Billi Bierling after her Broad Peak success: “My longest summit day”

Billi Bierling on the summit of Broad Peak

While vis-à-vis, on the 8,611- meter-high K2, the first summit attempts of the season are in progress, successes are already celebrated in the base camp below Broad Peak. On Sunday, among others, the team of the Swiss expedition operator “Kobler und Partner” reached the summit at 8,051 meters, including the Swiss Dani Arnold. For the 36-year-old, who had so far made headlines with his speed records on the classic north faces of the Alps, it was his first eight-thousander. He did not use bottled oxygen – just like Billi Bierling. The 52-year-old German mountaineer, journalist and Himalayan chronicler scaled – as reported – her sixth eight-thousander, the third of which without breathing mask. After returning to the base camp, she answered my questions.

Billi, you spent 25 hours on your summit push. That sounds like an ordeal. How exhausting was it? 

Broad Peak (with the shadow of K2)

I think it’s been my longest summit day. We all knew it would be a long way, because on 13 July one of our guides (Maxim Cherkassov from Russia), Karma Sherpa, Nazir Sadpara from Pakistan and a client (Mauricio Fernandez from Mexico) were fixing the ropes to the summit. As it had taken them a very long time, we decided to leave Camp 3, which is at only 6,950 meters, at 7 pm on 13 July. I had never started so early for an eight-thousander summit. The pleasant thing about it was that we didn’t have to leave the sleeping bag in the middle of the night in the cold, but we knew that we would be exposed to the cold for a very long time, especially climbing without bottled oxygen.

The track was very good and there were about 30 to 40 people on the way. The route to the col was very long, but when I reached this point it was clear to me that the mountain would let me to its summit this time. I had felt great all the time and despite the effort I had time to enjoy the climb. The Kobler & Partner team was really great and we had a good time together. I arrived at the pre-summit at about 11.30 a. and of course I knew that I wanted to go to the main summit. It was surprising for me that it was absolutely no big effort and the descent and ascent to the highest point was not as challenging as I had expected.

As after every summit, the descent was very exhausting, of course, and so I didn’t arrive back at Camp 3 until 9 pm. I always find it interesting what the human body is capable of. I didn’t eat a bite in 48 hours and only drank about one liter of water. But my body has mastered this marvelously, and I am very well now – even if I am a little exhausted. I am so unthinkably grateful that after my first attempt in 2015 I was now allowed to stand on the summit of the twelfth highest mountain. ?

Were you able to enjoy the time at the summit?

Yes, and how! I crossed with Joni Salzmann, a Swiss, from the pre-summit to the main summit, and we were at the summit for about half an hour. Unfortunately it was a little cloudy, but it was so warm that we could simply enjoy the view and didn’t have to freeze.

After Manaslu and Cho Oyu it was your third eight-thousander you scaled without bottled oxygen. On the three other mountains you used a breathing mask. What do you like better and why?

Billi Bierling

After I had climbed Lhotse, Makalu and Mount Everest with a mask and reached the summit of Manaslu the second time without supplemental, I have a good comparison. Of course, one cannot deny that an ascent with bottled oxygen is easier, but I personally find an ascent without a mask much more pleasant. Somehow it feels like being more connected with the elements and the mountain. And as you know, I like to talk and of course I know a lot of people who are on the high mountains because of my work for the Himalayan Database … and without a mask it is much easier to greet and talk to the people. ?No, joking aside – for me it was clear that I would climb Broad Peak either without bottled oxygen or not at all. And as I said, I am infinitely grateful that I made it. I’m so happy about it, because I really didn’t think that I could exert the strength to master this long climb to the summit. 

Broad Peak was already your sixth eight-thousander success. How far will this journey go?

It’s funny that you ask this. I think I would have given up the eight-thousanders if Broad Peak hadn’t let me reach its peak. But now that I’ve climbed six eight-thousanders, I might still be able to fulfill my dream: I would like to have stood on the summits of seven eight-thousanders, because that is half of the 14 eight-thousenders. I always say: “I am only half as good and half as rich as many others who can climb all 14 eight-thousanders… and that’s why I would be so happy if I could make it to seven.” But now I have to go home to my family in Garmisch. And if I try another one, it will certainly not be before 2020. But if I do it again, it will be one of the lower eight-thousanders, because I don’t want to use bottled oxygen.

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