Lhotse Wingsuit Update: First Try on Unknown Terrain

In an unusual plot twist, Everest-Lhotse’s most exciting project of the season is not mainly about climbing. Tim Howell is attempting to make the highest wingsuit jump ever from the ridge near the summit of Lhotse.

Earlier this week, Tim Howell was in Kathmandu, recovering from Khumbu cough. Meanwhile, Gupta and the two local guides did an exploratory foray across the upper part of the Lhotse Face. They reached a point on the Lhotse ridge where no one had been before, looking for a suitable exit point for wingsuiting.

Gupta has posted some details and amazing pictures on social media, but he also updated ExplorersWeb with further details. A couple of hours later, the whole team left during the night for the Khumbu Icefall and Camp 2 on their final summit/jump push.

A climber in high altitude gear, O2, glasses and helmet, his face totaly covered.

One of the three climbers during their Lhotse exploration earlier this week. Photo: Jon Gupta/Facebook

The substitute sherpa

With Howell recovering in Kathmandu, Gupta decided to attempt Lhotse on Monday but aborted in Camp 2.

“One of our three sherpas was unwell and went down,” he explained. He made it safely down and is now in Kathmandu, but the team was left with a man less and with a hard work ahead: to find and fix a new route across the Lhotse Face.

“So I entered sherpa mode for two days,” Gupta said. “I joined Siddhi and Tendi and carried to Camp 4, and together we went for it.”

“We aimed to fix ‘summit down,’ so we climbed Lhotse via the normal route, and from about 100m below the summit, we fixed a new line to the right, up a vague gully to a snow arete,” Gupta said.

The clibmers prgress on Lhotse with Everest wrapped in clouds behind.

Two climbers on Lhotse, with Everest behind. Photo: Jon Gupta/Facebook

The first scout

“Siddhi smoothly dispatched a 60m length of mixed ground to the main ridge. I followed, reveling in being on previously unclimbed ground,” Gupta wrote. “[Then] I took the lead across a very exposed snow ridge…belayed off a single snow stake at 8,500m as I tiptoed out across the ridge.
The climber on a vertiginous rock and ice ridge, partially covered in clouds

Jon Gupta on the Lhotse ridge. Photo: Jon Gupta

The three progressed over the difficult terrain, but their efforts didn’t pay off then. The ridge was a succession of snow-capped pinnacles, highly difficult to climb, and no obvious exit point.
I stood next to Siddhi once again. “Too much,” I said heavily from behind my mask. “We can’t go this way.” Siddhi nodded. He already knew. “Too hard Jon Dai, we find another way.”
Gupta, Ghising, and Sherpa returned to Camp 4 after 15 hours of climbing. There, they left some gear and continued down to Camp 2, which took four more hours.
View of Everest Western Cwn from the Lhotse face at sunset

The Western Cwm at sunset from the Lhotse Face. Photo: Jon Gupta

Now what?

Tim Howell returned to the mountain earlier this week. Their push starts today and will involve difficult route-finding over unclimbed terrain to get to a launch site.

“After carefully studying many images, we have a new plan which I think is good, and I’m feeling optimistic, but there are still many unknowns,” Gupta said.

“Supported by Siddhi and Tendi, I plan to fix a new couloir on the face. It should reach the ridge at around 8,200m. About 50-100m from here, some ledges could give Tim an exit. This is…slightly lower than where we were aiming for previously, but still way about 8,000m.”

Gupta spoke about the unknowns: First, they must fix the couloir. They also have to be able to climb to these potential ledges.

“Then, of course, [we have to see] if the south face is steep enough for Tim to jump safely. It looks possible — amazingly steep — but we won’t know for sure until we get there.”

The uncertainty has kept them evolving their plans and ideas. “Flexibility and adaptability will always provide more success,” says Gupta.

Howell progresses among broken ice at Everest Khumbu Icefall

Tim Howell in the Khumbu Icefall during a previous acclimatization round. Photo: Jon Gupta

If they succeed, Tim Howell will jump between May 21 and 23, when the weather is expected to settle down.

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.