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Kwangde Lho

Stephane Benoist on the crux of Les Voies Normales N’ont Rien d’Extraordinaire (Normal Routes Have Nothing Special about Them: ED, 1150m), Kwangde Lho (6187m), Nepal, Himalaya. The effort was part of an expedition to introduce young French alpinists to the Himalaya. Benoist and Frederic Gottardi managed the route, which featured ten or so pitches of WI5, in three days round-trip. [Photo] Frederic Gottardi

Twenty-five years ago, Kwangde’s 1200-meter north face attracted Jeff Lowe and David Breashears, who were the first to climb it alpine style. This year, from October 28 through December 5, Patrick Pessi and Stephane Benoist led a group of nine young alpinists (the “Equipe Excellence” of the Federation des Clubs Alpin Francais: Nicolas Bernard, Laurent Bibolet, Emmanuel Chance, Nicolas Ferraud, Mathieu Mauvais, Thomas Mougenot, Pierre Roy, Sebastien Thiollier and me) to the region. Our objectives included the Breashears-Lowe Route (ED2: WI6, 1200m) and two new routes, on Kwangde Nup (6035m) and on Kwangde Lho (6187m).

Although conditions prevented the first two ascents–continuous spindrift stopped Mathieu, Thomas and Pierre on the Breashears-Lowe, while thin ice, inconsistent snow and compact rock turned the others back on Kwangde Nup–Stephane and I found that the same weather had filled our line on Kwangde Lho with Styrofoam snow. After fixing the first hundred meters, we continued alpine style up fine snow and thin ice, pleasant to climb, but delicate to protect. We suffered a fair amount from temperatures that oscillated between -18 and -20 degrees C; it was hard not to freeze at the belays.

After two bivies on the face and a third on the summit ridge, about eighty meters from the top, we reached the end of Les Voies Normales N’ont Rien d’Extraordinaire (“Normal Routes Have Nothing Special about Them”: ED, 1150m), which had included ten or so pitches of WI5, with a crux at WI5+. At the last bivy, a violent wind had tossed about our tent, but it had held fast. To find sunlight again, on the top of the mountain, gave us both a real satisfaction.

We descended the normal route, along the airy south ridge, then through a wild and deserted valley. I’ve kept an extraordinary memory of those six days on the mountain, completely cut off from the exterior world. Our climb on the north face and our two-day descent and traverse formed a magnificent whole.

Despite the failure of the other two goals, the hospitality and kindness of the Sherpas and the experience of Nepal, above all else, made our entire team feel as though we’d accomplished an incredible voyage.

— Frederic Gottardi, Grenoble, France