Ce blog est dédié aux expéditions himalayennes et en particulier à « la progression douce en Himalaya ».

"La progression douce en Himalaya" est un déplacement en continue sans retour au camp de base. C’est aussi une approche raisonnée (et raisonnable) de la haute altitude avec une adaptation de la progression en fonction des étages hypoxiques.

C’est une pratique de la haute (et « très haute ») altitude, sur des sommets de 6000 à 8000 m, centrée sur les notions de plaisir et de respect (de soi, des autres et de l’environnement).

Elle n’est ni réservée aux guides de haute montagne avec leurs clients, ni aux « bosses de neige ». Bien au contraire, elle s’adapte, par nature, à la réalité des capacités et compétences de tous les groupes d’alpinistes partageant ces valeurs.

Ce blog est avant tout un lieu d’échanges et de communication.

Car, comme pour toutes nouvelles pratiques, ou pratiques émergeantes, il y a encore beaucoup de choses à découvrir, à apprendre sur cette «progression douce ». Des techniques à construire ou à adapter, des détails à ajuster…

N’hésitez donc pas à poser des questions, à apporter un témoignage et à participer aux réponses.

Je vous souhaite tout le bonheur d’être en montagne et en Himalaya… D’être, tout là haut…

Paulo, janvier 2011

Un gastéropode anglophone !!!

François Damilano, durant notre ascension du Manaslu au printemps 2009

High Altitude Travelers
Manaslu, Dhaulagiri VII... For the last few years, François Damilano has had a critical view of the current commercialization of mountaineering in the Himalayas. He and Paulo Grobel, also a mountain guide, have adopted a different strategy. Their method combines continuous progression and gradual acclimatization, with the objective of reducing high altitude trauma. The ascent is done in stages, without
assistance, from base camp. Why? To enjoy living in high altitude. A hedonistic vision of the Himalayas.

As we were ascending the slope of Manaslu, we met the same team of four mountaineers three times. It was funny that each time they were coming down from a push to the summit, we were going up, day-by-day. Pushed back by the wind and the deep snow, they were not even heading to base camp, but
all the way to the village of Samagaon at 3600 meters!  During our ascent, we were constantly being passed or meeting groups on their way down: from France, from Iran, from Korea, and even a group from Catalonia. Everyone questioned us about our unique progression technique, in a small group, in stages… Our method was intriguing, and people on the slopes of Manaslu were starting to talk about this bizarre group which had left base camp a week prior and was progressing directly, without going back and forth up and down the mountain. Ten days later, bad weather prevented us from summiting. But we were able to experiment with our strategy of steady progression in stages on a large scale, on a summit
above 8000  meters, on an atypical, rather difficult mountain. 
We were with our clients completely unassisted in high altitude for eighteen days... As for acclimatization, five out of eight clients, some of whom had never set foot in the Himalayas, headed for the summit in very good condition.

Steady progression, an efficient strategy
This is very different strategy from the one often practiced in the Himalayas today. Starting at base camp, the classic method has been to establish camps at higher and higher altitudes over several trips during the acclimatization period, in order to experience altitude “peaks.” Then, the high-altitude summit is attempted by as short a push as possible. This strategy generates serious physical and psychological trauma due to heightened demands on the body created by the changes in altitude and the logistical
constraints. During classic progression, there is a big difference of between 800 and 1000 meters in altitude between each camp. The fact that climbers are spread out on the mountain creates group
management problems in terms of safety, isolation and decision-making. Besides, the amount of equipment - a set of tents for each camp - requires a huge effort by the porters. All the Himalayan
literature is filled with notions of complexity and suffering - to the point that this is our perception of the Himalayas.

