Lhotse FAQ
Project 8000 for Alzheimer's
27,940 feet 8516 meters
Lhotse is considered being the middle of the list of difficulty of the 8000 meter mountains. I am focusing on the West Face Couloir since it is the normal route. I am asked many questions about climbing especially since I am not a professional climber. So here are the most popular questions with my answers. As always, this information is based on my experience and are my opinions so always consult with a professional before making any serious climbing decisions.
About Lhotse Training, Gear & Communication Expedition Basics My Experience

About Lhotse

Q: Where is Lhotse?
A: It is located in west-central Nepal about 50 miles from Katmandu.It is the 4th highest mountain on earth at 27,940' and has a reputation as one of the "achievable" 8000m mountains. The nearest airport is Katmandu.Most people fly into Kathmandu and take about a week to trek to base camp.

Q: When is it usually will climb?
A: As with most Himalayan peaks, pre and post monsoon but Spring is popular since every day it gets warmer with less threat of snow. The Fall season is just the opposite with colder days and increasingly unstable weather. Most guides climb in the Spring along with their Everest climbs.

Q: I understand that Lhotse is one of the easier 8000m climb. How hard is it?
A: It is not 'easy' - no 8000 meter mountain is easy. It is a serious high-altitude mountain where climbers lose their lives every year. The crux of climbing Lhotse is the last 300 meters which follows a steep rock filled gully that is prone for dangerous rock fall.

Q: How does Lhotse compare with Denali or Aconcagua?
A: The climbing is significantly more difficult than either of these mountains. It is a longer climb but similar to Denali in spirit in that you climb on steep snow slopes most of the time but obviously at a significantly higher altitude. Also you are using fixed ropes continuously from Base Camp on but not roped to other climbers. Of course, you must climb through the Khumbu Icefall, scene of 16 Sherpa deaths in 2014. Also on Denali you are pulling a sled with personal and group gear whereas on Lhotse Sherpas usually carry the tents and stoves while you carry your personal gear including food, clothing and sleeping bag and pads. This depends on your expedition logistics. It is measurably more difficult than Aconcagua due to the snow, weather and length of the expedition. Huascaran is a better comparison than Aconcagua.

Q: How does Lhotse compare with Everest or other 8,000m peaks?
A: It is similar to Everest as you follow the same route used to summit Everest's Southeast Ridge up to the Yellow Band where you turn right and climb straight up to the summit. The technical climbing in the West Couloir has similarities to Makalu, and K2. Of course at 8516 meters, the altitude is deadly.

Q: Is a Lhotse climb dangerous?
A: Absolutely. You should only attempt Lhotse if you have the proper experience and logistics for emergency situations. Most deaths are a result of rock fall and general falls but the weather and altitude takes it's toll.

Q: How many people had summited and how many people had died trying?
A: According to the Himalayan Database 15 people have died with about 600 summits through the Autumn of 2014. Lhotse has a 67% summit success rate. The most common cause of death were falls. About 25% summit without using supplemental oxygen. The first ascent was in the Spring of 1956 by Japanese Yuko Maki.


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Training, Gear & Communication:

Q: How do you you train for this climb?
A: I climb my Colorado 14,000' mountains mostly with a 30 pound pack. This increased my cardio, stamina and overall strength. I no longer run due to bad knees. I did not work out in an indoor gym. I feel real-world training is the best prep if possible. If you live at sea-level, find a sandy beach and walk/run with a large pack to work the micro-muscles and climb stairs in a high-rise office building.

Q: Will altitude a problem on this climb?
A: Yes, it is always a challenge on 8,000m climbs. I will use supplemental oxygen from Summit Oxygen for the summit push. Altitude can be a problem for anyone above 8,000', much less when you are going above 22,000'. To acclimatize in route, the travel to base camp takes about a week. As usual when climbing big mountains, you follow the climb high, sleep low routine. About 75% of the previous people who summited Lhotse used supplemental oxygen.

