The somewhat different spring season in Nepal: first ascents on six- and seven-thousanders

Symon Welfringer and Charles Duboulaz on the summit of Hungchhi
Symon Welfringer (l.) and Charles Dubouloz on the summit of Hungchhi

Ask anyone what name of a mountain spontaneously comes to mind and you will probably get the answer Mount Everest, with a few exceptions. Quite simply because the highest mountain is synonymous with mountains in general. This also explains the overwhelming interest of the general public in everything to do with the 8,849-meter-high mountain in the border region between Nepal and Tibet. The Everest hype still leaves a little attention for the other 13 eight-thousanders. But what happens below the magical but actually arbitrary limit of 8,000 meters is of little or no interest to the masses.

Yet for years, the real alpinism has been on the seven-, six- and five-thousanders. This is where the world’s best mountaineers not only find their technical playgrounds, but also the peace and quiet they need to face great challenges. Like the two Frenchmen Charles Dubouloz and Symon Welfringer this spring.

New route on Hungchhi

The duo first climbed the technically challenging 1700-meter-high West Face of the 7,029-meter-high Hungchhi in two days – in alpine style, i.e. without bottled oxygen, fixed ropes, fixed high camps and Sherpa support. Because the weather changed, they descended via the east side of the mountain, which was unknown to them. Hungchhi, which lies in the Khumbu region between the eight-thousanders Cho Oyu and Everest and is also known as Chakhung, had previously only been scaled by three expeditions. First in spring 2003 by a Japanese expedition, which fixed more than four kilometers of ropes on the Southwest Ridge. A few days later, a Korean expedition followed with a variant of this route. In 2006, two Japanese summited Hungchhi for the first time from Tibet via the Northwest Ridge of the mountain.

Panorama from Gokyo Ri
Hungchhi (center), seen from Gokyo Ri

It was a “complex and intense climb”, wrote Dubouloz and Welfringer on Instagram after their first ascent of the West Face. They named their new route “Le cavalier sans tete”, the headless horseman, after a song by French singer Damien Saez. “The horseeman, that’s us: two stubborn, happy and fulfilled beings,” explained Charles and Symon.

Through the Northeast Face of Tengkangpoche

Two happy beings, that also applied to the Americans Patrick “Perry” Johnson and Patrick Gephart, who opened a new route through the Northeast Face of the beautifully shaped 6,482-meter-high Tengkangpoche near the village of Thame in the Khumbu region in April and then continued to the summit via the East Ridge after a windy bivouac.

Tengkangpoche (route to the left in the shade)

The US climbers named their approximately 1,800-meter-long, “moderate” (as Perry literally told me) route “Sunshine Spring Roll” – after the delicious spring roll they had enjoyed at the Sunshine Lodge in Thame. The British climber Trevor James Pilling and the American Andy Zimet were the first to scale climb Tengkangpoche in 1984 via the East Ridge. In 2008, the Swiss climbers Ueli Steck and Simon Anthamatten mastered the difficult North Face of the mountain for the first time, also in alpine style.

First ascent of Patrasi

Pasang Rinzee Sherpa, Vinayak Jaya Malla, Pasang Kami Sherpa
Pasang Rinzee Sherpa, Vinayak Jaya Malla, Pasang Kami Sherpa (from left)

The first ascent of a six-thousander in western Nepal last week proves that Nepalese mountaineers are now also seeking their own ambitious goals away from the commercial eight-thousander routes. Vinayak Jaya Malla, Pasang Rinzee Sherpa and Pasang Kami Sherpa first climbed the 6,450-meter-high Patrasi in the Jumla district on 12 June – also in alpine style. Patrasi is a secondary summit of the 6,627-meter-high Kangde Hiunchuli, which was first climbed by a Japanese expedition in 1963.

“The climb was tough and technical, different from the fixed rope climbing we are used to. This kind of technical climbing brings the real joy of mountaineering,” said expedition leader Malla, one of the still few Nepalese mountaineers who have international mountain guide certificates. And he added on Facebook: “If we get the opportunity, we can also push our limits. We are not only made for carrying loads and pushing a jumar.”

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