The eighth highest mountain in the world has already been scaled more than 2,000 times, about half of the summit successes were reported in the past four years. Until 2009 there was relatively little hustle and bustle on Manaslu, but since then the mountain has increasingly become a commercial “top seller” in the fall season. At the same time, according to the chronicle Himalayan Database, the proportion of those attempting Manaslu without bottled oxygen has declined.
Climate change is also falling at the feet of mountaineers. Increasingly, we hear and read about top climbers whose projects fail because high temperatures make for dangerous conditions even at the highest altitudes. “I can’t say that I anticipated getting scorched off the second highest peak in the planet,” wrote American climber Graham Zimmerman with a twinkle in his eye after he and Canadian Ian Welstedt tried unsuccessfully to scale K2 via the seldom-climbed West Ridge in July. The avalanche and rockfall risk was simply too high.
South Tyrolean Simon Messner and Austrian Martin Sieberer also returned empty-handed from the Karakoram at the end of August because conditions on the still unclimbed 7,134-meter-high Praqpa Ri, located near K2, threw a wrench in their plans. “Two times we got stuck in bottomless powder at around 6.000 meters forcing us to turn around,” Simon Messner wrote on Facebook. The weather app had predicted temperatures of up to plus 10 degrees Celsius at 7,000 meters, wondered the 30-year-old son of mountaineering legend Reinhold Messner. Simon answered my questions.
Simon, you were on an expedition in Pakistan during the corona pandemic. How special were the circumstances?
Mount Everest has never been a fashionable mountain in the post-monsoon season. But it has rarely been as lonely as it is this fall on the highest mountain on earth. The Nepalese Ministry of Tourism has not issued any permits for Everest this season (as of September 14). Demand equals zero. Instead, mainly commercial expeditions are flocking to the 8,163-meter-high Manaslu in western Nepal. 171 foreign climbers from 17 teams received permits. If you add the local staff, Manaslu Base Camp at around 4,800 meters is again populated by around 400 people. The first high camps have also already been set up.
Happy end to a dramatic rescue operation: After being stuck for days on the 7,788-meter-high Rakaposhi in northern Pakistan at 6,900 meters, the two Czechs Petr Macek and Jakub Vlcek and the Pakistani climber Wajid Ullah Nagri were able to descend several hundred meters on their own yesterday (Tuesday). Today they were finally rescued by helicopter from an altitude of 6,200 meters. All three are said to be doing well under the circumstances.
Macek, Vlcek and Nagri had reached the summit on Thursday last week, according to media reports. On the descent, they got into trouble in bad weather and were stuck in their Camp 3 at 6,900 meters. Reportedly, one of the two Czechs was suffering from high altitude sickness, both of them from frostbite, it was said. Apparently, the trio also lacked ropes to continue their descent.
Somehow it fits the desolate situation of tourism in Nepal. The important fall season for expeditions and trekking is just around the corner, and the responsible ministry is leaderless. The new prime minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, who took office on 13 July after a ruling by Nepal’s Supreme Court, has not yet appointed a new tourism minister. The head of government himself has taken over this task on a temporary basis.
At the same time, the tourism industry has its back against the wall as a result of the corona pandemic. In 2020, according to government figures, the number of foreign visitors fell from around 1.2 million in 2019 to around 230,000, a drop of 80 percent. Similarly, the number of mountaineers and trekkers declined, down 79 percent, from about 172,000 to just under 36,000.
Canadian climber and filmmaker Elia Saikaly, who had been searching for the missing along with Muhammad’s son Sajid Ali Sadpara and Nepalese Pasang Kaji Sherpa, is cautious. “Our work continues here. We jump to no conclusions as we continue to put the pieces together and search for evidence of a successful winter ascent,” Saikaly wrote on social media.
They have thrown in the towel. American Graham Zimmerman and Canadian Ian Welsted abandoned their attempt on the rarely climbed, challenging K2 West Ridge and returned to base camp. The two were climbing in alpine style, meaning no bottled oxygen, no fixed high camps and no high altitude porters.
“In the end we were stopped in our tracks by some of the warmest temperatures either of have experienced in the big mountains,” Zimmerman wrote on Instagram. “At 7,000m we were unable to go any further due to near constant avalanches and rock fall down the route.”
The first summit successes of the summer season are reported from K2. Among those who reached today – with bottled oxygen – the highest point at 8,611 meters was also the only 19 years old Pakistani climber Shehroze Kashif. Last May, Kashif had also scaled Mount Everest, and in 2017 he summited Broad Peak – since then he has been called “Broad Boy” in his homeland.
One of the great British climbers is no longer with us. The 68-year-old Scotsman Rick Allen died yesterday in an avalanche on K2. Rick was reportedly planning to open a new route up the world’s second highest mountain with Austrian Stephan Keck and Spaniard Jordi Tosas – in alpine style, i.e. without bottled oxygen, high altitude porters and prepared high camps.
Where exactly the route was to go up is unclear; some reports say on the southeast side of K2, while others speak of the avalanche-prone East Face, which has never been climbed. Keck and Tosas escaped the avalanche. The Spaniard remained at K2 Base Camp, the Austrian was flown out to the town of Skardu. According to reports from Pakistan, Allen’s body was found near the Advanced Base Camp.
The ridge between triumph and tragedy can be very narrow on eight-thousanders. First, the headline went around the world that the South Korean Kim Hong-bin had summited the 8,051-meter-high Broad Peak in the Karakorum and had thus become the first disabled climber in the world to stand on all 14 eight-thousanders – with bottled oxygen. Even South Korean President Moon Jae-in congratulated Kim via Twitter for completing the collection of the eight-thousanders: “You gave more pride and hope to the people who are tired of the corona virus.”
A few hours later, news broke that the 56-year-old was missing. Russian climbers who were also on the mountain eventually reported that Kim had fallen into a 15-meter-deep crevasse far up the mountain while descending and had died. Other reports on social media had previously said Hong-bin had fallen to his death towards the Chinese side of Broad Peak.
Missing, but unforgotten. Five months ago, Pakistani Muhammad Ali Sadpara, Icelander John Snorri Sigurjonsson and Chilean Juan Pablo Mohr had not return from their winter summit attempt on K2. After several unsuccessful aerial searches, the three climbers had been declared dead, 13 days after setting out.
At the risk of repeating myself, children do not belong on eight-thousanders. And I mean that without any ifs or buts. I have raised five children – and not in the style of a cosseting father who always wraps his kids in cotton wool. But I ask myself: How can parents deliberately expose their children to the danger of death on an eight-thousander? I have no understanding for that. And so I shake my head again now.
Twelve-year-old Pakistani Selena Khawaja and her father are on their way to Broad Peak. This summer, they want to scale the 8,051-meter-high mountain in the Karakoram. Should Selena reach the highest point, she would be the youngest person ever to stand on an eight-thousander.
The good weather window did not open wide enough. “We needed six days of good weather in order to get safely up and down the remote, unclimbed Biarchedi I (6,810 m) in Pakistan’s Karakoram mountains”, Ralf Dujmovits writes on Instagram after the abandoned summit attempt. “With a forecast of 4.5 days of good weather, we headed up, but the snow started again after only one day and our good weather window was shortened to 2.5 days – not nearly what we needed.”