The first eight-thousander summit successes of the spring season are expected this year on the 8,091-meter-high Annapurna I in western Nepal. The Sherpa team, that is fixing the ropes for the commercial teams, has already secured the normal route almost all the way up to Camp 3 at around 6,400 meters. “We wait for the summit weather window,” announced yesterday Nirmal Purja, head of the operator Elite Exped.
Most teams will probably have already left Annapurna by the time Felix Berg and his Polish teammates Adam Bielecki and Mariusz Hatala arrive at base camp. “Most of them want to go on to Everest, Lhotse, Kangchenjunga or somewhere else afterwards,” Felix tells me on the phone. “After all, it has become fashionable to conquer as many eight-thousanders as possible in a short time by any means possible.”
Lessons are still often held outdoors. But when it rains or the wind is too strong, the new rooms already provide shelter for the school classes. Currently, construction work is at a standstill. They are to be resumed in April, when the weather is more stable again.
It was like so often in Nepal’s politics: For days there is talk about a supposedly upcoming new regulation before there is – if at all – a written confirmation. Such was the case now with the announcement by the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) that trekking tourists traveling alone in the Himalayan state will be required to take a guide from 1 April. Only five days after the first press reports and heated discussions about it in social networks, the NTB confirmed the reform today.
The aim is “to ensure the security and safety of visitors trekking in protected areas in the mountains of Nepal”, it said. If no one is on their own anymore, trekking tourists can be prevented from getting into “adverse incidents,” the NTB lets it be known, citing “getting lost en route, health issues, and/or natural disasters” as examples.
You can’t hear his exhaustion. When I reach Jost Kobusch by phone in Chamonix, the words just gush out of the 30-year-old German climber. Just two weeks ago, Jost succeeded in a solo winter ascent of Denali, via the Messner Couloir, which has never been climbed in winter before. At 6,190 meters, Denali, formerly known as Mount McKinley, is the highest mountain in North America and thus one of the Seven Summits. Because of its location in Alaska, high in the north, it is considered one of the coldest mountains in the world.
In recent years, Jost Kobusch had made headlines with his winter attempts on Mount Everest. His goal is to climb the highest mountain on earth solo and without bottled oxygen, via the rarely attempted route via West Ridge and Hornbein Couloir to the summit at 8,849 meters. In the first attempt, he had reached the West Shoulder at a good 7,300 meters in winter 2019/2020. In winter 2021/2022 the end of the line was due to strong winds at just below 6,500 meters.
Their syringes are ropes, their plasters aluminum ladders. Year after year, the so-called Icefall Doctors “doctor” the ascent route through the dangerous Khumbu Icefall, the passage on the way to the summit of Mount Everest with the greatest objective dangers. With their ladders they bridge deep crevasses, with the fixed ropes they secure the route – and then maintain it throughout the season until the end of May. It’s extremely dangerous work, as the icefall is constantly moving and one of the mighty ice towers can collapse at any time.
I like people who can’t be pigeonholed even if you try to put them in a box. Billi Bierling is such a person. Let’s start with nationality. The 55-year-old has a German and a Swiss passport. It’s rare to find her in Germany, and really only when she makes a flying visit to her family in the small Bavarian town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen. During the spring and fall mountaineering seasons, she lives in Kathmandu to collect data for the Himalayan Database, the chronicle of Himalayan mountaineering in Nepal, which she manages. Or she climbs the world’s highest mountains herself.
Billi usually spends the winter in Bern, where she works as a communications expert for the Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit. But when the aid organization sends her to one of the world’s trouble spots, Billi quickly packs her bags. This raises the next question: Is she now a journalist, a chronicler or a humanitarian ambassador? A little of each – sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on the situation. Billi also stands for versatility in her sporting passions: she is a passionate mountaineer, mountain runner and cyclist. The main thing is to be on the move.
Nice success for Jost Kobusch. According to his team, the 30-year-old German climber reached the summit of Denali at 1.03 pm CET on Sunday – after a solo ascent via the Messner Couloir. No one had ever succeeded before to climb this route in winter, and then also solo. With an altitude of 6,190 meters, Denali, formerly known as Mount McKinley, is the highest mountain in North America and thus one of the Seven Summits. Because of its location in Alaska, high in the north, it is considered one of the coldest mountains in the world.
35 hours after setting out from high camp at 4,330 meters, Jost had returned there from his summit push, his team let it be known: “Jost has reported that he is doing well, other than minor frostbite on his toes.” Temporarily, there had been irritation because Kobusch’s GPS tracker had indicated that he had turned back below the highest point. The reason given later was that Jost had only stayed at the summit for a very short time because of the adverse weather. From the summit, however, he had sent a message the coordinates of which showed that he had been at the top.
