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ExWebs fall 2009 Shisha Pangma special, part 2: Central Summit, virtually there?

Posted: Nov 11, 2009 12:48 am EST

(MountEverest.net) Due perhaps to the big number of "summits" actually ending below the knife ridge, Shisha Pangma is a vastly underestimated climbing target.

There were only two summits this fall, at best. But what about the Central Summit claims, and how low below do such actually stretch?

In Iñaki's footsteps

September 27, a strong group of climbers on Shishas north side set off from camp 3 towards the top. The attempt stopped short of the Central summit. In fact, only one mountaineer made it to that very point, and then just long enough to confirm that the snow-packed ridge was too unstable to warrant an attempt.

The man was no other than Romanian Horia Colibasanu, back in Himalaya after losing his climbing mate Iñaki Ochoa de Olza at 7,400m on the south face of Annapurna last year.

Speaking of false summit claims, ironically, Iñaki had been one of the major whistleblowers with special nod to Shisha exactly where he had forged a new route (attempted by several climbers this year) bypassing the vicious ridge leading to the top.

Now Horia climbed in Iñaki's steps, self-supported and outside of media spotlight. His name came up merely when circumstances made him the only real Central summiteer this season.

September 27th joint summit bid

Climbing with American Nick Rice, Italian Mario Panzeri, Spanish Tolo Calafat, one Sherpa (name unknown) and, as it turned out, Romanian Horia Colibasanu, the summit ridge was heavily corniced and treacherous, Juanito Oiarzabal told friends over sat-phone from C3 on September 27th.

We tried to fix 400 meter of Kevlar rope on the ridge, to no avail, the snow was too unstable, Juanito - the current world record holder in +8000 summits - said.

The Spaniard left for home while Nick, Mario and other climbers stayed put in BC hoping to launch a second attempt. Thwarted by bad weather and, in Nick's case, essential gear stolen from C1, it appears that the Central Summit will be as high as any of us will be getting this season, Rice finally wrote on October 11th.

But how high were they exactly? Asked to explain, both Juan Oiarzabal (over the phone) and Nick Rice (over email) quickly provided a complete recount of events.

We reached a small saddle," Juanito told ExplorersWeb. I belayed Horia as he climbed on a meringue-like snow crest to Central Summits highest point, some 50 meters away."

"At that point, Horia said it was useless to continue, since the rest of the ridge to the Main Summit was heavily corniced and dangerous. I belayed his descent and then we all headed down.

The entire climbing team was shooting for the real summit, so the exact turnaround point seemed unimportant, they said. Strictly speaking, only Horia took the last steps to the actual Central Summit," Juanito told ExWeb, "I just didnt think twice about it."

The summit "certificates"

Some climbers in challenged situations wag summit certificates for proof. Unfortunately, such certificates - both in Nepal, China and Pakistan - are issued by trusting office clerks and politically appointed officials unfamiliar with mountaineering. It's a well-known fact among high-altitude mountaineers that to obtain a summit certificate, "you just ask for it."

"Fact is that the saddle felt like youre there already," Juanito told ExplorersWeb. "I presume many teams claiming Central Summit in later years may have stopped there. And our L.O. happily offered us a Central Summit Certificate in BC, which we didnt accept.

The only central "summiteer"

Nick Rice confirmed Oiarzabals statements.

Yes, it sounds about right, Nick told ExWeb. Also, Mario went half way up the ridge to the Central Summit, then turned back as the ridge was too dangerous. After this, we belayed Horia to the Central Summit, he checked the ridge to the Main summit, then told us there was no way we could continue due to bad conditions. He returned to the point we were at, then bad weather came in (close to whiteout conditions with light snow), and we went down hoping to rest for a few days before trying for the Main Summit via the Inaki route.

I stayed on the saddle with the others, slightly above the North Summit, but not on the Central Summit. I didn't go up to the highest point on the ridge to the central summit, as I saw no point."

"The Main Summit was our objective, so when it was clear that the ridge wouldn't safely lead us to the Main Summit, we turned around and headed down. I believe that only Horia reached the highest point.

All entries in this series:
ExplorersWeb fall 2009 Shisha Pangma true summit special report, part 1
ExWebs fall 2009 Shisha Pangma special, part 2: Central Summit, virtually there?
ExWeb fall 2009 Shisha Pangma special report final: false summit claims - and the winner is...
Shisha Pangma TRUE summit report: and the winner is...


Horia standing on top of Shisha's Central Summit. Image courtesy of Nick Rice (click to enlarge).
Juanito Oiarzabal in image courtesy of Edurne Pasaban's home team (click to enlarge).
Horia Colibasanu, courtesy of his website (click to enlarge).
Nick Rice, courtesy of his website (click to enlarge).