Seasonal balance on Mount Everest: The cash cow with the most milk

Mount Everest (in 2016)
Mount Everest

Big business as usual. That’s how you could summarize the past spring season on Mount Everest. It got off to a slow start at first because the Icefall Doctors took longer than planned to complete their work in the Khumbu Icefall on the Nepalese south side of the mountain. Fewer snow bridges, huge crevasses – climate change is also making itself felt on the world’s highest mountain.

Once the route through the icefall and a little later up to the summit was secured mit fixed ropes, the commercial climbing machine, which had been well-oiled for years, started up as usual: On the good weather days, long queues formed at the key points, and at times, as many climbers crowded together at the summit as at an open-air concert by Madonna.

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Anja Blacha after Kangchenjunga success: “Never had such heavy legs on the descent”

Anja Blacha
Anja Blacha

Now no other woman from Germany has stood on eight-thousanders more often than Anja Blacha. The mountaineer, who celebrates her 34th birthday on 18 June, achieved a last-minute summit success on the 8,586-meter-high Kangchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world, at the end of the spring season on the eight-thousanders in Nepal. She had already scaled the 8,485-meter-high Makalu, the fifth-highest of all mountains, on 12 May. On both mountains, Anja climbed on the normal routes, with teams from the commercial expedition operator Seven Summit Treks (SST) and did without bottled oxygen herself.

These were her seventh and eighth eight-thousanders after Mount Everest (in 2017 and 2021), Broad Peak, K2 (both in 2019), Nanga Parbat, Gasherbrum I and II (these three in 2023). Only on Everest did she use a breathing mask on her ascents. This means that the German mountaineer now has one more eight-thousander summit success to her name than Alix von Melle, who has summited seven eight-thousanders to date. Anja Blacha answered my questions after her return from Kangchenjunga.

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At the end of the spring season: New route on Cho Oyu – summit successes on Kangchenjunga

The Nepalese south side of Cho Oyu
The Nepalese south side of Cho Oyu

“This was my dream for so many years and finally we did it. A new route on Nepal side.” With these words, Gelje Sherpa expressed his joy on Instagram. Last Friday, the 31-year-old led a seven-member team from the commercial expedition operator Seven Summit Treks to the 8,188-meter-high summit of Cho Oyu – via the South-Southwest Ridge, a new route on the Nepalese south side of the sixth-highest mountain on earth.

It was Gelje’s fourth attempt to reach the summit this way. In addition to him, Tenging Gyaljen Sherpa, Lakpa Temba Sherpa, Chhangba Sherpa, Lakpa Tenji Sherpa and Ngima Ongda Sherpa as well as their 19-year-old French client Alasdair Mckenzie stood on the highest point. For Mckenzie, it was the thirteenth of the 14 eight-thousanders. All the climbers used bottled oxygen. It was the first Cho Oyu summit success from the south since 2009, when Denis Urubko and Boris Dedeshko climbed a new route through the Southeast Face without breathing masks.

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100 years ago: Mallory and Irvine go missing on Everest

North side of Mount Everest
North side of Mount Everest

Noell Odell is collecting fossils on the Tibetan north flank of Mount Everest when the weather suddenly clears. “The entire summit ridge and the last ridge of Everest became visible,” the British mountaineer later wrote about this moment in the midday hours on 8 June 1924.

“My eyes became fixed on one tiny black spot silhouetted on a small snow-crest beneath a rock-step in the ridge; the black spot moved. Another black spot became apparent and moved up the snow to join the other on the crest. The first then approached the great rock-step and shortly emerged at the top; the second did likewise. Then the whole fascinating vision vanished, enveloped in cloud once more.” Odell is apparently the last person to see his expedition colleagues George Mallory and Andrew Irvine on their summit attempt. They never return. At the time, Mallory is 37 and Irvine 22 years old.

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“School up – far west” on the home straight, but not yet finished

Drawing lessons in the new school of Rama in western Nepal
We draw our new school

“With your generous support, we have been able to significantly improve the educational environment for over 300 children in our school making it a cornerstone in our community,” says a delighted Gorkha Bahadur Shahi, Chairman of the School Management Committee in the village of Rama in Humla District in the far west of Nepal.

