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The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.

- Alexander von Humboldt

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Climbers

Nov 03, 2017

Hon Hon Hon! French Gang Twirl Their Moustaches While Climbing Nuptse South Face

French alpinists Ben Guigonnet, Fred Degoulet and Hélias Millerioux call themselves Le Gang des Moustaches.

WRITTEN BY

Michael Levy

United by their facial hair, they have climbed all over the world together, and this past October completed their most notable ascent yet: a new route up Nuptse’s ominous South Face.

On an acclimatization run up Cholatse, Ben Guigonnet, Fred Degoulet and Hélias Millerioux managed to lose their satellite phone. It had a GPS tracker. “We were super worried that everyone would think we had died,” Millerioux says. “But I had my cell phone, and we had service at the top of Cholatse, so we were able to call a friend and say ‘We’re not dead!’

“We also asked him to send us a new sat phone.”

Millerioux, Guigonnet and Degoulet are goofballs: the Nico Favresse’s, Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll’s and Will Stanhope’s of the high-altitude alpinism. They christened themselves Le Gang des Moustaches (the Moustache Gang). After opening a difficult new route up an 800-meter face on Siula Chico (6,260 meters) in Peru, during which one of them had a moustache, they simply figured furry upper lips were good luck. On their website, they say they are “obsessed by the weight of their packs and the shape of their moustaches.”

These clowns might not be the ones you’d expect to pull off a history making climb in the Himalaya. But they did. Handily.

Le Gang des Moustaches. Photo: Degoulet/Guigonnet/Millerioux.

In mid-October, Le Gang des Moustaches completed a six-day, alpine-style ascent of the South Face of Nuptse (they summited Nuptse II, at 7,742 meters; Nuptse I, the main summit, is 7,861 meters). Though little sister to Everest (8,848 meters) and Lhotse (8,516 meters), Nuptse has captivated climbers for decades with it’s imposing South Face. Their climb was the end of a three-year obsession with the mountain.

In 2014, the Gang was in search of a new objective. Robin Revest, who had joined the trio when they established Looking for the Void (WI6  R M7) on Siula Chico, suggested Nuptse’s South Face. In 2015, two-thirds of the Gang—Guigonnet and Hélias—traveled to the Khumbu to attempt an aesthetic line they had noticed in photos.

But it wasn’t their year. “The face was too dry. Lots of rockfall and icefall. It was a very warm year,” Millerioux says. “We decided not to try the project because it was too dangerous.” Instead they attempted another route up the South Face, the Bonington Route, with fellow alpinists Ueli Steck and Colin Haley. The foursome waged an alpine-style siege, but snowfall and wind forced them to turn around at 6,900 meters.

Nuptse: 1; Moustache Gang: 0. “When we finished in 2015, we said, ‘We have to come back,’” Millerioux remembers. “The wall is like a magnet. The South Face is this huge, wide wall. Like four kilometers wide. When you’re still far below, at Tengboche Village, you see this huge wall and you’re like ‘Oh my god. We’re going to climb that.’”

So in 2016, Millerioux and Guigonnet came back, this time with Robin Revest and Fred Degoulet in tow. The conditions were the polar opposite of 2015. The face was plastered with perfect ice. The Gang forged a new line up to 7,350 meters, just a few hundred meters shy of the top, before they threw in the towel. 300 meters below the summit, they realized they might not have enough daylight to make it back to their last camp safely, so they turned around. Millerioux says, “We made the right decision. If we had continued it would not have been good. It was very dangerous.”

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Nuptse: 2; Moustache Gang: 0. The guys were devastated; to have come so close just to come up short was almost gut-wrenching enough for them to forget about the mountain forever.

Almost. The magnetic mountain pulled them back (this time as a trio, without Revest) once again in 2017. After the snafu with the sat phone on Cholatse, they began their push on Nuptse. They established Advanced Base Camp at 5,400 meters, and at midnight on October 14 started up the South Face proper. At 6,000 meters they made Camp 1.

The conditions were closer to what the Frenchmen had encountered in 2015 than 2016: dry, loose and scary. “We were very worried about the first two days because the wall was so dry. It was super warm so there was lots of rock and ice fall,” Millerioux says. On the second day they climbed a pillar that they named the Guillotine and, despite their concerns, had no major hiccups. They made their second camp at 6,500 meters.

