How drones revolutionized mountain films

Lying on the right of his skis, a swerve to the left, stepping over some fir trees, before paragliding towards the rocks of the Morzines canyon then flying over a block of chalets… Filmed with a drone, the sequence no longer only offers to be seen the descent of speed rider French Valentin Delluc but turns into a substitute for thrills. The clip, promoted by the RedBull brand two years ago, left its mark on the world of film and mountain sports documentaries, gathered this week at the Chamonix festival, which ends on Saturday June 18.

For its second edition, the majority of the 38 films screened again relied on this technology. It has become ” an addiction “, confirms Thomas Guerrin, 34-year-old drone pilot and director, who this year presented a film on the history of the high mountain guides of Chamonix, a city-temple of French mountaineering. Because if the traditional helicopter has long made it possible to capture the best aerial shots, racing drones – or so-called FPV drones (First Person View) – have revolutionized the discipline.

contact and distance

“It brought something that we were incapable of: an immersion closer to performance and the ability, at the same time, to move away from the athlete very quickly to return to the landscape”, notes Maxime Moulin, documentary filmmaker for ten years, the arrival of the first drones on the market. With a camera on board the athlete and an aerial drone “which, on the other hand, gives the outside point of view, to also allow yourself long poetic shots, you can tell everything there is to tell without being present on the stage of the performance”, complete Thomas Guerrin.

The drones had however arrived in the mountains with a bad reputation: too intrusive, even risky, as when a machine had crashed on the slope in full descent of the alpine skier Marcel Hirscher, landing a few decimeters from the Austrian, in 2015. The specter of the accident forced the legislation to thicken, in particular for the overflight of dwellings, imposing an authorization from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation on the teams which pilot them up to 4 km away . “Depending on what we want to do, we cannot film certain parts of the mountain, the helicopter cannot be replaced, even if it also represents a greater environmental cost”explains Maxime Moulin.

Technology versus creativity?

In addition to a reduced cost, accessible to novices in mountain film, drones have reduced the risk-taking on set, for directors and for the athletes themselves – mountaineers in mind – by allowing more precise identification of less accessible climbing areas.

With the fear, however, of a standardization of films, tempted to overexploit these aerial images to the point of caricature. “We have in fact been witnessing for 10 years a standardization in the ways of filming. With drones, filming times are also reducednotes Steve Scott, director of the Kendal mountain film festival in the United Kingdom and member of the jury this year in Chamonix. To regain creativity, directors must learn to use them sparingly. »



Three French climbers missing in Nepal

The search for three young French mountaineers missing after an avalanche on a summit in the Everest region has resumed, relief officials said Monday (November 1). Corn “The hope of finding survivors is now almost nil”, according to the French Federation of Alpine and Mountain Clubs (FFCAM).

“Research will continue today”, said Monday Pratap Jung Pandey, general manager of Kailash Helicopter Service, specifying that “Something like a bag or a black object has been spotted on the side of the mountain”.

→ PORTRAIT. Mountaineering: the day when “I climbed my first 8000”

On Sunday, a device had dropped off experienced mountain guides to try to find young French people in their twenties. Ang Norbu Sherpa, the president of the National Association of Mountain Guides of Nepal, now in charge of operations, said he was also visiting the region at the moment.

Elite mountaineers

The three climbers belong to the National Alpinism Excellence Group (GEAN), an elite formation of the French Federation of Alpine and Mountain Clubs (FFCAM). Louis Pachoud, Gabriel Miloche and Thomas Arfi began to climb a chute on the left of the west face of the Mingbo Eiger summit (6,070 meters above sea level), FFCAM said on Monday.

→ STORY. Revenge of the Nepalese, winners of K2

“The helicopter reconnaissance dispatched by the FFCAM on Sunday morning October 31 (local time) as well as the overflight of their track on Monday November 1 made it possible to locate their tracks up to 5,900 meters on the ridge leading to the summit. At this altitude, the rescuers were able to observe the outbreak of an avalanche “, according to the same source.

These same traces show that they have “Gave up going to the top, turned around and started their descent by their ascent route”. At the foot of the face, the rescuers found three bags, as well as the bivouac equipment.

One last contact on October 26

The missing are part of a group of eight young climbers who arrived at the end of September in the Khumbu region (Everest region), to climb several peaks between 5 and 6000 meters above sea level located south of Ama Dablam ( 6,814 m).

