Zdenek Hak and Radoslav Groh Set New Route on Cholatse

Piolet d’Or winners Zdenek Hak and Radoslav Groh have returned home from Nepal with a superb new route on the west face of Cholatse. But a bitter feeling taints their triumph. One of their teammates perished some days earlier.

Hak and Groh traveled to the Khumbu Valley to do the west face of Cholatse in mind. But they accompanied a larger Czech group doing the peak’s normal route. Together, they acclimatized on Lobuche, then climbed Cholatse’s by the usual line. Here, Honza “Jan” Ross perished, reportedly in a fall. After recovering his body, the climbers decided 10 days later to resume their original goal.

The route parked in red on a photo of Cholatse's west face follows a direct line of ice up the middle of the face.

Topo of the new route by Hak and Groh. The blue dot marks the bivy spot before the 14-hour, non-stop summit climb. Photo: Zdenek Hak

Alone on the west face

Hak and Groh set off on Nov. 1, on their own and without porters. They bivvied the first night at 4,900m, some 200 meters above the usual location of Cholatse’s Base Camp.

A climber looking tiny at the end of the rope, down a vertiginous ice gully, with the valley in shadows below.

The route is a vertical ice wall with no option to rest or to bivouac. Photo: Zdenek Hak


“Considering the high objective risk, we divided the ascent into two days,” the climbers told ExplorersWeb. “Early on the first morning, we climbed the first three pitches of disjointed ice icicles, with difficulties up to WI4+/M5.

“Then we continued on relatively easy terrain for about four pitches to a safe ice cave at the top of a prominent serac at the base of the wall.”

The ice cave sheltered them from the rocks that fell throughout the rest of the day and let them rest before they began their final push at 2 am the following day.

the climber up a thin ice overing a crack up a rocky section.

The route wound through some rocky outcrops but followed the ice line all the way. Photo: Zdenek Hak

No safe place to rest

“We eventually managed to reach the summit ridge after about 14 hours of exclusively ice climbing,” they said. “The wall didn’t allow a safe bivouac anywhere. The slope of the ice ranged from 60 to 90 degrees.”

The climber holds his ice axe on the snowy, flat summit, as the sun sets behind him.

Zdenek Hak on the summit at sunset. Photo: Radoslav Groh


Once on the southwest ridge, Hak and Groh took half an hour more to reach the summit at 5:30 am. They spent some minutes taking pictures, then started down the southwest ridge (and then the normal route) in the dark.

The climber goes down a vertical section, rapelling down a rope, at the light of his headlamp.

Zdenek Hak. Photo: Radoslav Groh


“With the help of fixed ropes we got to C1 (5,600m) on the normal route quite quickly,” Hak noted.

On Oct. 4, the climbers kept descending from Camp 1 while looking carefully for the missing camera of their deceased teammate, Jan Ross.

The climber on vertical ice, the void at his feet.

Groh on vertical ice. Photo: Zdenek Hak

Bittersweet finish

They indeed found his camera to give to his family and held a short remembrance ritual right there. Then they finished their descent, reached Lukla a day later, and flew to Kathmandu on Nov. 6.

The climbers dedicated their new route to Ross.

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides graduated university in journalism and specializes in high-altitude mountaineering and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporations, press manager and communication executive, and a published author.