Mount Everest Hornbein Couloir Ski Descent Attempt

hornbein-closeIt looks like there is another “sky skiing” expedition we should start keeping our eyes on. This one involves Italians Edmond Joyeusaz, Gianluca Marra and Francesco Civra Dano (all mountain guides in Courmayeur) and a descent of the Hornbein Couloir on Mount Everest…which would be insane and in my opinion, one for raddest (and challenging?) ski descents for the books. The group of Italians plan to climb the Hornbein Couloir “alpine style”, ski it and then go back to clean up all the fixed ropes left on the route (from the “route up”…whatever that means) and returning them to basecamp for pick-up. The alpine-style attempt is imperative for this route since the majority of the technical terrain in the Hornbein lies above the “death zone”, which is considered to be anything above 7,500-8000m or about 24,000′.

Gianluca Marra, Edmond Joyeusaz and Francesco Civra Dano.

I think the last attempt to descend the Hornbein Couloir on Mount Everest was in 2002(?), when snowboarder Marco Siffredi, from Chamonix, disappeared while snowboarding the couloir after successfully reaching the summit on September 8th. His body was never found and how he died (or disappeared?) is unknown. Here is a link that tells that story and also includes a video with some footage of Marco riding the Gervasutti and his historic first continuous snowboard descent of Mount Everest via the Norton Couloir.  Trust me, it’s worth the click.

The north side of Mount Everest.

Currently, the Italians are on their way to basecamp and the expedition is scheduled to last through the end of October. If you understand Italian, you can follow their attempt here. It took Marco 12.5 hours to reach the summit via the Hornbein during his attempt, so it’s a pretty big effort to ski the steepest line on Everest after a big climb like that. I wish these guys the best of luck and it seems like just having snow in the couloir to ski may be the biggest crux of the whole trip, as the upper flanks of the peak obviously get pummeled regularly by some pretty ferocious winds. Timing will be everything.

The following is a video of Marra and Civra making a first descent of a rad line on the Mount Blanc massif last winter. Looks like a pretty steep line, but those double pole plants…GASP!

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31 Responses to “Mount Everest Hornbein Couloir Ski Descent Attempt”

  1. 1 gmon Sep 10th, 2010 at 8:36 am

    Talk [and plans] are cheap, especially when it comes to skiing everest. If bookmakers in vegas made odds on these descents, this one would be perhaps 1 / 500?

    Still don’t quite understand the double pole plant. i messed around with it this spring on some very steep slopes and found it to be fairly awkward. Is this the norm, or just for the italians and french.

  2. 2 randosteve Sep 10th, 2010 at 9:06 am

    gmon…the double pole plant is kind of a euro thing. people claim it helps them bring their skis around faster in the steeps. it does takes a little practice to master though. to me, it feels like my uphill hand wants to stay behind me when i try it.

  3. 3 Jeff Sep 10th, 2010 at 9:57 am

    Is it just me or is using “alpine style” and “fixed ropes” in the same sentance a contradiction? Unless they mean cleaning fixed ropes from past parties/expeditions (which I’m not sure how many have actually gone up their route)?

  4. 4 randosteve Sep 10th, 2010 at 3:08 pm

    jeff…i think they mean they will clean up the ropes from previous ascents/attempts. my guess is that there are fixed ropes on every route that has ever been climbed on everest.

  5. 5 murph Sep 10th, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    rando, do you have any interset in attempting everest?

  6. 6 randosteve Sep 10th, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    murph…sure! if someone wants to help with funding…i’d be all for it!!!

  7. 7 ErikK Sep 10th, 2010 at 5:45 pm

    I have much respect for what these guys are attempting, but I sometimes wonder if there’s a point where the risk outweighs the reward. Anyways, t I wish these guys the best of luck, and I hope that make it home safe. I think we’ve already had enough ski tragedies for the year.

  8. 8 randosteve Sep 10th, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    erik…while i enjoy a challenging descent, i agree with you to some extent. never mind the down days, headaches and mindless walks up and down the mountain acclimatizing…a descent like this seems so far out there and really needs everything to go just right in order to succeed.

  9. 9 Dave B Sep 10th, 2010 at 6:58 pm

    Hi Steve,

    I have a lot of respect for these guys and their wild ideas; impressive skiing in the Mt. Maudit vid regardless of pole use. The descent appears to be some pretty high stakes shiatt.

    Here is one of some friends that many of us likely know skiing the much more reasonable Shishapangma….. I will be following closely and maybe other readers may be interested.

    Good luck to all the skiers heading to the Himalaya this season…come home safe.

  10. 10 Dave W Sep 10th, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    Super stoked for these guys. This is definitely one of the last great unridden lines. I’m pretty sure Marco climbed the reg route and blindly dropped into the Hornbein, was last seen around 8600 meters. These guys will have their work cut out for them, as climbing this coulior will be the crux. Many have tried, only to be skunked by high avy danger where the coolie chokes up high. I believe a British army team tried in 2006, they may have left some ropes up there, this may be the old tat they intend on cleaning up. There is a Spanish team attempting the same line but I don’t think they are skiing. I think the Spaniards are already acclimatized and at the base of the route. The Italians could benefit from the work of rope fixing and trail breaking by the Spanish. Hopefully both teams will work together to send and more importantly all come home safe.

  11. 11 Ted Sep 11th, 2010 at 1:31 am

    A ski descent of Shishas south face is just as dangerous as Hornbein. Jean-Noel Urban tried twice on two different routes.
    Civra and Marra are way more experienced extreme skiers than most of the other “sky-skiers” in the Himalayas so this will be an intresting expedition to follow.

