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Jean Christophe Lafaille
Solo Ascent of Dhaulagiri 8167 metres
Christophe Lafaille left France on the 17th April with the desire to climb
solo Dhaulagiri (8167 metres) with the aim of acclimatising on this mountain
which is in Nepal. As such it enjoys a calmer political climate than that of
its neighbour Pakistan.
goal for Jean Christophe has always stayed the same, namely to climb Nanga
Parbat (8125) and Broad Peak (8047). However, if he is already acclimatised,
he will be able to spend less time in the country.
Kathmandu on the morning of the 19th April and he eventually reached
Dhaulagiri Base Camp at 4,700 metres without too much trouble on the evening
of the 23rd.
AS of the
following day, he began his acclimatisation with a climb to camp 1 at 5,800
his feelings were good.
place, he came across a Chilean expedition, a Swedish one and a German one.
Jean Christophe’s is an individual team. All the permits were full and
eventually the Thamserku agency organised an additional place on a permit, but
with a set-up composed of a cook and a kitchen boy.
27th April, he reached Camp 2 at 6,800 metres. He was already having to
struggle with bad weather conditions which prevented him from acclimatising.
There was snow and high winds at altitude.
On the 4th
May, the storm predicted by the forecasters with whom we are working in France
was confirmed. It was of unbelievable intensity. Most of the tents were
flattened at Base Camp; the wind reached speeds of 150kmh. Jean Christophe was
huddled in his duvet – dressed and ready to leave if his dwelling couldn’t
stand the onslaught of the storm that was raging outside.
unlike others, resisted the ‘wrath of the Gods’ as the Sherpas say in this
subsided as of the 6th May and Jean Christophe hadn’t been able to get beyond
6,800 metres to continue his acclimatisation. He needed to get moving, but
hadn’t been able to leave Base Camp.
storm had passed, one could say ‘after the rain, the good weather’.
As is the
case in the Himalayas, even if the weather conditions improve the wind is a
constant companion on the White Mountain that is Dhaulagiri. In the meantime,
the time for my departure for Nepal has arrived. I am flying out on the 5th
May so that I arrive in the Nepalese sunshine at 4pm on the 6th.
I am with
our children. Tom is 2 years old and Jeremy is 9. I am quite tired after the
flight, but happy to have arrived and to be nearer Jean Christophe. I am
stressed by the responsibility that I have with my children with me and the
potentially catastrophic scenarios which some people imagine, do not give
cause for much optimism.
On the 8th
May I leave the brouhaha of the Tamel tourist district at 6am in order to get
the bus to Pokhara, then Phedi from where I will begin the trek. We begin our
journey at 2pm. It is heavy going, it is hot and the temperature is around 32
and 33 degrees. 3 hours later we arrive at the Pothana lodge amidst a great
storm, with violent gusts of winds. We will spend our first night here.
with Jean Christophe that night, we have a good conversation. His morale is
high, but the waiting around is too long and he would like to have finished
this ascent by now so that he can go trekking with me and the children. We are
so near, yet so far from each other. As far as Jean Christophe is concerned,
there is nothing new, he is waiting for better conditions. The latest forecast
predicts that the winds will drop as of the 18th May.
this information as a slap in the face – another week’s wait at Base Camp.
With his morale low, he would like to give up. He is discouraged by the
waiting. We discuss things, I try and look at the positives of the situation,
try to raise his morale. When we meet up, we will both feel better.
On the 9th
May, we took a large step towards arriving at Chomrong, the village where Jean
Christophe was evacuated from by helicopter in 1992 after his accident with
Pierre Beghin on Annapurna. When I met Jean Christophe at Annapurna last year,
I slept in this village on our return journey. I make a little detour from the
normal route in order to go through Chomrong with the children and to stay in
the little lodge we stayed in last year.
10th May, after a long stage, I arrive at the village of Deurali at 3,000
metres. I would almost be able to make out Dhaulagiri, if it weren’t for the
for the last time. Once run down, I couldn’t recharge the batteries on my
satellite phone. I had foreseen many problems and worked out solutions for
them in advance so that I wouldn’t have to worry about them, should they
arise. But, I hadn’t expected the telephone that I had rented would break down
in the middle of the jungle with my children at my side, and the comfort that
having a phone in this situation would give me. I also had the knowledge that
Jean Christophe was about to attempt Dhaulagiri in very unstable weather. All
of a sudden I felt very alone, still motivated and happy to be there, but
On the 13th May, I arrived at
the village of Marpha at 2,800 metres. This is my rendez-vous with Jean
Christophe when he has finished his expedition.
I am so near and yet so far
away from him. The temptation to leave and join him at base camp upsets me. I
can’t because there is no-one to look after the kids and in any case I can’t
leave them with strangers, however nice they are.
It is even less feasible to
take them with me. Base camp is three days walk from the village. The ‘Col des
Francais’ needs to passed and it is 5,300 meters high. Camping out at night,
in the snow etc……it doesn’t bear thinking about.
