57 days, 18 hours, 50 minutes of physical and mental exertion, loneliness, the endless expanse of Antarctica, crevasses, strongly fluctuating temperatures, the lowest at minus 35 degrees Celsius, severe weather, storms. Then the German adventurer Anja Blacha reached the South Pole on 9 January, overjoyed. On 12 November, the 29-year-old had set off from Berkner Island in the northwest of the icy continent. Solo and unsupported, Anja skied the distance of 1,381 kilometers to the pole, pulling her sledge, which initially weighed 100 kilograms.
From the highest mountains to the eternal ice
In 2017, Blacha, then 26 years old, had been the so far youngest German woman to scale Mount Everest, with bottled oxygen. In 2019, she was the first German female climber ever to stand on the summit of K2, the second highest mountain on earth – without breathing mask. A few weeks earlier she had already summited the neighbouring eight-thousander peak Broad Peak without bottled oxygen.
Anja Blacha grew up in Bielefeld in North Rhine-Westphalia. Today she lives in Zurich. There she works in the management of a Swiss telecommunications company, which is obviously very tolerant of her adventures: After all, last year Anja spent on average every third day on expedition. After her return from Antarctica and after Anja has recovered a little from the strains, she answered my questions.
Anja, first of all, congratulations. How do you feel after 57 lonely days in Antarctica?
“Climbing in winter takes a lot of courage and ability for suffering. The risk is much higher,“ Hans Kammerlander answered when we met last Sunday at the ISPO trade fair in Munich. I asked him what makes winter climbing on the eight-thousanders so special. “The eight-thousanders can be very cold even in spring due to the high altitude, but in winter it’s sometimes twice as cold,” continues Hans. “In addition, the jet stream is lower, the winds hit the mountains sometimes brutally. Everything becomes difficult, just breathing becomes harder in this cold.”
This spring, Sergi Mingote will start the second half of his ambitious project: Within 1000 days, the 48-year-old Spaniard wants to climb all 14 eight-thousanders – without bottled oxygen. Sergi needed 444 days to scale the first seven eight-thousanders without breathing mask. In 2018, the Catalan summited Broad Peak, K2 and Manaslu, in 2019 Lhotse, Nanga Parbat, Gasherbrum II and Dhaulagiri.
In mid-February, Mingote will leave for Chile to pre-acclimatize in the Andes. On 27 March, he will then head for Nepal, where Sergi wants to tackle the next two eight-thousanders. The Spaniard Carlos Garranzo and the Italian Matteo Conte will be his climbing partners. Garranzo accompanied Mingote already on Lhotse, Conte on Gasherbrum II and Dhaulagiri.
At the end of Sergi’s project, Mount Everest is scheduled for May 2021. Mingote has already scaled the highest mountain on earth twice, both times with breathing mask: in 2001 via the Tibetan north side of the mountain, in 2003 via the Nepalese south side.
This spring you want to climb the 8,091-meter-high Annapurna and the 8,485-meter-high Makalu without bottled oxygen, then Gasherbrum I in summer, Cho Oyu and Shishapangma in fall. How are you preparing for this mammoth program?
Everest may come. The Spaniard Alex Txikon reached today at 10.15 a.m. local time with his compatriot Jonatan Garcia and the Nepalese Pasang Sherpa, Cheppal Sherpa and Kalden Sherpa the 6,814-meter-high summit of the shapely Ama Dablam (see the video below). “It’s been a tough ascent,” the 38-year-old reported from the highest point. “Wind hit us hard all the way up, but here we are, the five of us on top! Next, let’s start descending carefully.” In the meantime, the five climbers have returned to base camp safely.
A new era has begun in Oman. Two weeks ago, Sultan Qabus bin Said al Said died of cancer at the age of 79. For almost half a century, the monarch had led the country on the Arabian Peninsula into the modern age as absolute ruler with a steady hand: Qabus invested primarily in education, infrastructure and tourism. “As a traveler, you experience an open country, a high degree of hospitality and a feeling of security,” writes the 51-year-old German top climber Alexander Huber.
The younger of the two Huber brothers went climbing in the desert state in December with the Canadian Read McAdam and the Austrians Guido Unterwurzacher and Jakob Oberhauser. Their destination: the famous Majlis al-Jinn cave. The dome-shaped rock hall, one of the largest in the world with 61,000 square metres of floor space, is connected to the outside by three holes in its ceiling. The quartet wanted to open a new route through the second hole.
The mountaineering scene mourns the death of the Slovenian Grega Lacen. Last Friday the 43-year-old was en route in the mountains near the village of Jezersko, which lies in northern Slovenia near the border with Austria. On his descent down a snow-covered mountain path, Lacen apparently slipped and fell to his death over a steep wall. About 600 ascents were listed in Grega’s tour book. He also left his mark in the Himalayas and the Karakoram.
