It’s against the odds when an extreme mountaineer celebrates his 60th birthday. Many who are on narrow ridge in the mountains, unfortunately, do not live to see this day. Because every little mistake can end fatally. Or nature strikes, whether in the form of a weather storm, an avalanche or rockfall. Even with all the caution, there is still a residual risk that is sometimes incalculable.
Today, Ralf Dujmovits has completed six decades – after more than 50 expeditions in the Himalayas and Karakoram in the past 36 years. So he must have done something right. Perhaps the secret lies in the fact that he sets clear priorities. “For me, health is still the highest good,” Ralf once told me. “I know myself very well. I also know that I can turn around. I have often done.”
As if Mount Everest wasn’t full enough, as if there weren’t already too many unsuspecting aspirants with no mountaineering experience. “Touching Everest” is offered by the commercial Russian expedition operator 7 Summits Club for the spring season 2022. After the traditional trekking to Everest Base Camp, clients also have the option of being guided through the Khumbu Icefall up to Camp 2 at 6,400 meters – “with oxygen and with one Sherpa per participant”, as the operator lets it be known. That costs 14,900 US dollar.
For comparison: Who wants to ascend up to the summit on 8,849 meters, must pay 69,900 dollar. 7 Summit Club promises enough “impressions and adrenaline”. And “by the way, the transfer of the route to the right side of the icefall made it much safer,” claims the Russian operator. Much safer?
“Entertaining” – that’s how my wife summed up the Netflix documentary about Nirmal Purja‘s “Project Possible” when the 101 minutes were over. And I think she is right.
Some of the film sequences of the 14 highest mountains in the world that the Nepalese summited in 2019 in just six months and six days are truly breathtaking. And the story that is told does indeed have great entertainment potential: against all meteorological, financial, political and other odds, the former soldier of the British Gurkha Regiment does his thing and in the end successfully completes the project that sounded completely crazy at the beginning.
It’s about time. This Saturday in Briancon, France, when Yasushi Yamanoi from Japan receives the Piolet d’Or, the “Oscar of mountaineers”, for his lifetime achievement, this prestigious award will go to Asia for the first time. At the age of 56, Yasushi is also the youngest of the 13 mountaineering legends to be honored.
The previous twelve were mostly from Europe: Italian Walter Bonatti (in 2009), South Tyrolean Reinhold Messner (2010), Britons Doug Scott (2011) and Chris Bonington (2015), Frenchman Robert Paragot (2012) and his compatriot Catherine Destivelle (2020), Austrian Kurt Diemberger (2013), Poles Wojciech Kurtyka (2016) and Krzysztof Wielicki (2019), and Slovenian Andrej Stremfelj (2018). In addition, the two US Americans John Roskelley (2014) and Jeff Lowe (2017) were honored for their mountaineering lifetime achievements.
” Whether solo, as a married couple, or with friends, Yasushi Yamanoi’s climbing has shown great creativity, commitment, and resilience,” the makers of the Piolet d’Or pay tribute to the Japanese climber, who is well known in Asia but little in the West. “His minimalist style and often discreet ascents paved the way for younger Japanese climbers to operate in modern alpine-style.”
Four peaks above 6,000 meters, frostbite on three fingers – that’s the balance of Stefan Köhler‘s Nepal trip this fall. “Despite the somewhat unfortunate ending, I had a great time in Nepal,” the 61-year-old tells me after his return.
In October 1990, Köhler had made a spectacular first ascent there: With his team partner Bernd Eberle, he had reached the 7,321-meter-high summit of Chamlang – via a new route through the Northwest and the West Face. It was the fourth ascent of the mountain, which is close to the eight-thousander Makalu. After that, work and family life had taken their time toll. In the past five years, however, Köhler had been increasingly drawn to the high mountains again. In 2016, for example, he had scaled the 7,077-meter-high Kun in the Indian Himalayas and in 2017 the 7,546-meter-high Mustagh Ata in western China.
His 70th birthday next Monday, French climber Marc Batard is likely to celebrate at the foot of Mount Everest. The “sprinter”, as Marc was called in the 1980s, has his sights set on scouting out a new route from Everest Base camp to Camp 1 this late fall – across the Nuptse flank, away from the dangerous Khumbu Icefall through which the normal route on the south side of the mountain passes.
One of Batard’s team is likely to be missing from the fit jubilarian’s birthday celebration on Monday: Sajid Ali Sadpara was flown by rescue helicopter from Everest Base Camp to Kathmandu hospital. The 23-year-old reportedly suffered from high-altitude cerebral edema – which can easily be fatal if you are not brought quickly to lower altitudes.