The last telephone contact with them from their bivouac dates back to October 26, according to FFCAM which further clarified that the other five members of the GEAN team, “Severely tested” will be “Repatriated to France within a few days”.

→ EXPLANATION. Mont Blanc at 4,807.81 meters: how to measure the height of a mountain?

An official from the Nepalese tourism ministry claimed that these climbers did not request the necessary authorization for this ascent, a claim rejected by Pralhad Chapagain of Holiday Himalaya Trek and Expedition, the agency in charge of the expedition.



Mountaineering: the day when “I climbed my first 8000”

It’s a story of 8,000 meters that begins with a 4,000. Moreover, during our meeting, Sophie Lavaud weighs the two dates. 2004 and his first 4000? Or 2012 and its first 8,000? Her life really changed in 2004, when this financial event pro climbed on a whim to the top of… Mont Blanc.

“It was then that my future path to great heights took shape. Until then, I had been hiking, much like everyone else when you live in Geneva, after having studied in Lyon. Up there, at the age of 36, I felt a kind of click, love at first sight for the mountain which led to everything else. “ After the 4,800 meters of the roof of Europe swallowed without difficulty, here is the time of 5,000, 6,000, 7,000, but always within the framework of organized holidays. A sort of risky and expensive hobby, nothing more.

→ REPORT. In the heart of the Himalayas, artificial glaciers against drought

Until the financial crisis of 2008, which put the company that she had set up with her brother on the flank. A blow that leaves her stunned and allows her to wake up… different. “ I had time, no obligations, so I wanted to give myself the gift of going to see higher. “

A lady all-the-world of the heights

Towards these famous fourteen summits of more than 8,000 meters which dominate the world and haunt the dreams of professional mountaineers, a species in which the fallow top executive finds himself a little, but in the place that she gives herself, that of a madam everyone of the heights. “I fully assume my status as a mountain follower, I am not a guide, nor technically very strong, I surround myself with trustworthy people, I climb, I think. We don’t say it enough, but it’s by following that we get to the top. “

→ DEBATE. Olivier Thévenet: “The mountain is a territory that can be shared”

So here she is in May 2012, a few days before her 44th birthday and… Hagia Sophia, at the foot of Shishapangma, the smallest of the 8,000 and one of the easiest too, even if the matter remains relative. “To those who speak of Himalayan tourism with contempt, because of the multiplication of expeditions, I propose to get down to it, they will see that even within a powerful expedition, with oxygen, it remains very difficult. “

The path begins in Kathmandu, with the procedures to obtain the necessary permit for the ascents, in the base camp where nationalities and ambitions come together, faced with a reality of patience and modesty. “I have seen seasoned mountaineers consume themselves with anguish at the idea of ​​not succeeding, I have always put forward the notion of pleasure, of adventure, privileging the present moment to stay within the perimeter. accessible. “

Passionate about the Himalayas

The first days at the foot of Shishapangma were not, moreover, very glorious, occupied in fighting against a little heroic diarrhea of ​​the mountains. The winter was dry, the crevasses are dangerous, the days of waiting for endless weather clearing. And then comes the “Go” long awaited, towards camps 1, 2 and 3, then the summit.

“I don’t know if it’s the happiest day of my life, in any case, this May 11, 2012 is a culmination”she said, searching for the exact word to describe how she felt at the time. Ecstasy? Euphoria? “Uh … it’s a bit like that”, she says. Before sending an email the day after our interview, just before flying to Nepal, to correct: “I would say wonder. “

Which does not stop there, since she decides to link up a few days later with another 8,000 neighbor, a little higher up, the Cho Oyu. This time, the virus is caught, the Himalayas will not let go. As the guide and filmmaker François Damilano, who has dedicated two films to him (1): “There are three categories of Himalayas; those who return home happy to have made an 8000, those who want to push to Everest and those who want to do them all. Sophie now belongs to the third category. “

New heights in the sights

“We often talk about the ego of mountaineers. It takes some, that’s for sure, but it’s not my main engine, she says. I’m not a collector, I don’t care about stacking tops, I just want to empower myself to make my own dreams come true. ” Now that she is a licensed Himalayan, making a living from conferences in companies when she returns to the cow land, her latest dream is to become the first among the French (one of her three nationalities, with Switzerland and Canada) to pose the challenge. foot on the 14 peaks over 8,000.

