Lhotse (Himalaya)

       Lhotse, No. 4 of the World, is the closest neighbor of Mt. Everest. Their summits, separated by the South Col, are in a distance of only 3 km. It was climbed three years after Mt. Everest, in 1955 by a Swiss expedition. After that, by 1978, it was not climbed again. For 23 years, usually two expeditions a year, have attempted to climb it and failed. By that time, Mt. Everest was climbed by more than 150 climbers. The explanation is simple: while the most common route to Mt. Everest from the South Col has an average slope of 30 deg., the route to Lhotse is twice much steeper, on average 60 deg.

        In 1978 Poland receives from the Nepalis government permission for climbing Lhotse in 1979 and Gliwice Mountaineering Club embarked on arranging the Lhotse Expedition, with Adam Bilczewski as the Leader. From more than 50 candidates, by very tough endurance tests, 21 climbers were selected. Also, two climbers from Norway and Germany joined the Expedition. The extremely difficult mountaineering task had to be fitted by climbers’ capabilities. Andrzej Czok, who later climbed Himalayan summits in winter conditions, without oxygen, who established the Polish Route to Mt. Everest, probably the most challenging one, has joined the team. It was joined also by Andrzej Heinrich, a member of 17 Himalayan expeditions.

        In May 1979 six ton of equipment and food for the Expedition was sent in a heavy truck by sea to Bombay, India, and next, the team traveled by cars across India to Kathmandu, Nepal.

       We had the permission for climbing Lhotse in the post-monsoon season so that the Expedition had to reach the Mt. Everest Base Camp in monsoon. At that season it was not possible to use an airplane for that. A team of 200 porters was hired to transport for two weeks six tons of food and equipment from Kathmandu to 350 km distant Namche Bazar, and next, above Namche Bazar, in snowy and glacier area, 70 yaks did the job, because porters did not have shoes to enter such a snowy terrain. For this transport is responsible L. Czarnecki.  It is a tough job. Porters go in a very heavy monsoon rain across the huge Himalayan valley, carrying 30 kg boxes on their backs. Some, for double money, carry even two such boxes, while there are days when we cross 3500m high ridges, to go next down to 800m. Some porters gave up. We have to go to the closest villages and look for new porters. If they would go, will go the next day. Finally, there are several days of walking distance from the caravan head to its tail. Eventually, after three weeks of this hardship, we are in the Base Camp, at the level of 5650m, our home for the next eight weeks.

       Four top climbers, Czok, Heinrich, Skorek, and Kukuczka are selected by the Expedi-tion Leader to form the Attacking Team. To preserve their energy for the final attack, their daily burden is reduced. Each climber needs for the Lhotse attack two bottles of oxygen and one bottle for slipping in the night before. These 3 bottles, each of 8 kg weight, thus  12 bottles for the Attacking Team,  have to be delivered  to the Top Camp at 8000m by a Supporting Team. Chalecki, Cholewa, Szulc, Niklas, and Czarnecki as its Leader, form the Supporting Team. There is an agreement with the Expedition Leader, that if the Attacking Team will succeed, meaning Lhotse will be climbed, and weather conditions will allow for that, then the Supporting Team can repeat the summit attack. The Supporting Team has to deliver for that extra 15 bottles of oxygen to the Top Camp, meaning 27 bottles.

       The mortality for Himalayan expeditions with goals above 8000m amounts to 14%. It means that statistically every seventh climber, even a top one, does not return home. At such numbers, all decisions have to be made based on the competence – meaning zero democracy. During mountaineering action, the members of the Expedition could be in different configurations. Therefore, before the Expedition has started, its Leader, based on his opinion on the person’s mountaineering maturity, has allocated a specific number to each member of the Expedition: No. 1 and No. 2, – the Leader and Deputy Leader, No. 3 – Czok, No. 4 – Heinrich, No. 5 – Czarnecki, No. 6 – Skorek, and so on… The member of the team with the lowest number was responsible for all decisions and those decisions had to be obeyed.

