Busy Times on Dhaulagiri, Kangchenjunga

Deep snow created lung-busting work for Sherpas on Dhaulagiri and has already foiled one summit attempt on Kangchenjunga.

While we haven’t totted up the number of Dhaulagiri summiters yet, outfitters speak of over 30 summits on October 1 alone. They owe their success to the herculean efforts of Sherpa trail breakers, who postholed through deep snow all the way from Camp 3. They also had to find a relatively safe route on this avalanche-prone peak.

For a sense of the work involved, check Tenji “Lama” Sherpa at work in this video. On September 30, the Seven Summit Treks guide put in a 21-hour day to open the route to the summit. Such trail breaking is hard enough on the flats at sea level, let alone uphill at 8,000m with a sizeable backpack.

Tenjin Sherpa postholes through deep snow on his 21-hour push to the summit of Dhaulagiri. Frame from a video by Seven Summit Treks


As climbers return to Pokhara, they are sharing further details and pictures, such as this summit clip from Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita.


A happy Fior Cuenca atop Dhaulagiri.


No-O2 Successes

Flor Cuenca of Peru achieved her fifth 8,000’er without O2.

“We also completed the summit bid without Sherpa support,” she said, although she clarified that a Sherpa did help her and a friend carry some gear to Camp 1.

According to the Indian newspaper The Wire, Baljeet Kaur became the first Indian woman to climb Dhaulagiri. And Piyali Basak became the first Indian civilian — and first Indian woman — to scale an 8,000m peak without supplementary oxygen. Previously, only four men in the military had summited Everest without O2.

There are also reports of further summits. South Korean Cho Cheol Hee of Korea reached the top late on October 3.

Climbers descend in deep snow on October 3. Photo: Cho Cheol Hee


High avalanche risk

Despite the overall success, conditions on the mountain prompted many, including Luke Smithwick and Iain Kuo, to call off their summit try. The skiers bailed after two rotations and two ski descents from 6,700m. Smithwick said that they were glad that they stuck to their guns and climbed totally without supplementary oxygen or Sherpa support.

“[That’s] the gold standard,” said Smithwick, adding, “We also noticed that what people claimed and what they actually did were two different realities. It isn’t the first time I’ve seen this in the 8,000m world.”

Maya Sherpa listened to her own body and Mother Nature. “We consider mountains holy and sacred places,” she said. “Myself being superstitious, my inner instinct forbade me from going further toward the summit this time.” She says she has no regrets.

Some teams arrived from Manaslu too late to join that push. They are now preparing to go up Dhaulagiri. Among them is Elite Exped team, currently in Camp 2. Their scheduled summit day is October 7. Unfortunately, drone pilot Jackson Groves is no longer with the team. We would have loved to see some enlightening footage of Dhaulagiri’s summit as well.

Hungarians Szilard Suhajda and David Klein, who aborted their no-O2 attempt last week, will also try again on Thursday.

Gelje moves to Kangchenjunga

Gelje Sherpa now has a team and a permit to attempt Kangchenjunga this season. He was the youngest winter K2 summiter early this year and is trying to become the youngest to complete all the 14×8,000’ers.

Like Alpenglow, he too will lead one client, a Taiwanese woman named Ko-Erh Seng. An unknown number of Sherpas will support them. Seng summited Dhaulagiri on October 1 while Gelje was at Manaslu. They flew by helicopter to Kangchenjunga Base Camp today.

Gelje Sherpa trains near Everest BC last spring. Photo: Gelje Sherpa


The Alpenglow team has been on Kangchenjunga for a while and has already made one unsuccessful summit attempt. Heavy snow thwarted guide Topo Mena, guide-in-training Carla Perez, five Sherpas, and client Jan Werner.

“We decided to transform that summit attempt in a mission to reopen the route to C4,” Mena said.

Conditions are improving and they could begin their second push next week. Gelje and his client may be in time to join them.

If successful, this would be Seng’s fourth 8,000’er this year after Everest, Lhotse, and Dhaulagiri.

Gelje Sherpa climbed most of his big peaks with Nirmal Purja. He has Kangchenjunga, Broad Peak, and Cho Oyu left to do. He needs to complete them next year in order to beat Mingma David’s record. However, neither Sherpa climber reached the main summit of Manaslu.