Nuptse South Face 2017

French trio on a new route, Alpine style

Dream Wanderlust

Photographs: Hélias Millerioux, Benjamin Guigonnet and Frédéric Degoulet
Category: Interview
Date of Publication: Nov 29 , 2017Vol-03 Issue-01

Eminent French alpinist Trio (Hélias Millerioux, Niçois Benjamin Guigonnet and Frédéric Degoulet), nicknamed as "Le Gang des Mustaches" summited Nuptse Nup-II (7742m) on 19 October, 2017 via a difficult new route on the South Face of Nuptse this year in alpine style.

Millerioux and Guigonnet had attempted Nuptse twice in 2015 and 2016. In 2015 they followed the 1961 British-Nepalese route accompanied by Colin Haley and Ueli Steck who died last spring (30 April, 2017) while acclimatizing on Nuptse. In 2016, they attempted the same route along with Robin Revest and Frédéric Degoulet and managed to reach an altitude of 7450m. The trio followed the same route this year in October 2017 but for the last 300 metres. Frédéric on behalf of the team very kindly consented to give an exclusive interview to Dream Wanderlust and also provided us the detailed timeline of the expedition with photographs.

Nuptse South Face

Main peaks on Nuptse ridge

Nuptse South Face

Nuptse South Face new route marked with red line

Interview with Frédéric Degoulet

DW: Felicitation pour votre ascension grande.

DW: Like the famous "Three Musketeers", can you be now called the "Three Moustacheers"?

Fred: Ha ha ha ... in fact we like to make jokes with our friends. So we styled ourselves like bank robbers, with wanted posters. We are like summit robbers. But in reality the truth is we are incredibly respectful and grateful to the mountains we climb. They allowed us safe passage and the opportunity to see the world from a unique position.

Nuptse South Face

Frédéric Degoulet, Benjamin Guigonnet and Hélias Millerioux (from left to right)

DW: The Three Musketeers had a good friend in D'artagnan. Do the Three Moustacheers also have some such friend?

Fred: There is no D'Artagnan, but a multitude of friends and partners who help us to realize our project. This goes from the development of new equipment, financial aid, logistical assistance, field help with the weather forecaster. With time and experience all these actors have become friends and really count for us.

DW: During the trip did you give the moustaches full liberty to grow as they please, or did you curb them with a trim now and then?

Fred: During the acclimatization we had a lot of comfort thanks to the lodges and we took care of our mustaches. It was a way of detaching oneself from the stress, danger, pain, discomfort during the attempt. Then during the climb of 6 days duration it became a little more shaggy.

When I returned to France, I kept it for 10 days and then shaved it completely. It's really something we only do on expedition, it's become our little ritual and it brings us luck.

DW: At higher altitudes when the moustaches become icicles did you wish you did not have them?

Fred: Everything had been calculated! Our mustaches were not long enough to turn into ice cubes. In addition we benefited from a superb weather. We did not regret once to having our mustaches.

DW: Now after some serious questions are over please tell us why you chose Nuptse South Face again. Was it unfinished business which had to be finished?

Fred: Indeed, the 2016 attempt had a bitter taste of unfinished business. It was our first attempt on this side and we made some mistakes. For us, redoing an attempt was already on the agenda when we returned empty-handed last year. In the light of our mistakes and our very rewarding experience, we knew that if we returned once again to try the way, we would have a better chance of reaching the top.

DW: Do you have any special plans for physical and mental preparations for this climb?

Fred: Apart from the urge and obsession for a year to return, we did not change the way we prepare. I speak of obsession because it used to really stay in my head for a year. I dreamed about it at night, every time I had an idea, I sent a message to Ben and Helias. As soon as I saw the opportunity to gain a few grams on the material I wrote it down, or bought what was needed. Mentally I was ready to go far and if we had to make two attempts during this expedition, I would have done it without a problem.

DW: What does it feel like to go to a climb you have earlier failed to do?

Fred: What is it like to go on an ascent that you have not managed to do before?

There is some uncertainty about the fact that we were very lucky not to succeed. Because to succeed this kind of face requires that a large number of factors (acclimatization, conditions of the face, mental team, meteo, luck) are on the green light.

This uncertainty brings a certain stress which in my case was managed thanks to our careful preparation of the factors that we could manage in advance (material, acclimatization, mental).

