December 2018 I was leading a group of Hiking and Yoga with Butterfly Outdoor Adventure, when Tashi Sherpa, a friend from Nepal called me on phone and asked me if I would be interested to join Lhotse South Expedition 2019. He explained very shortly the expedition and told me that he will put me in touch with Hong, a very well known climber from Korea, about more details.
I was quite surprised. I was very happy that they invited me on this big expedition, but on the other hand, the fact that I knew people tried this route for 20 years and didn’t succeed, plus, one of the most strong climbers died by trying this route( Kukuczka Death in Lhotse South), I couldn’t help but feel disturbed
I spent a few days doing research about this route, Hongs Expedition, and his team …. and at some point, I thought maybe they will not write to me at all.
Finally, I received an email from Hong, explaining to me the expedition, team, their experience, and the idea behind trying to climb again Lhotse South Face.
At the same time, Hong gathered some more information and details about me .. my climbing experience, etc. I was hoping to be part of this team, but at the same time, I was so scared and afraid about this climb. My feelings were never so mixed.
After sharing a few emails back and forth, I got the green light for being in the team and I finally decided to join, without really thinking so clear.
I started training really hard, running, CrossFit, climbing, and ice-climbing … did all the physical preparations and was waiting for the day of departure to come.
So it was time to go and I did what had to be done. A team from National Geographic was there to shoot a documentary for this historical moment in climbing.
While on his expedition I had a crystal clear vision that nothing is more important than being safe and healthy. Most of us don’t understand this until the danger stares in our eyes. The expedition lasted 2 months and it was a great experience.
I learned so much and met so many goods and so many weird people. I climbed difficult trails – as never before / climbed ice and rock, spent many nights sleepless, and many hours in altitude. I spent many nights thinking and planning … never had I ever had this pressure and anxiety in my mind before, never had I felt this alone before, never had I watched more movies than I did now…
But if I traveled back in time, I would take the same decision and do the same things all over again. Lhotse South is considered the most difficult route in the world. Only now, I am really able to understand half of it and process what really happened. People got sick, frostbitten, and many of them died.
So let’s start with a chronology of the activities and events that took place during this expedition.
After a long tiring road to the destination, I finally got to meet the team I was so excited about. We made sure we got everything we needed, introduced to each other, and got briefed about the expedition. At our start of the journey, we performed the Hindu ritual of Puja. The word “pūjā” is Sanskrit and means reverence, honor, homage, adoration, and worship. An expedition like this was a very important event, not just for us but all other humans who would take the same road following our traces.
With our hearts full and minds & bodies ready for the challenge we started our climb, wich was more or less like this:
Base Camp (5150m) to C1 (5900m):
This 750 meters climbing route is a mixed climb. Mainly snow and ice and sometimes rocky, with few steep sections. Camp 1 is based on two big rivers of snow showers. Quite safe even though the constant snow-showers between these two cultures made C1 snowy and cold throughout the entire time. I have climbed 4 times to C1 (slept a few days) – carried all my gears and food and tried to climb at Camp 2 – but it was impossible since the weather wasn’t the best. Sometimes a lot of snow falling, climate conditions, and many other reasons… One time we went up halfway to C2, maybe 6500 meters, just before the big and famous culuars started, we had to return and try to climb to C2 another time because of the weather.
Camp 1(5900m) to Camp 2 (7300m)
The first and the last time that we could pass the gorge and reach C2, was the most amazing part of this whole expedition. It is a 1300 meter climb and I did it for 9 -10 hours. In the beginning, the climbing was on a steep section of rock and ice, with so many small rocks falling (flying) together with snow.
The second section was the traverse, with small holes on rocks and ice, but still safer than the others. While our destination (C2) seemed quite close, it took quite long to climb — not just because of the steepness but also the snowy conditions, making it very hard.
The third part of the route is a combination of rock and ice, very thin ice though, accompanied by a surreal view, with the famous color and the big steep face. I really liked climbing this part, using all my body to climb makes climbing more interesting.
We used the fixed rope, but this climb is not as much about the rope as it is about being balanced in small pockets of rocks and ice, with big boots and crampons.
When passing the culuars, we had to do it fast. It seemed like we were passing a river bed, showered by the snow that was falling all time and sometimes even rocks. If you are lucky, you pass it without any trouble, but this doesn’t happen often. Many of our sherpa team got caught by snow showers and avalanches on this section.
Throughout the entire time that we were climbing, the snow showers continued. In the beginning, I stopped from time to time, to wait for the snow showers to calm down, afterward I just kept on climbing since they never seemed to stop.
After passing the culuar, there are around 300-400 meters climbing in 70% steep terrain of blue ice. This was the hardest time for me. I had already spent a lot of energy, plus the changes in altitude were a big difference (New ox zone -7000m). I had to swing my crampons 4 times only to be able to step on my feet or my ice tools, and you could never be safe. I felt like everyone suffered in this section.
