American climbers, Hilaree Nelson and Jim Morrison, have just become the first people to ski the “Dream Line”, from the summit down through the Lhotse Couloir.
This 7,000-foot ski line has been scouted and dreamed about by numerous ski-mountaineers, but this is the first time anyone has actually done it.
Skiing a 50-degree slope is no easy task. For reference, Corbet’s Couloir in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, known for being one of the most intense ski runs in the world, lands in a 45-degree slope. Then consider the difficulty of dealing with high altitude and low oxygen at 8,000m. Finally, Nelson and Morrison were skiing the line after the Nepalese summer monsoon season, causing extremely high avalanche danger.
“We are here in the fall because there are no other climbers”
Before leaving Base camp, Nelson described the expedition: “We are here trying to climb and ski the Lhotse Couloir. It is the fourth highest peak in the world. I have climbed it before. It’s one of those things that has been nagging at me, much like Papsura nagged at me for almost 25 years. Lhotse is sort of in that same boat. It is going to be about a 5 week expedition. We are here in the fall because there are no other climbers, which makes it a little easier to ski that coulier. It is about a 7,000ft ski descent, probably averaging about 50 degrees. Obviously high altitude from like 28,000-feet to 21,000-feet. I am really excited. I am sitting at base camp right now looking at the ice fall on the Khumbu Glacier, and Everest is right above me, and yeah, it is just an incredible spot. I love it here.”
Click the image above to read about Hilaree’s expedition to Dharamsura and Papsura, or the “Peaks of Good and Evil” in 2013.
At 27,980-feet, Lhotse is the 4th highest mountain in the world, and a sister peak to Everest. Both Nelson and Morrison had previously summited Everest, as well as multiple other 8,000-meter peaks. As a team, they have completed ski descents of Denali, Cho Oyu, and Papsura, the “Peak of Evil”. The pair could not have been more experienced and prepared for this ascent and ski descent. Both Nelson and Morrison were (very appropriately) named 2018 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year.
Based out of Telluride, Colorado, Hilaree Nelson is no stranger to high altitude ascents. She began climbing when she was 19 year old attending Colorado College. The now mother of two has previously summitted both Everest and Lhotse. In fact, she summitted both peaks in under 24 hours, making her the first woman to summit two 8,000m peaks in that short timeframe. She has skied from the summits of Cho Oyu in Tibet, Papsura in India, as well as numerous notable mountains in South America, Russia, Mongolia, and Pakistan.
California-based Jim Morrison has a ski-mountaineering resume similar to Nelson’s. He has successfully completed multiple 8,000m summits, as well as numerous impressive ski descents all around the globe.
Now that Nelson and Morrison have achieved their goal, we can’t wait to hear what they have to say about their accomplishment.
After exactly one month since the start, I completed the first section of my journey, the state of Uttarakhand East to West starting from the border of Nepal until entering the neighbouring state of Himachal today. Uttarakhand has been mesmerizing – lush green forests, countless small hamlets, virgin valleys, beautiful paths and trails connecting villages, overwhelming hospitality.
In total, I crossed 127 hamlets in the state, some very remote hidden deep inside the mountains, climbed across 27 passes touching the snowline near to 4000m, hiked through 27 valleys in between the passes, some with many hamlets and farmlands, some uninhabited virgin jungles, crossed several wild streams, saw various wildlife including a black bear, monkeys and deer.
Aside the stunning natural beauty, what touched me most was the remote hospitality of Uttarakhand. Especially while passing through remote tribal settlements where very few or no travelers would have ever crossed, people were extremely friendly and warm, inviting me in for food and a night’s stay without expectations. In many homes, I was treated as if I was their own son, as they showed concern about my well-being and guiding me to the next pass.
The most memorable night stays were those with the “Bakris” or shepherds who roam the entire summer in remote sections of the high mountains grazing the “bugyals” or meadows with hundreds of their sheep. They are truly your best friends in the remotest corners of the Himalaya. Staying with them around a warm campfire in the cold high altitude nights, sharing yummy rottis (flat breads) with “sabji”, fresh goat milk, lying on your back and watching the night skies lit up with millions of stars, listening to a 20 year old Philips radio playing Hindi songs from All India AM radio. That experience is out of this world.
The most challenging parts of the journey have been those where we lost the path or where the trail fades out in the jungle. You then have to scramble across steep valley slopes, sometimes dense thorny vegetation, cross wild streams, hang on to trees and roots climbing across landslide sections, rely on contour maps to navigate your way around vertical cliffs, etc. The intensity of the effort and calories burned multiplies manifold once you go “off trail” finding your way through the jungle towards the next hamlet or pass.
Towards Western Uttarakhand near to the neighbouring state of Himachal Pradesh we came across remote fairytale villages built from beautiful natural stone and wood. We discovered ancient wooden temples beautifully handcrafted by previous generations. Homes have several vertical levels with beautifully crafted terraces, animals staying below and people on top.
Most hiking groups usually select 1 pass and take a week to acclimatize and cross the pass over several campsites. Doing 27 passes in one month, or nearly one each day requires a lot of endurance and speed. Going minimalist and lightweight is the key to go faster, with less food and less night stays in between. Proper nutrition and night rest is key to keep up the daily momentum of some 30-40km with an average elevation gain of 3,000 meters. You easily burn 5,000 calories for each pass crossing which needs to be refueled in the villages in between.
The entire trip so far went alpine style using offline contour maps, pre-planned trails and some local guidance here and there. 85% was on proper trails and paths between the villages and passes, 15% was “off trail” scrambling through jungles and valley slopes. Most of the night stays are near villages and in people’s homes, a lesser number in the wild and near the passes with the shepherds. We usually cross passes in between valleys in 1-2 days and carry only enough food ration with us. Each day usually starts at 5 am and goes till sunrise targetting the first village out of the forest in the next valley. No rest days so far with approximately 800 km covered and 70 thousand meters elevation gain.
According to Peter, his only objective is to inspire others to explore these beautiful locations. You can read more about Peter’s experiences and motivations in his interview here – Alpine-Style, Ultra-Challenge in the Himalayan High Passes. Stay tuned on The Outdoor Journal for Peter’s next update along his 2,500 km journey.
The Outdoor Voyage booking platform and online marketplace only lists good operators, who care for sustainability, the environment and immersive, authentic experiences. All listed prices are agreed directly with the operator, and we promise that 86% of any money spent ends up supporting the local community that you’re visiting. Click the image below to find out more.