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  Jean-Christophe Lafaille 2003
Solo Ascent of Dhaulagiri 8167 metres

 Current Nepal Time

In French Jean Christophe Lafaille

Solo Ascent of Dhaulagiri 8167 metres

Jean 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.

The main 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.

He left 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 metres.

Generally, his feelings were good.

Once in 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.

On the 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.

His tent, unlike others, resisted the ‘wrath of the Gods’ as the Sherpas say in this anniversary year.

The storm 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.

Once the 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.

I speak 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.

He takes 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.

On the 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 clouds.

We speak 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 awfully alone.

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 telephone.

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 the latest)

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 2

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 stay vigilant.

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. BRAVO!

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

Jean-Christophe Lafaille Dhaulagiri 2003 Picture Show!

Pictures copyright@Jean-Christophe Lafaille



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