Jean-Marc Peillex has enough. “I resign,” writes the mayor of the French municipality of Saint-Gervais, announcing that from today the refuges Tête Rousse (3167 meters) and Goûter (3835 meters) on the normal route on the 4,809-meter-high Mont Blanc will remain closed until further notice. “How sad that we are forced by some lawless daredevils to have to make a decision that really shouldn’t be.”
Repeatedly, the authorities had previously appealed to refrain from climbing Mont Blanc because of the current immense risk of falling rocks as a result of the summer heat. The region’s mountain guides are currently no longer taking clients up the highest mountain in the Alps. Nevertheless, according to Peillex, yesterday evening “79 climbers, mostly from Eastern European countries, played Russian roulette” and entered the Goûter hut.
Success stories continue to pour in from the eight-thousanders in the Karakoram, today especially from Broad Peak. Among those who reached the 8,051-meter-high summit were the collectors of eight-thousanders Kristin Harila, Adriana Brownlee and Grace Tseng. Without minimizing their achievements, I think it’s high time to recognize the Nepalese climbers who made their eight-thousander ascents possible.
Lucky! Damn good luck! This is the impression given by a video posted on social media by Mingma Gyalje Sherpa from 22 July, the record summit day on K2 (see below). On it, a long line of climbers can be seen at the so-called “Bottleneck” – above them huge ice towers that could collapse at any time. On Friday last week, some 120 members of commercial teams had reached (with bottled oxygen, except for a few) the summit of the second-highest mountain on earth – more than ever before in a single day in the history of K2.
“Actually, I had thought that with our list, after ten years of research, the main work was finished,” Eberhard Jurgalski tells me. “But that was a fallacy.” The list published by a team around the German chronicler, according to which – as reported – without a doubt only three climbers have stood on the highest points of all 14 eight-thousanders, continues to cause heated debate in the scene.
“I won’t let anyone tell me that such an ascent is not valid,” Reinhold Messner, for example, scolded in an interview with the Swiss newspaper “Tages-Anzeiger”. According to research by Jurgalski and Co., Messner and his South Tyrolean teammate Hans Kammerlander had turned around on Annapurna in 1985 at a point on the summit ridge five meters lower and 65 meters from the highest point. In the new list Messner, celebrated worldwide as the first man on all eight-thousanders, is therefore listed with “only” 13 eight-thousanders. Even though he and Kammerlander had opened a new route through the Northwest Face of Annapurna.
Eberhard Jurgalski polarizes. Some insult him as an armchair adventurer and runner-down. Others praise the 69-year-old German as a meticulous chronicler of mountaineering on the world’s highest mountains who simply works conscientiously. A week ago, Eberhard caused a medium-sized tremor in the high-altitude mountaineering scene. For ten years, Jurgalski and a handful of other chroniclers had reviewed summit photos of the 52 climbers so far who claimed to have scaled all 14 eight-thousanders. Had they, the chroniclers asked, really reached the highest point in each case or “only” a somewhat lower spot – whether deliberately or by mistake?
In summer 2004, the same problem befell us. On the journey to K2, the second highest mountain on earth in Pakistan, both mountaineering legend Kurt Diemberger and I contracted diarrhea that put us out of action for two days. As we later discovered in conversation, we had both eaten eggs in a hotel in the town of Chilas on the Karakoram Highway that were past their prime. With rather wobbly legs, we set off as planned to trek across the Baltoro Glacier.
At the time, Kurt was accompanying a large Italian expedition as guest of honor, which had set itself the goal of another ascent of the mountain on the 50th anniversary of the first ascent of K2 by the Italians Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli – five climbers of the team later succeeded in reaching the summit, all without the use of bottled oxygen. I was on a reporting trip to K2 because of the anniversary, which Kurt described to me as his “dream and destiny mountain.”
Once a topic is on the social media’s hot plate, emotions run high. Some are praised to the skies, others are banished to hell. Here the shining heroes, there the sinister villains. The more drastic the wording, the more hearts, thumbs up and clapping hands. The mountaineering scene is no exception. The latest example: the debate about the “True Summit” of the eight-thousander Manaslu.
Somehow it fits the desolate situation of tourism in Nepal. The important fall season for expeditions and trekking is just around the corner, and the responsible ministry is leaderless. The new prime minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, who took office on 13 July after a ruling by Nepal’s Supreme Court, has not yet appointed a new tourism minister. The head of government himself has taken over this task on a temporary basis.