For the fourth spring in a row, the three eight-thousanders in Tibet – Mount Everest, Shishapangma and Cho Oyu – will probably remain closed to foreign climbers. Kari Kobler, founder of the Swiss expedition operator Kobler&Partner, writes to me that a “100 percent reliable” source in Tibet has informed him that there will be no permits for non-Chinese this spring either. An official announcement, however, is still pending. In the coming fall season, however, the eight-thousanders would be open, and agencies could plan accordingly, Kari learned from Tibet.
Sino-Tibetan authorities are stalling the expedition operators. After signals from Tibet last fall that there might be permits for foreign climbers to climb Mount Everest, Cho Oyu and Shishapangma for the first time since 2019, there has been no official confirmation until now.
“It is likely that they will open (the eight-thousanders on the Tibetan side), but not sure in spring,” Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, head of Nepalese expedition operator Imagine Nepal, wrote to me. “They will open in autumn.” Following the positive signals, Imagine Nepal had advertised an expedition to the 8,027-meter-high Shishapangma, which Mingma himself wanted to lead. “We will be going to Shishapangma in autumn instead of spring,” the 36-year-old wrote. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, China’s high mountains have been closed to foreigners, with only locals given a chance to obtain climbing permits.
Just so you are not surprised: Should you make your way to Mount Everest, you may encounter cats even above 5,000 meters. Biologists who took part in a science expedition to Everest in 2019 now reported finding DNA of Pallas’s cats in scat samples at two sites – one at 5,110 meters, the other at 5,190 meters.
The longer wars last, the greater the danger that outsiders will become numb to the never-ending news. This makes it all the more important to keep reminding ourselves that behind every dead or injured person there is a human fate. Last Saturday, two Ukrainian climbers died in the battle for the eastern Ukrainian town of Soledar: Oleksandr Zakolodniy and Hryhoriy Hryhoriev. Both of them became only 35 years old. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine eleven months ago, they – like many other Ukrainian mountaineers – had put aside their ice axes and ropes and taken up arms to defend their homeland.
David Göttler and Hervé Barmasse have pulled the ripcord on the weekend and abandoned their winter expedition on the 8,167-meter-high Dhaulagiri in western Nepal. The reason was the bad weather forecast for the seventh highest mountain on earth until the end of the month, said Göttler in a video he posted on Instagram: “Very high winds all the way till the end of the month and significant snowfall which could be a real problem if we are in Base Camp and trapped there.” Still, the 44-year-old German said they had “a very good time” during their expedition: “We learned a lot. And I am more than ever convinced that it is possible to climb an eight-thousand-meter peak in alpine style in winter.”
It was a black Sunday for the aviation of Nepal. Approaching the town of Pokhara, a plane of Nepal’s Yeti Airlines, which had taken off from Kathmandu, crashed into a gorge not far from a residential area and burst into flames. All 72 occupants – 68 passengers and four crew members – were most likely killed. Four occupants are still missing, but the chances of finding them alive are nil, an official said.
The cause of the accident is still unclear, it is hoped that the analysis of the black box will shed light on the matter. The flight data recorder was found at the crash site. The ATR 72 twin-engine turboprop aircraft was around 15 years old.
A style debate has broken out after the winter summit success on Manaslu. How much is Alex Txikon‘s ascent without bottled oxygen worth when his six Nepalese teammates used breathing masks, some ask. Others criticize that Tenjen Sherpa, Pasang Nurbu Sherpa, Mingtemba Sherpa, Chhepal Sherpa, Pemba Tashi Sherpa and Gyalu Sherpa (with bottled oxygen) had done the main work and should therefore be mentioned first – before the Spaniard.
“Without a doubt, one of the toughest experiences of my career. But super rewarding!” That’s how Spanish climber Alex Txikon describes his successful Manaslu winter ascent. As reported, the 41-year-old Basque had reached the summit of the 8,163-meter-high mountain in western Nepal on Friday together with the Nepalese climbers Tenjen Sherpa, Pasang Nurbu Sherpa, Mingtemba Sherpa, Chhepal Sherpa, Pemba Tashi Sherpa and Gyalu Sherpa.
First videos and pictures of the ascent show to all appearances the “True Summit”, the very highest point at the end of the summit ridge – around which there had been so much fuss in recent years. A joint summit photo was not possible there due to lack of space, Txikon reported after returning to Kathmandu, adding that one after the other, they climbed to the highest point.