Aspen guides Chris Davenport and Neal Beidleman recently completed a rare ski descent in the shadow of Mount Everest, skiing about 2,000 feet of the fabled Lhotse Face last week.
Davenport and Beidleman are in Nepal to lead an Aspen-based client up Everest, but they brought their skis in case conditions allowed them to make turns. They'd skied a few shorter runs on the lower flanks before taking advantage of a rare period where the 45-degree Lhotse Face was blanketed by a reliable snowpack. Knowing how icy the base was, they first tested the snow with some belayed ski cuts two days prior to dropping in at approximately 24,000 feet. Davenport later ranked the descent among the top three of his career.
"The face when we arrived was basically complete black ice," Davenport said by satellite phone at base camp Thursday evening local time. "On our first rotation up the mountain, we saw the face and were like, 'OK, there's not going to be any skiing in those conditions.' About eight days later, we came back and it was completely covered in snow. We'd gotten two or three different storms, and they were all fairly light. Just kind of these convective, moist afternoon snow storms that would drop two to three inches, with the wind perhaps blowing in four or five in spots.
"When we went for our first foray up the fixed lines of the Lhotse Face and did some belayed ski cuts, we were like, 'Oh my gosh, this is sticking to the face, this is incredible.' And two days after that we went up to Camp III and higher to try and ski, and it was really fantastic.
"It was anywhere from six to 10 inches of snow on top of black ice. It was really well bonded, like almost welded to the ice. The snow itself had no slab to it. It was just loose; you could put your hand through it, maybe a little wind skin here and there, but generally, once we took those baby steps and slowly built our confidence, we were like, 'Wow, this is going to ski really good.' And we were able to make some big fat turns on there. It was really wild, such a big face. You kind of feel like you're hanging it out there."
Davenport and Beidleman's descent is one of just a handful of documented ski descents on the Lhotse Face. Those present to watch them ski -- including American ski mountaineers Jamie Laidlaw and Kris Erickson, who are preparing to attempt a first descent off the summit of Lhotse -- appreciated the moment's rarity.
"There were hundreds of people, beautiful day, no wind, super sunny and nice," Davenport said. "Lots of people on the fixed lines, lots of people coming up the cwm, lots of sherpas transporting gear and oxygen up to the upper camps. Lots of hootin' and hollerin', especially from the sherpas.
"This isn't some monumental feat in terms of comparing it to what's been done," he added, "but just for us personally, it was a really rewarding thing because we got these great conditions, which doesn't really happen up there."
In fact, the day after they skied the face, a massive wind event swept through and scoured it, Davenport said. Both his team and the rest of the teams at base camp are now waiting for a weather window to attempt the summit, which sounds like it won't be until after May 19 or 20, he said.