We were all very motivated to discover the part we had not climbed, the last 300 meters, it was the only unknown part of the route.

DW: You did the whole thing alpine style. Can you please elaborate on your style and equipment used?

Fred: It is quite simple, it is not to take in his bag, Fixed Ropes, "bolt", bottle of Oxygen or use altitude carrier (Sherpa). In the end we get rid of everything that is heavy and bulky to really focus on climbing by going as fast as possible. We allow ourselves to fix our own length of rope, 60 meters. So our material is the same as in the Alps, 2 strands of rope in 7.3 mm, 1 strand of 5 mm to Haul the leader's Bag, 8 Friends, 6 Nuts, 10 Quickdraws, 12 Ice Screws, 15 Titanium Pitons, 1 Tent weighing less than 1 kg, 8 days of food and Hydratation powder (4 kg), 8 Gas Cartridges, 1 Stove, 1 Sleeping Bag, 1 Mattress, 1 Carbon Shovel, 3 Snow Picket , 3 pairs of Gloves, 1 Google, 1 Pair of Glasses, 1 Satellite Phone.

DW: Do you have plans for future alpine style ascents in the Himalayas?

Fred: We do not really have a plan. We know that we are going back to the Himalayas but for the moment we are savoring the present. We know that we have been pushing the cursor of difficulty and commitment far enough because we are happy to be back to talk about it. Attempting to replicate such an ascent on another comparable mountain is very motivating but I also know that you cannot win every time.

DW: Merci beaucoup et bonne chance.

Fred: Et voilà

Timeline of the Expedition

13th October

Start position: Lodge Chukkung 4700m
End position: Advanced Base Camp-5400m
Total ascent that day: 700m
Start time: 3:00pm
Arrival time: 5:15pm
Total time: 2 hour 15 min
Number of pitches: walking
Position of camp: Next to a lake on old moraine

Day 1: 14th October

Start position: Advanced Base Camp-5400m
End position: Camp 1 at 5950m
Total ascent that day: 550m
Start time: 2:50am
Arrival time: 10:30am
Total time: 7 hour 40 min
Number of pitches:
Walking in rocky terrain for 2h, walking 1 hour on the glacier arriving on a snow ridge. First climbing: 5 pitches of grade 3 (65°). One pitch climbed and line fixed for following day at WI 6. It was necessary do to this before the snow had started to melt. The following day was going to be very long and it was important to save some time by leading this pitch in day one.
Position of camp:
One dig the camp while the other two climb, digging for 2.5h. The camp was well protected at the base of a steep wall.

Nuptse South Face

Ben climbing a difficult section

Nuptse South Face

Ben and Hélias approaching towards Camp-1

Day 2: 15th October

Start position: Camp 1 at 5950m
End position: Camp-2 at 6581m
Total ascent that day: 631m
Start time: 0:00am
Arrival time: 2:00pm
Total time: 14 hours
Number of pitches:
1 pitch from the previous day ( all team climbed, no jumaring), 5 pitches traversing, moving together with gear between. 4 pitches technical between WI 4+ to 5+. 3 pitches of climbing between WI 3/4.
Position of camp:
Not a very safe camp position. They have spent 2h30m to dig the space for the tent. They have dug into a snow slope creating a right angled triangle to make as high as possible wall behind the tent, to protect from rockfall (this camp position the year before had resulted in a rock ripping the tent and land close to Ben?s). They tried to make it safer by digging further into the slope this year. In the end it was still threatened by rockfall and they had to sit with their backs against the snow.

Nuptse South Face

Fred climbing on the way to Camp-2

Nuptse South Face

Hélias climbing on the way to Camp-2

Day 3: 16th October

Start position: Camp-2 at 6581m
End position: Camp-3 at 6800m
Total ascent that day: 219m
Start time: 10am (strong wind during the night finishing at 8am)
Arrival time: 3:30pm
Total time: 5 hour 30 min
Number of pitches:
6 pitches of climbing at WI 5. Fixing 60m rope horizontally (30m to a new bivy site and 30m of the start of the flooding day.
Position of camp:
Camp-3 had to be moved from original site as this year there was less snow. An alternative site was found slightly off route. A well protected from rock fall snow spur. 1.5 hours to dig site.

