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French Duo Pioneers Spectacular Route Up Chamlang’s Virgin North Face

Charles Dubouloz and Benjamin Védrines completed the first ascent of In the Shadow of Lies (WI5+ M5+ 90° ED) on the Himalayan peak.

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On October 11, French alpinists Charles Dubouloz, 32, and Benjamin Védrines, 29, made the first ascent of the North Face of Chamlang (7,319 meters), summiting after a three-day blitz. The duo christened their 5,250-foot route In the Shadow of Lies (WI5+ M5+ 90° ED). 

Védrines, who is based out of Monnetier in the Southern Alps, was last on the mountain in 2019 with Nicolas Jean. At that time, he and Jean ascended the Northeast Couloir but only made it to a foresummit around 7,200 meters before turning around, as the latter was ill and they did not want to bivy. That same year, Czech alpinists Marek Holeček and Zdeněk Hák received acclaim after tackling a new line on the peak’s Northwest Face, but all attempts on Chamlang’s North Face remained stymied until now.

Charles Dubouloz high on the North Face. (Photo: Courtesy of Benjamin Védrines)

Dubouloz, who lives in Annecy, near Chamonix, told Climbing that “the fact that Benjamin had already come [to Chamlang] was an advantage. Before leaving, we knew exactly the route we wanted to climb. Benjamin had precise pictures of the face so we studied where to go. I trusted him on the possibility of reaching the summit by this route,” he said. “We just needed good conditions to climb!”

The duo shared a base camp with another French expedition, consisting of Damien Tomasi, Fanny Tomasi, Aurelien Vaissiere, and Symon Welfringer, who were attempting the peak’s North Pillar together, but did not succeed. “Chamlang is a coveted mountain. Especially by French people,” Dubouloz quipped. He and Védrines acclimatized on Mera Peak (6,476 meters), which he called “the Nepali Mont Blanc” due to its low technical difficulty but comparatively high elevation. “However, it wasn’t really a good memory for me because I was sick,” he said. “Nausea and headache. The classic for a good acclimatization!”

Dubouloz tackles one of several steep ice pitches on the upper mountain. (Photo: Courtesy of Benjamin Védrines)

Camp-to-camp, they completed In the Shadow of Lies in four days, with two bivvies on the way up and one on the way down. At 6 a.m. on October 9 they left their camp at 5,400 meters and climbed over half of the face, bedding down just below the route’s crux pitches. The next day was much slower, and they climbed with care through the route’s sustained vertical cruxes, chopping out a bivy ledge that evening. “It’s difficult to be precise on the hours,” Dubouloz said, “because we climbed all day long every day.” They spent the entire climb without sunlight, in the cold shadow of the North Face, but encountered pristine weather, albeit with strong winds at the summit, which Dubouloz estimated at 25 mph.

He described their route as “very steep, in the shade, long, and continuous. The paradise for an alpine climber!” He also noted many similarities to Grande Jorasses, in the Mont Blanc range, but much longer and higher.

(Photo: Courtesy of Benjamin Védrines)

“For me, it was the most demanding climb I’ve ever done,” Védrines wrote on Instagram, “both for the nights below the spindrift and for the pitches we had to climb.” Dubouloz told Climbing that he agreed completely. “It was very long and continuous. The first climbing day was much steeper than we imagined, and during our two bivies we didn’t sleep much because of the spindrift. All night [there was] spindrift on the tent.”

He added that the second bivy, at 6,700 meters, was the worst of his entire life. “Snow was coming in the tent onto our sleeping bag constantly. It is a good memory now, but on the 11th of October, it was hard to start the day. In the Alps we’ve climbed harder pitches of ice and mixed,” he admitted, “but on Chamlang it was very continuous. With the elevation, the cold, the tiredness, well, this made it the most demanding climb of [my] life, too.”

(Photo: Courtesy of Charles Dubouloz)
(Photo: Courtesy of Benjamin Védrines)

Dubouloz wasn’t sure exactly how many pitches they climbed in total but estimated there were at least ten pitches of stout WI5+. “Ice protection was often good,” he said, “but sometimes it was hard to protect and to build a belay. When there wasn’t enough ice, we had to look for good cracks in the rock, but the rock was really bad. All the right ingredients for a good alpine recipe!”

He described the crux pitch as “a really brittle and touchy snowfield.” Védrines led the way across this avalanche-prone section, “but it was a long left crossing and for me, with the big bag on my back, it was not a pleasant time,” Dubouloz said. “The second day was the [overall] crux day, on the steeper part of the face. All pitches were steep and intense, sometimes with mixed climbing. But fortunately, the ice conditions were great. If they hadn’t been, we couldn’t have succeeded!”

He said that the name of their route (In The Shadow of Lies) “comes from the fact that climbers sometimes lie about their performance,” particularly on remote, big mountain lines. “Moreover, routes in the Himalayas are not often repeated, so it is really difficult to verify the grade that climbers announce.”

Dubouloz arrived back home the day he spoke with Climbing and said he plans to rest with his family for a few days before returning to the Alps to do more climbing. “Conditions are looking good in the Mont Blanc range,” he said.

Owen Clarke is a freelance writer living on the road. In addition to spending time in the mountains, he enjoys motorcycles, heavy metal, video games,

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