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Shisha First Winter Ascent Debrief
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Jan 27, 2005 03: 37 EST
Previously published Jan 24, 2005

Simone Moro has compiled a debrief on the teams Shisha Pangma winter climb. First he sounds off on Lafaille's claims, and then he goes on to describe the climb. Here's Simone's story:

My 5th winter expedition

This trip to Shisha Pangma was my fifth winter expedition (out of 34 expeditions in total). Without too much emphasis or false modesty, I can claim to have lived a remarkable alpine experience “in the cold,” and to have had both defeats and victories. Aconcagua 1993 -summit- (south face and then normal route), Annapurna (tragedy with A. Boukreev), Pink Marble Wall 6400 m -summit- (Thien Shan), Shisha Pangma 2003/4 (stop at 7700), Shisha Pangma 2004/5 -summit-.

Climbing in winter is very difficult and different, sadly out of fashion and truly above the normal limit of one’s ability to support discomfort.

Winter, like Christmas, is an absolute concept

Winter, like Christmas, New Year’s, like 2+2, jet lag and many other things is always certain, an absolute concept, known and scientifically accepted by all. From December 21st to March 21st winter reigns in the northern hemisphere of the globe. Science and astronomy have always concurred on this.

The arrival of a Frenchman

December 11th brought the arrival of a Frenchman who, worthily, climbed Shisha Pangma after having worked and climbed the wall in November (smack dab in the middle of autumn) and said that his praiseworthy climb took place in winter and that he was, therefore, the first in the world to have made the climb in winter.

Winter ascent and home for Christmas?

Why? The Tibetan and Nepalese bureaucracy say that the winter season opens on the 1st of December, just like the winter ski season in Cortina, Chamonix, and Aspen and so, not following the laws of science and the planet, and leaving the bureaucracy behind he returned home at the beginning of winter in time for Christmas and New Year, probably as he had promised.

In the steps of true legends

Five other, decidedly more stupid, climbers, four Poles and one Italian, decided to follow in the footsteps of great climbers past and present (Zawada, Kukuczka, Wielicki, Berbeka, Garrido....) and follow the laws of nature and science, waiting for the 21st of December, the date on which winter takes hold, to try and climb Shisha Pangma, which, along with seven other 8000meter mountains has never been climbed in actual winter (not the winter of skiing and officially stamped papers).

Declaration of intent

And, it must be said that the French subject, with a strange sport procedure, didn’t even declare his intent, spoke nothing of his presence at the Nepalese agency, which helped him logistically, in order to stress and focus only upon the day he made it to the summit. If he hadn’t made it and remained silent no one would have known about his attempt and failure… this, too, is class.

He's not Polish - neither am I

Then, on January 19 he wrote a pathetic reply to Wielicki, who had lectured him like a father would an exaggerating child, and to the entire mountaineering world (including Garrido who, like Wielicki, also had to "explain" certain things).

He continues to slander our winter expedition, and tries to make his autumn ascent into something that it's not - a winter climb. He says that he's being discriminated against because he's not Polish - well, neither am I. The difference is that I respect the rules.

Posing in T-shirt, claiming World Championships

Like a grumpy child, the Frenchman is trying to make his success count for a victory in the World Championships. And he's not too smart, publishing pictures of himself posing in front of his tent wearing only a T-shirt! But what is the real cold in the winter in Himalaya?

In any case, without getting into too much debate, either France accepts the rules of the rest of the planet and his autumn climb, or he will have to start accepting that he will be ignored - ridiculed even - which is beginning to happen now.

Let’s forget about it and hope that this debate is the final bluff of the officially stamped paper, and let’s turn now to the one first, only and true winter climb of Shisha Pangma 8027.

Our previous attempt

We tried last winter and came close to success, stopping (Piotr and me) at 7700 meters after having climbed the fantastic “Corredor Girona” which was opened by the Spaniards Figueras and Permane. (Typical of Spanish climbers, they left signs of their climbing skill also on the southern wall of Shisha).

Our lack of success was due to the late hour. 15:00 had already passed by the time we reached 7700m and two hours of sunlight remained, and we needed those in order to return to our tent at 7100m. The alternative was a deadly bivouac at over -50°. We found wisdom but sportive defeat in the decision to abandon our intent. The change in weather conditions caused us to have to consider another try another time. It was January 17th, 2004.

Digest defeat and decide for a comeback

Having digested the defeat, the next year would bring another try. The same team: Jan, Darek, Jacek, Piotr and me. The suggested way up is different this time. We decided to try the Yugoslavian way at the extreme right of the wall. We didn’t know too much about this way, but we knew the crest along this itinerary reaches 7300m. Unlike the year before, we knew that we would have to sleep up there and not be able to pretend to reach the summit leaving from a camp on the wall. The crest is damn long and at times complicated…

4 climbers, no sherpas

Obviously, we don’t have sherpas or oxygen with us, and the work is divided among four people as Jan, the head of the expedition, will cover the fundamental logistics. Between Base Camp and the base camp further along there are 10 km that we will cover in order to see the wall and our way. This is our starting point where we begin using crampons and ice axes.

Live Ice

The 30th of December we are able to install our first fundamental camp at 6550 meters in the middle of the wall, sheltered under a Serac. We use and fix quite a few meters of rope in order to reach that point and later the crest. Fixed cords and our loaded backpacks ever heavier, we often climb over live ice and the cords are positioned anticipating the descent.

Honest work of four climbers the secret

Regularly and punctually, Darek and Jacek alternate the duties with Piotr and me. The honest work of these four climbers has been the secret of what happened afterward.