Nuptse South Face

Hélias climbing on a beautiful bastion

Nuptse South Face

Ben at Camp-3

Day 4: 17th October

Start position: Camp-3 at 6800m
End position: Camp-4 at 7013m
Total ascent that day: 213m
Start time: 8:30am
Arrival time: 3:30pm
Total time: 7 hour
Number of pitches:
7 pitches of climbing at the max WI 5+ M5+
Position of camp:
Digging for 1.5 hour to position the tent in a slope of snow. A reasonable protected site.

Nuptse South Face

Ben scrutinizes the route

Nuptse South Face

Fred climbing towards Camp-4

Nuptse South Face

Hélias leaves Camp-3

Day 5: 18th October

Start position: Camp-4 at 7013m
End position: Camp-5 at 7443m
Total ascent that day: 430m
Start time: 9:30am
Arrival time: 6pm
Total time: 8 hour 30 min
Number of pitches:
120m solo climbing in 50° snow slope. 7 pitches of climbing at 55/60° 2 pitches in a ice flute ( much steeper and loose snow and ice)
Position of camp:
Camp-5 was in a precarious position on a snow ridge ( a snow mushroom) safe for rock fall but not 100 % happy for stability. 1 hour to dig and secure tent.

Nuptse South Face

Ben climbing towards Camp-5

Nuptse South Face

Fred approaching towards Camp-5

Nuptse South Face

View from Camp-5

Summit Day 6: 19th October

Start position: Camp-5 at 7443m
End position: Summit at 7742m
Total ascent that day: 299m
Start time: 7:30am
Arrival Summit: 3pm
Total time: 7 hour 30 min
Number of pitches:
3 pitches WI 4 M4 Climbing simultaneously for 200m (55° slope) roped with one 60m and one snow anchor between climbers to reach the final ridge. Final ridge 100m traverse with 30m gain in height - Climbing simultaneously.
Position of camp: No camp straight to descent

Nuptse South Face

On the summit: Hélias Millerioux, Benjamin Guigonnet and Frédéric Degoulet (from left to right)

Nuptse South Face

From the summit with Everest on the left

Nuptse South Face

From the summit: North Face of Lhotse on the left, the main Nuptse in the center and the Nuptse Nup-I

Day 6 Descent part 1: 19th October

Start position: Summit at 7742m
End position: Camp-5 at 7443m
Total descent that day: 299m
Start time: 3:30pm
Arrival time: 6pm
Total time: 2 hour 30 min
Number of pitches: down climbing the same way and 3 abseil.
Position of camp: Camp-5

Day 7 Descent part 2: 20th October

Start position: Camp-5 at 7443m
End position: Camp-2 at 6581m
Total descent that day: 862m
Start time: 7:30am
Arrival time: 12am
Total time: 4 hour 30 min
Number of pitches:
1st abseil on a snow picket Following 5/6 abseil using Abalakov Helias hit by rock fall at 7100m on the belay. The plan was change initial they had planed to go to the safe Camp-3 but this required some climbing so they opted for the less safe Camp-2 which did require climbing to access. 3 absseils with Abalakov They then had to cross a large couloir similar to the couloir de la mort on the Mont Blanc with a lot of rock fall. They had to go as quick as possible across helping Helias. 8 further abseils using Abalakov helping the injured Helias.
Position of camp:
Return to Camp-2 to using the ledge cut out in ascent. The sat in the ledge on their bags for 6 hour without using the tent, waiting for the temperature do freeze the snow and rock together and reduce rockfall through the most treacherous passage of the descent. Treating Helias with medicine after a call on the sat phone to a doctor.

Nuptse South Face

At Camp-2

Nuptse South Face

Sunset from Camp-2

Day 7 Descent part 3: 20th October - 21st October

Start position: Camp-2 at 6581m
End position: Advanced Base Camp at 5400m
Total descent that day: 862m
Start time: 6pm
Arrival time: 3am
Total time: 9 hours ( 16 abseil,3 hours walking)
Number of pitches:
16 abseils using Abalakov at night, without moonlight increasing the difficulty to find the only exit off the mountain in the sector. A further 3 hours walking over the glacier and the moraine to reach the ABC.
Position of camp: Advanced Base Camp

Nuptse South Face

"Le Gang des Mustaches" in front of Nuptse

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