While they hoped that conditions would improve after the first two days, there was no such luck. Millerioux says, soberingly:

The whole route was super dangerous this year. We accepted a lot of risk. We’re all mountain guides in France, and in the Alps I would never accept that same level of risk. We were very pushy and aggressive in our climbing. Day by day we were climbing more and more and more and more, and day by day it was the same thing in terms of rock and ice fall. I think by the end the risk just felt normal. You get used to it. Now that I’m back, I’m aware of the seriousness of the risk we were taking, but I wasn’t always at the time.

The third bivy was at 6,800 meters and lay below the most technical climbing of the route. Day four saw the Gang tackle a big couloir with difficulties up to WI6. (“WI6?” I ask, floored that they were climbing that difficulty at that altitude. “I’m not lying,” Millerioux says, laughing. “We all three agreed. It’s definitely WI6. You’re climbing on these ice stalactites.”) They stopped at 7,000 meters the fourth day—the same location as their high camp the year before.

One of the WI6 sections high on the route. Photo: Photo: Degoulet/Guigonnet/Millerioux.

The beginning of their troubles in 2016 happened when they got lost in the ice flutes on the last major snowfield. So this year, on the fifth day the team took a more direct line up the snowfield until they hit a cliff, where they traversed left for one pitch and made a fifth camp on the wall at 7,540 meters.

On day six, the Gang climbed two more technical pitches of WI4/5, and then trudged up through the final snow slopes to reach the summit at 3:00 p.m. “We were crying like small children. We were finished. I felt free. There were lots of things inside me which were fighting each other. But we were super happy. You could see the entire earth curving on each side,” Millerioux says. The team enjoyed their success for twenty minutes and then began the descent.

Summit! Photo: Degoulet/Guigonnet/Millerioux.

On the way down, at 7,100 meters, their brilliant ascent was nearly marred by disaster. Millerioux was waiting at a belay, when he was struck by a falling rock the size of a grapefruit. It hit him in the back of the shoulder and broke part of his backpack strap. “It was so strong that I cried,” he says. “I thought my arm was broken at first. After the pain, the only thing I was thinking was, now that I’m handicapped, how will we get down? One less climber is a lot harder… It wasn’t about my arm, it was about what will happen now?”

But the Gang des Moustaches, bound by their facial hair, were not about to leave a friend on the mountain. Millerioux says, “They did an amazing job. They helped me really well. I couldn’t do anything myself.” The trio abseiled down to 6,100, waited out the warm daytime temps to avoid more rock fall, and then abseiled through the night, hitting the ground at 1:00 a.m.

Nuptse: 2; Moustache Gang: 1. In alpinism, it doesn’t matter how many times or tries it takes: you only have to get to the top once. With their alpine-style ascent of the South Face of Nuptse, Millerioux, Guigonnet and Degoulet wrote their names into Himalayan climbing history in a major way.

So what’s next for them? “Ben has a baby now, so I think me might be off for some years,” Millerioux says. “I don’t know what my next project will be. We’ll see!”

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All photos © Degoulet/Guigonnet/Millerioux.

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Expeditions

May 08, 2019

The Dream of Everest: Four Arab Women Challenge Social Expectations

Pushing back against social norms, some with family resistance, some with support, these women from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Oman are proving that social expectations do not count for anything.

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WRITTEN BY

Sean Verity

Most recent update: May 1st 2019 | The Khumbu Icefall

This article will update with every video dispatch that we receive from the expedition. All of the despatches are courtesy of award-winning filmmaker Elia Saikaly, and are a build up to a feature-length documentary due to be released towards the end of 2019.

Why can’t a little girl from the Arab world, who’s always wanted to go to the moon, have that dream and believe that she can actually pursue it? We want Arab women to toss all those excuses out the window; I can’t, I don’t want to, nobody is going to support me. We’re here, we’re standing on the roof of the world, one hand, one heart. If we can do it, you can do it.

Nadhirah al Harthy from Oman, Mona Sharab from Saudi Arabia, Joyce Azzam and Nelly Attar from Lebanon have set themselves the ultimate challenge.  During the Spring of 2019, these four Arab women will attempt to climb to the summit of Everest, something that has never been achieved before.

With the prominence of the #MeToo, and wider female independence movement, there has never been a better time to tell the story of these four women who intend to break down barriers that some expect to confine them. For some, they will be the first to summit Everest, for others, they’re climbing for cause, but they all share the same goal of empowering Arab women. “If we can do it, you can do it.”

NADHIRAH ALHARTY – OMAN

The Outdoor Journal had the opportunity to speak with Nadhirah Al Harthy before she left her native Oman. Read the full story here.

