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American Team Aims to Ski the ‘Dream Line’ on Lhotse

Hilaree Nelson and Jim Morrison on their way to attempt the first ski decent of the "Dream Line" on Lhotse, the fourth tallest mountain in the world.

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Hilaree Nelson and Jim Morrison are making their way to Camp 1 on Everest as they begin the acclimatization phase of an attempt to ski down the Lhotse Couloir, via a line nicknamed the “Dream Line” on the world’s fourth highest mountain.

The American duo are experienced athletes at extreme altitude. In 2012 Nelson climbed Lhotse and Everest in 24 hours, becoming the first woman to climb two 8,000ers in a single day. Earlier this year Morrison skied Cho Oyu and a significant section of Everest. They pair has also climbed and skied together before, including an ascent and ski descent of Denali in Alaska.

The “Dream Line” descends over 2,000 meters from the small rocky summit of Lhotse to the head of the Western Cwm. The couloir itself is around 700 meters in length and is steep, filled with rocks and is certainly what could be called “no fall” terrain. The entire route, including the 1,400-meter open face of Lhotse, averages between 45-50 degrees in incline.

If successful, this would be the first full ski descent of the “Dream Line.” In 2007 the American Jaime Laidlaw stopped 1/3 of the way down the couloir due to issues with his supplemental oxygen. Adrian Ballinger, an Everest guide who pulled out of an attempt on the ski line last month, suggests that as many as 25 people have skied variants of the Lhotse Face, usually from Camp 4 or Camp 3 down to Camp 2 at the base of the face.

At it’s narrowest the couloir is around one ski length, and because of the steep terrain, it will require energy sapping jump turns at high altitude. After skiing down the face from Camp 3 in 2012, Chris Davenport said, “Skiing down the Lhotse Face, the problem is after twenty turns or so you are about to pass out from oxygen deprivation. We skied the face in stages, stopping to catch our breath, regroup, and admire our surroundings.” Adrian Ballinger also said, “In my experience, when I’m above 8,000 meters, if I’m linking five turns in a row before I’m bent over and trying not to puke in my oxygen mask, I’m pretty psyched. It’s exhausting, powerful skiing.”

Part of the reason the pair chose to attempt the line in the post-monsoon season is to avoid other climbers—they are currently the only team on the mountain. Also, this decision may mitigate the dangers posed by heavy rockfall, which peppers the couloir at half height in the pre-monsoon period.

If successful this would cap a notable year for ski descents, with the Polish Andrzej Bargiel having become the first person to ski down K2 in July.

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