David Lama Claims First Ascent of Lunag Ri Near Everest. Alone

Jon Roubik | ClimbingClimbing
Nepal, Tibet
The 6,709m peak and extended, near-summit ridgeline. Image: David Lama

Although climbing permits have been issued to a number of teams of for attempts at Lunag Ri, this stunningly beautiful peak of 6,907 meters (22,660′) remains unclimbed. At least until last month when 28 year-old Austrian mountaineer David Lama changed that. Located only 25 miles west of Mt. Everest, it sits on the borderline between Nepal and Tibet. Lama not only completed the first ascent of the mountain, he did so alone.

“When I’m climbing, I don’t have many feelings, really. Maybe before climbing or after climbing, but while you’re at it and while you are exposed, you’re quite busy making the best of the situation you’re in.” – David Lama

Lama, along with climbing legend Conrad Anker, first attempted to summit on Nov. 12, 2015. They selected a difficult, steep route that would help them avoid many hazards including ice and rockfall and quickly get them on top the ridge. Once on the ridge he found a crevasse that allowed enough space to pitch a, requiring only a few hours of digging where they could spend the night. In the morning, they could see the entire ridge line to the summit for the first time. Knowing they were behind schedule and were not going to make the summit on the second day, the two decided to turn back.

Conrad Anker
Lama and Ankers team route for first and second attempts. Image: David Lama

The next year, the pair reconvened for a second attempt more prepared than the previous year. On Nov. 6, 2016, they optimistically embarked on the same route. However before long, Anker had started to shown signs of altitude sickness, complaining that he had pain in his lungs and his heart even before reaching the ridge. The pair chose to turn back again and thankfully were able to reach the bottom before it symptoms worsened.

“Well I always wondered when I was going to get this message that it’s time to let go of this game and I think I got it.” – Conrad Anker

He was a suffering a heart-attack at 18,000′. After being heli-lifted and receiving surgery where a thrombotic occlusion was from his proximal left artery, Conrad Anker quit high-altitude climbing.

If David Lama was going to conquer Lunag Ri, he’d have to do it alone. Just two days later, on November 8th, he’d make his third attempt and first solo attempt. Unfortunately, his prior attempts on the mountain wouldn’t lend much help, because alone this route was too difficult. He’d have to select a newe line that was shorter, however more exposed to rock and ice fall hazards.

David solo freeclimbing his way across a massive snowy face. Image: David Lama

Because several pitches were too demanding to climb alone with his pack and without protection, he would leave his pack behind. He’d then climb the next portion of a pitch, set an anchor, then return for his backpack and repeat. This slowed his progress significantly. He nearly reached the point on the ridge where he and Conrad had made it the year before, however knew his stamina and condition were worsening. He had nearly reached his goal, but knew continuing would mean he might not make if off the mountain and so made the decision to turn around.

2017 passed and rather than an additional solo attempt on Lunag Ri, David Lama would make a second solo attempt on the southeast face of Annapurna III. The mission was abandoned, largely due to weather concerns and his respect for the well-being of the others on his team. He hoped allowing Conrad an extra year to recover and prepare might mean seeing the return of his partner, however this did not end up being the case.

Summitted in Nepa;/Tibet.
David Lama reaches the summit, alone. Image: David Lama

Fully committed to achieving his goal and claiming the first accent, David returned for a second solo attempt on October 23, 2018. He once again adjust his plan, bringing less supplies to allow him to move quicker. On his fourth attempt, after two days of climbing, he summited on October 25. Many of the pitches en route were climbed without fall protection.

“Feelings are something so ephemeral, you know? You can’t sum up being alone on the mountain with just one feeling. It’s 100,000 feelings. ” – David Lama

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