The 48-year-old Austrian is not a professional climber. Hans Wenzl earns his living as a foreman for an Austrian construction company. He has to save up the money for his eight-thousander expeditions and to take a vacation for his time on the highest mountains in the world. So it is all the more astonishing that Hans scaled his ninth eight-thousander last Thursday when he reached the 8,611-meter-high summit of K2, the second highest mountain in the world – as always without bottled oxygen.
He had previously stood on the top of Broad Peak (in 2007), Nanga Parbat (in 2009), Gasherbrum I and II (in 2011), Manaslu (in 2012), Cho Oyu (in 2013), Makalu (in 2016) and Mount Everest (in 2017). Hans lives in the Austrian federal state Carinthia in the small town of Metnitz with a population of 2,500. In 2005, he also reached the 8,008-meter-high Shishapangma Central Peak, which is 19 meters lower than the main peak.
He has two adult sons with his wife Sonja. After his summit success on K2, Wenzl answered my questions in the northern Pakistani city of Skardu.
Hans, did you still believe in your chance when most teams abandoned their expeditions after the first failed summit bid and declared that the avalanche risk was too high?
Many reporters, including myself, just didn’t have him on their Everest radar. This spring, Rasmus Kragh tackled the highest mountain on earth for the third time without bottled oxygen. In 2017 and 2018, the Danish professional climber had tried to scale Mount Everest via the Tibetan north side of the mountain and had turned around at 8,600 meters each. Last spring, the 30-year-old climbed via the Nepalese south side – and was successful. On 23 May, Kragh reached the highest point at 8,850 meters, as the first Dane without breathing mask. Rasmus comes from the town of Aarhus on the east coast of Denmark. Two months after his Everest adventure he answered my questions.
Rasmus, you reached the summit of Mount Everest on 23
May – according to your own words without bottled oxygen. Did you use it
neither during ascent nor during descent?
Now Purja “only” needs to climb the eight-thousanders Shishapangma and Cho Oyu located in Tibet as well as Manaslu in Nepal to complete his project as planned next fall: to scale the 14 highest mountains in the world within only seven months.
“Once again ‘Project Possible’ team made the impossible possible, as a result of positive mindset with outmost determination, teamwork and leadership.” Thus Nirmal, called “Nims” Purja, is quoted on Twitter after he reached the 8,611-meter-high summit of K2 today at 7.50 am local time in Pakistan with his companions Lakpa Dendi Sherpa and Gesman Tamang from his “Project Possible” team as well as Lakpa Temba Sherpa and Chhangba Sherpa from the team of the expedition operator “Seven Summit Treks” (SST). According to SST, it took the five climbers “eight hours of countless efforts” to reach the top.
Happy end of the dramatic rescue operation on Gasherbrum VII: This morning local time in Pakistan a rescue helicopter finally landed near Camp 1 at 5,910 meters to pick up the seriously injured Italian climber Francesco Cassardo and fly him to Skardu. There he is now being treated in a hospital. After Cassardo and his compatriot Cala Cimenti had climbed up to 150 meters below the summit on Saturday (only Cala reached the highest point later and thus achieved the first ascent of the 6,955-meter- high Gasherbrum VII – see update below), the 30-year-old had fallen on his descent about 450 meters deep. Francesco’s life was hanging by a thread. As reported, the deployment of a rescue helicopter had been delayed for bureaucratic reasons.
It is almost a miracle that the Italian climber Francesco Cassardo is still alive. After the first ascent of the 6,955-meter-high Gasherbrum VII in the Karakoram – together with his compatriot Cala Cimenti – the 30-year-old fell yesterday – as reported – on his descent about 500 meters deep. Cala, who had left the summit on skis, climbed up to the seriously injured Francesco and immediately sounded the alarm. First it was said that the Pakistani authorities had given the go-ahead for the deployment of a rescue helicopter, which would take off on Sunday immediately after sunrise.
Cimenti descended to Camp 1 and fetched the necessary equipment to spend the night at the side of the injured Cassardo. Cala was in constant contact with the Italian homeland via satellite phone and received medical advice. The injured Francesco is a doctor and is therefore able to assess his condition himself. According to his brother, Cassardo’s life was hanging by a thread during the night.