→ PODCAST. Nadir Dendoune: “After having climbed Everest, I have never felt so free”

He’s missing three. In reality four: his May 2012 ascent on the Shishapangma was not approved, because it was not carried out on the summit ridge but a few meters below. She will therefore have to go back there one day. A perspective that does not destabilize her more than that, on the contrary. “If I didn’t find pleasure in all this, I would have stopped a long time ago, it’s too hard to force yourself if the desire is no longer there. “


Three more summits to become unique

Starting off as a solid hiker, nothing more, Sophie Lavaud is on the way to becoming the first French Himalayan, men and women alike, to have climbed the 14 peaks over 8,000 m. Nicknamed the 88,000 Lady (eleven times 8,000), she is currently approaching the twelfth, the Dhaulagiri, and will try during the season, weather permitting, the Lhotse and the Nanga Parbat. Thus ending the loop started in 2012 by climbing the Shishapangma, where she had earned a nice nickname in the Sherpa language: Didi Sophie (big sister Sophie).



Martine Rolland, a climber at the head of the roped party

She almost missed the first test of the guide’s diploma because of the flash of a photographer ambushed in the mountain. In 1979, the idea of ​​giving this precious sesame to a woman aroused the curiosity of the media. Martine Rolland is then climbing a route of the Aiguilles Rouges, above Chamonix (Haute-Savoie). Destabilized in full swing, she falls a few meters before recovering. The first female guide in Europe, today she recounts this episode and her astonishing journey in a book, First of the roped party, in bookstores this Wednesday, April 28 (1).

→ READ. Mountaineering soon under the protection of Unesco

At 72 years old, Martine Rolland has not forgotten anything about her media debut. Nor the wrath of some old mountain people, including the commentary of an old teacher from Ensa, the National School of Skiing and Mountaineering. “Even if technically she has her chances, during my lifetime, I will not let any woman pass the exam”, he had thrown at her in the face, before attempting to trap her illegally – and without success – a few years later in the final series of tests that would make her a pioneer.

“Paris-Match” multiplies the coverage on these feats

Thus graduated, she aroused all the more attention as the time was passionate about the exploits of French mountaineers. In the press, Paris Match multiplies the covers on these feats. But Martine Rolland, already mother of a little Yann – who would later become a famous climber – does not want this notoriety, which she considers superficial and time-consuming.

She chose to register with the Briançon guides office, for convenience since she already lived in the region, but also to escape the pressure of Chamonix. “There, they would not have left me alone, not sure that I was given shopping. The southern guides were more open, and then the Alps are wilder there. Chamonix remains an incomparable place for climbers, but my husband and I preferred to come there and then leave. “

The young woman then thwarts the predictions of the elders. They promised him tomorrow without a client – who would be foolish enough to entrust his life to a woman ?, they squeaked. Martine Rolland, on the contrary, sees her ballot book filling up. First with clients, who made it a point of honor to hire a female guide, but not only. Because men also sought the indulgence and empathy that she put into her practice.

“Women Guides are arguably more able to give up when the conditions are bad, and it’s easier to admit your weaknesses to them when you can’t. And then, they told me that I had to be really competent to have imposed myself in this world of men! “, she smiles.

“Feminism was not an approach”

At present, high mountain guides only have about thirty women in France, practicing in its wake. Few of them risk long and dangerous races. “It remains a difficult job when you want to reconcile it with a family life”, explains Martine Rolland, specifying the heart of her motivation. “Of course, the time was when women were liberated, but it was not my approach, I wanted to be a guide because I wanted to and I had ten years of experience behind me”, today tells a Martine that her parents intended for the profession of… secretary. Profession which she exercised some time before taking the height.

The Rolland couple have for years skimmed the summits. “For a long time, we managed to reconcile the life of adventure with our role as parents, we would go away in the summer for a few weeks leaving Yann and we would come back home to lead a quiet life”, she says. Until that bad experience on K2, the second highest peak in the world, which almost ended badly. “I was almost 40 years old, I wanted a second child, we had to choose, and we chose the family. “

Jonathan, their second son, was born, and Martine and her husband embarked on more reasonable activities: day trips in ski mountaineering, climbing lessons, practices which she accompanied the outbreak. “I think I was born at the right time, she confides. Beyond having become the first woman guide in Europe, I was able to attend and accompany the great evolutions of the mountain, the arrival of paragliding, canyoning, climbing competitions. “ The guide was thus able to reconcile, for fifty years, her love and parental life with a devouring passion for the mountains. “I had and still have a good life, I think. “

→ PODCAST. Stéphanie Bodet: “Climbing is a way of being one with the moment”


The bicentenary of the company of guides

From the end of May 2021, the city of Chamonix is ​​launching a series of events to celebrate the founding, in 1821, of the famous Compagnie des Guides. On the program, in particular: a major exhibition, the issue of a postage stamp and the release of an anniversary album, Company of Chamonix guides. 200 years of history, by Joëlle Dartigue-Paccalet and David Ravanel, at Glénat. In June, a thematic booklet devoted to the profession and its adaptation to the challenges of climate change will also be published, written both by the Company and the National Union of Mountain Guides.