Q: Can you prepare for the altitude?
A:Not really. The common approach is to move slowly up the mountain (1000' a day maximum) spending your days at a higher altitude than where you sleep up until your summit bid. The human body simply does not function well at high altitudes and especially above 8000m (26,300'). As you go higher, the barometric pressure decreases, although the air still contains 21% oxygen, every breath contains less molecules of oxygen.

Everest legend Tom Hornbein explained it to the American Lung Association this way:

The lower oxygen stimulates chemoreceptors that initiate an increase in breathing, resulting in a lowering of the partial pressure of CO2 and hence more alkaline blood pH. The kidneys begin to unload bicarbonate to compensate. Though this adaptation can take many days, up to 80% occurs just in the first 48 to 72 hours. There are many other physiologic changes going on, among them the stimulus of low oxygen to release the hormone, erythropoietin to stimulate more red blood cell production, a physiological and still acceptable form of blood doping that enhances endurance performance at low altitudes. Adaptive changes are not always good for one’s health. Some South American high altitude residents can have what’s called chronic mountain sickness, resulting from too many red blood cells; their blood can be up to 84-85% red blood cells. The increased blood viscosity and sometimes associated pulmonary hypertension can result in right heart failure.

You cannot do much to acclimatize at low altitudes but there are companies that claim to help the acclimatization process through specially designed tents that simulate the reduced oxygen levels at higher elevations. I have no personal experience with these systems but you can find more details at the Hypoxico website. They cost about $7,000 or can be rented for about $170 a week. Outside Magazine posted an article in 2013 questioning their effectiveness.

Q: What kind of equipment will you you use?
Click for a larger view of my Everest gear. A: The same gear I used on Everest. I use a 3 layer system: base, warmth and wind/cold. My personal technical equipment included a long handle ice axe, harness, carabineers and crampons. It is always critical to protect my toes, fingers and face since these were most susceptible to frost bite. See my gear page for a complete discussion and my gear list updated for 2015. I am very pleased with all my gear but had a few standouts that I note on my gear page.

Q: Anything special in your gear for Lhotse?
A: I will use everything on my gear page under Everest including the full down suit. It can be extremely cold and windy so multiple down layers were required.The last climb through the gully is technical so I will have a short handled ice axe in addition to my mountain 70cm model.

Q: Will you you use a Sat Phone?
A: I will have my Thuraya sat phone. For details on my expedition communications, please see this tutorial.


Expedition Basics

Lhotse routeQ: Which route is most popular?
A: The West Face Couloir is the most popular with 600 summits.

Q: How long did it take?
A: A week to get to base camp, 6 weeks on the mountain and a few days to get back to Kathmandu. It will be 7 weeks total.

Q: How much does a standard climb cost with and without a guide?
A: The costs can range from $7,000 to $21,000 depending on who you use. If you use a logistics company only, you might be able to cut the highest cost by a third. See my Guide page for more details.

Q: Do I need a permit to climb?
A: Yes a climbing permit is required through the Nepal Ministry of Tourism in spring of $1,800 per person. There are other fees for example a trash fee of $3,000.

Q: Do I really need a guide for Lhotse?
A: You will need help getting a permit and entering Nepal at a minimum thus need a ground agent. Once there, It all depends on your skills, money and time available. Lhotse is a serious high-altitude climb. Some people go to Lhotse without a formal guide and contract with local agencies for yaks, porters or carry everything themselves. There are usually a lot of climbers on Lhotse so you would probably not be alone but easily could be. In harsh weather (white-outs) or in a medical emergency, you will be on your own so consider your skill level carefully. Climbing alone or in too small of a team is never a good idea.

Q: How do you get on an expedition to climb Lhotse?
A:
Most reputable guides ask for your climbing resume and require some serious climbing experience. Ideally they want to see climbs of Denali or Aconcagua, some require Everest or another 8000m mountain - Lhotse is serious. But most anyone can get on a Lhotse commercial expedition these days without many questions so be careful who you select since you may get caught up in a mess. There are horror stories of using low cost Nepal based guides but also some with excellent results.

