French Expedition to Mount Saipal (7031m)

A team of six French friends will be departing for Kathmandu this Saturday to attempt Mount Saipal (7031m) in Far-Western Region of Nepal. They will try to climb the mountain from North via NE ridge. Two members of the team will also attempt a skiing descent. The team consists of Perrine Marceron, Claire Santoni, Louis Grenet, Jean-Baptiste de Miscault, Emmanuel Abele and Thomas Charbonneau.

Unlike the eastern and central regions of the country, the Western Nepal receives only few visitors each year. Mount Saipal has been attempted by only a dozen teams so far, with just one expedition in past 15 years. A French mountain guide, Paulo Grobel, led an expedition to the mountain in 2010. Although unable to reach the summit, he was highly impressed by the beauty of the region.

“Despite not reaching the main summit of Saipal, only the northeast top, it was my most enjoyable expedition. We realized there is so much to discover in the West: mountains, treks, and especially the people. 2011 has been declared the Year of Tourism in Nepal. If only one percent of the tourists who went to the Annapurna or Khumbu regions could find their way out west (or other forgotten parts of Nepal), then this initiative will be successful, and our climb will have more meaning.” Grobel has since then been urging people to ‘go west’.

NE Ridge of Saipal (Main summit is in background); Photo: Paulo Grobel

Emmanuel Abele spared some time to share details of the expedition with the readers of this blog.

Q: What’s the schedule of your expedition?
[Emmanuel Abele] We will depart from France on October 12th and shall reach the Kathmandu on 13th. From there we will fly to Nepalganj and then a second flight to Simikot, followed by 5 days of trek to Base Camp. The expected date of reaching Base Camp (at 4250m) is 22nd. We will establish the advanced BC at 4800m. The trek seems a great travel in itself, in that remote region. Our local support agency is Thamserku. We will just have one Sirdar Cook and one Kitchen Boy with us at BC, and will be alone on the mountain. We hope to go very light, with no or minimum fixed rope.

Q: Your expedition starts after mid-October (a bit late in autumn). What kind of weather do you expect in the region?
[Emmanuel Abele] Some experienced friends told us that you may get caught in the ‘ending’ of monsoon until early October. Also in past few years, the autumn season seemed to start a bit late and hence ending a bit later as well.

In any case, for personal reasons we couldn’t leave earlier. So, we'll see, and get prepared for cold temperatures. We just hope that the wind will not be too violent, as all the upper part of the ascent is on NE edge.

Q: Tell us a little about your team. Seems like some of them will be in Himalayas for the first time?
[Emmanuel Abele] We know each other very well. In fact, two members of the team, Claire and Louis, just got married at the end of September. We climb together in Alps. Four of us have been doing first ski descents in the Alps since last 5-7 years. We all rock climb and do classic alpinism. We also love to just go camping with beers in the backpack.

Here are some first ski descent videos:

https://vimeo.com/58957519
https://vimeo.com/62168450
https://vimeo.com/61133230

Advanced BC at 4800m; Photo: Paulo Grobel

Q: Who came up with the idea of Saipal climb?
[Emmanuel Abele] We have had the idea of doing an expedition since long time ago, but it’s never easy to combine work, family and go for a five week expedition on the other side of the planet. Anyway, we eventually managed to plan this year’s trip to Himalayas.

We wanted a summit not too high (as some of us haven’t been above 4800m, yet – the highest point in Alps), not too crowded but also not an unclimbed peak, do-able with skis. So the list was dramatically short, at the end.

And then we got the feedback from Paulo Grobel, and that was it!

Q: Saipal was last attempted in 2010. The team reported that the mountain has changed a lot since the previous expedition (in 1998). What are your expectations?
[Emmanuel Abele] We have contacted Paulo Grobel, the guide who was leading that expedition (in 2010). He lives in the Southern Alps (La Grave), and he has been very kind - gave us pictures and tips to travel in the West (he also convinced us that West Nepal was the Adventure). So about the mountain itself actually we have no certainty. We don’t know what we'll find, whether it will be too dry to ski or not, but we guess that adventure is what we're looking for.

As an example, at the beginning we asked five local agencies to submit quotations for logistics, without précising the route details. The proposed itineraries were very different!

Q: There has been only less than a dozen attempts on Saipal, so far. Must be exciting?
[Emmanuel Abele] Yes, we're looking forward, and sometimes it is hard to keep focused at work, but we do not want to put too much pressure on us. Summit or not, we are ready for a great travel!

The team relaxing during a training trip; Source

Climbing Saipal
First known attempt on Saipal dates back to 1953 when Austrian Dr. Herbert Tichy tried to climb the mountain. He was unsuccessful, primarily due to logistic issues. (A year later, Dr Tichy made the first ascent of Cho Oyu.) In spring 1954, another Austrian, Dr Rudolf Jonas, led an expedition to Saipal. The expedition ended on a tragic note when a member of the team, Karl Reiss, died at BC due to pneumonia.

A Japanese Expedition made the first ascent of Saipal in 1963. Katsutoshi Hirabayashi and Pasang Phutar reached the summit from south side on October 21st. More summits were reported in 1985, when members of a Spanish expedition climbed the mountain from two routes, West ridge and Southwest face.

After failed Austrian and Swiss attempts in 1987 and 1988, two teams made the first ascent of Saipal via NE ridge in 1990. Frenchman Jacques Montaz and Tendi Sherpa reached the summit on October 26. Two days later, Austrian Kroll, German Matthias Mross and Ang Choppel Sherpa also made it to the top.

The latest expeditions to the mountain are successful Japanese expedition in 1998 and French attempt led by Paulo Grober in 2010.

Expedition Website: expeditionsaipal2013.blogspot.com/
Paulo Grober's Work: http://www.paulo-grobel.com/05_expes/Fiches_PDF/blog_West/01_changwathang_2013.htm

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