Yet, when I reached the C2 I felt like I already Summited another 8000 meters peak.
On this day, we were a group of 5 members climbing: Mr. Hong – the leader, Jeroge, Sung and He Jin. I and He Jin were the last ones in the line of the team. We reached Camp 2 the last – I was so happy thinking that our partners came first and maybe they already boiled some water for the team, but it wasn’t as I expected.
First, when Hujin and I reached C2, there was no room for us in the tent. There were Jorge and Hong, inside of the warm tent, sleeping and resting, with all the food and gas that sherpa brought from lower camp.
Seug, was waiting in the other tent, which was maybe 50 meters higher. They told us to go up since there was no room left for us (some sherpa were still there preparing themselves to leave for C3).
At the same time, I remember that one of our sherpa had frostbite on one of his toes since the quality of the tent was bad.
Anyhow, Hujin and I climbed a few more meters, very tired, reached the other tent. The other tent was a summer tent, all broken from the wind.
Finally, after a few hours, we could go down to a good tent. Oh, it felt like we were home. It was warm, smelled like soup and food, and I was so happy to jump on this tent…
I had so many issues and concerns about the team on this expedition – but this was the time that I truly felt so bad – since I truly understood who some of the people I was sharing my life at that time were. At this time I understood the importance that the people you share the journey with would have on the journey experience itself.
Jeorge, was so angry that we came down – because he didn’t want to share a few inches of the tent with us. To him, a few more inches meant more comfort, and I felt as if his luxury was more valuable than mine, Hujin’s and Seung’s toes, fingers, and life.
Anyhow, we went inside. Boiled some water and cooked some soup – we were all very tired.
On the first night, the 4 of us were sleeping in the tent with down-suits and a thin sleeping bag (I was sharing mine with Hujing and Seung since we agreed to carry less and share it together). The three of us were resting while sitting, on 40% of the tent, whereas Jeorge and Hong were sharing 60% of the tent among the two of them.
Jeorge was complaining that there was a big hole in the snow under his spot – so he cannot move and make more room for us. We woke up in the middle of the night – I took all the extra clothes and put them under his spot, to make it flat so that he could sleep and make more room for us, but again nothing changed.
Outside it was windy. I thought at some point that we were gonna fly. I felt scared and I decided that the expedition for me was over and tomorrow I would go down.
The second day on C2:
If we have to leave, we would have to leave very early in the morning – like 4 or 5 so we can pass the culuar early – before the sun hits the face. I was lazy to wake up and leave, so I stayed for another night. At the same time, I thought it would be a good idea to stay and would be a good training opportunity for me to go to Camp 3 – so that I can climb more and enjoy the journey more, rather than stay in a tent.
Everyone left to C3 (7900 m) and Hujin and I left the last. The route was beautiful – straight step, rock and sometimes ice. We could see throughout the entire time the guys climbing up. I was really happy to climb on the route. At 7800 Hujin and I decided to go down. We thought let’s go down first, rest a bit and eat before the rest of the team comes. This is what we did.
Sleeping while sitting at 7300 meters, on the second night was even worse. Anyhow, I was happy I could climb this beautiful mountain face, a little bit farther than Base Camp – Camp 1. And, even -almost climbing C3 – was a great success for me.
The next day we all went down. Took all my gears, clothes, food, and everything to base camp. The other climbers, left their gears at C1 since they wanted to go for another summit push, and for me that was it.
My bag weighed more than 30 kg. Just near the Base Camp I almost fell since I couldn’t carry it anymore. When I reached Base Camp – the first thing I did, I went to Istupa (praying spot) and I cried. I was sad and angry.
I just gave up a huge dream. Climbing the Lhotse South. And, I was almost about to give up from climbing on the 8000. This was the first time that I had this doubt. Sometimes our partners, who thought that they are the best, the strongest, the most experienced, made other younger climbers feel really bad.
I know I am not the strongest comparing to other climbers, but I train hard and I love climbing. And I love being able to climb, I love people and I have less anger. This is what brought me to the mountains in the first place. Peace and joy.
This expedition was all about anger and sadness. It was all about men, strong men, experienced men, who would normally talk, tell how brave they are, and laugh at us, girls who they considered as less experienced climbers, the weak gang of the expeditions.
I want to thank from the bottom of my heart the base camp manager Sujin from Korea, and Hujin – a Chinese climber who made my life better during these 2 months. Also Seung – a Korean climber whom I can call as my friend and my climbing partner, Mr. Hong – our leader of the expedition – for whom I have a lot of respect as a great human being and a climber. And Jeorge – a very known and strong Spanish climber, whom I would never like to meet again.
For more about this expedition click Lhotse South 2019 .