When Priti and Jeff Wright later look back on 2020, they will surely agree that it was “an exceptional year” – and not just because of the corona pandemic. At the end of 2019, the software developer and the aerospace engineer from the US city of Seattle took a one-year career break to live out their passion for climbing.
The couple, both in their early 30s, first traveled to Patagonia, then to Europe and finally to Pakistan. Their mountaineering record is impressive: Cerro Torre, the six great north faces of the Alps and finally – as reported – as the cherry on top K6. On the challenging seven-thousander in the Karakoram, they succeeded in traversing from the West Summit (7,040 m) to the hitherto unclimbed Central Summit (7,100 m), climbing in alpine style. The “Alpine Vagabonds”, as they call themselves on their website, answered my questions about their coup on K6.
What does the adventure on K6 with the only third ascent of the West Summit and the first ascent of the Central Summit mean to you?
The Khumbu Icefall on Mount Everest can become a deadly trap for climbers at any time. For example, when one of the seracs, the huge ice towers, collapses, when new crevasses open or when existing ones suddenly change. In addition, there is the threat of avalanches from the snow- and ice-laden West Shoulder of Everest and vis-à-vis from the slopes of the 7,861-meter-high Nuptse. In April 2014, an ice avalanche in the Khumbu Icefall killed 16 Nepalese climbers.
The passage above the base camp is the section of the normal route on the south side of Everest in Nepal with the highest objective dangers. The reason is obvious: The Khumbu Glacier moves constantly, on average one meter per day, through the eye of the needle between the West Shoulder and Nuptse, about 600 meters down towards the base camp. And it does not flow evenly.
Roll backwards. The Khumbu Pasanglhamu Rural Municipality has reopened the region around Mount Everest for mountaineers and trekking tourists. These are allowed to enter if they can show a corona test on arrival, which is not older than 72 hours and was negative, the authority informs me on request. In the morning the first plane from Kathmandu landed in Lukla again.
Last week, foreign tourists had arrived in Nepal for the first time in about seven months, including mountaineers who want to climb the 6,818-meter-high Ama Dablam near Everest. In Kathmandu they had gone into the mandatory one-week hotel quarantine.
On Thursday, the local government banned all flights into the Everest region until further notice after a COVID-19 infection had been reported from Namche Bazaar. According to the newspaper “Nepali Times”, a team of doctors arrived by helicopter in the hub of the Khumbu on Saturday and tested 123 people there. Nine young men were tested positive but showed no or only mild symptoms of the disease. They are now in quarantine.
The 6,962-meter-high Aconcagua is not allowed to be climbed for the time being. Due to the corona pandemic, the authorities of the Argentinean province of Mendoza canceled the climbing season on the highest mountain in South America, which normally lasts from mid-November to the end of February. The Aconcagua National Park is only open to local trekkers, overnight stays are not allowed.
Nepal has hardly been officially reopened for mountain tourists when the first restrictions are imposed. Today, the Khumbu Pasanglhamu Rural Municipality banned all flights into the region around Mount Everest until further notice. Mountaineers and trekking tourists are not supposed to arrive for the time being. The reason is a corona case in Namche Bazaar, the main village of the Khumbu region. The newspaper “The Himalayan Times” reports that parts of Namche have been sealed because of the confirmed COVID-19 infection.
Back and forth and forth and back. The information policy of the Nepalese government in times of Corona is one big hullabaloo. Therefore it is really difficult to distinguish between what is fact and what is rumor. Officially, the country is – despite continued high corona infection rates – open for mountaineers and trekking tourists since last Saturday. Before that there had been reports that the date would be postponed by one month to mid-November. Apparently, however, this only applies to tourists who do not want to come to Nepal for trekking or mountaineering.
The first summit success of the year on an eight-thousander in Nepal is perfect. The Nepalese expedition operator Seven Summit Treks let it be known via Facebook that the team of the Royal Guard from Bahrain reached the 8,163-meter-high summit of Manaslu this morning at 6:10 a.m. local time. Media reports citing the Ministry of Tourism in Kathmandu said that three Nepalese mountain guides had been on the summit with 14 climbers from the Bahrain team.
Also on the fourth day in a row the fire blazes on the southern flank of Kilimanjaro. About 1,000 people – firefighters and volunteers – are still trying to contain the fire. According to the authorities, in the first three days the vegetation in an area of 28 square kilometers was robbed by the flames. This corresponds to the size of almost 4,000 soccer fields.
One usually imagines vagabonds something different than a software developer and an aeronautical engineer from the USA. Priti and Jeff Wright, a climbing couple in their early 30s from Seattle, call themselves “Alpine Vagabonds“. They have now realized a real coup in the Karakoram in Pakistan.
He was the spiritual voice of the Khumbu. Generations of mountaineers and trekking tourists have met him at Tengboche Monastery and have received his blessing for their adventures. Ngawang Tenzin Jangpo Rinpoche died at the age of 85 years. Since 1956, for 64 years, he had been abbot of the Buddhist monastery Tengboche in the Khumbu region, within sight of Mount Everest.
The countdown is running. On 17 October, eight days from now, the first mountain tourists are to be allowed to enter Nepal. The most controversial regulation of the corona protocol for visitors from abroad is now supposed to be dropped: the obligatory one-week quarantine in hotels in Kathmandu.
The usually well-informed newspaper “The Himalayan Times” (THT) reports, citing sources in the Ministry of Tourism, that a round of ministers has approved a corresponding proposal. Instead of a quarantine of at least seven days with another corona test on the fifth day, mountaineers and trekking tourists should now have an instant PCR test or an antigen test directly at the airport. The presentation of a negative test taken in the tourist’s home country, which must not be older than 72 hours, remains mandatory.
Some news of climbers’ deaths spread like wildfire. Others do not. For example, I learned rather by chance – through a Facebook post of his ex-wife Lhakpa Sherpa – that the nine-time Everest summiteer George Dijmarescu died of cancer at the age of 59 in the USA at the end of September. Only some media in his native Romania had reported about it – as I subsequently found out. Perhaps it is also because Dijmarescu’s reputation in the mountaineering scene was, to put it mildly, ambivalent due to his character.
Everything is arranged on the eight-thousander Manaslu for the mountaineers from Bahrain. The base camp is ready for occupancy – and the Sherpa team of the Nepalese operator Seven Summit Treks (SST) has already prepared most of the way up the mountain. According to SST expedition manager Chhang Dawa Sherpa, the route to Camp 3 at 6800 meters is prepared. The mountaineers from Bahrain have acclimatized on Lobuche East not far from Mount Everest. According to SST, they reached the summit of the six-thousander last Saturday. As reported, the 8,163-meter-high Manaslu, the eighth-highest mountain in the world, located in Nepal, will be only the overture for the mountaineers of the Royal Guard of Bahrain – for Everest next spring.