The French Team Wraps Up in the Khumbu — Two New Routes, Three Lost Friends

Alpine style Himalaya
Sunset on the summit of Cholatse. Photo: GAEM

What was supposed to be a success to celebrate has become a sad tribute to their partners, for whom all hope is now lost. France’s eight-person Groupe of Alpine Excellence (GEAM), led by Stephane Benoist, aimed to open new routes in the Khumbu Valley. Last week, the team split in two, aiming for different goals — with dramatically different endings.

Tragedy unfolds

Thomas Arfi, Louis Pachoud, and Gabriel Miloche went for Mingbo Eiger (6,070m), a satellite peak of Kangtega, south of Ama Dablam. They spent two days at the base of the peak’s west face checking conditions on their planned route. Then on October 26, they began advancing up the couloir which cuts the wall’s left side. At 5:11 pm, they reported from their bivouac site. They said that they were feeling great. That was the last their home team heard from them.

Footprints left by the missing climbers, seen from the helicopter. Photo: Kailash Helicopter Services

The French Federation of Mountain Clubs (FFCAM ) spared no effort to try to locate the three young climbers. Expert pilot Claudio Mittner scouted the peak from the air on Sunday and Monday. Meanwhile, a crack Nepali team that included Mingma G, Vinayak Malla, Ang Dawa Sherpa, Tsering Sherpa, and Pemba Gyalzen flew to the base of the mountain to begin a ground search.

All in vain. The pilots found no trace except the climbers’ footprints on the summit ridge. It suggested that team had turned around at 5,900m. Sadly, an avalanche that triggered at about 6,000m swept the descending line of footprints. Tellingly, some bivouac gear lay scattered among the debris. The ground rescuers weren’t any luckier, as far as we know. Mingma G said that the search would continue today, according to Carlos Garranzo.

Nepali climbers continue to search for the three missing men, but it’s at best a body recovery now. Photo: Kailash Helicopter Services

New route on Cholatse

Today, their partners on the GEAN team — Pierrick Fine, Pauline Champon, Pierrick Giffard, Anouk Felix-Faure, and expedition leader Stephane Benoist — revealed they had climbed a new route on Cholatse’s North Face. They remained on the mountain for “six days of bitter cold and verticality” between October 25 and October 29. On that last day, the alarm sounded for their friends on Mingbo Eiger.

In those six days, the team opened a superb 1,600m line that they have graded ED, VI, M5+, WI5. The happiness that they would have felt about their success, however, quickly turned dark when they heard about the avalanche.

Now back home in France, they have shared some details and pictures about the new route, which they named ‘Brothers in Arms’, as a tribute to their lost comrades.

“Louis, Gab, and Thomas have left a huge void,” they wrote. “That beautiful chute drew them to the summit of unclimbed Mingmo Eiger and then sadly took them.”

In addition to the new route on Cholatse, Fine, Champon, and Giffard earlier pioneered a line on Nare ri Shar (6,005m), very close to the ill-fated Mingbo Eiger.

The GAEM’s team new route on Cholatse, ‘Brothers In Arms’.

Ama Dablam: so close, so far

Just a few hundred metres north, dozens of climbers are lining up on fixed ropes and threading up Ama Dablam. Most of those currently on the mountain have done their acclimatization rotation to Camp 2. They are now waiting in Base Camp for the signal to begin their summit push. Many will climb the 6,812m peak supported by a personal assistant or guide. Barring sudden changes in the weather, there will be summit news in the upcoming days.

Of course, every person has a right to climb Ama Dablam or any other peak as they prefer, trying to stay as safe as possible and to maximize the chances of success. At the same time, style matters. On the normal route, Ama Dablam is relatively safe, and climbers depend on the work and leadership of their Sherpa guides. In mountaineering terms, such an achievement ranks far below those who carved a new line up the soaring North Face of Cholatse or who attempted Mingbo Eiger.

As time goes on, few will give a second thought to the three promising young alpinists who lost their lives on one of the hundreds of unclimbed peaks in the Khumbu, all of them overshadowed by the size and celebrity of Everest.

The French team some days ago, during the approach trek. Photo: GEAN

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About the Author

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides

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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Thrill seeker
Thrill seeker
2 months ago

RIP!

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Benny Smith
Benny Smith
2 months ago

Au revoir, Heroes!

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lmontejo
Dr. Leo Montejo
2 months ago

Hello, I have first hand information that they were found roped together. I believe that the topic of roping (la cordée), that Rebuffat wrote so much about, needs to be revisited. Sometime ago, and I don’t have the reference, I read an article published by Austrian guides who had done tests in the Alps on this subject. Their conclusion was that roping-up with a slope > 20 degrees was a deathly proposition. It is not clear whether the French team fell because of an avalanche, they triggered the avalanche, or one fell and dragged the other two. My point is… Read more »

ANYA
ANYA
2 months ago

I absolutely agree , the only roping up has to be on glaciers/crevasses. So utterly sad, 3 vibrant young ones gone before their time, forever young .

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