Nuptse: Controversy Around the ‘Everest Triple Crown’

British guide Tim Mosedale is a regular on Everest. This year, he has an even more ambitious goal: the Everest Triple Crown. This means summiting all three peaks of the massif — Everest, Lhotse, and the slightly lower but difficult Nuptse.

Nuptse, the tricky western neighbor

Mosedale‘s team is currently on their push up Nuptse. They plan to summit tomorrow. Everything is ready for them. Expedition Sherpas, under Sirdar Da Jangbu, fixed the entire route, and the climbers planned to reach Camp 3 yesterday. If all is well, they will strike off for the summit tonight.

“This is EPIC,” enthused Tim Mosedale before leaving. “We are hoping to join mountaineering royalty.”

Nuptse from Everest’s Camp 2. Somewhere on the lower side, Marc Batard’s team intends to cross to the glacier, while Tim Mosedale’s group has gone up toward the summit. Photo: Tim Mosedale

Mosedale is referring to how few climbers have ever summited 7,861m Nuptse: a paltry 20 people over some six expeditions, since the first ascent by a British-Nepali team in 1961.

For a peak so close to Everest, this may seem surprising. But Nuptse’s long, sustained steepness discourages most climbers from using it as an acclimatization peak for Everest or Lhotse.

In addition, the 139m that keep it from becoming one of the coveted 8,000’ers prompt peak collectors to give it a pass. Those who do eye Nuptse tend to be hard-core alpinists aiming for light or alpine-style ascents.

And yet, the summit tally is so short for another reason, explains Mosedale. Most of the routes that draw hard-core alpinists end at the summit ridge. From here, it is a  slog to the actual summit.

Many of these parties don’t bother to do that last part, says Mosedale. “Frankly, why would you make all that effort to reach the summit when your objective was a particular feature or line?” Mosedale says. “Those climbers [just interested in Nuptse’s technical sections] have never claimed a summit when they have completed their climbing objective.”

File image of Tim Mosedale, 2019. Photo: Tim Mosedale

 

A controversial “first”

But the British guide is determined to set foot on the highest point and not some metres below because he has a record to set: “We [would] be the first Brits on Nuptse since 1979,” he says. “[And I’d] be the first Brit to accomplish the Triple Crown.”

German 14×8,000m climber Ralf Dujmovits was the first to do this Triple Crown. Dujmovits confirmed the details with ExplorersWeb.

“I climbed Everest in 1992 (with Sonam Tshiring from Beding) and Nuptse in 1996 with German Axel Schloenvogt, completing the second ascent of Doug Scott’s North Pillar,” Dujmovits said. “From the base of the Pillar to the summit and back, we set up no camps and fixed no ropes. As for Lhotse, I climbed it in 2009 with Gerlinde Kaltendrunner, David Göttler, and Hirotaka Takeuchi.”

The achievement for Mosedale could be a step further, though. If he succeeds, he would be the first person — regardless of nationality — to climb all three peaks in a single season. And here is where things get complicated.

Done in 2013 — or not quite?

These “first British” and “in one season” claims are controversial. Fellow Briton Kenton Cool claims on his website that it was he who became the “first person in history to complete the Everest Triple Crown –- Everest (8,848m), Nuptse (7,861m), and Lhotse (8,516m) — in a single climb,” in 2013.

Cool climbed those three peaks in six days. He summited Nuptse with Alex Txikon and Everest-Lhotse with Dorje Gyljen. The story was widely publicized back then.

Although Cool claimed all three as successful summits, Alex Txikon shared doubts when he returned home.

“We did reach the central summit and another high point, but not exactly the main summit,” he told Desnivel. “It was there, just 30m away from us, at the end of a fragile, shallow cornice. Trying to continue would have meant breaking [through] the cornice and certain death. I am aware others are celebrating it as a summit, when in fact they stopped slightly below myself. But as far as I am concerned, I am going to let Miss Hawley [then of The Himalayan Database] decide.”

And so Miss Hawley did. The sharp Himalayan chronicler discarded the summit claim and therefore Cool and Txikon’s names are not registered in the list of all Nuptse ascents, below.

 

Looking back nine years later, however, Alex Txikon feels that they deserved to be given the summit.