Revenge of the Nepalese, winners of K2

The news of the winter conquest of K2, the last 8,000 still inviolate in winter, looped all night from Saturday January 16 to Sunday January 17 on Nepalese websites and newspapers. Whether in The Kathmandu Post or The Himalayan Times, the two most important English-speaking media, the satisfaction of seeing the Nepalese outsmart the Westerners who have also embarked on the adventure is real but remains modest.

Revenge of the Nepalese, winners of K2

A very great Spanish mountaineer, Sergi Mingote, died at the same time in another roped party, which imposes a certain reserve. But it did not escape observers that his fatal fall occurred on the descent, the most dangerous exercise in high mountains, especially after the fatigue and intoxication of such a feat. For the Nepalese who know the rules of the Himalayas better than anyone, the triumph will not be complete until the ten men have returned safely to base camp.

“An ascent dedicated to all Nepalese carriers”

Other than that, the ascent of Saturday January 16 will go down in the annals as a huge victory for the Nepalese people, especially for the Sherpa ethnic group living in the foothills of the Nepalese Himalayas, which provided the men and the organization.

→ READ. The Sherpas want to become masters at home again

The ascent was carried out under the aegis of Seven Summits Treks, an agency specializing in supporting western climbers on Everest. It has invested millions to be the first to set foot on the last of the 8000, which is mostly in… Pakistani and Chinese territory.

The intentions of its boss Mingma Sherpa were very clear before the launch in December. “The K2 is the last 8,000 that has not been climbed in winter, so this is an opportunity for the Sherpas to demonstrate their strength, he said. All mountaineers are assisted by Sherpas to make their dreams come true: to reach a summit of 8,000 m. I have helped several foreigners achieve this. And I was a little surprised not to see any Sherpa during the first winter. This ascent is therefore dedicated to the whole community of Nepalese carriers known today thanks to our friends and clients from different foreign countries ”.

The symbol is all the more clear as this triumph follows an alliance between all the best Sherpa mountaineers involved in the four expeditions launched this winter on the K2. The small troop was led by the big Nepalese high altitude star, Nims Dai, who gained world fame in 2019 becoming the first Nepalese to climb the fourteen 8,000 in a single season.

We have decided to make the impossible possible and we are honored to share this moment, not only with the Nepalese climbing community, but with communities around the world. What a journey ! “, Former British Special Forces soldier Nims Dai said from a satellite phone.

No sherpa on the first winter since 1980

Best of all, the fittest waited a long time for the slower to arrive together on the second roof in the world at 8,611m. “It is really a beautiful symbol”, reacts Michel Pellé, French guide and filmmaker who in 2000 dedicated a film called Ghalzen the Mender of Everest the sherpas then confined to the role of installers of ropes and carriers of oxygen bottles.

“After having been in the shadows for a long time, they learned and became big names, unparalleled technicians endowed with an exceptional physique because some spent their childhood at 4000”, he continues.

→ SERIES. Conquering the last 8,000 (1/4). The K2, a giant never conquered in the Himalayan winter

Sixty-seven years after the conquest of Everest by Edmund Hillary who was accompanied by Sherpa Tensing Norgay, the circle has been completed by these ten Nepalese, more numerous on Saturday on a roof of the world than in the entire history of mountaineering himalayan.

Of the first 44 men to have trampled one of the 8,000 in summer, only three were Nepalese. The winter record is even more eloquent. Since Everest’s first winter in 1980, 29 men, mostly Polish, have climbed the 8,000 in the bad season. This list did not include any Nepalese, until Saturday January 17.


With or without oxygen?

The ten Nepalese belonging to the Sherpa ethnic group who climbed the K2 were equipped with oxygen cylinders, a device disputed by most mountaineers… Westerners. According to the so-called Tyrolean declaration, adopted in 2002 in Innsbruck, only the first without the use of fixed ropes and oxygen should be approved. There is therefore still a challenge to be taken up on K2 for the Polish team Adam Bielecki-Denis Urubko who had unsuccessfully attempted the winter adventure in 2018. She intends to do it again next winter, in so-called “alpine” style, that is. that is to say without the use of oxygen.



