At the head of the Western Cwm, above the treacherous Khumbu icefall, the craggy summit of Lhotse announces the ridgeline that leads up to the highest point on Earth.
Height: 8,516 m (27,940 ft)
Location: In the Himalayas, on the border between Nepal and Tibet.
First Climbed: 18 May 1956 by Fritz Luchsinger and Ernst Reiss.
Climb Time: 6-8 weeks.
Best Time to Climb: April-May and September-October.
Separating Lhotse (8,516 m/ 27,940 ft) from Mount Everest is the saddle called the South Col; a place made famous by so many mountaineers’ accounts of preparing themselves there for the final push up to 8,848 m (29,029 ft).
- Read our Introduction to the main Himalayan Peaks.
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Lhotse is the 4th highest mountain in the world, and stands as part of the imposing Everest massif. Its name translates from Tibetan as ’South Peak’, reflecting Lhotse’s unfair status as an inferior checkpoint en route to the bigger prize in the north. Yet, Lhotse is far from an inferior climbing prospect (see below).
This mountain also houses a couple of smaller, subsidiary peaks. These are Lhotse Middle (8,414 m (27,605 ft) and Lhotse Shar 8,383 m (27,503 ft). These peaks are arguably more difficult climbing prospects. Lhotse Shar was only successfully ascended for the first time in 1979, and Lhotse Middle not until a Russian expedition of 2001.
While Everest had been climbed three years previously, Lhotse was only submitted for the first time in 1956. When Hillary et al climbed Everest they opened up routes up the Lhotse face from the Western Cwm, but didn’t continue to the Lhotse summit as their goal was establishing their High Camp on the saddle of the South Col.
The typical route is up the north-west face, known as the Lhotse Face, reached by the Western Cwm. This face proposes 40-50º pitches, and some sections of up to 80º. Suffice it to say, at this height, the climb is highly technical and demands significant competency.
The face is predominantly ice climbing, though there are two sections of bare rock. These are the Yellow Band and Geneva Spur, the latter named by the unsuccessful Swiss expedition for Everest of 1952.
The South Face is a more daunting prospect. Rising 3.5 km (2 miles) in a little over 2.25 km (1,4 miles), it is the steepest face of this size in the world. Very few ascents have succeeded up this face, the first of which only occurred in 1990, though there are two competing claims for this accolade, between a Czech solo climber and a USSR expedition.
Lhotse’s eastern face, also shared with Everest, is known as the Kangshung Face. Its hanging glaciers and step rock buttresses make it one of the more dangerous ascents to take on, so unsurprisingly it is rarely climbed. The first route was opened up in 1983 via the American Buttress, though this led to the South Col and Everest rather than Lhotse.
Only three successful ascents of the main summit occurred between 1956 and 1981. Chantal Maudit was the first woman to stand on top of the Lhotse summit, achieving the feat in 1996. Reinhold Messner’s ascent of Lhotse in 1986 made him the first person to have summitted all fourteen eight-thousanders.
Up to the end of 2008, 371 climbers have reached the summit of Lhotse at the cost of 20 lives who perished in making their attempts.