Trekking tourists posing at a spot in the Khumbu with a view of Mount Everest or at the site of the base camp at the foot of the highest mountain on earth – pictures like these are currently circulating again on social networks. A sign that mountain tourism in Nepal is slowly but surely picking up again after the period of deep depression during the corona pandemic. The first numbers trickling in seem to confirm this.
According to the Sagarmatha National Park administration, about 1,400 tourists came to the Everest region in September, compared to only about 170 in the same month in 2020. Ang Dorjee Sherpa, owner of the AD Friendship Lodge in Namche Bazaar, enthusiastically told me two weeks ago that around 250 tourists had arrived in the main village of the Khumbu region in one day. A year ago, there had often been only a handful of trekkers per day.
“I’m picking up right where I left off,” Jost Kobusch tells me. “It was clear from the start that a project like this would need several attempts. And this is just the second one.”
In a week, on 29 October, the 29-year-old German climber will fly to Nepal to try his hand at Mount Everest again in winter: solo; without bottled oxygen; via the challenging, rarely climbed route over the Lho La, a 6,000-meter-high pass between Nepal and Tibet, the West Ridge and the Hornbein Couloir located in the North Face. In his first solo attempt on this route, Jost had reached an altitude of 7,366 meters in February 2020.
The most demanding routes are currently climbed on seven-thousander peaks rather than on the 14 eight-thousanders. A week ago, for example, French climbers Benjamin Védrines and Charles Duboulez achieved a fine success on the 7,321-meter-high Chamlang in Nepal. The two opened a new route through the challenging North Face of the mountain not far from the eight-thousander Makalu. They christened their 1,600-meter-high route “À l’ombre du mensonge” (In the shadow of the lie). From the summit, the French descended via the West Ridge.
That was a speedy return. Only two days after, according to the operator Dolma Outdoor Expeditions, Gelje Sherpa’s five-member team had stood on the summit of Kangchenjunga the four Sherpas and their client already presented themselves at a photo session in the garden of a hotel in Kathmandu. On Saturday noon expedition leader Gelje and the Sherpas Nima Gyalzen, Dakipa and Pasang Rinjee had reached the highest point at 8,586 meters along with their Taiwanese client Tseng Ko-Erh, the company had communicated before. Apparently, they all used bottled oxygen – if they hadn’t, it would probably have been announced.
It was the first and only summit success on the third highest mountain on earth this fall. A team from the U.S. operator Alpenglow Expeditions – also with only one paying client – had advanced to Camp 4 at around 7,500 meters, but ultimately abandoned the expedition after a failed summit attempt because the client’s time window had closed.
It is a pragmatic solution. Only from next year, the venerable mountaineering chronicle Himalayan Database wants to speak of a summit success on Manaslu only if the very highest point at 8,163 meters, located at the end of the summit ridge, has been reached. Climbers who reach three elevations further ahead, which are two to six meters lower, will in the future be certified “only” as having reached the fore summit of Manaslu.
“As we cannot change history, we will make a note in the database that from 1956 – when the summit was first reached by Toshio Imanishi, Gyaltsen Norbu Sherpa – to 2021, we accepted the three points mentioned above as the summit due to a lack of in-depth knowledge,” Billi Bierling’s team let it be known.
Climate change is increasingly throwing a monkey wrench in the works of even top climbers: heavy precipitation at times when it used to be dry, high temperatures where it used to be cold, falling rocks and avalanches. Graham Zimmerman was among those who returned empty-handed from the Karakoram last summer.
Zimmerman is a U.S. citizen and a New Zealander: He was born in Wellington, his American parents returned to the U.S. when he was four years old, Zimmerman later studied in New Zealand and now lives in Bend in the U.S. state of Oregon. The 35-year-old is one of the best alpinists in the world. In 2014 he was nominated for the Piolet d’Or for his new route via the Northeast Buttress of Mount Laurens in Alaska (together with Mark Allen), and in 2020 he received the “Oscar of the Climbers” (together with Steve Swenson, Chris Wright and Mark Richey) for the first ascent of the seven-thousander Link Sar in the Karakoram. Zimmerman’s film about the pioneering feat in summer 2019 was just released (see video below). Graham answered my questions about the impact of climate change on climbing the world’s highest mountains.
Graham, last summer you and Ian Welstedt attempted to climb K2 via a new variation of the West Ridge route. You stopped at about 7,000 meters because of the climatic conditions on the mountain. What exactly did these look like?
After many successes on Manaslu in the past few days, the first ascents of the fall season were announced today also from the eight-thousander Dhaulagiri. According to the commercial Nepalese expedition operators Seven Summit Treks and Pioneer Adventure, more than two dozen mountaineers reached the highest point at 8,167 meters. For the first time, women from Nepal (Purnima Shrestha and Pasang Lhamu Sherpa Akita) and India (Baljeet Kaur and Piyali Basak) stood on the seventh highest mountain on earth, it was said.
Among the lucky ones at the summit were also the Swiss Sophie Lavoud, for whom it was her twelfth eight-thousander success, and the Pakistani Sirbaz Khan, who thus became the first climber of his country to stand on nine of the 14 highest peaks on earth. Khan had announced that he would do without bottled oxygen on Dhaulagiri, the Indian Basak reportedly also climbed without breathing mask.