The Himalayan mountains in Nepal and Tibet are closed to foreign mountaineers this spring due to the corona pandemic. For the same reason no expedition permits will be issued for Denali in Alaska, the highest mountain in North America (6,190 m), and the nearby Mount Foraker (5,304 m) in 2020. This was announced last Friday by the Denali National Park Service. The season there usually lasts from the end of April to mid-July.
Whether expeditions to the 8,611-meter-high K2, the second highest mountain on earth, and the four other eight-thousanders in Pakistan will be possible next summer is currently uncertain. As of today, due to the corona crisis a lockdown is in force until further notice in the northern Pakistani province of Gilgit-Baltistan, where the country’s highest mountains are located. Paramilitary forces have been asked to check whether the regulations are being observed, a member of the provincial government announced. Passenger traffic between the province’s cities has also been suspended.
Despite the restrictions resulting from the corona pandemic, Mount Everest will apparently not remain completely deserted this spring. There is growing evidence that a Chinese expedition will approach the highest mountain on earth from the Tibetan north side. According to the Kathmandu-based newspaper „The Himalayan Times“, at least 26 mountaineers from China, including six women, will attempt to climb Everest.
The spring climbing season in the Himalayas is over before it has begun. After the Chinese-Tibetan authorities announced that they would not issue permits for the Tibetan north side of Mount Everest and other mountains to foreign expedition teams this spring, the Nepalese government has now pulled the rip cord too. Due to the global spread of the coronavirus, no permits will be issued for expeditions to Everest and the other high mountains of Nepal from March 14 to April 30, the government in Kathmandu announced. The already issued climbing permits are invalid. It is understood that the regulation also applies to trekking tours.
Even if the decree was withdrawn at the beginning of May, the remaining time for expeditions would be too short. The season finishes at the end of May due to the start of the monsoon season.
“It will be the least crowded year on Everest for decades.” Thus Lukas Furtenbach, head of the Austrian expedition operator Furtenbach Adventures, advertised this year’s expeditions to the highest mountain on earth a few days ago. Unlike in previous years, the company not only offers the ascent on the Tibetan north side but also on the south side of Everest – not least because of the still unclear situation caused by the worldwide corona crisis. “We are preparing everything for both sides and are thus prepared to move everything to one (open) side – if necessary”, Lukas writes to me. “Let’s hope for the best!”
Nepal tightens the entry requirements because of the Corona epidemic. From 10 March onwards, travellers from the five countries in which the highest incidence of the disease has so far been detected will no longer be able to obtain entry visas at the borders of Nepal. This applies to citizens of China, South Korea, Italy, Iran and Japan. According to the government in Kathmandu, however, this does not mean a complete ban on entry. Anyone who wants to come to Nepal from one of these countries can apply for a visa at the Nepalese embassy in their home country, but must also provide a current health certificate.
This should also have an impact on the upcoming spring season on Mount Everest and the other high mountains of Nepal. Even before the government’s decision, Nepalese expedition operators had reported that Chinese clients had cancelled their registrations due to the corona epidemic. There had also been cancellations from Italy.
Is the other one the perfect climbing partner? Yes, answer both the 41-year-old German high-altitude climber David Göttler and the 42-year-old Italian Hervé Barmasse. “We complement each other super well,” says David. “We train more or less the same way, we have almost the same fitness, we move as fast as is necessary on eight-thousanders,” says Hervé. “Sometimes we have discussions, but that’s quite normal.” In questions of mountaineering ethics, Barmasse is “sometimes even more blatant than I am”, says Göttler: “I accept fixed ropes here and there where it makes sense. He is more rigorous in this respect and says: We don’t do that.”
Fast, clean, without bottled oxygen
Therefore, Hervé reports, he did not accompany David to Everest. In spring 2019, Göttler had tried in vain to scale the highest mountain on earth without bottled oxygen – via the normal route secured with fixed ropes. “I think that for the next generation of the best alpinists, it is no longer just about reaching the summit of Everest or any other mountain, but about respecting the mountain, respecting our planet,” says Barmasse. “That’s why I want to climb clean, in Alpine style.” On the whole, he agrees with Göttler on this point: They want to be en route on the eight-thousanders fast, in a clean style, without breathing mask. This also applies to their next project.
This spring, Sergi Mingote will start the second half of his ambitious project: Within 1000 days, the 48-year-old Spaniard wants to climb all 14 eight-thousanders – without bottled oxygen. Sergi needed 444 days to scale the first seven eight-thousanders without breathing mask. In 2018, the Catalan summited Broad Peak, K2 and Manaslu, in 2019 Lhotse, Nanga Parbat, Gasherbrum II and Dhaulagiri.
In mid-February, Mingote will leave for Chile to pre-acclimatize in the Andes. On 27 March, he will then head for Nepal, where Sergi wants to tackle the next two eight-thousanders. The Spaniard Carlos Garranzo and the Italian Matteo Conte will be his climbing partners. Garranzo accompanied Mingote already on Lhotse, Conte on Gasherbrum II and Dhaulagiri.
At the end of Sergi’s project, Mount Everest is scheduled for May 2021. Mingote has already scaled the highest mountain on earth twice, both times with breathing mask: in 2001 via the Tibetan north side of the mountain, in 2003 via the Nepalese south side.
This spring you want to climb the 8,091-meter-high Annapurna and the 8,485-meter-high Makalu without bottled oxygen, then Gasherbrum I in summer, Cho Oyu and Shishapangma in fall. How are you preparing for this mammoth program?