After a fall of Simone Moro into a crevasse on Gasherbrum I, the Italian and his South Tyrolean climbing partner Tamara Lunger have abandoned their expedition. “The winter expedition of Simone and Tamara to Gasherbrum I and II ends here”, Moro’s manager Marianna Zanatta announced. “We are happy to know that both are safe and sound.”
Full of energy and with great confidence, Moro and Lunger set off from base camp on Saturday. After ten days of hard work they had cleared a path through the icefall at the foot of Gasherbrum I and wanted, if the conditions allowed it, to pass Camp 1 at almost 6,000 meters and climb up directly to Camp 2 at 6,400 meters.
It was an emotional moment for Stephan Siegrist. When the Swiss top climber and his compatriots Lukas Hinterberger and Nicolas Hojac reached the summit of the 2,600-meter-high Cerro Cachet in northern Patagonia, the now 47-year-old dropped a little doll at the highest point of the mountain. This gesture was for his friend and climbing partner Julian Zanker, who died in February 2019 at the age of only 28 years in a fall in the upper part of the Eiger North Face. Zanker was actually supposed to have been part of the Swiss Patagonia expedition. In fall 2017, Siegrist, together with Zanker and the German top climber Thomas Huber, had first climbed the central Northwest Face of the 6,150-meter-high Cerro Kishtwar in the Indian part of the troubled Kashmir province.
As a dishwasher to the summit of the highest mountain in the world. Lhakpa Sherpa has not only done this once. With nine ascents, the 46-year-old is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the most successful female Everest climber. This spring, she wants to scale the highest mountain for the tenth time. In her first summit success in 2000 from the southern side of Nepal, Lhakpa was the first woman from Nepal to summit Everest and return alive – Pasang Lhamu Sherpa, the first Nepalese woman to reach the highest point in the world in 1993, had died on the descent. Lhakpa achieved her eight other Everest successes climbing from the Tibetan north side.
The Sherpani lives in West Hartford, Connecticut. For twelve years Lhakpa was married
to George Dijmarescu, a nine-time Everest climber born in
Romania. The marriage ended in a “War of the Roses”. A US court finally granded
her custody of their children after the divorce. Lhakpa’s son is now of age,
the two younger daughters still live with her. To earn a living, Lhakpa Sherpa
works 40 hours a week as a dishwasher in a supermarket.
Lhakpa, you want to
scale Mount Everest for the tenth time next spring. Will you do it again over
the Tibetan north side, again with bottled oxygen, with or without clients?
Jost Kobusch has achieved his first stage goal. According to his GPS tracker, the 27-year-old German climber reached the 6,006-meter-high Lho La, a pass on the border between Nepal and Tibet, today. Lho La is the lowest point of Everest West Ridge, which Jost says he wants to climb on his solo winter ascent.
The currently “100 percent bloody cold” (Jost), but sunny weather on the highest mountain on earth is expected to continue next week. However, meteorologists predict hurricane-force storms for the summit area of Mount Everest starting Sunday evening. At an altitude of 7,000 meters, wind speeds of at least 80 kilometers per hour are expected – anything but good conditions for an ascent over the exposed West Ridge.
The K2 winter expedition is in the starting blocks. Expedition leader Mingma Gyalje Sherpa is expected in Islamabad this Wednesday as the last of the seven team members. The Nepalese has scaled 13 of the 14 eight-thousanders, only Shishapangma is still missing in his collection. Before his departure for Pakistan, the 33-year-old Nepalese answered my questions that I had sent him some time ago.
Mingma, you’ve already scaled K2 twice. Why do you want
to try it now in winter?
Luckily or unluckily K2 is the only eight-thousander
remained to be climbed in winter. And I really wish there are Nepalese climbers
in the first winter ascent list. I do feel ashamed to say we have eight out of
these 14 peaks in Nepal and no Nepalese on the list of the first winter
There have been many attempts to climb K2 in winter, all
failed so far. What makes you optimistic that you can make it?
The way is paved for a first winter night in high camp for Denis Urubko, Don Bowie and Lotta Hintsa on their winter expedition on the eight-thousander Broad Peak in the Karakoram in Pakistan. Denis and Don ascended to Camp 1 at 5,800 meters yesterday.
“The route we set dances a delicate line between heinous, avalanche-prone snow slabs, and bullet-hard blue ice,” Don wrote on Instagram. “In summer this section is quite easy and straightforward, but in winter the mountain is stripped of snow, leaving bare ice and loose rock, and pockets of unstable snow.” Bowie was pleased with the “not bad time” of four hours it took him and Urubko for the climb – also in view of the fact that he had been struggling with illness over the past three weeks.