Q: What is involved if I plan my own climb?
A: Basically everything: permits, travel, hotels, food, gear, routes, communications, emergency contentions - everything. There are local companies in Katmandu who can provide some services such as getting food or heavy tents to base camp. And some can provide a Sherpa at low costs. You can save a lot of money this way but as I said before, consider your skills in the event that something goes wrong - are you 100% self sufficient? What are your medical skills? HAPE and HACE are really possibilities on Lhotse - do you have the proper medicine and training to deal with it? And a hundred more questions. See my guide page for more. Again, climbing alone or in small teams is never a good idea. Saving a few thousand dollars is not worth your life.


2016 Climb

Q: Did you you summit?
A: No, I left after 4 weeks with an upper respiratory infection.

Q: Who did you climbing with?
A: I climbed with Phil Crampton's Altitude Junkies Everest team. I was the only one on Lhotse from his group. I summited Manaslu and Alpamayo with Phil previously.Also, I was thrilled beyond words to have Kami Sherpa (Ang Chhiring Sherpa – Pangboche) climb with me. I summited Everest in 2011 with Kami as well as K2 in 2014.


My 2015 Experience

Lhotse Couloir Q: Did you you summit?
A: No, Both sides of Everest were effectively closed after the earthquake thus preventing any Everest summits since 1974 and Lhotse as well.

Q: Why did you you choose Madison Mountaineering as a guide service in 2015?
A: I summited K2 with Garrett Madison on July 27, 2014 and was pleased with his services. He was running a full Everest climbing 2015 so myself and another Lhotse climber tagged along.

Q: Which route did you plan to take?
A: The standard West Face that follows the same route used to summit everest via the Southeast Ridge. ridge. We will have five camps starting with base camp at 17.5K, then camps at 19.5K, 21K, 23.5K, 25.5 to the summit at 27,940.

Lhotse is known as a "technical" climb meaning you need to use protection, climbing gear and full on hands and feet to gain the summit. As I make several climbs through the Khumbu Icefall, I'll be thinking of the Sherpas who lost their lives in this section last year. I hope to minimize my, and our Sherpas, exposure by limiting the gear I carry to the high camps.

The real crux of climbing Lhotse is the final 300 meters or last 1,000 feet. Once leaving the Camp 3 at 23,500 feet on the Lhotse Face, I will cross the Yellow Band and then turn right continuing straight up the Face instead of contouring across the Geneva Spur to the South Col as I did on my Everest summit climb. We will make camp at 25,750 feet or 7850 meters on the snow covered steep slopes of Lhotse. It is almost 2,200 feet to the summit on 50 to 60 degree slopes.

Leaving early the next morning, we will climb about 400 feet eventually reaching the bottom of the Lhotse Couloir, a narrow, rock filled gully that leads to the summit that is only 9 feet wide in some spots. This is the most challenging part of a Lhotse climb and will require every mountaineering skill I have obtained on my previous 37 expeditions. I will stem off the rocks, scramble and full on rock climb the final sections. Lhotse's summit is a small rock block that is often covered in snow making it dangerous.

The return involves rappelling and arm rapping back to Camp 4 or Camp 2 where I will spend the night. The entire summit push will take 7 days. Thanks to Ellen Miller for the Lhotse photographs.

Q: What kind of weather conditions did you have?
A: It was very cold and snowy in the Himalaya this Spring.

Q: Did you plan on using bottled oxygen?
A: Yes, I had secured oxygen from Summit Oxygen on the summit push. I used their complete system including bottle, regulator and mask. Have used this system on Manaslu and K2 with success.


Bottom Line

Lhotse is a tough climb. It is a long expedition. The world will be watching Everest, right next door after the tragedies of 2014 with deaths and drama and politics. I hope to focus on my climb but am mindful of the dangers of climbing the last few hundred meters through the rock filled couloir.