We spent four nights at C1, going up and down a few times before we succeeded in equipping ourselves. We popped out on the top crest at 7350 and positioned our C2. The GPS read 7416 meters at that point, but we think it was overestimating.

“Tomorrow we’re going to try it!”

Born of a bit of craziness, the idea came to us to try to reach the summit the day after establishing C2. We wanted, in fact, to sleep to acclimate ourselves and then turn back to base. We had climbed with extremely heavy backpacks the whole day, climbing rock of 3-4 degrees. In the end, we hadn’t saved any energy at all. But, when, in the afternoon, we came out onto the crest I saw the secondary summit and felt transported back to a year ago, 15:00 on January 17th, “Tomorrow we’re going to try it!” I said immediately to Piotr who, between the stupor and enthusiasm accepted my crazy idea. I phoned Karl Gabl, my infallible meteorological guru in Innsbruck, and he told me that the next day there would be a very strong wind along with the cold, but the sky would be clear…

Maybe it was the one year of thinking, or the thought of the “cleverness” of December 11th

We left at 8 in the morning (so late that it seemed a climbing blasphemy) from the tent at 7350m to try for the summit… I don’t know what Piotr and I had on. Maybe a year of thinking, above normal enthusiasm, maybe the thought of the “cleverness” of December 11th. The fact is that we flew on the crest and in a little more than 5 hours, at 13:15 we were on the principle summit of Shisha Pangma, at 8027 meters. A cry of joy and liberation, a strong hug and between impressive gusts of wind we took 9 photos and filmed for 50 seconds. Behind us, the pointed middle peak that I climbed in 1996, 19 meters lower with respect to the principle summit.

It was ours to live and enjoy alone

It was cold, extremely cold. We tried to raise someone from our team on the radio, but no one responded. It was ours to live and enjoy alone. Everest, Lhotse, Nuptse, Cho Oyu, Langtang and thousands of mountains were around us blown by the icy breath of January wind.

No traces remained of our climb. The natural elements of that 14th of January cancelled everything. Perhaps, a trace will remain in the history of climbing if the officially stamped card doesn’t get the upper-hand. For sure, in our personal story, 13:15 on January 14th will remain a thrilling moment of immense joy!


P.S. Today, the 20th of January the CTMA certificated our summit with the sentence “first winter Summit” as the first winter summit of Shisha Pangma, made by January 14, 2005 by Simone Moro ITA and Piotr Morawski POL.

In 2003, Lafaille ("the Frenchman") and Simone Moro paved a new partial route up Nanga Parbat, and Lafaille summited on June 23. Then on July 15th, he and Ed Viesturs made the summit of Broad Peak. On his way down from Broad Peak, Lafaille experienced serious breathing difficulties. Ed Viesturs and Kazakh climber Denis Urubko affected a nighttime rescue and brought Lafaille safely down the mountain. Denis Urubko is a close friend of Simone Moro and was supposed to join the team for the current Shisha climb, but had to drop out to family reasons.

Dec 11, 2004 Jean Christophe Lafaille summited Shisha Pangma, after establishing the route and high camps in late November. He arrived the mountain telling no one of his intentions, although it was known that Simone Moro and his Polish team would repeat their winter attempt from early 2004. Lafaille claimed a winter ascent and a new route.

The Himalayan winter climbing community rallied to set the record straight: There is no doubt that what he did is not a winter climb... winter begins on December 21 all over the world,” Garrido told ExplorersWeb. Back in 1988, Fernando Garrido completed the first solo winter climb on the eighthousander Cho Oyu. Months after Fernando Garrido, on Dec 31, 1988, Krzysztof Wielicki would succeed in the only other solo winter 8000er (main) summit, standing alone on the top of Lhotse. He told Desnivel on the subject of Lafaille: "

"You must see the difference between the deadlines stated in a climbing permit (which is a government decision) and the real winter... Nepal’s ministry of Tourism set December 1 as the beginning of mountain winter activities, understanding this as the day when the teams reach Base Camp, and February 15 as the day when teams must abandon Base Camp...usually the wind picks up after Christmas. Therefore, I think Jean Christophe has enjoyed excellent autumn weather conditions." And he also objected to Lafaille's claim of a new route:

"On a different subject, the 'new' route is not so, but a new way to get to the British route, and not a very logical one: it consists in traversing three other routes, including the one I opened in 1993."

Simone Moro and Piotr Morawski summited Shisha Pangma Friday January 14 at 1.15 pm (local) after a fast 5 hour climb in very strong winds. They followed the Yugoslavian route on the south face.

Up until now only 8 out of all 14 eight-thousanders have been winter climbed. Before the addition of Italian Simone Moro, all first winter accents were made by Polish climbers in Calendar winter, from Everest in 1980 to Lhotse in 1988 - the last time (before 2005) someone set foot on a virgin summit higher than 8000m during the winter.

Simone Moro, 37, was the driving force behind this current expedition. He has earlier summited Mount Everest, Broad Peak, Cho Oyu and Lhotse. In 1996, Simone reached the N. Summit of Shisha Pangma. Piotr Morawski took part in the 2003 K2 winter expedition, led by Polish Krzysztof Wielicki. Simone Moro, Piotr Morawski, Jacek Jawien, Dariusz Zaluski and Jan Szulc repeated their winter attempt of last year.

Images of the Shisha Pangma first winter ascent, Piotr, Simone, the climb and Camp 2, courtesy of Simone Moro.
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