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Jean-Christophe Lafaille 2003: Broad Peak

 Current Pakistan Time

Translations by Adrian Sutton for EverestNews.com

Article ascension of Broad Peak (In French)

For my part, I left France to fly alone to meet up with Jean Christophe in Pakistan. We try to balance the climbing and family life and I made this trip to Nepal to try and break the 3 months Jean Christophe was spending away from his family.

A month after returning to France, I met up with him in Pakistan for this last climb. I arrived in Islamabad on the 29th June, after a very tiring, interrupted Jean Christophe did all he could to be at the airport to meet me. After the journey I had had, I was especially glad to see him.

We didn’t waste much time in tackling the logistic and timing problems. After 2 days on a bus, I was really pleased to meet Ed Viesturs in Skardu. We hadn’t seen each other since the year before at Annapurna base camp. My English is awful, but we manage to understand each other!

I share Jean Christophe’s opinion of him – he is calm, discreet and possesses human values that are scarcely found these days.

On the 5th July in the morning, we finally left Skardu and set off in the direction of Broad Peak base camp. We took a 7 hour jeep ride before joining the trekking trail. The route that we took was very dangerous. The path is very narrow in places and often prone to rock falls. On the evening of the 5th, we set up camp at Askole.

On the 6th, we began the walk and on the 11th we arrived at Broad Peak base camp, situated at 5,000 metres. I was really happy to arrive amongst the mountains of the Baltoro glacier. They are really magnificent mountains, but after 5 days, the trek gets a bit monotonous – stones, stones and more stones!

I found K2 unbelievably majestic – a large, perfect 3,600 metre high pyramid. To see it, you forget all about the trek in!

Gasherbrum 4 is also magnificent – you see it after 3 days trekking, and there are also the Trango towers, Chogolisa, where Hermann Bull disappeared a month after making the first ascent of Broad Peak in 1957.

As for Broad Peak itself, Jean Christophe reckons it is very pleasing to climb, but it is not so pleasing on the eye.

As for timing, we have no problems, because the weather forecasts are all for perfect weather.

On the 12th July, Jean Christophe and Ed prepared their kit for departure the next day. They planned to climb alpine style, that is quickly, and taking all their gear with them.

On the morning of the 13th, it was snowing heavily at base camp and we had breakfast at 5am. They were pessimistic, but I was optimistic, trying to inspire them for their departure.

They would be risking nothing, and if the worst came to the worst, they could always return to base camp. At 6am, they left base camp in the snow in order to get to camp 2 at 6,200 metres. At 8am, the clouds parted giving way to a radiant sun. I had radio contact with Jean Christophe and they were happy to be there climbing. It was great because with my binoculars and my 400mm lens, I could watch them and take photos.

They got to camp 2 a few hours later and they reckoned they’d be on the summit on the 15th, the only day with no wind predicted. On the 13th, they wanted to get to camp 4 at 7,400 metres, but their rucksacks were very heavy, what with the tent, the sleeping bags and their food, so they decided to stop at camp 3 at 7,000 metres in order to save their strength for the next day. The wind was blowing, but they weren’t too bothered, as they had some shelter.

On the 15th, they left camp 3 at midnight for the summit. They battled with the snow beneath the col. There was a lot of snow and the wind was blowing away their tracks. It was inconsistent snow, a bit like Polystyrene – very tiring to walk through. They spent a lot of energy getting to the col at 7,900 metres, before they started on the arete that leads to the summit at 8,051 metres.

At 9am, I had radio contact, and they had reached the col. The wind was blowing harder than anticipated. They told of the difficult conditions they faced getting to the col. He told me that the conditions were worse than on Nanga Parbat, that the wind was very strong and that it was very cold. The arete that leads to the summit is magnificent. He could see China in the distance. But the arete is delicate, it would be important not to make a mistake.

After this, the radio stayed silent, then at 10h45, he told me he had arrived at the summit. The sound was awful, so I asked him to repeat.

“It’s 10h45 and I am on the summit of Broad Peak. I am really happy. Ed is coming to join me and we are the first climbers of the season to get to the summit. It’s magnificent, I can see China, the Baltoro glacier and K2. What a view! However, the arete is really technical, there are very delicate parts and I am very tired. We are going to have to vigilant on the way down.”

As far as I was concerned, I was very emotional and very happy. These projects see lots of sacrifices and lots of investment by Jean Christophe, myself and the children. The goals of these projects also hinge on a balance that you must maintain throughout the year. I nourish Jean Christophe’s sport career so that he can fulfil his psychological and physical potential to the maximum, in the Himalayas and elsewhere and thereby stay as close as possible to the margin of safety in this activity where the commitment is total and errors fatal.

