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A foreshortened view of the Hungo (north) Face of Kwangde Shar (left summit, 6093m) and Lho (right hand summit, 6187m), Khumbu Himal, Nepal. From left to right: red line: Cartwright-Chinnery variant to Extra Blue Sky (Scottish 7, Cartwright-Chinnery, 2000; not to summit); green line: Extra Blue Sky (ED2, 1200m, Beaugey-Profit-Rhem-Ruby, 1996; only Profit and Rhem to summit); blue line: Japanese Route (ED3: WI6 M5, 1200m, Ito-Nakagawa, 2002); red line: Breashears-Lowe Route (ED2: WI6, 1200m, Breashears-Lowe, December 1982); yellow line: Mandala (1150m, Lorenzo-Munoz, 1985); blue line: Normal Routes Have Nothing Extraordinary (ED2: WI5+, 1150m, Benoist-Gottadi, 2006). [Photo] The Jules Cartwright Trust

In late autumn the French high-performance team, a group of young alpinists comprising Nicolas Bernard, Laurent Bibolet, Emmanuel Chance, Nicolas Ferraud, Frederic Gottadi, Mathieu Mauvais, Thomas Mougenot, Pierre Roy and Sebastien Thiollier, some of them instructors or aspirant guides, plus two highly accomplished guides, Stephane Benoist and Patrick Pessi, attempted several routes on the now famous 1200-meter north or Hungo face of Kwangde Lho (6187m) in Nepal’s Khumbu Himal.

After establishing an advanced base camp 150 meters below the face, the team split into three groups. Mauvais, Mougenot and Roy would try the celebrated Breashears-Lowe Route (ED2: WI6, 1200m, Breashears-Lowe, December 1982), Benoist and Gottadi would attempt a new route up a line of runnels a little further right, while the remaining members, under the guidance of Pessi, would climb as two teams on a line of goulottes much further right leading toward the summit of Kwangde Nup (6035m).

Unfortunately, heavy spindrift was too much for the climbers on the Breashears-Lowe, where the original line still remains unrepeated in its entirety, and after three attempts they were forced to accept defeat. Pessi’s group was no more successful. Although from afar the goulottes had appeared quite climbable, in reality they comprised very thin ice over extremely compact granite. Three pitches of tenuous unprotected climbing were enough and the teams descended empty handed.

Benoist and Gottadi were more fortunate and from November 15-18 managed to complete a fine new line, which they named Normal Routes Have Nothing Extraordinary (ED2: WI5+, 1150m). The climb begins up the next main runnel right of Mandala (Lorenzo-Munoz, 1985), something of a non-line, which after an attempt on a direct route up the face to the right of the Breashears-Lowe, quickly scurries off right via a long and slightly tenuous traverse over snow ramps to reach the edge of the face before climbing behind it to the summit ridge. After Benoist and Gottadi had crossed through the Mandala traverse, they were able to overcome the middle rock barrier via an ice smear right of the Breashears-Lowe crux (the upper half of this smear had been climbed previously in 2001 by Sam Chinnery and Ali Coull as an easier variant during the second ascent of the Breashears-Lowe), before continuing steeply to join the American route for its last few pitches to the summit. The weather was far from perfect for this ascent, with strong winds and temperatures down to -18 degrees C. However, the route is reported to be of high quality and sustained: 12 pitches of WI 5 or above.

Three bivouacs were needed on the ascent, after which the pair completed an elegant but long north-to-south traverse of the mountain by descending to the relatively remote Lumding Valley. From here they had to walk southeast before crossing a pass back north and make a long descent to the Dudh Kosi, finally reaching Namche Bazar three days after leaving the summit. If one includes Mandala, this new French route is now the fifth independent line on the Hungo Face.

The north side of the Kwangde group after heavy snowfall. On the left can be seen Kwangde Shar (6093m) with the 1978 northeast spur separating sunlight and shadow. To the right lies the steep Hungo Face of Kwangde Lho (6187m), where the 1996 French route, Extra Blue Sky, climbs left out of the shadow to finish via the steep upper section of the northeast spur. Right again and catching the morning sun is Kwangde Nup (6035m). [Photo] The Jules Cartwright Trust