K2, journey to the top of the most terrible of the “8000 meters”

The thirteen other peaks over 8,000 meters have given way over time, between 1980 and 2016. But the K2 remains this giant, always reluctant to let itself be defeated in winter. The Italians conquered it in the summer of 1954, a national pride still in place, and the Poles took over, hoping to consolidate their reputation as “ice warriors”.

But for the moment nothing helps. Perhaps the Sherpas, who this year lead two of the three monster-defying expeditions, will eventually become masters at home. But for all, the game promises to be very tight, and promises the future winners the hallucinations that punctuate many glorious climbs. The victory, finally materialized, is well worth some delusions of altitude.

Find our four new episodes on this indomitable summit.

► K2, a giant never conquered by the Himalayan winter

► On K2, patriotism at the top

► The Sherpas want to become masters at home again

► K2, the altitude and its amazing companions



Sherpas want to become masters of their own homes again

It’s a story that begins just over a century ago, in 1921 and 1922, during the first two attempts to climb Everest. From the second expedition of 1922, which reached the formidable altitude for the time of 8,320 m, the British mountaineers understood, in the light of the failure of 1921, that it was necessary to save the forces of climbers designated for the top. And therefore entrust the carrying of the equipment to these little strong and agile men belonging to an ethnic group called to become famous throughout the world, the sherpas.

→ Conquering the last 8,000 (1/4). The K2, a giant never conquered in the Himalayan winter

One hundred years, 27 of the 28 peaks of 8,000 defeated later (14 in summer, 13 in winter since K2 is still missing), things have not really changed. The dozens of customers paying dearly for the right to set foot on the roof of the world in summer owe this pleasure less and less exceptional (it is estimated today that 7,000 summiters of Everest) to the work of the Sherpas. Which keep the monopoly on mountain equipment and safety.

Mountaineers of Everest

“From 8,200-8,300 m, they are the bosses: they have the technique, the resistance and the lucidity that the best western mountaineers no longer have”, explains guide Michel Pellé, the first to have taken clients to the top of the world in 1992. At 70, he is inexhaustible on this people of 180,000 to 200,000 people living on the slopes of northeastern Nepal, in proximity to the most famous 8,000, many of whom made their living.

→ Conquering the last 8,000 (2/4). On the K2, patriotism at the top

He dedicated a famous film to them with an evocative title, Galzhen, the roadmender of Everest. In the documentary, he follows the work of these men, and a few rare women, equipping the ice fall guarding the summit with ropes, ladders and metal bridges., the famous Ice Fall. “These rather well paid shadow workers spend their lives installing fixed ropes, carrying oxygen cylinders, then handing over to those who equip the last camp before the assault. We don’t talk much about those either, he said, because all the light is on those we call the sizes, very strong technically sherpas who have physiological qualities (read below) even more incredible than the others. “

New rich

These lords of the 8,000 live light years away from the low-altitude carriers supplying the base camps. The laborers from below are no longer Sherpas, but more often Tamangs, a lower-rated ethnic group working for trek companies owned by Sherpas. “Very famous in the West, to the point of having inspired a common name to designate the assistants of great political figures, the Sherpas are not always well regarded in Nepal by the dozens of other ethnic groups that make up this country of 28 million people. inhabitants “, explains Jean-Michel Asselin, mountain journalist and Himalayan.

His wife, the sociologist Anne Benoit-Janin, who has just published a book entitled The Nepalese of Everest (ed. Glénat) even qualifies them as ” new rich “. They aroused little solidarity from their compatriots in 2014, when they launched a strike following an avalanche that killed sixteen of their own under Everest. ” They don’t declare much of what they earn to the state, hunt non-Sherpas who want to set up trekking companies or tourist lodges, explains Michel Pellé, in short, they do exactly like our fathers, the Savoyard peasants who became guides who did everything to kick the townspeople out of the Alps in the 1950s ”.

