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Lhotse, South Face

On October 15, 2001, the late Brad Washburn had written to Hiroyoshi Ohtsuka, past president of the Japanese Alpine Club, “I am particularly interested in the announcement that a Japanese team is planning an attack on the great south face of Lhotse during the coming winter. Be sure to report to me with the results.” Although that attempt on the 8516-meter peak failed, as did our second one in 2003, a Japanese proverb says that success comes on the third try.

In 2003 we’d made it as far as 8250 meters, enough to call it a “near ascent.” I thought I’d never go back; the rockfall was too dangerous, and I told myself that I should be proud of having completed two attempts without any accidents. Yet while I was afraid that we couldn’t make a third attempt without deaths, the idea of giving up filled me with so much frustration and regret that I realized how much I wanted this climb.

Two years later on an expedition to Nanga Parbat, I found that a fellow member, Noriyuki Kenmochi, shared my enthusiasm. We soon began making plans for the face, organizing a team of six strong, experienced climbers, including Noboru Onoe, Atsushi Senda, Katsuhito Fujikawa, Takahiro Yamaguchi, Toshio Yamamoto and base-camp manager Goro Takenaka, as well as eighteen Sherpas. The youngest members of the team were thirty-two, the oldest, sixty-three.

During September and October 2006, we acclimatized on Shishapangma (8013m). As we set up our base camp on the Lhotse Glacier (5200m), we met a friendly, good-natured Korean party that planned to climb the same route; our teams began to share the work of fixing ropes, and on November 21, we set up a common Camp I on the same spot as we had three years earlier (5900m).

From this day on, the wind grew stronger, at one point blowing Senda and Yamamoto ten meters away; only the fixed ropes kept them from being blown off the mountain. In addition, the south face was laden with the heavy autumn snowfall, and avalanches and falling rocks struck some of the Sherpas as they ferried loads. Nonetheless we established Camp II (7100m) on December 1 and a provisional Camp III (7300m) on December 6. The next day we managed a difficult pitch on the rock wall above this camp, before the high winds temporarily stopped our progress.

Though our climbing speed was slow, fortunately this year true winter came late. On December 13 we began climbing again. One of the reasons we’d failed in 2003 had been the location of our Camp III. This time, we moved it higher, to ca. 8000 meters. From here, December 21-24, a joint rope team–Kenmochi, Pema Tsering Sherpa and Senda from our party, and An Chiyoung from the Korean expedition–made a summit bid up a couloir toward the left shoulder. But the winds delayed them, and they gave up at 8200 meters.

The day after Christmas (which we’d once considered to be our time limit) Yamaguchi, Pemba Choti Sherpa and I attained the upper part of the couloir. There we found an old fixed rope–a great surprise, since I’d thought that no one had tried this couloir before us. Our predecessors’ traces disappeared at the base of a twenty-meter, blank rock wall. The only way around the dead end appeared to be some fragile rock to the left. We returned to camp to rest; then the next day Yamaguchi made a bold traverse on this precarious wall. After a hard push up nearly vertical, glasslike snow, we found ourselves at 3:35 p.m. on the summit ridge (8475m). Snow plumes streamed from Mt. Everest just before us. At last we were on the top of Lhoste’s south face in the midst of winter.

Two hundred horizontal meters remained between us and the summit, but we had no energy left. We retreated without hesitation. Today, I am deeply aware of how lucky we were. During all three expeditions, not a single finger was lost. The Goddess blessed and led us safely up the south face.

— Osamu Tanabe, Japan