The ascent of Broad Peak has a reputation as one of the easiest of the 14 summits over 8,000 metres. It is nevertheless steep and not easy to climb!

I had another radio call with Jean Christophe and I sensed the fatigue and the fact that he was not himself. He was slow, very slow. To top it all, he fell into a crevasse just before camp 3. He struggled and got out on his own (no one saw him fall). He wanted to stop at camp 3 and rest at 7,000 metres by spending the night and coming down to base camp the next day. That marked the start of a tense period. I got angry because he needed to get down, to lose altitude – he knew that better than me – at those heights, the body deteriorates. A climber from the Kazakh team – Denis Urubko, who was at camp 3, decided to accompany Jean Christophe in his long descent – a descent that would take them 10 hours to complete.

As for Ed, he was carrying a maximum weight to relieve the burden on Jean Christophe in this urgent withdrawal. Denis had left in order to get to the summit of Broad Peak on the 16th July. He gave up on his attempt to help Jean Christophe. We’d like to thank him again for his help and his kindness. We since found out that he succeeded in getting to the summit of Broad Peak – a big ‘well done’ to him for that!

Having spent part of the night in the cold on the glacier, I finally saw Jean Christophe coming down to reach Base Camp at 6am on the 16th July. He was white and his breathing was like someone suffering from an asthma attack. As he was having trouble getting oxygen, his body was slowing down – each step tired him out. After a few hours, his breathing improved, even though he remained very tired.

We finally left Base Camp in a helicopter, bound for Skardu. Little by little, Jean Christophe began to recover and regain his normal state. The diagnosis was pulmonary oedema. Lots of questions, but few answers. Jean Christophe doesn’t know why he got oedema seeing as he was well acclimatised and he has a good psychological predisposition to high altitude. We will follow it up at home. I reckon that fatigue, built up over two months climbing 3 8,000 mountains and the psychological demands placed on him during this time could have been important factors.

In 1996 I went to Alaska to attempt Mount McKinley where I had to put up with an unbearable individual. At 4,800 metres I got the beginnings of oedema. On my return to France I was tested for hypoxia and the results showed I had a good predisposition to altitude. I made many attempts on Mont Blanc without any adverse effects, yet at the same altitude as Mont Blanc I suffered from oedema. Therefore, psychological factors play a large part.

Jean Christophe made a great achievement. He now only needs to climb Everest, Makalu and Kangchenjunga to complete the 14 8,000 metre summits.

Now he can enjoy a well-deserved rest with his little Tom, finish the last details of his book – ‘Delivre de Annapurna’ which comes out in September, published by Guerin, and begin to prepare for the Himalaya in 2004.

Katia Lafaille. 

Technical details:

Mountain                              Nanga Parbat

Altitude                                 8,125 metres

Route                                     Tom (Diamir side). 2,100 metres over snow, ice and rock, plus 1,025 on the Kinshofer route – total of 3,125 metres.

Start of route                         5,000 metres

Technique                             Open route, alpine style to the summit. Simone Moro teamed up with Jean Christophe as far as 7,200 metres before descending to base camp because he was too tired to carry on to the top.

Chronology                           Started on the 20th June, arrived at the summit on the 23rd at 11h45, return to base camp on the 24th.

Description: The route starts off on a moderate incline of 50/55° for 700 metres before arriving in an ice gully of about 100 metres at an incline of 60°. Delicate exit from the gully due to snow collected on the rocks at about 5,800 metres. The climb follows a long snow slope of about 500 metres at an incline of 50/55° before joining a new section of mixed climbing of about 200 metres with a final delicate section (reliant on one piton) leading out onto a horizontal arete which leads to the final 300 metres of snow slopes before rejoining the Kinshofer route at about 7,100 metres.

This route is magnificent, very aesthetically pleasing and nice to climb. There are few dangers on the approach trek to the foot of the face (risks of serac falls etc) There are few possible bivouac sites on the face. There is a very good site at about 6,700/6,800 metres.

This route, without taking into account the difficulties linked to the altitude that one must gain, resembles an Alpine North Face route (e.g Les Courtes, the Aiguille du Midi or the Lauper route on the North Face of the Eiger in Switzerland.)


His dispatches from Dhaulagiri this year are here.

His dispatches from Nanga Parbat this year are here.


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