Blank ice or deep snow – this is how the eight-thousanders are currently presenting themselves to climbers attempting them this winter. “Compared to last time, the conditions are much icier,” Jost Kobusch tells me.
Just over a week ago, he had climbed Mount Everest towards the West Shoulder, on the same route that had taken him to just below 7,400 meters during his first winter attempt two years ago. As he did then, this year Jost is again climbing solo and without bottled oxygen. “There wasn’t as much snowfall as last time. And the little snow didn’t stay on the ice, of course, but was immediately blown away.”
A rising star in the German mountaineering sky has gone out much too early. Robert Grasegger died in an avalanche accident in Patagonia. The mountaineer from the village of Grainau near Garmisch-Partenkirchen was only 29 years old. His partner, a 28-year-old female climber from Austria, was rescued seriously injured, her condition is stable, according to Argentine media reports.
It will probably be a base camp weekend. Whether on Mount Everest and Manaslu in Nepal or on Nanga Parbat in Pakistan, meteorologists are expecting snowfall this weekend on all eight-thousanders where climbers are already staying in order to climb these mountains this winter.
Jost Kobusch is recovering – according to his GPS tracker – in the village of Lobuche at nearly 5,000 meters from his previous days’ climb towards the West Shoulder of Everest. The maximum altitude his tracker showed was 6,464 meters yesterday (Thursday) before he descended back into the Khumbu Glacier Valley via the Lho La, a 6000-meter pass between Nepal and Tibet.
The “naked mountain” – that’s Nanga Parbat translated – is still naked as far as successful winter ascents via the southeast-facing Rupal flank, the highest mountain wall in the world, are concerned. The only two winter summit successes so far on the 8,125-meter-high mountain in Pakistan have been via the northwest side, the Diamir flank: the first winter ascent in 2016 by Spaniard Alex Txikon, Italian Simone Moro and Pakistani Muhammad Ali “Sadpara” (South Tyrolean Tamara Lunger turned back 70 meters below the summit) and the second one by Frenchwoman Elisabeth Revol and Pole Tomek Mackiewicz (who died on the descent) in 2018.
This winter, top German climber David Göttler (43 years old) and Italian Hervé Barmasse (44) plan to climb Nanga Parbat via the Rupal side – in clean style, without fixed ropes and bottled oxygen. The American Mike Arnold (34), who accompanied the two to Pakistan, will “as planned soon travel back towards home,” as David writes me from the base camp at 3,500 meters. “Only Hervé and I will attempt the mountain.”
As long as COVID-19 has the world in its grip, it will remain lonely on the Tibetan north side of Mount Everest. It’s not official yet, but hardly anyone on the scene still doubts that China will not allow foreign climbers into Tibet for the third spring in a row because of the pandemic.
“No change. See you in 2023!” – that’s how Kari Kobler, head of the Swiss expedition operator Kobler & Partner, sums up the reactions of those responsible in Tibet to his inquiries regarding Everest. “I think expeditions to Tibet’s eight-thousanders are impossible in spring,” Kari, who has been organizing expeditions to the Himalayas for three decades, writes to me. For the 2022 fall season in Tibet, he sees a 50/50 chance at most, “but even that looks chanceless from my point of view at the moment.”
The only thing that helps is shoveling, shoveling and shoveling again. The winter climbers at base camp on the eight-thousander Manaslu have their hands full trying to cope with the masses of fresh snow. “We are involved in a great snowstorm, it has been snowing continuously for more than 24 hours, the shock waves of big avalanches almost touch Base Camp,” the Spaniard Alex Txikon posted today on Twitter. “The tents hold up very well despite the fact that there is more than a meter and a half of snow.”
However, the previous work on the route has been ruined, writes the 40-year-old. “Now we will have to start from scratch, opening the way and marking it all with bamboos.”