    From the Base Camp to the Lhotse summit was 3000m. It was separated by 600m high Mt. Everest Icefall, 3km long Western Cwm, a narrow valley between slops of Mt. Everest and Mt. Nuptse, and 1800m high, the Western Face of Lhotse. Four camps, at the average altitude distance of 600m, had to be established. To acclimatize our bodies to high altitude climbing, we built new camps no faster than only one camp by a week. A not acclimatized climber can live at the level of 8000m, where there is only 1/3 of sea-level oxygen, no longer than only several minutes. Acclimatization allows blood red cells to develop their oxygen absorption area so that an acclimatized climber can survive at such an altitude even a whole day. Unfortunately, people differ as to the capability of acclimatization. In the case of our Expedition, only half of its members were able to climb above 6500m.

      The first barrier to Lhotse, the 600m high Icefall, is a narrow valley filled with slowly moving down, huge, of the size of multilevel buildings, blocks of ice. Because the sunshine can activate the Icefall movement, we used to enter it at dusk to complete climbing before it was in sun.      I crossed it 12 times during the Expedition. The Western Cwm is filled with a slowly moving glacier, with a labyrinth of hundred, tens meter deep crevasses, and endangered by avalanches which could run down from the Mt. Everest and Mt. Nuptse 1500m high steep slopes. And finally, the Western Face of Lhotse, 60 degrees steep runway for avalan-ches. Up to 7200m, we set a fixed rope, so that we climbed attached to it. Above that level, we climbed individually, not bounded by a rope, without any protection, only crampions and iceaxe.    

   Five weeks of hard work pays off: The Attacking Team reaches the Lhotse summit (see Wikipedia). Czok and Kukuczka do it even without supplemental oxygen. The Expedition is successful! The weather is still OK, thus the Supporting Team can repeat the summit attack. Only a few days are needed for the delivery of 15 bottles of oxygen from the Base to the Top Camp.

          The same day the Supporting Team was climbing to the Top Camp at the level of 7950m, Hannalore Schmatz summited,  as the fourth woman who did it, the Mt. Everest. She was in the company of Ray Genet, a professional guide from McKinley, Alaska. Unfortunately, they used whole supplementary oxygen for climbing up the summit. Without it, they are not able to descent to the South Col. They die. The Supporting Team was at that time in the Top Camp with supplementary oxygen and the physical capability to reach them on the Mt. Everest route. Unfortunately, our communication radios have operated at different frequencies and we learned on this tragedy the next morning.

      The day before the second attack, the Leader of the Expedition, Bilczewski, occurs in the Camp III and changes the original settlement as to this attack. Instead of Chalecki and Szulc, who fulfilled all conditions of that settlement, he and Baranek will attack the Lhotse summit.

     The next night we are in the Top Camp, set at a small platform cut off in a steep glacier, and we sleep with supplementary oxygen. The thermometer needle reached in the morning the end of the scale at – 55 C degrees. I was checking the pressure in the oxygen bottle, while the second one slipped off the backpack and disappeared down the Lhotse Face. I lost the oxygen needed for climbing. I decided to climb without it but carrying the bottle which has left. The memory of the Schmatz and Genet’s tragedy was too fresh. Unfortunately, it was to be climbing with an extra load (bottle, pressure redactor, mask, and backpack) of 10 kg. At such a load, without the supplementary oxygen, I was able to make only five steps consciously. The next five, counted down to ten, before a stop for longer breathing, were with a sort of semi-nightmares. I was at the distance of 150 m from the Lhotse summit, when the remaining part of the team, having supplementary oxygen, climbed faster, has reached it, so that I descended. Anyway, climbing to 8350m without supplementary oxygen and with an extra 10kg load on the back set a sort of a record.

      In two weeks, the Expedition was over. On the route down, I passed by Sir Edmund Hilary, the legendary first conqueror of the Mt. Everest. Now, we have a couple of weeks to enjoy the beauty of Nepal and India; to see ancient Bhaktapur and temples of Patan and Kathmandu, to see Varanasi at Ganges River, the Buddist Great Stupa in Sanchi, Hindi temples in Khajuraho, Allora and Ajanta. To visit Mughal palaces in Delhi and Agra, to see Taj Mahal.