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Kristoffer Erickson reaching the upper flanks on Tawoche’s (6495m) East Ridge (VI 5.9 AI2, 1600m), Khumbu Himal, Nepal. Erickson, Adam Knoff, Ross Lynn and Whit Magro made the second ascent of the East Ridge in February, eighteen years after it was established. [Photo] Ross Lynn

In a thirty-six hour push from camp to camp, Kristoffer Erickson, Adam Knoff, Ross Lynn and Whit Magro this February made the second ascent of the East Ridge (VI 5.9 AI2, 1600m) of Tawoche (6495m), Khumbu Himal, Nepal. The East Ridge has gone unrepeated since the first ascent nearly two decades ago–not surprising for a mountain with eleven permitted ascents. February’s climb marks not only the East Ridge’s second ascent, but also its first “true” winter ascent, depending on one’s calendar.

The East Ridge ascends an east-facing spur to a sub-peak on the southeast ridgeline, then rises along that ridge to the summit. The team believes they made slight variations to the original East Ridge route. Starting from base camp on the far (west) side of the mountain, the four made excellent time–a thirty-six-hour round trip–in dry conditions; The 1989 ascent took multiple days.

Each team of two had a half rack of cams and one 8mm, 60-meter rope. Erickson, Knoff, Lynn and Magro started the route at first light, scrambling unroped up 1,000 feet of ridgeline (which included a traverse through scary, loose and snowy terrain) to 18,000 feet. They led 100-foot pitches through quality-granite cracks and featured faces, up to 5.9, with boots. A final mixed gully pitch delivered them to the upper mountain, where they bivied at 20,000 feet. One thousand feet of 60 to 70 degree snow slopes the next morning led to the summit and a view of the Khumbu. After nine hours of “interesting” rappelling down the east face (one hanging belay station had rock “comparable to kitty litter,” Magro said), the weather deteriorated into a whiteout. Through the storm and resulting spindrift, they made it back to camp safely.

In 1988 Andy Black and Mal Duff attempted Tawoche’s eastern rock ridge in a snowstorm, nearly reaching the upper glacier. One hundred meters short of the glacier they encountered a difficult granite wall, where they traversed left to enter the Japanese Couloir, familiar ground (Duff had climbed part of the Couloir the year before) that they descended. The following year, 1989, David Etherington and Jorg Schneider reached the top on December 11 to make the route’s first ascent.

A group of Koreans made the first winter ascent of Tawoche on January 12, 1986 via the original route on the Southeast Face, first climbed in 1974.

Although the 1989 ascent of the East Ridge was made in winter conditions technically inside the Nepalese winter (which runs from December 1 to February 15), the February 2007 ascent is considered by some to be the first true winter ascent of the route (based on the standard calendar winter: December 21 to March 21). On Shishapangma (8013m) similar discordance led to heated controversy in 2004-5: when Jean-Christophe Lafaille soloed Shishapangma’s southwest face on December 11, 2004, he considered it the peak’s first winter ascent. A month later on January 14, in hurricane-force winds, Piotr Morakski and Simone Moro climbed the same mountain, and also claimed the first winter ascent. It was the eighth 8000-meter peak to be climbed in winter; the seventh was Lhotse, climbed in winter sixteen years before.

Kristoffer Erickson and Adam Knoff working up the spur on the East Ridge route of Tawoche. The four-man team made the second ascent in a thirty-six hour roundtrip push from basecamp. [Photo] Ross Lynn

Tawoche’s first ascent was also controversial, as French leader Yannick Seigneur had obtained a permit to scout ski descents in the Khumbu, not to climb. The five-man team poached the peak in 1974 via the Southeast Face; caught in the act, Seigneur and company made a hasty departure from Nepal.

The southwest side of Tawoche generally offers longer and more technical climbing, but the east side also has a history of impressive ascents that include Ueli Steck’s 2005 solo of the East-Southeast Face (M5 60 degrees, 1500m), Mick Fowler and Pat Littlejohn’s 1995 ascent of the Northeast Pillar (ED, 43 pitches)–which was also attempted by Etherington’s expedition in 1989–and, perhaps most notably, Jeff Lowe and John Roskelley’s alpine-style ascent of the Northeast Face (VII 5.11 M6) in a week-long push during February, 1989.

Erickson, Knoff and Magro also made a solid attempt on the southwest ridge this year, climbing to ca. 19,000 feet before a storm denied them the upper flanks. Also in the Tawoche vicinity at the same time this February were Renan Ozturk and Seth Hobby, who made a good effort on “very involved” climbing up the south ridge (they found fixed gear from the successful 1990 German expedition) before a hidden headwall surprised the pair and convinced them to retreat.

Sources: Whit Magro, Ross Lynn, Lindsay Griffin, 2006 AAJ, 2000 AAJ