This time next year, Marc Batard wants to summit Mount Everest for the third time without bottled oxygen. The Frenchman will then be 70 years old. If he succeeds, he would be by far the oldest climber without breathing mask on the top of the highest mountain on earth.
At the end of the 1980s, Marc was a big shot in the Himalayas. Within just under ten months, the “sprinter”, as he was called because of his fast pace, scaled four eight-thousanders, all without bottled oxygen. In 1988 and 1990, he stood on the summit of Mount Everest.
The coronavirus seems to be resistant to altitude. At the base camp at the foot of Mount Everest at a good 5,300 meters, there have apparently been further infections – even if these are still not officially confirmed. “More than 30 people have already been evacuated by helicopter to Kathmandu with suspected pulmonary edema – later found to be positive for coronavirus,” writes Polish climber Pawel Michalski from Everest Base Camp on Facebook today.
This coincides with information I received from another source. According to this, on average between six and eight people per day are currently being flown out by helicopter. Many of them do not have insurance that includes corona infection, it is said. Therefore, they are declared to suffer from high altitude sickness.
“Everest without bottled oxygen is clearly the goal,” David Göttler writes me from the base camp at the foot of the highest mountain on earth. How exactly he wants to realize this goal – whether alone or in pairs, on which route – the 42-year-old leaves open: “At the moment, you can really only plan from day to day here.” That’s why he won’t comment on speculation currently circulating in the scene about his intentions.
The desire to climb the highest mountain on earth seems to be immune to the coronavirus. Nepal’s Ministry of Tourism announced that as of last Friday it had issued permits to 394 foreign climbers for Mount Everest, 13 more than in the record year of 2019.
So there is no chance of idyllic Everest solitude, at least on the south side of the mountain. Mingma Sherpa, head of the Nepalese expedition operator Seven Summit Treks, told the Chinese news agency Xinhua that more than 2,000 climbers, mountain guides, Climbing Sherpas, cooks, kitchen helpers and other staff had already reached base camp. Seven Summit Treks once again makes up the largest group on Everest, with 110 clients.
“I’ve got the urge to summit an eight-thousander,” says Alex Txikon. “The last one was the first winter ascent of Nanga Parbat in 2016 and I think it’s about time to step on a summit of an eight-thousander.” The 39-year-old Spaniard will fly to Nepal tomorrow Friday to climb Mount Everest. He plans to arrive at base camp on 2 May. He then gives himself three weeks to reach the highest peak on earth at 8849 meters – without bottled oxygen, via the normal route. He plans to return to Spain on 25 May.
Now the Corona pandemic has reached the highest mountain on earth. At least one case of corona has been reported from the base camp on the Nepalese south side of Mount Everest. The U.S. magazine Outside, citing a source at base camp, reports that a climber who was flown out with suspected high-altitude pulmonary edema was tested positive for COVID-19 at a hospital in Kathmandu. His team at base camp is in quarantine, he said.
Nepalese journalist Bhadra Sharma, who writes for the New York Times among other publications, even reports three infected climbers, referring to a doctor at base camp.
Am I a notorious complainer? Actually, everything sounds great. A record number of summiteers on Annapurna, some firsts: the first six Nepalese women on the otherwise dangerous eight-thousander, one of them – Dawa Yangzum Sherpa – even without bottled oxygen, the first two women from Mexico, the first Albanian woman, the first climbers from Pakistan, the first Greek …
And there were no fatalities. A Taiwanese climber, who had ascended without breathing mask, was taken off the mountain by helicopter on Sunday – it remains to be seen whether this was really because of slight frostbite, or because he wanted to return to Kathmandu as quickly as possible to continue his journey to Dhaulagiri. Three Russian climbers, who got into mountain distress during the descent, were finally found on Monday and also flown back to base camp on the helicopter long line. So all done and dusted?