This gradual takeover of the Sherpas over their mountains is accompanied by a technical rise in the technical range of the youngest, in the process of becoming excellent climbers. “Some are stronger than the western climbers who hire them, continues Michel Pellé, they have the talent, the money, but they still lack what defines mountaineering, the free amateur act, the pleasure of riding for the beauty of the sport which alone makes progress. It’s coming, on my last trip I saw 20-year-old kids climbing like gods, they are the future of the Himalayas, not us. “


Physical qualities studied by scientists

Raised at high altitudes, between 3000 and 4500 m, the sherpas have developed over time physical characteristics which would explain their resistance. Most scientific studies report a particular level of red blood cells in the blood, which explains their muscle resistance. An American study reports the presence of nitric oxide, ensuring better circulation of the blood without the need for a lot of oxygen. Researchers at the University of Cambridge (England) have found that mitochondria, the powerhouses of cells, would be more efficient in sherpas than in the rest of the population.



On the K2, patriotism at the top

And the K2 became “The mountain of the Italians”. It had been written since the Duke of Abruzzo’s first exploration in 1909 spotting the most obvious path to the top of the monster. It was still necessary to plant it, the transalpine flag, up there at 8,611 m. This was done on July 18, 1954. It must be said that the Italians had not skimped on the means deployed to tame K2.

→ Conquering the last 8,000 (1/4). The K2, a giant never conquered in the Himalayan winter

Because, then, the national honor is at stake. To forget the defeat and a quarter of a century of fascism, to shine with a new radiance in the eyes of the world: the mission is not thin for its leader Ardito Desio, charged by the ‘State and the Italian Alpine Club to conquer the most difficult of the Himalayan peaks. From the fall of 1953, the journalist and writer Dino Buzzati summarized the affair in the Corriere della sera: “Today, it is the French in Annapurna, the English in Everest, the Germans in Nanga Parbat, who are talking about them. Now it’s our turn, we Italians ”.

The tamed K2 and the exploits of Messner

When, after three months of efforts to prepare for the final assault, the Achille Compagnoni-Lino Lacedelli tandem reached the much-desired Grail at the end of the afternoon, it was all of Italy that swooned. Dino Buzzati is always enthusiastic about “A shock, a palpitation, a pure and disinterested satisfaction”. Ardito Desio will soon give a detailed account of it, sublimating the bravery of the heroes and setting in stone… a few lies about the exact unfolding of the events and the role of young Walter Bonatti (24 years old at the time) and of the Pakistani carrier Amir Mehdi. It will take fifty years to restore the truth, as the myth is almost untouchable.

“Despite everything, this conquest remains a very important date for the Italians, and for the 60th anniversary in 2014, several thousand of them made the trek to the K2 base camp again”, underlines Christian Trommsdorff, President of the High Mountain Group (GHM). It is true that after the exploit on the K2, other Italians will keep the flame alive, foremost among them Reinhold Messner, who from 1970 jumps from one peak to another, without the heaviness of great expeditions but by promoting the “alpine style”: total autonomy, a backpack and nothing else for the climber facing the wall.

The giant Messner is the first to complete the ascent of the 14 summits of the planet culminating at more than 8000 m in October 1986, with the K2 in particular, in 1979. However, it takes nothing that the bugger does not be preceded by another devourer of the peaks, the Pole Jerzy Kukuczka. He finished the mad race in September 1987, but with one sacred specificity: on his route, he achieved three winter firsts. The hallmark of those nicknamed the “ice warriors”.

Extreme quest

Because they established themselves on the international scene in the 1970s, the Polish mountaineers. All the great peaks may be defeated, but not at the worst time. So the Poles will make a place for themselves by specializing in winter conquests. That of Everest on February 17, 1980 was even applauded by Pope John Paul II and still remains a national pride. In less than ten years, they stacked seven, the Polish climbers.

But this extreme quest is obviously not without danger. And the exploits soon follow dramas. The mountain swept away Jerzy Kukuczka at 41, in 1989. The first woman to summit K2, in 1986, Wanda Rutkiewicz also died in 1992, at 49. And many others. A great void that no one wants to fill for a few years. Until the turn of the century, when the fever gradually resumed the Poles.


“These winter, more technical or taking new paths, did not have the same notoriety as the original conquests of the 1950s and 1960s., notes the sociologist Michel Raspaud, specialist in high mountains. Nevertheless, succeeding in K2, the last giant inaccessible in winter, remains very important for them because it would symbolically complete the loop and confirm national predominance ”. The Poles therefore returned to the winter 2002-2003, but without exceeding the 7,650 m, a mark that still holds. The 2018 expedition – named “K2 for the Poles” – said the national ambition, the result of the “program for Polish winter himalayan” launched in 2010. Las. It still ended in failure.

