When the thin air on Mount Everest becomes thicker

Wetterstation Everest Balcony with team
The highest weather station in the world – on the Everest Balcony (© Mark Fischer/National Geographic)

Does the cursed climate change, which is causing problems worldwide, perhaps also have a positive side effect on Mount Everest? A team led by climate scientist Tom Matthews from Loughborough University in England has calculated that a global warming of two percent compared to the pre-industrial age means that at the highest point on earth, an average of around five percent more oxygen can reach the lungs due to higher air pressure. Great, some mountaineers who want to climb Everest without bottled oxygen might think. But be careful! It is not that simple. There is a catch.

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Atanas Skatov before K2 winter expedition: “The mountain will decide”

Atanas Skatov
Atanas Skatov

If a fortune teller had predicted Atanas Skatov ten years ago that he would spend the winter 2020/21 on the 8,611-meter-high K2 in Pakistan, the Bulgarian would probably have demanded his money back. Until 2010, Skatov had only admired the mountains from a distance. His scientific career took up all his time. He studied in Plovdiv and Berlin and finally received his doctorate on plant protection. Atanas’ passion for the mountains was awakened ten years ago when the scientist set out on a 650-kilometer long hiking trail in Bulgaria. Then the mountains that Skatov climbed quickly became higher. Much higher.

As a vegan high up

His goal is to be the first vegan in the world to scale all 14 eight-thousanders. The 42-year-old already has ten of the world’s highest summits on his account, on one of them – Cho Oyu – Skatov climbed without bottled oxygen.

Atanas scaled Mount Everest from both the Tibetan north side (in 2014) and the Nepalese south side (in 2017), as well as Manaslu (in 2015), Annapurna, Makalu (both in 2016), Lhotse (in 2017), Cho Oyu (in 2018) and in 2019 the four eight-thousanders Kangchenjunga, Gasherbrum I, Gasherbrum II and Dhaulagiri. In 2017 he was the first vegan to complete the collection of the Seven Summits, the highest mountains of all continents. On 19 December, Skatov plans to leave for Pakistan to try his hand at the first winter ascent of K2.

Atanas, don’t you have any concerns about going on an expedition in times of the corona pandemic?

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Simone Moro and Alex Txikon: Winter expedition to Manaslu

Simone Moro (r.) and Alex Txikon (l.) in Lhukla in Nepal in 2019

As if Simone Moro had read my thoughts. These days I really wondered what the 53-year-old Italian and the 38-year-old Spaniard Alex Txikon, both proven winter climbing specialists, would be doing in the coming months. Would they, like many others, be drawn to K2, the only eight-thousander never scaled in winter?

Now Simone has let the cat out of the bag in an interview with the Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport: He and Alex will set off together for a winter expedition on Manaslu at the end of the year. Third in the group, according to Moro, will be Txicon’s friend Inaki Alvarez. In 2015 (with Tamara Lunger) and in 2019 (with Pemba Gyalje Sherpa) Simone had to abandon his winter attempts at the 8,163-meter-high Manaslu due to huge snow masses on the mountain.

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Microplastic on Mount Everest

South side of Mount Everest and the Khumbu Glacier

The sad truth is that microplastic is really everywhere – even on Mount Everest. After microfibers had already been detected in the Arctic snow and in the deep sea in the Mariana Trench, scientists now also found microplastic (MP) in the snow cover of the so-called “Balcony” on Everest, at an altitude of 8,440 meters, about 400 meters below the summit.

And not only there, but also at all the camp sites on the normal route on the south side of the mountain in Nepal, where samples were taken – as well as on Lobuche East, which in recent years has increasingly become the “acclimatization mountain” for Everest aspirants. Not surprisingly, the researchers determined the highest microplastic density in samples from the base camp. After all, there are staying up to 1,000 persons in the spring climbing season. 

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Also Nirmal Purja wants to climb K2 in winter

Nirmal Purja at K2
Nirmal Purja returns to K2

It almost looks as if this winter there will be a real race for the first winter ascent of K2. More and more climbers are throwing their hats into the ring for the prestige project of scaling the second highest mountain on earth for the first time in the cold season. Today the Nepalese climber Nirmal “Nims” Purja also announced that he will travel with a team to the 8,611-meter-high mountain in the Karakoram in Pakistan. In 2019, Nims had made headlines around the world when he summited all 14 eight-thousanders within only six months and six days – with bottled oxygen, supported by a strong team.