Yes to climbing teams and self-sufficiency, no to oxygen and fixed lines
Realizing that these numerous trips up and down between base camp and the altitude camps were traumatizing, some mountaineers tried to imagine these ascents done differently. In the 90s, a French guide, Jean-Pierre Bernard, proposed a method by stages, having everyone climb at the same rhythm, without going back down to base camp, and he tested it successfully on Kun in India, on Denali and on Khan Tengri. In 1990, he reached 7050 m on Shishapangma with his clients on the twentieth day of
the ascent... and reached the summit two days later.
Paulo Grobel, a specialist in the forgotten summits of Nepal and Northern India*, was inspired by the method by stages, renamed “steady progression.” Paulo explains the experience. First scene:
Ninchin Kangsa, a 7000 m peak near Lhassa. “Persistent bad weather forced us to set up many more altitude camps during the rare breaks of good weather. We were very surprised that we all arrived at the summit on the first day of good weather!” Then it was time for Shishapangma. “On Shisha, the idea was to use skis, but without high-altitude porters, so therefore, no oxygen or fixed lines. When we left base camp with our houses on our backs, we said goodbye to our cook for the last time and planned to meet
him 15  days later. He burst out laughing, shook our hands and thundered, ”No problem, see you tomorrow!” Like many others, he didn’t for a second believe in our progression technique. 
We met him 16 days later, with everyone summiting.”

A lesson in high altitude
The crucial question is always the same: How do you live in high altitude when everyone claims that it is impossible to stay there?
For a long time, doctors specializing in altitude have recommended limiting the climb to 400 meters per day above 3000 m. Steady progression style allows proper acclimatization during the ascent.
And it lets the human body adapt to the constraints of altitude while still having time in the day for rehydration, rest, etc. It is a Himalayan lesson. Each climber assesses the constraints of the
altitude and has the time to learn how to respond to them. How does this actually happen? Ascending completely unassisted from base camp means that the team progresses toward the summit in stages with the camping equipment and without returning to base camp. In the last few years, many summits have been attained this way, including Chong Kumdan* and Mamotsong Ri*, Gurkarpo Ri, 6898 m at Langtang (Nepal). All these climbs are risky due to their remote character, yet all were successful.
In the spring of 2008, seduced by reflection and previous experiences, I left with Paulo Grobel to climb Dhaulagiri VII (or Putha Hiunchuli, 7250 m). This Dolpo summit was the first 7000 for all of our clients. The route is technically straightforward, but climbing a 7000 m is never an easy undertaking. We were satisfied: reuniting everyone at the summit on the same day means success.
All the members of the expedition reached the summit with an enjoyment that I had never experienced before on a Himalayan summit - with ten days at altitude.

A possible alternative for Himalayan expeditions
At high altitude, the difficulty of living together is very real. This obligation of “doing it all together” represents the real challenge of an expedition, and this is what we again achieved on Manaslu.
Staying together creates solidarity, which is a safety factor and provides moral support in a magnificent, yet uncomfortable, environment. No fixed lines: climbing roped in is part of the game. The climbing team sticks together on into the night, when we get organized into pairs to melt the snow, cook, and organize life at high altitude. This strengthens the solidarity between mountaineers. This philosophy is similar to the one we use on mountains that are less high, in the Alps and elsewhere, and is the
opposite of what the majority of Himalayan expeditions now offer, i.e. typically ascending the mountain alone, with porters and fixed lines and, as we saw on Manaslu, with oxygen.

A journey in the mountains instead of back-and-forth trips
Four hundred meters of climbing per day: by respecting this criterion, we revolutionize the Himalayan experience and change our philosophy about the expedition. “Leaving on the high seas for a crossing to a destination for which you may or may not reach, only to return to port much later,” Paulo likes to say. This symbolic departure forces us to reevaluate the smallest of our actions, to give maximum attention to the preparation, and to pack the food as carefully as possible in order to have a richer high altitude experience, rather than a simple ascent. New tools, like telemedicine and weather forecasts provided by satphone, help to better manage these high-altitude expeditions in order to truly take advantage of the time spent “up there.” The Himalayas are not just for heroes. 

Un texte du catalogue 2010 de PETZL, avec tous mes remerciements.