The base camp at the foot of Nanga Parbat is pitched. And when the German David Göttler, the Italian Hervé Barmasse and the American Mike Arnold look out of their tents, they see the Rupal Face of the eight-thousander Nanga Parbat – “an almost 4,500-meter-high wall of snow, ice and rock,” as Hervé said in an interview with the Italian sports newspaper La Gazetta dello Sport: “It is the highest wall in the world, and no one has ever managed to climb it in the coldest season.” By comparison, the Rupal Face is about 1,000 meters higher than the North Face of Mount Everest and two and a half times higher than the Eiger North Face.
Gelje Sherpa wants to kill two birds with one stone this winter. The 29-year-old wants to open a new route on the Nepalese side of the 8,188-meter-high Cho Oyu that is suitable for commercial expeditions, and at the same time climb his 13th eight-thousander. Should he succeed, the only peak missing from his collection would be Broad Peak. Gelje thus has a good chance of replacing his Nepalese compatriot Mingma “David” Sherpa as the youngest climber to have stood on all eight-thousanders. “That would be the cherry on top,” Gelje writes me. “It would surely give me various opportunities and strengthen my mountain career.”
This is not how he wants to go out. Actually, paraclimber Michael Füchsle had wanted to end his competitive career this year at the latest. But the corona pandemic and health problems put a spoke in his wheel. “I have purulent fistula ducts on my intestines that can burst open again and again,” the 54-year-old from the small German town of Bobingen, south of Augsburg, tells me. “I couldn’t walk two meters because of the pain. Between March and June, I almost didn’t climb at all.”
Michael is thinking about whether he will compete again in 2022: “I’m still undecided, but if I do it will be the World Cup in Innsbruck on 21 and 22 June.” If Füchsle makes it back into the national paraclimbing squad, the German Alpine Club would cover the cost of his start. “If not, I would be stuck with it.”
Sustainable mountain tourism – this is the motto the United Nations has chosen for today’s “International Mountain Day“. What is meant is tourism that is in harmony with nature and the landscape as well as with the culture of the local people. Quite the opposite is the project that the government of Tanzania now apparently wants to implement by any means: the construction of a cable car to Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa.
“We are finalizing the legal process for the establishment of cable cars, and very soon Tanzanians will be informed of the exact date of commencement of this service,” said the African country’s Deputy Tourism Minister, Mary Mansanja, a few days ago. “With these cable cars, it will take even 30 minutes for one to climb the mountain.”
The early bird catches the worm. That’s what Simone Moro seems to have thought. The Italian mountaineer has set off earlier than ever before on a winter expedition in the Himalayas. The 54-year-old is already in the Khumbu region, the area around Mount Everest. Simone wants to acclimatize on the 6,812-meter-high Ama Dablam for his real goal, which he wants to realize – as last winter – together with the Spaniard Alex Txikon: the winter ascent of the 8,163-meter-high Manaslu in western Nepal and, if possible, of the 7,992-meter-high Pinnacle East in front of it.
This spectacular traverse was first achieved by the two Poles Jerzy Kukuczka and Artur Hajzer in November 1986, i.e. in fall. The first winter ascent of Manaslu – without traverse – was also made by Poles: Maciej Berbeka and Ryszard Gajewski reached the summit in January 1984.
Moro is a true winter specialist: He managed four winter first ascents of eight-thousanders, more than any other climber: Shishapangma (2005), Makalu (2009), Gasherbrum II (2011) and Nanga Parbat (2016). The Italian answered my questions:
It’s against the odds when an extreme mountaineer celebrates his 60th birthday. Many who are on narrow ridge in the mountains, unfortunately, do not live to see this day. Because every little mistake can end fatally. Or nature strikes, whether in the form of a weather storm, an avalanche or rockfall. Even with all the caution, there is still a residual risk that is sometimes incalculable.
Today, Ralf Dujmovits has completed six decades – after more than 50 expeditions in the Himalayas and Karakoram in the past 36 years. So he must have done something right. Perhaps the secret lies in the fact that he sets clear priorities. “For me, health is still the highest good,” Ralf once told me. “I know myself very well. I also know that I can turn around. I have often done.”