Interview with Charles Duvouloz: A New Route On Chamlang

Charles Dubouloz spoke to ExplorersWeb about the new route that he and Benjamin Vedrines put up, called ‘In the Shadow of Lies’. It is an edgy reference to recent Himalayan controversies.

Chamlang has become a hotspot for cutting-edge, alpine-style climbing in Nepal.

In 2019, Marek Holecek and Zdenek Hak opened the Piolet d’Or-awarded UFO route on the NW Face of this 7,319m peak near Makalu. That same fall, bad weather thwarted Herve Barmasse and David Göttler’s attempted full traverse.

Now, two years and one pandemic later, Charles Dubouloz and Benjamin Vedrines of France have just climbed an even more direct line up the sheer 1,600m North Face. The route took the mountain guides four days, some hair-raising bivouacs on the wall, bitter cold on a route rarely touched by the sun, technical difficulties up to M5, and 90º ice.

“I gave it all, my fingers and my last breath of power,” Dubouloz wrote on social media.

“In the shadow of lies” goes straight up the 1,600m North Face of Chamlang. Photo: Charles Dubouloz

Speed was the key

Dubouloz remarked that climbing in a two-people team increased the level of commitment but allowed them to climb quickly. Speed was the key for their climb, in addition to an “unbreakable will,” they said.

Today, ExplorersWeb caught up with the climbers, who are still in Kathmandu. We asked for some details, beginning with an explanation for the name of their route. Their choice definitely caught our attention.

Dubouloz admitted that it was a tricky question, but he answered it anyway.

“The name comes from the fact that climbers sometimes lie about their performance,” he said. “Often, it is not even done on purpose. That may be how they feel about what they did, but it is often overrated!”

He went on: “Besides, alpine-style Himalayan routes are rarely repeated, so it is really difficult to verify the grade that the climbers assigned.”

Dubouloz, however, declined to mention any specific climb that they were referring to.

Both men are high-mountain guides, seasoned year-round on the great faces of the Alps. But they had never before tackled a route like Chamlang’s in the Himalaya.

Nevertheless, they studied the face thoroughly beforehand. By the time they set foot in Nepal, they knew exactly what they wanted to climb.

“In 2019, Benjamin [Vedrines] was here and he saw that possibility on the North Face,” Dubouloz said. “We knew that the project was really ambitious, especially for only two people, but we were really motivated and conditions were good.”

The French duo poses with Chamlang’s North Face in the background. Photo: Charles Dubouloz


First time at altitude

“It was my first time at this altitude, so it was a new experience,” Dubouloz said. “I didn’t know my capabilities and endurance at altitude, but I was very motivated.”

The pair counted both on their familiarity as a team and also their signature style and best asset: speed.

“As a team, Benjamin and I are really fast,” Dubouloz said. “In the Alps, we are able to climb many long routes in a day and sometimes link more than one.”

On Chamlang, the pair’s decision to go for a swift, alpine-style ascent coincided with “awesome” conditions. “Sometimes snowfields were brittle and touchy, but generally we encountered safe and pleasant terrain,” they said.

Finding bivy sites was another matter.

“There were few places to stop for the night, and those we found were uncomfortable and exposed to spindrift avalanches all night long,” Dobouloz said. “On the second night, the snow came into the tent.”

The route included some vertical pitches of ice. Photo: Charles Dubouloz

No guarantees of summiting

No matter how good the conditions were, this was a huge and difficult face.

“It was really uncertain whether we would reach the summit,” Dubouloz admitted. “In particular, there was a section in the middle of the face that looked extremely steep.  Seen from below, it was hard to know if there was enough ice to climb it. So all through the first part of the ascent, we were mentally prepared to turn back.”

Apart from two cooking staff in Base Camp, nobody else was looking out for them. There was a second team on Chamlang this season — Symon Welfringer, Aurelien Vaissière, and Damien Tomasi — but everyone was on the mountain at the same time. Dubouloz and Vedrines were on the North Face, while Welfringer’s team tackled the North Pillar. Unfortunately, Welfringer’s expedition was eventually forced back down.

“I gave it my all,” said Dubouloz. Photo: Charles Dubouloz

The French climbers will now return to their winter guiding and climbing around Mont Blanc, but the Himalaya beckons them for the future: “Of course we want to do that again together!” said Dubouloz.