On Sunday, contact with Sergey Kondrashkin, Alexander Luthokin and Dmitry Sinev was lost. According to the newspaper The Himalayan Times, Kondrashkin and Sinev had reached the 8,091-meter-high summit, Luthokin is said to have given up above 7,000 meters. The trio was eventually discovered above Camp 3 (6,600 m) and rescued by helicopter.
The first summit day of the spring season on an eight-thousander in Nepal was a very successful one. By his count, 67 climbers from several teams had reached the 8,091-meter summit of Annapurna I in the west of the country today, Chhang Dawa Sherpa of the Nepali expedition operator Seven Summit Treks (SST) let it be known on Instagram. Others reported more than 40 summit successes. Either way, it would be by far the most successful summit day ever on this mountain, which is the most dangerous of all eight-thousanders in terms of fatality rate.
Actually, the first summit successes in this spring season on an eight-thousander in Nepal were expected for today, Thursday. But the push on Annapurna I ended at an altitude of about 7,400 meters. “Back at Camp 4,” Mexican Viridiana Alvarez Chavez let us know via her GPS tracker. “Thirty-five people and no one made the summit.”
The fixed ropes had run out, she added, writing that there will be another attempt to reach the highest point on Friday. This was also confirmed by the Pakistani climbers Sirbaz Khan and Abdul Joshi. They let it be known that additional material (800m rope, bottled oxygen, food and gas) was dropped by helicopter at Camp 4 at 7,300 meters.
For me, it was one of the first mysteries of this spring climbing season in Nepal. Who is the lone climber who has appeared for weeks as the only summit aspirant for Manaslu on the permit lists of the Ministry of Tourism in Kathmandu? The mystery has been solved. At least as far as the identity of the climber is concerned. He is the Japanese Toshihiro Yokoi. In the high-altitude mountaineering scene, he is still a blank sheet. At least there is no entry about him in the mountaineering chronicle Himalayan Database.
Yokoi set out in mid-March with a small team from the Nepalese expedition operator Asian Hiking Team to climb the 8,163-meter-high Manaslu in western Nepal. According to information from the operator, the Japanese wanted to use bottled oxygen to climb the eighth-highest mountain on earth and then – also this spring – climb Mount Everest and Lhotse.
At least a small glimmer of hope for Nepal in times of pandemic: In March, Nepalese authorities counted around 15,000 tourists entering the Himalayan state from abroad. That was almost twice as many as in February. In the first three months of the year, a total of about 33,000 tourists arrived. That’s about a quarter of the number of foreign vacationers who entered Nepal in the first quarter of pre-corona 2019 (about 127,000).
The mountaineering season is also picking up steam following the easing of entry restrictions. The Ministry of Tourism announced yesterday that it had so far issued 343 climbing permits for a total of nine mountains, including 192 alone, distributed among 20 expedition teams, for Mount Everest. By comparison, in the record year of 2019, the ministry had issued 381 permits for the highest mountain on earth.
I wish you all and your loved ones Happy Easter – despite corona restrictions. And the “Picasso from the river Rhine” 😉 is confronting you with another easter riddle: Which mountain have I conjured onto the egg?
Will his next hit be called “I took a pill on Everest”? US singer Mike Posner has announced in a video (see below) that he wants to climb Mount Everest this spring. The 33-year-old let it be known that he had been preparing for his project for 18 months. The idea came to him when he crossed the USA on foot in 2019. After the death of his father, he “felt trapped under the weight of my own life,” Mike says. “I wanted to find out who I was when I wasn’t a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter.” His song “I Took a Pill in Ibiza” had made it to number one on the charts in several European countries and was nominated for Best Song of the Year at the 2017 Grammy Awards.
For six months and three days, Posner trekked 2,851 kilometers across the U.S., from the East Coast to the West Coast. Along the way, he was also bitten by a rattlesnake. “When I crossed the Rocky Mountains, I had a good idea what I wanted to do next,” says the singer: to climb Mount Everest, the highest mountain on earth. A PR stunt? No, says Jon Kedrowski, who has been training the musician and wants to accompany him to the 8,849-meter-high summit.