Baruntse: SUMMIT in Hell!

While Everest inevitably attracts the lion’s share of attention, two lonely climbers are facing true adventure on the Northwest face of Baruntse.

Piolet d’Or winner Marek Holecek and his partner Radoslav Groh (the only volunteer to join the daring climb, according to Holecek) have managed to open a new route in pure alpine-style climb: non-stop, no partial climb first, and no clear route when they began. They reached the 7,162m summit today, despite the impact of Cyclone Yaas.

It was, they say, “hell”.

And it is not over. The climbers are at 7,000m, on their seventh bivouac. They were too exhausted to descend any further.

Holecek’s report:

Hell on top
Today, around four o’clock, Rada and I climbed a new route on the Northwest Wall and a few minutes later we reached the top of Baruntse. We didn’t even take pictures, no expressions of joy…[eventually] the hellish weather allowed us to descend. We are [at 7,000m], where we built the sixth bivouac. We pray that tomorrow we will have visibility at least for a while so we can descend. We are very tired!


Marek Holecek, a true high-altitude alpinist. Photo: Marek Holecek


Miserable bivouacs

So far, the pair have endured bad weather, highly difficult mixed climbing, the uncertainty of opening the route as they go, and several “miserable” bivouacs.

The first one, on May 22, came after 12 nonstop hours of hard mixed climbing that ended just below the first snowfield. The climbers cut a ledge in the ice barely large enough to sit down. They then spent the night with their legs dangling over the void and constantly sliding down in their steep, icy seats. As alpine encampments go, this would have rated a minus four. Holecek called it the Two-Butts Bivouac.

The second day was far from easy, but the climbers continued to progress and even found a somewhat better place to spend the night. They were just 100m below the ridge and confident that they would reach it the following day.

It was not to be. The most difficult section of the face and hellish conditions awaited them. “Heavy snow, steep ice, and rock gullies, a combination of the worst,” Holecek said.

They made it to within 50m of the summit ridge (and finally off the face). By then, the climbers were exhausted, it was snowing hard, and “a snow river flowed down from the rock.”

They set up their bivy tent on a tiny, airy rock platform with a 1,000m drop on each side. “Avalanches flow around us,” Holecek reported, “but at the moment, it is our Grand Hotel. We are tired like kittens, frozen, hungry, and thirsty. God help us to climb up tomorrow and also to descend.”

Every night, Holecek contacts a friend in Base Camp over the radio. Conditions on the mountain have worsened because of Cyclone Yaas, with heavy snow and wind further taxing the triumphant but exhausted climbers.