0.0 – that’s how high the chance of survival would have been if someone had been right at the foot of the mountain. The force of the avalanche that swept down yesterday from the 6380-meter-high Manapathi near the eight-thousander Dhaulagiri in western Nepal was so great that it also jumped over the next mountain range and almost reached the villages in front of it. The videos (see below) of the massive avalanche in Mustang district, which were circulated on social networks, are terrifying.
This goal was almost never missing from anyone’s list of remaining ultimate alpinistic challenges in the Himalayas and Karakoram: the Southeast Ridge of the 7555-meter-high Annapurna III in western Nepal. Now this project can be crossed off the lists. According to Ukrainians Nikita Balabanov, Mikhail Fomin and Viacheslav “Slava” Polezhaiko, they climbed the route completely and reached the summit. In the meantime, the trio returned safely to Kathmandu.
It reminds me a little of the video proof introduced in European football. Spontaneous joy in the stadium over a goal is hardly possible anymore, because in the back of the mind there is always the thought: Hopefully the video assistant referee won’t take the goal back.
In mountaineering, there is no such referee, but when I hear about a success, I think more and more often: That sounds great, but maybe I should wait and see before reacting enthusiastically. Social media is a key contributor to this reticence. To put it drastically: No sooner is a sow on the market than it is driven through the village with a loud roar – and is difficult to catch again.
The two top British climbers Tom Livingstone and Matt Glenn have succeeded in a sensational first ascent in the Khumbu. According to Tom, they opened a new route via the Northeast Pillar of the 6,487-meter-high Tengkangpoche. “We spent seven days on the route, which was one of the trickier things I’ve done,” the 30-year-old wrote on Instagram.
Great concern for the French top talents Thomas Arfi, Louis Pachoud and Gabriel Miloche: the three young climbers have apparently been buried by an avalanche at the 6,017-meter-high Minbo Ider in the Khumbu region in Nepal. The summit is not far from the shapely Ama Dablam (6,812 m).
The French trio had set out last week to ascend through a couloir in the West Face of Minbo Ider. After they failed to report back, a rescue operation had been launched over the weekend.
On Sunday, pilots from the Nepalese helicopter company Kailash Helicopter Services spotted a track on the summit ridge that ended at the breakaway edge of an avalanche, and several pieces of equipment, including two backpacks, in an avalanche cone at the foot of the wall. Today, mountain rescuers were dropped off at the site to search for the missing climbers.
Trekking tourists posing at a spot in the Khumbu with a view of Mount Everest or at the site of the base camp at the foot of the highest mountain on earth – pictures like these are currently circulating again on social networks. A sign that mountain tourism in Nepal is slowly but surely picking up again after the period of deep depression during the corona pandemic. The first numbers trickling in seem to confirm this.
According to the Sagarmatha National Park administration, about 1,400 tourists came to the Everest region in September, compared to only about 170 in the same month in 2020. Ang Dorjee Sherpa, owner of the AD Friendship Lodge in Namche Bazaar, enthusiastically told me two weeks ago that around 250 tourists had arrived in the main village of the Khumbu region in one day. A year ago, there had often been only a handful of trekkers per day.
“I’m picking up right where I left off,” Jost Kobusch tells me. “It was clear from the start that a project like this would need several attempts. And this is just the second one.”
In a week, on 29 October, the 29-year-old German climber will fly to Nepal to try his hand at Mount Everest again in winter: solo; without bottled oxygen; via the challenging, rarely climbed route over the Lho La, a 6,000-meter-high pass between Nepal and Tibet, the West Ridge and the Hornbein Couloir located in the North Face. In his first solo attempt on this route, Jost had reached an altitude of 7,366 meters in February 2020.
The most demanding routes are currently climbed on seven-thousander peaks rather than on the 14 eight-thousanders. A week ago, for example, French climbers Benjamin Védrines and Charles Duboulez achieved a fine success on the 7,321-meter-high Chamlang in Nepal. The two opened a new route through the challenging North Face of the mountain not far from the eight-thousander Makalu. They christened their 1,600-meter-high route “À l’ombre du mensonge” (In the shadow of the lie). From the summit, the French descended via the West Ridge.
That was a speedy return. Only two days after, according to the operator Dolma Outdoor Expeditions, Gelje Sherpa’s five-member team had stood on the summit of Kangchenjunga the four Sherpas and their client already presented themselves at a photo session in the garden of a hotel in Kathmandu. On Saturday noon expedition leader Gelje and the Sherpas Nima Gyalzen, Dakipa and Pasang Rinjee had reached the highest point at 8,586 meters along with their Korean client Tseng Ko-Erh, the company had communicated before. Apparently, they all used bottled oxygen – if they hadn’t, it would probably have been announced.
It was the first and only summit success on the third highest mountain on earth this fall. A team from the U.S. operator Alpenglow Expeditions – also with only one paying client – had advanced to Camp 4 at around 7,500 meters, but ultimately abandoned the expedition after a failed summit attempt because the client’s time window had closed.