Fall projects on Mount Everest, once commonplace, have become rare. Because of the often rather bad weather, commercial expeditions give the highest mountain on earth a wide berth in the post-monsoon season, concentrating instead on Manaslu in western Nepal or the eight-thousanders Cho Oyu and Shishapanga in Tibet – provided the Chinese-Tibetan authorities clear these mountains.
In fall 2022, a Polish team led by ski mountaineer Andrzej Bargiel had attempted the Nepalese south side of Everest. Bargiel, who wanted to climb to the summit without bottled oxygen and ski down to base camp, and his companion Janusz Golab had aborted their summit attempt at the South Col at almost 8,000 meters. They had been greeted by such violent gusts of wind that they had not even been able to pitch their tent.
The first summit successes of the eight-thousander fall season are reported from Manaslu. Yesterday, Tuesday, a team of the operator Elite Exped reached the summit. The head of the company, Nepal’s “mountaineering star” Nirmal Purja, sent a video from the “True Summit” at 8,163 meters. In it, “Nims” thanked his “strong team” and announced that he would now travel on to Tibet to guide clients up the eight-thousanders Cho Oyu and Shishapangma.
Today, Wednesday, Nepalese operators Seven Summit Treks (SST) and Imagine Nepal also announced summit successes on Manaslu. For this fall, the government in Kathmandu has so far (as of 15 Sept) sold 301 climbing permits to foreign climbers for the eighth-highest mountain on earth. In fall 2022, it had issued 404 Manaslu permits.
The drama happened on 31 August, on Gasherbrum IV in Pakistan, at 7,684 meters, about 250 meters below the summit. Dmitry Golovchenko and Sergey Nilov had found a small spot on the ridge to pitch their tent for the night. The ground appeared problematic, broken rock covered with ice. The two Russians fixed the tent to a rope loop.
Very quickly, however, they realized that the ground was too sloped, and the tent was in danger of slipping. Sergey climbed out to level the platform and threw Dmitry a safety rope. A short time later, Sergey heard his friend call out, “Seryoga, I’m falling.” Nilov watched the tent with Golovchenko and their gear slide down the slope and disappear into the couloir below.
Could Muhammad Hassan still be alive today? The report of the commission of inquiry answers this question only indirectly: Yes, the father of three small children could still be alive if he had not been on K2, the second highest mountain in the world, located in Pakistan, on that 27 July. Because he simply didn’t belong there.
It was Hassan’s first eight-thousander expedition, according to the report of the five-member commission appointed by the regional government of Gilgit-Baltistan province after the death of the High Altitude Porter. Before that, Muhammad had only worked as a “Low Altitude Porter” on K2 (8,611 meters) and Spantik (7,027 meters), i.e. he had carried material to the base camps but not up the mountains.
One of the most spectacular climbs this year probably ended in tragedy. Russian climber Dmitry Golovchenko did not return from the 7,932-meter-high Gasherbrum IV in the Karakoram in Pakistan. Golevchenko collapsed, mountain.ru reports. His rope partner Sergey Nilov returned alone to the base camp, it said adding that Nilov was severely weakened and had suffered frostbite.
What exactly happened to Golovchenko is still unclear. Apparently, however, he did not survive.
“Ermanno was considered the strongest climber in Patagonia, with good reason. For decades (he was) the great protagonist in South America. There is no doubt about that. He excelled in every terrain, braved the worst storms, adapted to every situation and never gave up.” That’s what top Italian mountaineer Hervé Barmasse wrote on Instagram about his late compatriot Ermanno Salvaterra, who had made headlines on the international scene mainly for his climbs in Patagonia.
On Friday, Salvaterra had died on Campanile Alto, a 2,937-meter-high Dolomite mountain in the Brenta massif, in a 20-meter fall at around 2,750 meters. The 68-year-old mountain guide had been leading a client who remained unharmed. Mountaineering legend Reinhold Messner pointed out that the Brenta massif had been the “true home” of the victim of the accident. “A handhold must have given way: A Salvaterra doesn’t normally fall there,” Messner said. The 78-year-old spoke of a tragedy. Salvaterra had been “a truly outstanding figure in alpinism,” Messner said.