It was an emotional moment for Stephan Siegrist. When the Swiss top climber and his compatriots Lukas Hinterberger and Nicolas Hojac reached the summit of the 2,600-meter-high Cerro Cachet in northern Patagonia, the now 47-year-old dropped a little doll at the highest point of the mountain. This gesture was for his friend and climbing partner Julian Zanker, who died in February 2019 at the age of only 28 years in a fall in the upper part of the Eiger North Face. Zanker was actually supposed to have been part of the Swiss Patagonia expedition. In fall 2017, Siegrist, together with Zanker and the German top climber Thomas Huber, had first climbed the central Northwest Face of the 6,150-meter-high Cerro Kishtwar in the Indian part of the troubled Kashmir province.
The time for differences of opinion is over – at least as far as winter ascents in the northern half of the world are concerned. This Sunday marked the beginning of the two months in which the meteorological winter (1 December to 29 February) and the calendar winter (22 December to 31 March) overlap. Should a summit success be achieved by the end of February, it will be noted everywhere and by everyone as a winter ascent. At a later date, there are some (few) like Denis Urubko who complain. For the native Kazakh, who meanwhile has a Russian and a Polish passport, the climate is decisive, not the calendar. In March, he argues, the temperature and the conditions mean less winter than in December: “In this context the ‘astronomical’ year is only naked abstraction which doesn’t have a real embodiment for terrestrial conditions.“
The meteorological winter has begun, the calendrical is just around the corner. And yet it is still not quite clear how many eight-thousander winter expeditions will really take place in this cold season. The expedition announced in September by Mingma Gyalje Sherpa (Nepal), John Snorri Sigurjonsson (Iceland) and Gao Li (China) to K2, the only eight-thousander not yet summited in winter, is on the brink due to financial problems. “We have raised money from our pocket but calculating everything, we found it’s beyond our budget,” Mingma writes on Facebook. “As this is winter climb, there are huge hidden cost.” The 33-year-old, who has already scaled K2 twice in summer, has started a crowdfunding campaign (click here) to raise the obviously still missing sum of 75,000 US dollars.
The 33-year-old South Tyrolean Tamara Lunger and the 52-year-old Italian Simone Moro follow in the footsteps of Reinhold Messner and Hans Kammerlander. In summer 1984, 35 years ago, the South Tyrolean Messner and Kammerlander had written alpine history in the Karakoram in Pakistan, when they had traversed the eight-thousanders Gasherbrum II (8,034 meters) and Gasherbrum I (8,080 meters): in Alpine style, in one push, i.e. without descending – a pioneering act that has not been repeated on these two eight-thousanders to this day. The Spaniards Alberto Inurrategi, Juan Vallejo and Mikel Zabalza last failed in 2016 and 2017 in attempting the double traverse oft he Gasherbrum summits. “We raise the bar on it,“ says Simone Moro, „daring both eight-thousand meter peaks including the crossing as a winter expedition.“
Permits for eight-thousander expeditions in Tibet will be significantly more expensive from next spring. The Chinese Mountaineering Association (CMA) has now sent out the new tariffs, which are to apply from the beginning of 2020 to the end of 2022. The price increase for Mount Everest is particularly high. According to the list available to me, the foreign summit candidates for the world’s highest mountain will now have to pay 15,800 US dollars instead of 9,950. That is an increase of around 58 percent. For Cho Oyu, 9,300 dollars per mountaineer will have to be paid next spring. So far it was 7,400 dollars, which results in a plus of 25 percent. The permits for Shishapangma will cost 9,300 dollars for the normal route via the North Face (previously 7,150 dollars, plus 30 percent), 9,400 dollars for the South Face (previously 7,650, plus 22 percent).
Nailing one’s colors to the mast is actually regarded as something positive. But does the flag have to be 100 x 30 meters and fly from a 6812-meter-high summit? That’s exactly what happened on Tuesday last week on the beautiful Ama Dablam in the Everest region. A giant flag of Kuwait was rolled out from the summit ridge down the striking hanging glacier. Even in the village of Khumjung, a good ten kilometers away as the crow flies, the flag was still visible. Since then, the mountaineering scene has been discussing the action fiercely. Some see the mountain desecrated and the alpinistic values betrayed, others cheer the daring of the action.
Nims did it. “Mission achieved”, Nirmal, called “Nims” Purja announced today, after his “Project Possible” team had reached the 8,027-meter-high summit of Shishapangma in Tibet. The 36-year-old former soldier of the British Gurkha Regiment has thus successfully completed his plan to climb all 14 eight-thousanders in seven months. It was even faster than planned. Only six months and six days passed between his first eight-thousander success on Annapurna on 23 April and that on Shishapangma. For comparison: The fastest eight-thousander collector to date, the South Korean Kim Chang-ho, needed seven years, ten months and six days.
Felix Prokop was among those who met Nirmal Purja on the mountain this fall. The 28-year-old German mountaineer crossed the way of the Nepalese – who is expected tp successfully complete his “Project Possible” (all 14 eight-thousanders in less than seven months) on Shishapangma in the next few days – below Camp 1 on Cho Oyu. “Nims” had just ticked off his twelfth eight-thousander. “I congratulated him on his summit access,” Felix writes to me. “He was quite friendly and visibly in a hurry to descend as quickly as possible. I think he wanted to be back at Manaslu Base Camp the next day. On site, he’s a little bit like a rock star. Even the Sherpas seem to be very impressed by him.” Not without reason: Four days later, on 27 September, Purja stood on the summit of Manaslu, his 13th eight-thousander since the end of April.