Crossing Lhotse, Sherpa Tenji attempts a mountaineering series in memory of Ueli Steck

Interview with British mountaineer Jon Griffith on an expedition to Nepal where Sherpa Tenji will attempt the famous Everest – Lhotse crossing without supplemental oxygen. Griffith is coordinating the live broadcast of the climb in memory of his close friend Ueli Steck who planned the climb last year.

This spring season promises to be exciting on the slopes of Mount Everest with around 275 climbing permits issued for the highest mountain in the world. Two expeditions stand out in particular, sharing the very ambitious objective of accomplishing the coveted Everest – Lhotse crossing without additional oxygen: the Romanian Horia Colibasanu, 41, and the Slovak Peter Hamor, 53, who hope to achieve this feat by first climbing the West Ridge route of Everest, and Sherpa Tenji who plans to climb the normal route of Everest before chaining neighboring Lhotse. Needless to say, both Expeditions are groundbreaking and what makes Sherpa Tenji’s particularly interesting is that, if all goes well, it will be followed live by Jon Griffith who will follow Sherpa Tenji on supplemental oxygen. Griffith originally thought of the idea with the late Ueli Steck, who died a year ago to the day while acclimatizing at nearby Nuptse. The project had been extremely low-key until recently, when Griffith broke the news to the climbing community: “I am thrilled to film Ueli’s climbing partner Sherpa Tenji’s attempt to complete what Ueli had started, and in his style. For me, it’s about honoring the memory of one of my closest friends and bringing the Nepalese climbing community to the main stage. planetmountain.com interviewed Griffith to find out more.


Jon, what makes this project special in your mind?

This is a multi-part project. I started two years ago with Ueli Steck because I wanted to film him crossing Everest Lhotse in virtual reality. As a cameraman, my passion is to take people to places they otherwise would never have been able to access. I know it’s a little corny to say that, but it’s the truth and it’s what led me to try to document difficult climbs and remote places around the world. When I first saw VR I thought “wow, this is the most efficient way to get people to these places”. And it’s true, it’s so powerful. But it is not easy to shoot correctly by any means. It also got me thinking about doing a livestream of the ascension as well. As we all know Ueli passed away last year and after some alone time I realized that I really wanted to finish this project. It was partly to complete the biggest project that me and Ueli had ever imagined, but also because I wanted to say goodbye to Ueli on the crossing.

And it’s with Sherpa Tenji
Yes. Many years ago, Ueli took Sherpa Tenji under his wing and taught him to climb all over the world. He was definitely her mentor in many ways. For Tenji to attempt the traverse without O2 was a great story for me, and for me personally, it’s a great tribute to Ueli that Tenji and I complete his final ascent and Tenji attempt it in his style. So, like I said, there’s definitely a two-part story to this. It is for me a deeply personal project, as well as the most complicated mountain film production I have ever attempted. I’m pretty sure my brain is going to be completely wiped out once this is all over.

Everest season is in full swing. But the news about it only came out now
It’s always a bit tricky trying to balance the media side with the purist side of mountaineering. It’s something that I’ve always struggled with as a cameraman and I’ve always been very careful in my career, I think, trying to keep the hype down and not come across as ‘getting sell” as if it were. But it’s a delicate balancing act. In this case, it’s not one I’m necessarily proud of because live streaming really is what most climbers would consider “too much”, and to be honest, I agree. But I also really liked the idea of ​​connecting people from all over the world to a real climb of Everest. We capture a very rare moment in Everest media and we’re able to bring cutting-edge Himalayan climbing to people around the world and I think that’s really cool. Additionally, the focus is now on a Nepalese climber and we can bring this community of often overlooked climbers center stage to show their strength to the world. A lot of Everest media is nothing special in terms of climbing ability, but now we can do something really different and unique and I really like that.

And downstairs ?
Our live stream is handled by a Base Camp engineer so we don’t have to worry about overhead satellite connectivity. But that whole side of the production is another story. It’s an extremely complex setup, but the idea is to do as many updates as possible and of excellent quality rather than just one at the top – it’s about getting it right rather than just doing it right. be the first to do so.

What is the plan
I’m not sure anyone really knows what route choice Ueli had in mind last year. The Everest-Lhotse link was a major objective he was obsessed with and he knew that going through the Hornbein greatly reduced his chances of completing it. When we talked about it, we talked more about the connection by the “normal routes” rather than by the Hornbein. To be honest I can see how if the Hornbein had been in exceptional conditions he would have opted for this but even when we talked about linking up through normal lanes he wasn’t quite sure he would be able to do that. I think that says a lot about the difficulty of making the crossing via the Hornbein. Connecting via the South Col was definitely one of his options and since we’re not able to try his main objective, we’ll give it a try – but that doesn’t mean it’ll be easy for Tenji. There’s a good reason why binding has never been done before by a route without supplemental oxygen!

Is there some sort of “ideal timeline”?
Ideally, we would aim our ascent to the summit around May 25

How can people track progress?
While we will have media on our social media channels, we will be posting the majority on the National Geographic channels and the live streaming itself of the actual climb will also be hosted there. And I will also post updates on my social media www.instagram.com/jongriffithphotography/ and www.facebook.com/JonGriffithPhotography

One last question Jon: what is the spirit of this expedition?
We are not trying to be the first. This is not a competition, we are certainly not trying to beat Horia Colibasanu and Peter Hamor. If they were successful, I would be incredibly excited for them. If we’re successful, I’ll be just as excited. It’s about finishing a project I started with Ueli. About my way of saying goodbye.