The joy lasted only briefly, now there is great concern. At late noon local time in Pakistan, Cala Cimentis’s wife celebrated the Italian climber’s summit success on Facebook: “He made it, he scaled the still untouched G VII. In a few minutes the descent begins on skis.” The 6,955-meter-high Gasherbrum VII had not been summited before. While Cimenti wanted to descend on skis – as he did at the beginning of the month after his summit success on Nanga Parbat – his companion Francesco Cassardo apparently descended on foot.
Selfies weren’t in then. Therefore there is no picture of the New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary on the summit of Mount Everest. It would have been too complicated to explain the camera to Tenzing Norgay up there at 8,850 meters, Hillary said later. And so the first ascender of Everest photographed his Nepalese companion at the summit on 29 May 1953. It remained the only summit picture.
“Sir Ed”, who died in January 2008, would have turned 100 this Saturday. On this occasion I spoke with Peter Hillary, the oldest of Ed’s three children. The 64-year-old is himself an adventurer with more than 40 expeditions behind him. Peter scaled Mount Everest twice (in 1990 and 2003), in 2008 he completed his collection of the “Seven Summits”, the highest mountains of all continents.
Peter, your father
would have turned 100 on 20 July. The whole world knows him as the first
ascender of Mount Everest. What kind of father was he?
“It seems that K2 is still not ready this season,” Dawa Sherpa from the expedition operator “Seven Summit Treks” wrote on Facebook. The team’s Climbing Sherpas, who wanted to fix the ropes above the so-called “Bottleneck”, a narrow couloir at about 8,200 meters with huge seracs above, turned around. The snow above the Bottleneck was 1.40 meters deep, Dawa reported adding that two avalanches had swept down.
Sad news from the Karakorum: Janez Svoljsak, a promising talent of the Slovenian climbing scene, died last weekend at the age of only 25 – asleep at the feet of the 6,651-meter-high Tahu Rutum in the Karakoram. Together with his Slovenian girlfriend Sara Jaklic, he had wanted to tackle the still unclimbed West Ridge of the mountain. According to Slovenian media reports Janez wheezed briefly while sleeping and then stopped breathing. All attempts at resuscitation were unsuccessful.
The summit wave on K2 is approaching. The weather at the second highest mountain on earth is unusually stable this summer. From tomorrow, Thursday, it could get crowded at the highest point at 8,611 meters. About 120 climbers are on their way, about half of them have chosen the normal route via the Abruzzi Spur, the Southeast Ridge, the other half the Basque route (often also called Cesen route) via the South-Southeast Ridge. Above the “Shoulder”at about 8000 meters, the two routes come together.
While vis-à-vis, on the 8,611- meter-high K2, the first summit attempts of the season are in progress, successes are already celebrated in the base camp below Broad Peak. On Sunday, among others, the team of the Swiss expedition operator “Kobler und Partner” reached the summit at 8,051 meters, including the Swiss Dani Arnold. For the 36-year-old, who had so far made headlines with his speed records on the classic north faces of the Alps, it was his first eight-thousander. He did not use bottled oxygen – just like Billi Bierling. The 52-year-old German mountaineer, journalist and Himalayan chronicler scaled – as reported – her sixth eight-thousander, the third of which without breathing mask. After returning to the base camp, she answered my questions.
Billi, you spent 25 hours on your summit push. That sounds like an ordeal. How exhausting was it?
Hats off! Billi Bierling scaled Broad Peak today, Sunday – without bottled oxygen. According to her sister, she returned safely from her summit push after 25 hours – to Camp 3 at about 7,200 meters.
For the 52-year-old German mountaineer and journalist, who is en route with the Swiss expedition operator “Kobler & Partner“, it was the sixth eight-thousander success and the third after Manaslu in 2011 and Cho Oyu in 2016 that she managed without breathing mask. Billi had already attempted Broad Peak in 2015. Camp 3 was the last stop at that time, due to the high danger of avalanches.