  12. 12 randosteve Sep 11th, 2010 at 6:33 am

    Ted…The fact that Shish barely pokes above the death zone (and about 3k’ shorter) I think makes these expeditions quite different as far as risk level goes. But I guess if one uses O2 as a crutch, it doesn’t matter anyway. I think the snow conditions will be the big factor with both expeditions.

    (speaking from the armchair)

  13. 13 randosteve Sep 11th, 2010 at 6:37 am

    dave w…it’s weird they don’t mention the actual route of ascent in the account of marco’s attempt on the hornbein.

  14. 14 Ted Sep 11th, 2010 at 12:18 pm

    Marco climbed the chinese north col route, more info here:

    Shishas southface is still extremely dangerous. The only difference is the height, the exposure for rockfall/avalanches is the same.

    Jean Troillet has climbed both routes and also made an attempt to snowboard Hornbein.

  15. 15 Dave B Sep 11th, 2010 at 5:56 pm

    Ted or Steve,
    Has anyone skied Shisha’s South Face yet?

  16. 16 randosteve Sep 12th, 2010 at 6:06 am

    dave b….no one has skied the south face on shish. alex lowe and david bridges died in 1999 in an avalanche on the peak trying to though.

  17. 17 gillesleskieur Sep 12th, 2010 at 7:18 am

    Steve, i don’t think the altitude of Shisha s the biggest difference in beetween the 2 expeditions.
    Shisha’s south face is right up there with k2 as a real bad ass.

  18. 18 Stephen Koch Sep 13th, 2010 at 3:11 pm

    the fixed ropes will mostly be covered by snow this time of year. i imagine they will be leaving one or two ropes at the crux to use on the descent, then (ideally but most likely not given that they will be wasted and in survival mode if they even make it to this point) pull the ropes after rapping…

    in my opinion this route is the most beautiful line on the worlds highest mountain…will be really cool when someone finally completes this descent! will take great conditions, both on the mountain – snow and weather and with the climbers – physical and mental.

  19. 19 randosteve Sep 13th, 2010 at 4:44 pm

    thanks sk! if i recall…the hornbein was the route you were shooting for during your seven summits quest…no?

    what was the most challenging aspect of it???

  20. 20 Trey Cook Sep 14th, 2010 at 1:20 am

    Marco climbed the North Col route, not the Hornbein. Clearly, the Hornbein is a major route and Marco liked to make the distinction that he was a snowboarder, not a climber.

    Big respect to Edmond Joyeusaz, Gianluca Marra and Francesco Civra Dano for climbing alpine style and their commitment to cleaning the route. The Hornbein is truly one of the most beautiful lines in the world and it deserves to remain that way.

    Vai Italiani!

  21. 21 randosteve Sep 14th, 2010 at 4:26 am

    grazie trey!

    glad to see you made it home in one piece from k2. sorry about fredrik…my condolences.

  22. 22 Dave B Sep 14th, 2010 at 8:24 am

    I agree with those above that note the seriousness of skiing Shisha’s South Face. I don’t think that it is any less an achievement. While The Italians on the Hornbein attempt… this surely is among the greatest difficulty with the lack of O2 exposure for such a long period of time.

    Most importantly I don’t think there is a need for a back and forth on which may be more difficult as they’d both be great and notable achievements. I brought up the Shisha trip because it involves people we know….and is a great undertaking.

  23. 23 randosteve Sep 14th, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    Agreed Dave…no back a forth…and I sure hope both groups succeed.

  24. 24 Stephen Koch Sep 15th, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    it was the hornbein that i was gunning for in 2003. trying to mitigate avalanche danger due to the near consistent snowfall during the monsoon season was a big challenge. and when avy conditions mellowed, the snow was still quite deep, making for slow and trying progress which ultimately led to our retreat below the hornbein.

  25. 25 randosteve Sep 15th, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    thanks sk. i look forward to see how these guys fare.

  26. 26 Stephen Koch Sep 15th, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    the drastically higher elevation and technical difficulty of the hornbein couloir on everest make it a significantly more dangerous and challenging undertaking than the south face of shishapangma. no doubt, the s face of shish is a very impressive face. but the fact that it tops out 2,700 feet lower than everest and over 1,900 feet below K2 is completely significant when comparing mountain to mountain. shishapangma offers greater chances of success and of survival. both the hornbein and south face of shishapangma, as well as a route or two on K2 will be snowboarded and/or skied eventually. maybe even by someone there now…

  27. 27 gillesleskieur Sep 15th, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    good point SK, i may have got a bit carried away. ;-)

  28. 28 Evelyn Sep 20th, 2010 at 9:56 pm


    This is Evelyn, the Asian girl from San Francisco that you met at the Everest Base Camp. Just want to wish you guys luck on this thrilling expedition! Stay safe!

  29. 29 =c= Sep 23rd, 2010 at 11:53 am

    about the double pole plant: dont use it you dont need it. its not french or italian, it just comes handy in some situations and it comes naturally…its the most instinctive way to turn when that situation comes along…now of course a huge GS turn is much more esthetic but kindda hard to work on 50-55 hard snow…or on any 5.5 runs…double pole plant is surely old school but very instinctive…

    and those guys are rad…this line is beautiful…this is for many skiers a dream…too expensive to be a classic but maybe someday it will be a classic…

  30. 30 geoff Oct 11th, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    Looks like the guys had to give up on the line. It turned to ice on them. I think they skied two other lines on near by mountains that were first decents. You can go to there blog and copy the text then go to google translate and paste it there to read.

  31. 31 seb Jan 6th, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    Back from shish south face, on the english way, stopped 200m into the peahpood cause to much snow, it’s a really interesting descent but quite exposed. very sad I missed the top, so hard to be confident about weatherforcast at this altitude.

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