Nadhirah will become the first woman from Oman to climb Everest, however, that’s just the beginning of her story. Oman is a country where mountaineering falls outside the traditional gender purview of women, and much of Nadhirah’s training had to be carried out in secret. It was only a few weeks before she left for the Himalaya, that Nadhirah broke the news to her family from fear of their disappointment. Fortunately, their fears lay solely in the risks associated with the ascent, not the gender-defying pursuit.

“Growing up in a conservative environment made me want to break the mould and box Arab women are put into. After a difficult divorce and almost losing myself to the cultural pressures, I found strength amongst the world’s tallest peaks. It seems crazy to others who wear the Hijab like myself, but I learned to believe in my capabilities and to show others that their dreams are possible too.”

MONA SHAHAB – SAUDI ARABIA

Mona co-founded ‘The Empowerment Hub,’ a grassroots initiative that focuses on fitness and health for youth and women in the Kingdom back in 2014. Each event/campaign was for a cause related to well being, be it physical or mental. Driven by change, ‘The Hub’ was the unheard voice that echoed a basic right. Physical Education for females in the public system has come a long way. The Hub’s mission was to revolutionize what females and youth feed their minds, bodies and souls.

“If not for my generation, then for the generations to come. Together we will shift perceptions and shatter stereotypes. Here’s to becoming more accepting and tolerant. To quenching thirsty minds who have been forced to flee for safety. Let’s move some mountains and make some waves.”

JOYCE AZZAM – LEBANON

Joyce Azaam

Joyce begins her pursuit of summiting the world’s tallest mountain with plenty of experience behind her. This 34-year old woman has climbed over 26 mountains around the world on six continents. Everest is the last of her Seven Summits challenge. However, Joyce also has a story that has so much to it. There was pain, doubt, and both cultural and social pressure to battle against along the way. Joyce recently summited the highest peak in Antarctica which garnered her the attention and support of the Lebanese Prime Minister and the President himself.

“Arab women and girls are not given permission to dream. I had a dream that should not be mine: my PhD & my ‘7 Summits’ . I am climbing Everest to complete my dream for all of those women out there who are told they shouldn’t have one.”

NELLY ATTAR – LEBANON

Nelly Attar

Fitness shouldn’t be a problem for Nelly, having recently made a shift from a full-time psychology and life coaching profession, to pursue her passion for fitness and sports. This is supplemented with twelve climbing expeditions, three global marathons, one ultra-trail marathon, and two half Ironman races (triathlons). Nelly is now a recognized fitness ambassador, trainer and healthy living advocate, contributing significantly to the transformation of the sporting landscape across the Middle East.

“Sports was my gateway to create a positive impact for people in Saudi Arabia, and beyond. I’ve switched careers, taken my own athletic activities to another level, and regularly work on numerous initiatives to promote and enable more and more people to get active across the Middle East. Movement is essential for life, and regular physical activity does wonders for our physical and mental health. Let’s MOVE the world!

Dispatch #1: Ready
Date: April 16th 2019

The team of Arab women climbing Everest depart Kathmandu to Lukla where their journey to Mt. Everest and their climb to the top of the world begins.

Dispatch #2: The Memorial Site – Chukpa Lare
Date: April 18th 2019

Before reaching Everest basecamp, the team of Arab women stop through the area known as Chukpa Lare. It is a memorial ground built in honour of both Sherpa and Foreign climbers who lost their lives on Everest.

Dispatch #3: The Puja
Date: April 19th 2019

The team had their Puja ceremony at Everest Basecamp, the spiritual blessing performed by a Lama, a ritual that all who attempt Everest partake in before stepping foot into the Khumbu Icefall.

Dispatch #4: Icefall
Date: April 29th 2019

The team of Arab women sharpen their skills on the ice around Everest basecamp, in preparation for their first rotation through the Khumbu Icefall.

Dispatch #5: The Khumbu Icefall
Date: May 1st 2019

Experience the journey into the Khumbu Icefall with the team of Arab women. We explore their reasons for climbing Everest and their aspirations to inspire change in their societies.

 

Dispatch #6: The Lhotse Face
Date: May 11th 2019

The final video dispatch before the summit rotation. The team of Arab women climbers depart basecamp at 2 am and attempt to reach camp two in a single push. A cyclone is on the way, the Lhotse Face awaits and the stakes are high to acclimatize and touch camp 3. Will they make it?

Edited from 3450m in Namche Bazaar while on an oxygen vacation.

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