This year, the Poles are not really involved in the ongoing attempts. They are preparing instead on a nearby summit, gaining experience to return to the assault in the winter of 2021, hoping that others do not win the day. Because for them it is also written. K2 must also become “The mountain of the Poles”.


Such a long lie

For a long time, Walter Bonatti was silent. And then, in the 1980s, he began to recount “his” 1954 K2 expedition, which was significantly different from the official version. He tells of the “betrayal” of the two heroes of the ascent, who, for not having set up Camp IX in the planned location, forced Walter Bonatti and Amir Mehdi to come to bring them oxygen the day before the assault. final to an improvised and normally fatal bivouac at more than 8000 m of altitude. Both survived, the heroes were celebrated, even telling that they had completed the ascent without oxygen. Another lie. The truth only thawed gradually, before being made official by the Italian Alpine Club in 2004.



The K2, a giant never conquered in the Himalayan winter

In a little over ten years, all was said. Begun in 1950 with the ascent of the Anapurna by the French pair Herzog-Lachenal, the conquest of the fourteen 8,000 m in spring or autumn, the two most favorable slots, ended in 1964.

And yet, the case could have been carried out more quickly without the Chinese obstruction on the youngest, the Shishapangma (in Tibetan territory, recently conquered), in order to give time to the Chinese climbers to plant the red flag first at the top. .

→ RECIT. Lies and truths in the high mountains

But winter is a whole different story in the Himalayas and it was not until 1980, 37 years after its spring conquest in 1953 by Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norgay, that Everest let itself be conquered in winter.

The Himalayan Matterhorn

Forty years later, the conquest of the 14 rooftops of the world in winter is still not complete. A summit, the K2, the second highest and one of the most technically difficult, still resists. “K2 is the last myth still standing, the last man’s step on the roof of the world, enthuses the Himalayan guide François Damilano, also a filmmaker and who recently dedicated a film to him (1). K2 is beautiful, wild and dangerous, romantic. It is a pyramid of rock and ice that we often compare to the Matterhorn in our Alps. “

The only 8,000 ever conquered in winter, the K2 attracts the best mountaineers in the world, tired of the very high-altitude trek that Everest has become, with its dozens of daily customers hanging on fixed ropes permanently installed. Much further north than the great 8000 classics, in an almost desert region, it has long remained hidden from the world. Masked by clouds and protected by a very special weather situation, with extremely violent winds.

“It’s the hardest, because the farther away from the equator, the more difficulty in breathing at altitude increases. However, the K2 has almost eight degrees of latitude of difference with the others ”, explained in 2019, during a conference at the Piolets d’or (the biggest mountaineering festival in the world), Michał Pyka, the weatherman of the last winter attempt in 2018, led by a heavy Polish team.

The adventure ended in another failure, despite a final solo outing by the famous Denis Urubko, one of the last high-altitude troublemakers, at 7,600 m, still very far from the official 8,611 m from the summit.

This famous expedition – it was interrupted when the two team leaders left K2 to help the Frenchwoman Élisabeth Revol in distress on a neighboring mountain – should be resumed in comparable conditions, at the beginning of 2022. But without Denis Urubko who announced his retirement.

Narrow weather window

It may be too late, because three teams are already at work to try the adventure in January or February 2021. “There are two small teams, a Nepalese and a Pakistani, who will attempt the ascent in alpine style, that is to say without resorting to heavy logistics, without a fixed rope or oxygen, explains Rodolphe Popier, a Himalayan enthusiast working for ascension certification bodies. If either of the two succeeds, it will truly be a huge achievement. “

He believes that this is unlikely but possible, especially with the immense progress of the weather forecast which almost certainly makes it possible to enter a favorable window, even a narrow one. “All it takes is a fluke of weather… In that case, it’s likely that the fittest men from the two small expeditions will team up at the last moment for the ultimate assault. “

But mountain lovers, like Rodolphe Popier, or journalist-editor Charlie Buffet, author of “The madness of K2” in 2004, fear that the armada set up by the Nepalese agency Sevent Summit, a juggernaut of high-altitude tourism, would whisper politeness to them.

→ CRITICAL. “La folie des hauteurs”, a podcast at the top for mountain lovers

Led by Chhang Dawa Sherpa, a Nepalese who hung the fourteen 8,000 from his buttonhole, it is led by several renowned European mountaineers. They will try to lead clients to the top, including a 19-year-old Briton, with the help of around fifteen top-level Sherpas who will try to equip the mountain from top to bottom.

