north faces located in Tibet) were closed to foreign teams until the end of 2022 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sino-Tibetan authorities have issued some permits, albeit late, for this fall. While some 100 members of commercial teams are drawn to the normal routes of Cho Oyu and Shishapangma, a U.S. expedition is apparently planning to attempt a ski descent of Mount Everest again – via the north side. More precisely, through the Hornbein Couloir in the Everest North Face. So far, this had not been reported.

In memoriam Hilaree Nelson

Hilaree Nelson
Hilaree Nelson (1972 – 2022)

Only when the Chinese border authorities initially refused entry to the expedition leader Conrad Anker did some details become public. According to information from the Kathmandu-based newspaper “The Himalayan Times”, the US American Jim Morrison wants to attempt the ski descent – in memory of his late life partner Hilaree Nelson.

The two had succeeded in a ski coup on the eight-thousander Lhotse in fall 2018: After ascending with bottled oxygen, they had mastered the so-called “Dream Line” on skis for the first time – from the summit through the narrow Lhotse Couloir, which is around 45 to 50 degrees steep, down to Camp 2 in the Western Qwm at 6,400 meters. In the fall of 2022, Nelson had fallen to her death while attempting a ski descent of Manaslu.

The team also includes an Oscar winner. Filmmaker and mountaineer Jimmy Chin from the USA, was awarded in Los Angeles in 2019: for the film “Free Solo” about Alex Honnold’s spectacular solo ascent without rope belay on the legendary granite giant El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.

According to information from the portal ExplorersWeb, the Everest team has meanwhile fully arrived in Tibet after the initial entry difficulties.

Still no successful ski descent from the summit through the Hornbein Couloir

Hans Kammerlander at the trade fair ISPO in 2020
Hans Kammerlander (in 2020)

Skiing attempts on the north side can be counted on one hand. In 1996, South Tyrolean Hans Kammerlander succeeded in descending from the summit via the northeast flank and the North Col to the Advance Base Camp on the Eastern Rongbuk Glacier. However, he had to unstrap his skis in some places due to lack of snow. The same was true in 2006 for Swedes Olof Sundstron and Martin Letzer, who also descended via the Northeast Ridge, and for Norwegian Tormod Granheim and Tomas Olsson, who chose the Norton Couloir. Olsson fell to his death from a height of 8,500 meters.

The only attempt on skis through the Hornbein Couloir failed in 1996, already in the ascent: the Swiss Jean Troillet and Dominique Perret ascended the north face in alpine style, but only reached an altitude of 8,400 meters. From there, Perret skied and Troillet snowboarded down to the Central Rongbuk Glacier.

In 2002, Frenchman Marco Siffredi paid for his snowboard attempt from the summit through the Hornbein Couloir with his life. At around 8,500 meters, his trail was lost. The body of the then 23-year-old has not been found to this day.

Update 4 October: According to the Himalayan Times, the U.S. team is still waiting for the permit for an Everest ski descent. So far, they say, they only have a climbing permit for the Hornbein Couloir. “That’s why we were able to set up the ABC (Advanced Base Camp),” the newspaper quoted its sources. “Without a ski permit, the project has no meaning.” The expedition team is slowly running out of time, it said.

Update 7 October: The expedition was abandoned due to bad weather. The Sherpa team that was to fix the ropes turned back at Camp 2 (7,500 meters), reports the Himalayan Times.

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