Nepal | July 05, 2020

Ascent into heavens

Victor Klenov
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Fifty years have passed since the first ascent of Lhotse and Manaslu by Swiss and Japanese climbers. More than the actual climb, we should be celebrating what the achievement represents — reaching distant and

difficult goals, overcoming the seemingly impossible and stepping out into the unknown.

First On Top Of Lhotse:

The Everest group — the triumvirate of Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse — is often called the Horseshoe and is arguably the greatest mountain cirque in the world.

Lhotse at 8,516 metres, is the fourth highest mountain in the world. Its long east-west crest stretches up to three kilometres south of Everest and the summits of the two peaks are connected by the South Col.

The mountain was initially reconnoitered in conjunction with earlier Everest expeditions. The second Swiss Everest expedition under G Chevalley established a route over the Lhotse Face to the South Col, which has since become the classic route.

The first climbing attempt was made by an international expedition under the leadership of Norman Dyhrenfurt in 1955. Autumn storms forced the expedition home.

Finally the Swiss Everest-Lhotse Expedition leader Albert Eggle made the first ascent of Lhotse on May 18, 1956, when Fritz Luchsinger and Ernst Reiss reached the summit by the way of the West Face.

The Swiss Attack:

The Swiss Foundation for Alpine research outlined a mountain-climbing expedition, involving a team of first-class mountaineers. The aim was to climb Everest for the second time, and Lhotse for the first time. A total cost of the expedition was of 360,000 Swiss Francs. The team consisted of 10 climbers, a glaciologist and a geographer. Eggler, 43, leader of mountain troops and a noted climber became the leader of the team.

Reiss, 36, an aeroplane mechanic from Brienz, was linked to extremely difficult tours in the Alps. He was a man of a great physical fitness and unshakeable mountaineering idealism. Reiss was a member of the Second Geneva Everest Expedition in 1952, when he reached the South Saddle, 8,100 metres together with Lamber and N Tenzing, and was therefore familiar with a large part of the route of ascent. Luchsinger, 35, was an instructional officer in Thun, and enjoyed energy, stamina, selflessness and keen powers of observation.

The team took 22 improved oxygen bottles, each weighed 6.6 kg (in 1952 weight was 14.2 kg). Sirdar Pasang Dawa Lama (after he was ill and was succeeded by Dawa Tenzing) took about 30 Sherpas from Darjeeling. An expedition had 10 tonnes of material, which were carried by 350 porters. The Swiss hiked four weeks to the Base Camp.

When they reached Thyangboche monastery, Luchsinger had an acute appendicitis, but was cured by a massive doses of antibiotics.

Khumbu Icefall was quite an obstacle, it was really Khumbu gymnastics. The team followed roughly the British route up the Icefall to the Lhotse Face. The Swiss used explosives to blow-up the most dangerous seracs!

Two ladders and several wooden beams helped in crossing crevasses, somewhere the fixed ropes were installed. The team established altogether seven camps.

On May 1, Camp IV, 6,800, was built on the Lhotse Face. The Yellow Band at 2,500 ft on the Lhotse Face is a band of sandstone, which can present unexpected difficulties and is a little tricky.

Luchsinger fully recovered and rejoined the team here. The team opened the West Face route, following the ascent route of Everest as far as an altitude of 7,800 metres, then changing direction towards the narrow ice and snow couloir which leads directly to the top of Lhotse.

They reached the South Col by the middle of May. At this point, Eggler took a bold gamble – he decided that before attempting the South-East ridge of Everest, his leading team should attempt the north ridge of Lhotse, which formed the other side of the Col.


On the evening of May 17, Reiss and Luchsinger were at Camp VIa, other climbers correspondingly at Camps V, IV and III. After a cold night at the camp, Reiss and Luchsinger started their climb to the summit of Lhotse on May 18 in a gale-force wind and crossed into the Lhotse couloir. They reached the crux around the moon, climbing via a spectacular line of the extremely steep thin ice, and managed to overcome it using pitons.

Six hours after leaving Camp VIa, they had reached the jagged peak of Lhotse. The Swiss climbers stood in the sun on the sharp precarious, wafer-thin summit at 3:45 pm.

The view onto the jagged, desolate ridges of Lhotse and over to Everest was a magnificent wilderness. Their oxygen was used up, the wind was getting stronger, it was high time that they climbed down.

At 6:15 pm they stood exhausted and happy before their tent, which had collapsed under the snow.

It was a fine consolation prize for a country that had so nearly been the first up the Everest.

The ascent of Lhotse meant, that Swiss climbers had reached the summit of an 8,000 thousander for the first time ever.

Their Second Summit :

A week later, Ernst Scmied and Lurg Marmet climbed Everest on May 23. Adolf Reist and Hans von Gunter repeated their success. And humorous gossip of how the Swiss, prosaic as ever, stolid even in triumph, had come down from the summit in a blaze of reporters and photographers and the immortal words they found to say were, “Oh it was quite high.”

For the next 20 years nobody could summit Lhotse. It was only in 1977 that Gertruda Schmalz and Urkien climbed the peak.

After 50 years of Lhotse ascent, Lhotse still offers fascinating opportunities for the future. There are a few routes now from North side. The East Face, the Tibetan side of the mountain is still unclimbed.

Lhotse remains one of the most treasured of Himalayan mountains to climb.

Fritz Luchsinger dedicated his life to the high mountains. In 1980 he climbed Dhaulagiri and at 59 years became the oldest man to have climbed an 8,000 metre-peak. Sadly, climbing Shishapangma in 1983, Luchsinger became Shis-hapangma’s first victim.

In Their Footsteps

• 1986: Reinhold Messner of Italy summited Lhotse in 1986 with the Swiss expedition. Lhotse represented for him the finishing tape of an unusual “and dangerous race around the highest mountains of the world”.

• December 31, 1988: K Wielicki of Poland became the first to climbed a 8,000 metre peak in winter.

• 1996: Chantal Mauduit of France, became the first woman to reach the top of Lhotse without oxygen.

• 2001: Russian team made the first ascent of the Lhotse Middle, 8,414 metres.

• 2001: S Moro of Italy, with Denis Urubko of Kazakhstan, attempted the Lhotse/Everest traverse without oxygen but on the route they were involved in spectacular rescue of other climbers.

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