With your donations for “School up – far west”, Nepalhilfe Beilngries constructed two school buildings, a kitchen block and separate toilets for boys and girls. The German aid organization also ensured that the school received furniture and was supplied with drinking water. At my request, pupils from Rama drew their new school. You can see their pictures here:

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Serious allegations against Nepal’s star Nirmal Purja spark #MeToo debate in mountaineering

Nirmal Purja (in 2019)
Nirmal Purja

Is Nirmal Purja going from national hero to unwanted person in Nepal? Rajendra Bajgain, a member of the opposition Congress Party, called in parliament in Kathmandu for Purja to be denied entry in future. The mountaineer, who lives in England, defames Nepal by sexually harassing female climbers, said Bajgain. The politician was referring to an article in the New York Times last week. In it, two female climbers make serious accusations against Purja.

Lotta Hintsa, a mountaineer and model from Finland, accused the Nepalese mountaineering star of sexually harassing her in a hotel room in Kathmandu last year. He began undressing her against her will and then masturbated in her presence, Hintsa said. The US physician April Leonardo stated that she had also been sexually harassed by Purja. During a 2022 expedition to K2, the second highest mountain on earth in Pakistan, he came into her tent, kissed her against her will and sexually harassed her, Leonardo said. She was a client of Purja’s company Elite Exped.

Purja denied the allegations “unequivocally” via an Instagram story: “These allegations are defamatory and false.” Backpack manufacturer Osprey was the first of Purja’s sponsors to draw conclusions from the affair. The mountaineer is no longer a brand ambassador, the US company announced in an Instagram comment.

Over two million Instagram followers, British knighthood

Purja made headlines around the world in 2019 when he climbed the 14 eight-thousanders in just six months – with bottled oxygen, a strong Sherpa team at his side, on the normal routes and by using helicopters to get from one mountain to the next as quickly as possible. By comparison, it took Reinhold Messner 16 years. In 1986, the South Tyrolean was the first person to scale all eight-thousanders. He climbed the world’s highest mountains in small teams, without breathing mask and mostly on new routes.

Netflix advertisement for 14 peaks
Netflix documentary increased Nims’ popularity

In 2021, Nims was also involved in the first winter ascent of K2, according to his own account he did without bottled oxygen. The Netflix documentary “14 Peaks – Nothing is Impossible”, which was released in the same year, had given Purja additional popularity. The 40-year-old has more than two million followers on Instagram.

The Nepalese mountaineer is a former elite soldier of the traditional British Gurkha Regiment. Nepalese soldiers have been earning their living in this brigade for over 200 years. Purja lives with his wife and daughter in the county of Hampshire in the south-east of England. In 2018, Queen Elizabeth II honored him with a British knighthood for his services to high-altitude mountaineering.

Other expedition operators distance themselves from Purja

Several Western commercial expedition operators distanced themselves from Purja. “We are shocked and deeply saddened,” announced Austrian operator Furtenbach Adventures on Instagram. “One of the most important role models in this community is credibly accused of sexual assault by several woman. We unequivocally condemn such behavior and affirm that it has no place in our community.”

Sexual predation is “a danger we can not only mitigate,” wrote Adrian Ballinger, head of the US operator Alpenglow Expeditions. “We can join together to ensure we have zero tolerance for in our community.” Adrian added that the New York Times article showed that “this is not the first or only recent example of behavior like this is the climbing community. We must do better.”

The New Zealand expedition operator Adventure Consultants expressed similar sentiments on Instagram, writing that they support those who have now told their stories “with vulnerability and incredible braveness” and also those who have similar stories to tell: “Let’s come together as an industry to raise accountability and make the mountains a place of equality and inclusivity for all.”

Just the tip of the iceberg?

Apparently, a #MeToo debate in mountain sports is overdue. This is suggested by the Instagram post from AW Expeditions, a US operator of women for women: “Unfortunately we can state with confidence, based on many informal conversations, that this high-profile case is but the tip of the iceberg of a systemic issue in mountaineering.”

Renowned US mountaineer Melissa Arnot also draws attention to this. “Flirt back or be excluded. Go along with it and don’t cause problems,” says the 40-year-old, describing her first experiences as a young mountain guide. “I was called the ‘total package’ by a supervisor as he explained to clients why it was ok to rope up with a young, small girl. And I smiled and played my part.” Arnot summited Mount Everest six times, once without bottled oxygen.

Update 5 June: Meanwhile, a court in Sacramento, California, sentenced 40-year-old US professional rock climber Charles Barrett to life imprisonment for multiple sexual assaults on women in Yosemite National Park. “He used his status as a prominent climber to assault women in the rock-climbing community, and when his victims began to tell, Barrett responded by lashing out publicly with threats and intimidation,” said U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert. “This case is a testament to the courage of the victims who reported these crimes. The U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to investigate and prosecute violent crimes in National Parks like Yosemite.”

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