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John Snorri in winter on K2 – take two

John Snorri Sigurjonsson at K2
John Snorri Sigurjonsson at K2

He does not give in so quickly. Icelandic professional mountaineer John Snorri Sigurjonsson has arrived in Pakistan to tackle K2 for the second winter in a row. Last winter, he had reached Camp 2 at 6,600 meters in early February before his team had abandoned the expedition. Afterwards, John Snorri and the Slovenian Tomaz Rotar had accused their expedition leader, Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, and other team members of having started the expedition ill-prepared. The Nepalese had rejected the accusations.

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Mourning for the Scottish climbing legend Hamish MacInnes

Hamish MacInnes
Hamish MacInnes (1930-2020)

And again one of the greats of mountaineering has passed away. The legendary Scottish climber Hamish MacInnes died on Sunday at the age of 90 years in his hometown Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands.

He climbed the Matterhorn at the age of 16. In 1953 Hamish traveled to Nepal with his Scottish climbing partner John Cunningham. Their goal: the first ascent of Mount Everest. It was an “audacious two-man affair”, MacInnes later recalled: without visas, without a permit, with almost empty coffers. They wanted to live on food that a Swiss expedition had left behind during the failed attempt in 1952. When MacInnes and Cunningham arrived at Everest, they found that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay had beaten them to it. The Scots attempted to scale the then unclimbed seven-thousander Pumori located vis-à-vis Everest, but had to turn back 400 meters below the summit due to the danger of avalanches.

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Legendary Everest reporter Jan Morris is dead

Jan Morris
Jan Morris (1926-2020)

She made sure that the news of the successful first ascent of Mount Everest arrived in England in time for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Last Friday the British writer Jan Morris died at the age of 94 years in a hospital in the Welsh coastal town of Pwllheli.

In 1953 Morris was still a man, his first name was James and he accompanied the British expedition as a reporter for the newspaper “The Times”. Later Morris underwent a male-to-female gender reassigment. Until her death, the writer lived with her partner Elizabeth, with whom she had five children. She wrote more than 40 books. How Morris transmitted the news of the Everest summit success on 29 May 1953 to London, is legendary.

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When K2 calls in winter

K2, the second highest mountain on earth

The first tents with expedition equipment are already standing at the foot of K2. In about one month the base camp will fill up. How many mountaineers exactly will attempt the first winter ascent of the second highest mountain on earth cannot yet be estimated. But the number of those who would like to put this feather on their hat is increasing. K2, located in the Karakoram in Pakistan, is the last remaining of the 14 eight-thousanders that – despite some attempts – has never been scaled during the cold season.

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Sani Pakkush: Welfringer and Fine succeed in a winner with the backhand

Symon Welfringer (r.) and Pierrick Fine (l.)
Symon Welfringer (r.) and Pierrick Fine (l.)

Sometimes things just happen differently. French climbers Symon Welfringer and Pierrick Fine, both in their mid-20s, had actually planned a project in Nepal this fall. But because of the corona pandemic, it was uncertain for a long time whether the Himalayan state would even be open to foreign visitors. So they decided to change their plans and travel to Pakistan to tackle Sani Pakkush.

The shapely 6,953-meter-high mountain is located in the Batura Muztagh massif in the northwest of the Karakoram. It had been scaled only once before, in 1991 by a German expedition: Hubert Bleicher, Arnfried Braun, Daniel Ketterer and Leo Klimmer had climbed up via the steep Northwest Ridge. Welfringer and Fine – they had already opened a new route in 2019 in the Karakoram on the 5,960-meter-high Risht Peak – had another goal: the still virgin 2500-meter-high South face of the mountain.