At the same time, the tourism industry has its back against the wall as a result of the corona pandemic. In 2020, according to government figures, the number of foreign visitors fell from around 1.2 million in 2019 to around 230,000, a drop of 80 percent. Similarly, the number of mountaineers and trekkers declined, down 79 percent, from about 172,000 to just under 36,000.
From 17 October, foreign mountaineers and trekking tourists are to be allowed to enter Nepal again. This was announced by the government in Kathmandu. Those entering must present a negative corona test, which must not be older than 72 hours. After arrival in Kathmandu a quarantine of at least one week in the hotel is mandatory. Because of the corona pandemic, foreigners are currently not allowed to enter Nepal – unless they are diplomats or work for UN aid organizations.
The adventure gap. This is what the black journalist and author James Edward Mills calls the phenomenon that black mountaineers and climbers are still the exception in the adventure scene. “It’s not a question of whether or not African-Americans can climb high mountains,” Mills wrote in “National Geographic” magazine: “What matters is as group we tend not to. And for a variety of different social and cultural reasons the world of mountaineering has been relegated almost exclusively to white men.”
But something is happening. The “Black Lives Matter” movement is also leading to a rethink in the outdoor industry, writes US climber Meagan Martin to me. The realization that racism is still widespread initially surprised the scene, she says, adding that in the meantime, however, companies have begun to question where they’ve failed to be an ally to the black community and how they can do better moving forward: “Many athletes are also taking this time to reflect, take accountability, and educate themselves to be a better ally.”
“We are opening tourism, because these three to four months are important for the people associated with tourism. Otherwise more joblessness will occur at these places,” Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan surprisingly announced earlier this week. The former country’s cricket superstar, who has been head of government since August 2018, specifically mentioned the northern provinces of Gilgit-Baltistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. There the highest mountains in Pakistan are located, including the five eight-thousanders K2, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum I, Gasherbrum II and Nanga Parbat.
According to Khan, the provincial governments would jointly make regulations under which the tourism industry could be reopened. It almost sounded as if the summer climbing season in the Karakoram could be saved against all odds – despite the coronavirus pandemic. But resistance is stirring in the regions mentioned.
“I was deeply touched. Never before I had felt such a feeling of happiness,” French climber Maurice Herzog later wrote about that moment on 3 June 1950, when he reached the 8,091-meter-high summit of Annapurna I with his compatriot Louis Lachenal – it was the first ascent of an eight-thousander. Both climbed without bottled oxygen on their way over the northern flank of the mountain. The way back from the summit was dramatic.
Actually, the ski mountaineer Carlalberto, called “Cala” Cimenti had wanted to travel to Nepal this spring. Together with expedition leader Felix Berg from the operator “Summit Climb” and two other German mountaineers, the 44-year-old Italian had planned a summit trilogy in the region around Makalu: first up to Mera Peak (6,476 m), then to Baruntse (7,129 m), and finally to Makalu, (8,485 m), the fifth highest mountain on earth. Now Cala lies sick in his bed at home. He is one of currently more than 41,000 Italians (status quo 19 March, 8 pm CET) who have tested positive for the corona virus. The doctors diagnosed Cimenti with pneumonia, but sent him home from the hospital – with medication and the advice to call if things got worse.
I like solo expeditions. They are challenging and therefore exciting. And if the goal is not reached, there is no one afterwards to whom the adventurer can blame for it – except nature or himself. Even before his solo winter expedition to Mount Everest, Jost Kobusch had already told me that his main concern was to find out whether his plan to climb the highest mountain on earth solo, without bottled oxygen and on an ambitious route was realistic. “My personal goal would be to reach an altitude of about 7,200 meters. Anything above that would be a bonus, the summit anyway,” Jost had said before leaving for Nepal. In the end the bonus was 166 meters.
On his last attempt, the 27-year-old German climbed up to 7,366 meters at the Everest West Shoulder. The fact that he reached his altitude despite his damaged left foot makes him very happy, Kobusch wrote on Facebook, back in Kathmandu. “Sometimes you just have to set intermediate goals to get closer to the final goal.”
Every slight movement of the jaw hurts up to the ears, even speaking. Anyone who has ever had toothache at high altitudes knows what Nirmal “Nims” Purja is going through in Shishapangma Base Camp. “I’m having a massive trouble with my wisdom tooth. It’s so bloody painful and it’s getting me fever,” the 36-year-old Nepalese climber writes on Facebook, adding ” Yes I have been brushing my teeth and have been using dental floss too.” Toothaches are anything but ideal conditions for a summit attempt on the 8,027-meter-high mountain in Tibet – the last one that Nims still needs to successfully complete his ambitious “Project Possible” (all 14 eight-thousanders in seven months).