The sherpas will do everything: install the ropes, go back and forth to carry the equipment and oxygen …, regrets Rodolphe Popier. It is a vision of commercial mountaineering quite similar to the one we know at Everest and which has become much less interesting. “


Polish masters

While K2 remains the only undefeated in winter, the last success in this season, in the Himalayas, dates back to February 2016, on Nanga Parbat. Almost all of the men who overcame the Himalayan winter were trained in Poland, a leading nation in this field. The first to tackle these summits in winter, in the 1980s, the Poles made almost all of the first thirteen climbs. The Italian Simone Moro and the Russian Denis Urubko (who recently acquired Polish nationality) are among the few to have questioned this virtual monopoly.



Louis Lachenal, the unknown of Annapurna

“I knew my feet were freezing, that the summit was going to cost me them. I did not owe my feet to French youth. So I wanted to go down. I asked Maurice what he would do in this case. He told me he would continue. But I felt that if he continued alone he would not come back. It is for him that I did not turn around. This march to the top was not a matter of national prestige, it was a matter of rope. “

These lines, undoubtedly politically incorrect in the patriotic context of the 1950s, were written by Louis Lachenal a few days before his death at the bottom of a crevasse in November 1955, during a banal descent on skis from the Vallée Blanche (massif of Mont-Blanc). Freed from his confidentiality contract imposed for five years by the organizers of the Himalayan expedition, the child of Chamonix intended to give his own version of the feat. And she was much less heroic than that of the famous Annapurna, first 8,000, dictated on his hospital bed by Maurice Herzog with amputated fingers (Lachenal will only lose toes).

Maurice Herzog’s brother takes charge of censorship

“Herzog was leader by a decision of power and not by unchallenged Alpine supremacy” … “He had a very reduced sense of organization”, wrote Lachenal. These lines were not made public until 1996, during a reissue of Vertigo Notebooks, his autobiography published a few months after his death. And after a few serious scissors from Maurice Herzog, who had entrusted his brother Gérard with the task of removing any passage damaging the legend.

The vertigo notebooks published in 1956 were a great bookstore success, despite the unflattering portrait of the mountaineer, revised and corrected by Gérard Herzog. Louis Lachenal is presented as a crazy driver unstable. “Suicidal limit”, explains Charlie Buffet, editorial director of Guérin-Paulsen editions, which has just published the full version, free of Gérard Herzog’s additions (read below). “Already in Annapurna, first 8000, Maurice Herzog called Lachenal an unreliable guy ”, underlines the editor. For a long time mountain columnist in the press, Charlie Buffet had torn from Maurice Herzog a landmark confession about his companion in the rope: “Maybe I was unfair” (Release, May 24, 2000).

For nearly forty years, from 1956 to 1996, the official version will not suffer any challenge, especially as Maurice Herzog had taken Louis Lachenal’s wife and two children under his protection. But everything changes when Michel Guérin, an advertiser who has converted to the edition of mountain books, adds the embarrassing passages in a new edition of Vertigo Notebooks. “At that time, the star of Maurice Herzog, who had become a successful businessman, began to fade in Chamonix, Charlie Buffet explains. Lachenal’s son becomes aware of the manipulation and struggles to obtain the restoration of his father’s memory. “

“Louis Lachenal was one of the greatest mountaineers of his time”

Justice and lawyers get involved, managing to block the marketing of the book. “When I took over the editorial management, we had shelves full of the 1996 edition that we couldn’t sell for legal reasons”, continues the editor. Eight years after the death of Maurice Herzog in 2012, he wanted to celebrate the twenty-five years of the house through a new edition of this founding book, with the original texts, this time stripped of the interpretations of Gérard Herzog, which were still partly there in the 1996 edition.

“The idea is not to relaunch an old controversy, tempers Charlie Buffet, but to do justice to Louis Lachenal who was one of the greatest mountaineers of his time, a cheerful, reliable type and not at all the hothead presented by the Herzogs ”.


The Complete Works of Louis Lachenal

Reminders is the title of the widely illustrated album published in mid-October and featuring all of the texts and photos by Louis Lachenal. If he brings back to life a great mountaineering voice that did not have the tongue in his pocket, he is not limited to the report of the ascent of Annapurna. We find there the story of the first ascent of Mont-Blanc of a very young man in 1942, or his feat on the Eiger (Swiss Alps) with Lionel Terray. But also that of his return to climbing after 1950, despite his missing toes, lost after the Annapurna expedition.