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Mountain tourism in Nepal: Flashes of light in the dark

Sunrise at the Gokyo Valley
Sunrise at the Gokyo Valley

11. November – this date actually makes the carnival reveler’s heart beat faster. Traditionally on this day in my hometown Cologne the carnival time is rung in. The costumed carnival revelers sing, dance, swing and sway in the streets and public places, they also celebrate in the pubs – usually. This year everything is different. Because of the corona pandemic, all events have been canceled, the pubs remain closed, several hundred police officers check if the ban on assembly is being observed. In view of the still tense corona situation, hardly anybody should feel like celebrating anyway.

This certainly also applies to Nepal, where life is currently anything but normal. Today, the number of officially registered corona infections exceeded 200,000. 1,174 people have died of COVID-19 in the Himalayan state so far. And the number of unreported cases is likely to be high.

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Read: To Live

25 January 2018, on the summit of Nanga Parbat, about 6.30 p.m. After the French Elisabeth Revol, the Pole Tomek Mackiewicz also reaches the summit. Revol is the first woman to succeed in a winter ascent of the 8,125-meter-high summit in Pakistan, Mackiewicz the first Pole. “‘Eli what’s happening with my eyes? Eli, I can’t see your head torch any more; you’re a blur!’,” Revol recalls. “This second lasts an eternity. Everything changes. I retch and shake; fear overwhelms me. My legs turn to jelly and I collapse.” Success turns into drama. In the end only the French climber is saved, Mackiewicz dies in an ice cave at 7,238 meters.

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Narrow gauge fall season in Nepal

The 6000er Ama Dablam in the Everest region

“Exceptionally quiet and beautiful this time” – that’s how the experienced US expedition leader Garrett Madison described the trekking through the Khumbu region to the 6,814-meter-high Ama Dablam a week ago. And Swiss mountaineer Sophie Lavaud agreed: “Beautiful weather and no one around.” How calm it is currently in the region around Mount Everest can be guessed by looking at the short list of expeditions published yesterday, to which the Nepalese Ministry of Tourism has granted permits this fall season. On this list there are only seven expeditions with a total of 58 members for the whole season and all of Nepal.

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My story about the US election: Tramp on Mount Everest

Sunrise at Mount Everest

Crisis meeting in the Oval Office, one week before the presidential election. “What the f…! I’m still behind in the polls,” shouts Scrooge Tramp and clenches his fist firmly on the desk. “Think of something!” The advisors look trodden on their shoes, no one dares to look Tramp in the bright red face. “We could,” one of them finally begins cautiously. “What?” bleats Tramp. “We could perhaps turn the tide with a spectacular, admirable sporting achievement by the President,” whispers the advisor. “And what did you have in mind? Permanently golfing?”, yells Tramp.

“I was thinking of climbing Mount Everest,” says the advisor. “The news of the first ascent in 1953 arrived in London just in time for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. That was a mega PR coup back then. Now, when it is announced on election day that the President of the USA has reached the roof of the world, the mood could still tip in your favor.” Tramp thinks for a moment. “Sounds good,” he finally says. “Then I can tweet up there: Tramp on top – in every respect. H.O.P.A.T – the Highest President of All Time.” Tramp shoos his team out of the office. “Why are you still standing around here? Go, go, organize it! And do it in such a way that it works and that I’m not eaten by the yeti.”

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Priti and Jeff Wright after K6: “Our biggest achievement”

Priti and Jeff Wright on the Central Summit of K6
Priti and Jeff Wright on the Central Summit of K6

When Priti and Jeff Wright later look back on 2020, they will surely agree that it was “an exceptional year” – and not just because of the corona pandemic. At the end of 2019, the software developer and the aerospace engineer from the US city of Seattle took a one-year career break to live out their passion for climbing.

The couple, both in their early 30s, first traveled to Patagonia, then to Europe and finally to Pakistan. Their mountaineering record is impressive: Cerro Torre, the six great north faces of the Alps and finally – as reported – as the cherry on top K6. On the challenging seven-thousander in the Karakoram, they succeeded in traversing from the West Summit (7,040 m) to the hitherto unclimbed Central Summit (7,100 m), climbing in alpine style. The “Alpine Vagabonds”, as they call themselves on their website, answered my questions about their coup on K6.

What does the adventure on K6 with the only third ascent of the West Summit and the first ascent of the Central Summit mean to you?

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