The summer season in the Karakoram is coming to an end. Yesterday, Thursday, according to estimates, about 90 members of commercial expeditions reached the summit of K2, the second highest mountain on earth. About twice that number had made a summit attempt. This meant that Everest conditions prevailed on K2 – as they had in summer 2022. The Pakistani climber Muhammad Hassan lost his life, allegedly when a piece of ice broke off and hit him in the so-called Bottleneck, the dangerous key section at around 8,000 meters. Given the mass of people who were en route there and the traffic jams that formed, it is surprising that not more people came to harm. From my point of view, it was just luck, because there is almost always avalanche danger in the Bottleneck.
Lonely and in a completely different style than the summit aspirants on K2, the 32-year-old South Tyrolean Simon Messner and the 35-year-old Austrian Martin Sieberer were on the move in the Karakoram this summer. As reported, they set a highlight with the first ascent of Yermanendu Kangri, which according to their measurements is around 7,180 meters high. This achievement clearly stood out from the mainstream high-altitude mountaineering of commercial expeditions. The two climbers reached the summit in alpine style, i.e. without bottled oxygen, without high altitude porters, without fixed high camps and without fixed ropes. In order to be faster, they refrained from roping up. I asked Simon about their coup.
Congratulations on your first ascent of Yermanendu Kangri. Had you carefully scouted out the possible route before your summit push, or were you more spontaneous?
This means that Kristin and Tenjen have scaled all 14 eight-thousanders within three months and one day. In doing so, they demonstrated what is possible with physical strength and determination when the means of commercial expedition mountaineering are pushed to the extreme: They reached the summits via the normal routes and were supported on their ascents with bottled oxygen by strong Sherpa teams. Helicopters were also used on some climbs to transport not only materials but also Climbing Sherpas to the high camps. In 2019, Nepalese Nirmal Purja had “ticked off” all 14 eight-thousanders in six months and six days in the same style.
It didn’t take much for the first ascent of the 7,453-meter-high Muchu Chhish in the Karakoram in Pakistan. The two Czechs Tomas Petrecek and Radoslav Groh made it to an altitude of 7,200 meters – without bottled oxygen – but then found the summit zone a too hard nut to crack.
“Tons of mini snowballs everywhere, which you can’t walk through, dig through, climb through. Such a surprise awaited us below the peak of Muchu Chhish, just before the destination of our expedition,” the team let it be known. “For three days we tried to somehow pass through this mass, but in vain. There was no strength left for more attempts, and after careful consideration we preferred to turn it back down.”
The Nepalese Tenjen Sherpa and the Norwegian Kristin Harila continue their time chase on the eight-thousanders. Today the two – with five other companions – reached the summit of Gasherbrum I at 8,080 meters. Three days ago they had scaled Gasherbrum II. G I was the twelfth eight-thousander success for Tenjin and Kristin in just under three months. They now still need Broad Peak and K2 to achieve their goal of ticking off all 14 eight-thousanders in a few months.
After their summit success on Nanga Parbat, Harila and Tenjen had themselves been flown from the town of Skardu to Gasherbrum base camp in a military helicopter. According to reports, such a flight currently costs up to 20,000 dollars. In Skardu, Harila had asked her fans via social networks for donations so that she could complete her project in the face of skyrocketing costs.
Not a pioneering act
The German magazine “Alpin” had asked me for a statement on what I thought of Harila’s eight-thousander hunt. This was my answer:
The first summit successes of the summer season on the eight-thousanders Broad Peak and Gasherbrum II are reported from the Karakoram in Pakistan. “I’m standing on the summit at 8,051 meters,” Horia Colibasanu announced today via satellite phone from Broad Peak. “It was a strenuous twelve-hour climb. A very long ridge. (A) very difficult summit because I didn’t know which of the ridge tops was the actual summit. I climbed up, I’m tired, I want to start the descent as soon as possible and I hope to get to base camp as soon as possible.” For the 46-year-old Romanian, it was the tenth eight-thousander he scaled without bottled oxygen and without a Sherpa companion.
On 2 July, Anja now stood – as reported – on the 8,125-meter-high summit of Nanga Parbat in Pakistan – without bottled oxygen and without Sherpa companion, as announced by the Nepalese expedition operator Seven Summit Treks. To speak of a solo ascent, however, would be wrong. The 33-year-old German also used the fixed ropes previously laid on the normal route. After her summit success, I sent Anja five questions. Here are her answers:
Anja, first of all, congratulations on your ascent of Nanga Parbat. How were the conditions on the summit day?
The first fatality of the summer season on the five eight-thousanders of Pakistan is reported from Nanga Parbat. According to Polish media, Polish climber Pawel Kopec died in Camp 4 at about 7,300 meters, apparently dehydrated and suffering from high altitude sickness. On Sunday, he – like his compatriots Piotr Krzyzowski and Waldemar Kowalewski – had reached the summit at 8,125 meters without bottled oxygen. During the descent, the 38-year-old became weaker and weaker, according to Kowalewski.
Hermann Buhl is a stubborn man. It does not bother him in these first days of July 1953 that down in Nanga Parbat Base Camp the expedition leader Karl Maria Herrligkoffer gives several times the signal to turn back. The German may be good as a fundraiser and organizer of expeditions, but not as a climber.
In contrast to Buhl, who at 28 is in top form: In 1952, the Austrian was the first person in the Alps to climb the Northeast Face of Piz Badile solo, and in February he climbed the Watzmann East Face, also solo and in winter. And now he sees a good chance to scale Nanga Parbat, this eight-thousander in Pakistan that the Nazis had declared and glorified as the “German mountain of fate“.
1,225 meters of altitude and more than six kilometers of distance still lie between the highest camp and the summit. When his tent partner Otto Kempter is not ready to leave at the agreed time, Buhl trudges off alone – without bottled oxygen. “It is starry, the crescent moon shines down and casts silvery light on the ridge rising before me, it is windless, yet clear,” Buhl later writes.