It is equally difficult for
me to make contact and get information by ‘phone.
On the 16th May, the porters
come down from base camp to get food from the village of Marpha. They bring me
a letter from Jean Christophe. Just like olden days, when information arrived
on foot. I treat this letter as a precious item. News, finally! I cherish
every word. He is fine, but worried that there has been no news on the
I reassure Jean Christophe in
a long letter that I send back with the porters.
I finally know what his climb
strategy is. He reckons on leaving on the 17th for Camp 1 at 5,800 meters. On
the 18th, depending on the weather he will go to Camp 2 or 3. On the 19th he
intends to summit. On the 20th he hopes to arrive at Marpha (or the 21st at
Having got this news I decide
to stay get to the village of Jomosson on the morning of the 18th. Jomosson is
about a day’s walk from Marpha.
At the beginning of the trek,
I was in the jungle. The air was humid, the storms frequent. Today the air is
dry, it is warm, the countryside is dry and every day, as of about 10am, the
wind gets up and blows violently all day. It is awful; you eat dust and sand
and even though the place is nice, the conditions aren’t great!
This village, although not
that charming, possesses a small airport, which guarantees contact with
Pokhara. It even has a telephone and whilst the lines are bad, they cut off
every 2 minutes, at least it works!
I will be able to contact
Yann, the weather forecaster, so that he can give me the latest bulletin and
above all the wind speed at the top of Dhaulagiri. It is 9am when I leave for
Jomosson. This timing is not ideal for getting through the daily windstorm,
but that’s the way it is. Taking into account the time difference of 3h45 with
France, I imagine getting back to Marpha in the middle of the afternoon.
Midway, Tom is sick. I decide to just send my dispatch and to pass up on the
latest weather forecast, despite it’s importance. I get back to the crowds of
Marpha with the wind at full force. I arrive at 11h30, soaked by the squalls
and tired after the long morning.
The 19th comes and goes, as
does the 20th. I keep checking the path that leads to base camp, I look for
any movements, and sign of life, anything. I question myself, he should have
reached the summit yesterday, on the 19th. He wrote to me that ‘I should be at
Marpha on the 20th or on the 21st at the latest. He obviously could have done
otherwise, the conditions could have been bad. In the end, I end up thinking,
hypothesizing, imagining, but for what? I end up going to sleep lost amongst
my questions and suppositions.
On the 21st, at 5am, I get up
not being able to sleep any more. I tidy the room, the children sleep. The
morning passes. The waiting is unbearable. At 2pm I set off with the children
on the path that leads to Base Camp in order to meet Jean Christophe. An hour
later I see someone who is coming down, I’m not able to identify him even less
be able to tell whether it is Jean Christophe, that the wait is over and the
expedition finished. But it is him, tired but happy to see us.
I don’t know whether he has
succeeded on Dhaulagiri, I haven’t had the time to ask him the question before
he tells me that he reached the summit the day before at 10am, exploiting the
window of good weather before the clouds swallow up Dhaulagiri and the snow
accumulates on the ‘White Mountain’
On the 17th, he had left base
camp to sleep at camp 1.
On the 18th he slept at Camp
On the 19th, he went to Camp
3 at 7,500 meters.
On the morning of the 20th,
he left Camp 3 at about 4h30 going across a traverse, that wasn’t technically
difficult, but wouldn’t excuse a mistake. A German climber had fallen at this
stage, and had managed to stop himself with his axe. Having got back to Base
Camp, he was evacuated by helicopter. A Spanish climber, Pepe Garces, had died
here in a fall in 2001.
Jean Christophe climbed fast,
profiting from the weather window, keeping an eye on the large clouds that
were bubbling up already.
His friend Ed Viesturs had
warned him of the difficulties of reaching the true summit. A large number of
expeditions stop in the wrong place, thinking they have actually reached the
summit, when in fact there is a good hour to go.
The terrain is more rocky,
with a bit of snow. There is a large arête that forms a sort of plateau. By
worrying so much about reaching the summit, he almost passed it! He retraces
his steps, looks at his watch. It is 10am and he is there. That’s it, he has
succeeded, he is on the summit of Dhaulagiri. He has achieved this ascent
without oxygen and alone. He spends about 15 minutes on the summit, the clouds
begin to roll in, it is time to descend, to not get lost in the clouds, to
At 16h30, he gets back to
Base Camp. His things are already packed and he is ready to leave for Marpha.
On the 21st, he leaves camp
at 5am and at 15h00 he meets us. He has climbed his 9th 8000 meter summit.
After a few days with the
family, a new separation approaches. On the 30th May, we are at the airport in
Kathmandu. I have a flight to catch to France, Jean-Christophe has one to
Pakistan in order to resume his original plans. Separation is painful.
Best regards, Katia Lafaille.
Translations by Adrian for EverestNews.com
Lafaille Dhaulagiri 2003
Pictures copyright@Jean-Christophe Lafaille