The two Spanish climbers Miquel Mas and Marc Subirana succeeded in the second attempt a n alpinistic coup in the Karakoram. According to information from the Spaniard Carlos Garranzo, the two reached on Friday via a “very direct line” a previously unclimbed, approximately 6,400-meter-high secondary peak on the southwest flank of the 7,108-meter-high granite giant Latok II. They had spent a total of 18 days on the wall so far, with the summit day alone taking 14 hours, Carlos reports. According to him, Mique and Marc christened their new route “Latok Thumb.”
Kali Bahadur Shahi rejoices. “We are encouraged and inspired that our dream will soon become a reality to provide quality education to this underprivileged community,” says the teacher from Rama. Nepalhilfe Beilngries is currently building a new school for more than 350 students in this small mountain village in Humla District, in underdeveloped western Nepal. This was made possible by your donations for my aid project “School up – far west”.
“We are grateful from the bottom of our hearts for the material support for the construction,” says Shahi. “We are very motivated. We have started classes in one building while the first-floor ceiling in the other has just been concreted.”
The Nepalese Ministry of Tourism wants to significantly increase the price for ascents of Mount Everest, by about 36 percent. The permit for foreign climbers should cost $15,000 from 2025 instead of the current $11,000, ministry spokesman Yubaraj Khatiwada told various media. However, the price increase should not take effect until the spring season after next, as the booking phase for spring 2024 has already begun, Khatiwada said.
While Nepal’s frequently changing governments have earned a reputation in recent years for very frequently announcing new regulations without subsequently implementing them. But a permit price hike seems quite realistic, given that the last increase was more than eight years ago. Another representative of the Ministry said that in the course of the reform, the insurance sums and wages for porters, high altitude porters and mountain guides should also be increased.
In the north of Pakistan, the search for the Japanese climber Shinji Tamura, well known in the high-altitude mountaineering scene, has been suspended. According to the Pakistani newspaper “Dawn”, Tamura, together with his compatriot Takayasu Semba, had attempted last week to scale an unclimbed almost 6,000-meter-high mountain in the Kande Valley in alpine style (without bottled oxygen, high altitude porters, high camps and fixed ropes).
At 5,300 meters, the two Japanese fell, the newspaper reports. Takayasu, who was only slightly injured, pitched a tent for his more seriously injured rope partner and descended to base camp to get help. However, a rescue team later failed to find Shinji. It is speculated that Tamura eventually tried to descend alone, possibly falling into a crevasse.
The death of the Pakistani High Altitude Porter Muhammad Hassan at the end of July in the upper zone of K2 is causing discussions all over the world. Two questions in particular are of concern even to people who have little or no interest in mountaineering. How could dozens of mountaineers simply climb over Hassan on the second highest mountain on earth, although he was obviously still alive? Why did no one try to bring him down from the accident site above the so-called “Bottleneck” – an extremely steep passage at 8.200 meters, directly below huge overhanging seracs?
The Austrian Wilhelm Steindl helped initiate the discussion. He was part of the team of expedition operator Furtenbach Adventures that turned back below the Bottleneck because of too much avalanche danger. Steindl and German cameraman Philip Flämig later viewed video footage Flämig had shot with a drone. They saw on it that Hassan was apparently still alive hours after his accident, while numerous climbers walked past or climbed over him.
Steindl and Flämig visited Hassan’s family after the end of the expedition and delivered money they had collected to the surviving dependents. Steindl has since launched a crowdfunding campaign on the Internet (click here) to help the family of the deceased porter financially in the future as well.
Steindl runs a hotel in Kirchberg in the Austrian state of Tyrol. He raced cars until he was 18. “Then my racing career failed because there were no sponsors,” Willi tells me. I talked to the Austrian climber, who turns 31 this Saturday, about the summit day on K2.
Willi, how did you personally experience the situation in the summit zone of K2 on 27 July?
The pictures and videos that have been circulating in social media for days about the summit day on K2 are disturbing. In them, mountaineers can be seen climbing over the corpse of Pakistani climber Muhammad Hassan below the “Bottleneck,” the key passage at around 8,000 meters.
There are so many questions surrounding his death that the regional government of Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan province has set up a commission of inquiry. Within two weeks, it is to clarify what happened on 27 July in the summit zone of the second highest mountain on earth. What exactly happened to Hassan? Was everything done to save his life? Was he adequately equipped for his work as a High Altitude Porter? Should he even have been up there based on his mountaineering skills?
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.”