“If we consider a minimum tolerance zone, I would have said we did reach the summit,” Txikon told ExplorersWeb. “We were 100% at the same altitude and only 25-30m from the snow mushroom that is the main summit.”

Kenton Cool clings to the fragile summit ridge of Nuptse, March 2012. Frame from a video by Alex Txikon

 

Txikon added: “The rest of the team stopped at the col, but Kenton Cool and I continued for some very exposed pitches until we reached the summit altitude. There was nothing higher up there. But the ridge was knife-sharp and windswept, so you couldn’t just mount it, you had to try and cut holds in the side with the ice ax. But that was useless; the cornice was shallow.

“I have spoken about this with Billi Bierling (also of the Himalayan Database and who was there during that Nuptse climb) on several occasions and I would like to discuss it further with Kenton Cool,” said Txikon. “I was never allowed to claim the summit. But given the circumstances, I think it should be considered valid — as Cool himself has always done.”

Check the highest point reached by the 2013 expedition in this documentary by Alex Txikon.

Alex Txikon creeps toward the highest point that they reached on Nuptse, filmed by Kenton Cool. Frame from the Txikon Extreme film, below. The still image corresponds to 45:18 in the film.

 

Summing up: according to The Himalayan Database, the first Everest Triple Crown in a single season is still to be done. ExplorersWeb has asked Kenton Cool for comments. Coincidentally, he is currently on Everest, aiming for his 16th summit.

Whatever happens on Nuptse, it will occur in the next few hours, as climbers approach the ridge and try to set foot on the main summit. Mosedale and some of his team are carrying trackers with them. At the time of posting this story, they had stopped sharing their location three days ago, before heading to the mountain. In case they reconnect within the next few hours, here’s a link.

Another (French) team after Nuptse

Nuptse is also the “accidental” objective of Marc Batard‘s team. Busy opening an alternative route to Everest’s Camp 1 across Nuptse’s flanks, the French expedition leader has a climbing permit for Nuptse while negotiating to get a freebie permit for expensive Everest, his ultimate goal.

Batard told Explorersweb that he will climb Nuptse, but only after he completes his new route. He and his team, especially his son Alan, are currently bolting it. Batard shared a video of the rope fixing on the rocky rib. They have reached 6,000m.

Batard is currently in Namche Bazaar, recovering from an illness. He hopes to rejoin the team in three or four days.

Senior journalist, published author and communication consultant. Specialized on high-altitude mountaineering, with an interest for everything around the mountains: from economics to geopolitics. After five years exploring distant professional ranges, I returned to ExWeb BC in 2018. Feeling right at home since then!


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Peter Flynn
Peter Flynn
22 days ago

So a granny in Katmandu was to decide a summit or not!! Weird. Seems very harsh to deny them the summit. They went as far as humanly possible.

LZF
LZF
22 days ago
Reply to  Peter Flynn

the “granny in Katmandu” knows much more than you…

LZF
LZF
22 days ago

Nobody summited the three peaks in one season, sorry Kenton Cool… To stop “30 meters from the summit” is not the same as to stand in the very summit

Reader
Reader
21 days ago

Can you please kindly advise me on the following: The article says that the Sherpas have fixed lines for the entire route, does this mean to the actual summit or some point or camp below?

gian piero
gian piero
19 days ago

For me there is a difference between stopping before the summit with the will to cheat and stopping before the summit because you are unable to go further. In this case, if Cool and Txicon could had to go further, they would have done it so, in my opinion, the summit is conquered. Furthermore, if I understood correctly, the maximum height had been reached or almost; it was just a matter of moving sideways to reach the top. Not, for example, like Barmasse and Gottler on Shisha Pangma who claim to have missed the summit for three meters of altitude, but… Read more »

damiengildea
18 days ago
Reply to  gian piero

By Cool’s own account, the “maximum height” was not reached:
“…In terms of vertical it was maybe (I’m guessing here)..40m higher…”

https://www.himalayandatabase.com/online.html

Steve Bell
Steve Bell
15 days ago

Treading the cornice between pedantry and prudence …
With all respect to the late Elizabeth Hawley, all things considered I’d give the crown Kenton.
Best of luck to Tim and his team.