Kangshung Face: The East Face of Everest

The Kangshung Face, also known as the East Face, represents the eastern side of Mount Everest, located on the Tibetan side. It stretches from 3,350 meters (11,000 ft) from its base at the Kangshung Glacier to the summit. Out of the many climbing routes of Everest, the Kangshung Face is said to be one of the most dangerous climbs. 

On its right side, it is bounded by the upper Northeast Ridge, while the left is surrounded by the Southeast Ridge and the South Col. The upper region of the face predominantly comprises suspended glaciers. While the lower portion is defined by steep rocky buttresses interspersed with narrow snow-filled couloirs.

Significantly, the steep southern third of the Kangshung Face also includes the Northeastern Face of Lhotse. This specific section emerges as a separate entity, particularly after dividing the South “Neverest” Buttress, which extends to the South Col. The Kangshung Face is famous for being more risky when compared to the usual North Col and South Col routes. Furthermore, it stands as the most remote facade of the mountain, demanding a longer approach.

Exploring Everest’s Hidden Side: History of the Kangshung Face

George Mallory on Everest in 1921
George Mallory on Everest in 1921

Until the 1900s, people didn’t really know much about the eastern side of the mountain. This was because Tibet, had difficult, isolated landscapes and weather, and the local religion, Buddhism, didn’t allow people to climb the mountains. 

In 1921, two explorers named George Mallory and Guy Bullock were the first from outside Tibet to see and study the eastern side of the mountain. They were part of a group that got special permission from the Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, to try to climb Everest.

Mallory and Bullock were shown the way by local yak herders. They went to the eastern side of the mountain, passing through high places called Langma La and forests with rhododendron flowers. This was in August, the valleys and the area near the Kangshung Glacier were filled with colorful flowers and lots of plants. 

In 1980, a young climber from the United States named Andy Harvard went to explore the East Face again. Nowadays, there are many companies that help people go on trips to see the Kangshung Glacier and get a view of Everest. It takes about six to seven days to get to the Kangshung Glacier from the closest road at Yeuba from Kharta.

Kangshung Face Conquests: Climbing Expeditions

David Breashears

In 1981, a group of Americans tried to climb the mountain’s steep rocky parts. The team had people like Richard Blum, Louis Reichardt, Edmund Hillary, George Lowe, John Roskelley, David Breashears, and Kim Momb. They did manage to climb for a while, but had to stop at around 7,000 meters because there was a high risk of avalanches happening.

The first time anyone successfully reached the top of the Kangshung Face was in 1983. This time, it was an American team led by James D. Morrissey. They worked hard for five and a half weeks, and on October 8, 1983, climbers Kim Momb, Carlos Buhler, and Louis Reichardt reached the summit. The next day, George Lowe, Dan Reid, and Jay Cassell also made it to the top.

American Expeditions on the Kangshung Face

Stephen Venables Everest Kangshung Face Advanced Base Camp
Robert Anderson, Paul Teare, Ed Webster, and Stephen Venables at Everest Kangshung Face Advanced Base Camp. PC: Joe Blackburn.

In 1988, a team from the United States and Britain went on a journey to climb a new path on the east side of Everest. They went up the South Buttress and got to a place called the South Col. From there, they followed the usual Southeast Ridge route to reach the very top of the mountain. 

Stephen Venables, a British climber, achieved something special—he reached the summit without using extra oxygen in a bottle. Some others like Ed Webster and Robert Anderson from the United States got close to the summit but didn’t quite make it. Paul Teare from Canada got to the South Col but went back down because he wasn’t feeling well. There were also people who supported the climbers: Miriam Zieman (doctor) and Joseph Blackburn (photographer) from the United States, Pasang Norbu (cook) from Nepal, and Kasang Tsering (cook) from Tibet.

In 1992, a team from Chile successfully followed the same route to the top, becoming the second group to do so. The climbers who made it to the very summit were Rodrigo Jordan, Cristian Garcia-Huidobro, and Juan Sebastian Montes.

Lincoln Hall
Lincoln Hall

The Kangshung Face is where something incredible happened in 2006. A climber, Lincoln Hall was found alive after he had been left thinking he was dead during his expedition. 

‘I imagine you’re surprised to see me here’.

— Lincoln Hall when he was re-discovered sitting on top the Kangshung cliff

Quick Facts: Elevation and Timestamps

  • Arrival in Lhasa – 3,650m/11,976ft
  • Lhasa to Gyantse – 3,950m/12,960ft
  • Gyantse to Shigatse – 3,900m/12,796ft
  • Shigatse to Kharta – 3,750m/12,304ft
  • Kharta to Landrubling – 4,800m/15,749ft – 4-5 hours
  • Landrubling to Jorpokhari – 4,268m/14,003ft – 3-4 hours
  • Jorpokhari to Joksum – 4,800m/15,749ft – 6-7 hours
  • Joksum to Sumthang – 4,420m/14,502ft – 5-6 hours
  • Sumthang to Parthang – 4,240m/13,911ft – 5-6 hours
  • Perthang to Pethang Ringmo – 4,880m/16,011ft – 4-5 hours
  • Discover Pethang Ringmo and Kangshung Valley – 5,320m/17,455ft
  • Reserve Day for Contingency – 4,880m/16,011ft
  • Pethang Ringmo to Rabka Chu – 4,940m/16,208ft – 6-7 hours
  • Rabka Chu to Tso Tshuringma – 4,880m/16,011ft – 4-5 hours
  • Tsho Tshurigma to Troshay – 4,270m/14,010ft – 6-7 hours
  • Troshay to Rongbuk – 5,100m/16,733ft – 4 hours
  • Rongbuk to Kyirong via Everest Base Camp – 5,250m/17,225ft

Surviving Everest’s Kangshung Face: Battling Avalanche Threats and Icy Perils

Climbing on a Crevasse Kangshung Face
Climbing on a Crevasse Kangshung Face. PC: Ed Webster

Climbing the face is really tough. Imagine, at the beginning, you have to go up a wall that’s 3 kilometers wide, about 2 miles! To do this, you need to climb through big gashes left by avalanches or up rocks that stick out from the wall. These rocks are covered in dangerous ice structures and unstable snow. 

The hardest part of the climb is at the bottom, so if you decide to turn back, it’s not easy. This makes the climb even more serious. Also, hardly anyone else is there to help, so you’re kind of on your own. The glaciers hanging above and the snowy slopes are risky because avalanches can come crashing down, especially during storms. So, the climb is really dangerous.

George Mallory, who was part of an initial Everest expedition on the Kangshung face wrote about these challenges in his book stating:

“Other men, less wise, might attempt this way if they would, but, emphatically, it was not for us.”

Exploring the Hidden Beauty of Everest’s East Face

Kangshung face

The east side of Mount Everest, the Kangshung Face is really beautiful and one of the least explored areas. This path brings close view of Everest and leads through the historical cities and towns of Tibet, including Lhasa, Gyantse, Shigatse, Rongbuk, and Zhangmu.

The expedition commences with a tour of the renowned landmarks of Lhasa, such as the Potala and Norbulingka Palaces, Tibet Traditional Hospital, and Barkhor Bazaar. The actual trek begins from Kharta, advancing towards the Everest Kangshung Face. Upon beholding the awe-inspiring eastern visage of Everest, the journey retraces its steps back to the starting point, Kharta. The route includes a drive to Rongbuk through the Everest Base Camp, offering views of the mountain’s northern face. 

During this expedition, the traveler crosses numerous high passes and becomes immersed in the grandeur of the towering Himalayan peaks and sprawling glaciers, making this trek a genuinely rewarding experience.

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