At the end of the spring season: New route on Cho Oyu – summit successes on Kangchenjunga

The Nepalese south side of Cho Oyu
The Nepalese south side of Cho Oyu

“This was my dream for so many years and finally we did it. A new route on Nepal side.” With these words, Gelje Sherpa expressed his joy on Instagram. Last Friday, the 31-year-old led a seven-member team from the commercial expedition operator Seven Summit Treks to the 8,188-meter-high summit of Cho Oyu – via the South-Southwest Ridge, a new route on the Nepalese south side of the sixth-highest mountain on earth.

It was Gelje’s fourth attempt to reach the summit this way. In addition to him, Tenging Gyaljen Sherpa, Lakpa Temba Sherpa, Chhangba Sherpa, Lakpa Tenji Sherpa and Ngima Ongda Sherpa as well as their 19-year-old French client Alasdair Mckenzie stood on the highest point. For Mckenzie, it was the thirteenth of the 14 eight-thousanders. All the climbers used bottled oxygen. It was the first Cho Oyu summit success from the south since 2009, when Denis Urubko and Boris Dedeshko climbed a new route through the Southeast Face without breathing masks.

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Serious allegations against Nepal’s star Nirmal Purja spark #MeToo debate in mountaineering

Nirmal Purja (in 2019)
Nirmal Purja

Is Nirmal Purja going from national hero to unwanted person in Nepal? Rajendra Bajgain, a member of the opposition Congress Party, called in parliament in Kathmandu for Purja to be denied entry in future. The mountaineer, who lives in England, defames Nepal by sexually harassing female climbers, said Bajgain. The politician was referring to an article in the New York Times last week. In it, two female climbers make serious accusations against Purja.

Lotta Hintsa, a mountaineer and model from Finland, accused the Nepalese mountaineering star of sexually harassing her in a hotel room in Kathmandu last year. He began undressing her against her will and then masturbated in her presence, Hintsa said. The US physician April Leonardo stated that she had also been sexually harassed by Purja. During a 2022 expedition to K2, the second highest mountain on earth in Pakistan, he came into her tent, kissed her against her will and sexually harassed her, Leonardo said. She was a client of Purja’s company Elite Exped.

Purja denied the allegations “unequivocally” via an Instagram story: “These allegations are defamatory and false.” Backpack manufacturer Osprey was the first of Purja’s sponsors to draw conclusions from the affair. The mountaineer is no longer a brand ambassador, the US company announced in an Instagram comment.

Over two million Instagram followers, British knighthood

Purja made headlines around the world in 2019 when he climbed the 14 eight-thousanders in just six months – with bottled oxygen, a strong Sherpa team at his side, on the normal routes and by using helicopters to get from one mountain to the next as quickly as possible. By comparison, it took Reinhold Messner 16 years. In 1986, the South Tyrolean was the first person to scale all eight-thousanders. He climbed the world’s highest mountains in small teams, without breathing mask and mostly on new routes.

Netflix advertisement for 14 peaks
Netflix documentary increased Nims’ popularity

In 2021, Nims was also involved in the first winter ascent of K2, according to his own account he did without bottled oxygen. The Netflix documentary “14 Peaks – Nothing is Impossible”, which was released in the same year, had given Purja additional popularity. The 40-year-old has more than two million followers on Instagram.

The Nepalese mountaineer is a former elite soldier of the traditional British Gurkha Regiment. Nepalese soldiers have been earning their living in this brigade for over 200 years. Purja lives with his wife and daughter in the county of Hampshire in the south-east of England. In 2018, Queen Elizabeth II honored him with a British knighthood for his services to high-altitude mountaineering.

Other expedition operators distance themselves from Purja

Several Western commercial expedition operators distanced themselves from Purja. “We are shocked and deeply saddened,” announced Austrian operator Furtenbach Adventures on Instagram. “One of the most important role models in this community is credibly accused of sexual assault by several woman. We unequivocally condemn such behavior and affirm that it has no place in our community.”

Sexual predation is “a danger we can not only mitigate,” wrote Adrian Ballinger, head of the US operator Alpenglow Expeditions. “We can join together to ensure we have zero tolerance for in our community.” Adrian added that the New York Times article showed that “this is not the first or only recent example of behavior like this is the climbing community. We must do better.”

The New Zealand expedition operator Adventure Consultants expressed similar sentiments on Instagram, writing that they support those who have now told their stories “with vulnerability and incredible braveness” and also those who have similar stories to tell: “Let’s come together as an industry to raise accountability and make the mountains a place of equality and inclusivity for all.”

Just the tip of the iceberg?

Apparently, a #MeToo debate in mountain sports is overdue. This is suggested by the Instagram post from AW Expeditions, a US operator of women for women: “Unfortunately we can state with confidence, based on many informal conversations, that this high-profile case is but the tip of the iceberg of a systemic issue in mountaineering.”

Renowned US mountaineer Melissa Arnot also draws attention to this. “Flirt back or be excluded. Go along with it and don’t cause problems,” says the 40-year-old, describing her first experiences as a young mountain guide. “I was called the ‘total package’ by a supervisor as he explained to clients why it was ok to rope up with a young, small girl. And I smiled and played my part.” Arnot summited Mount Everest six times, once without bottled oxygen.

Update 5 June: Meanwhile, a court in Sacramento, California, sentenced 40-year-old US professional rock climber Charles Barrett to life imprisonment for multiple sexual assaults on women in Yosemite National Park. “He used his status as a prominent climber to assault women in the rock-climbing community, and when his victims began to tell, Barrett responded by lashing out publicly with threats and intimidation,” said U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert. “This case is a testament to the courage of the victims who reported these crimes. The U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to investigate and prosecute violent crimes in National Parks like Yosemite.”

No permits for Shishapangma – for the north side of Everest only in May

Shishapangma
Shishapangma, the only eight-thousander located entirely in Tibet

An unusually large number of foreign eight-thousander climbers have been staying in the Langtang National Park, around 50 kilometers north of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, these days. The reason was obvious: the border to Tibet is close by and the five- and six-thousanders of Langtang are ideal for acclimatization. The teams were waiting for entry and climbing permits for China, where they wanted to try their hand at the eight-thousanders Shishapangma and Mount Everest this spring.

All those who wanted to climb the 8,027-meter-high Shishapangma received disappointing news today: the lowest of the 14 eight-thousanders remains closed. “After 17 days of waiting for an answer about the possibility of climbing Shishapangma in Tibet, we were informed that climbing in the region will not be allowed this year,” wrote Brazilian Moeses Fiamoncini on Instagram. “Now is the time to rethink our plans and redirect our energy towards exploring new challenges.”

Everest permits only after the Chinese holidays

Fiamoncini has already summited seven eight-thousanders without bottled oxygen; Shishapangma was to be number eight. Several dozen climbers had applied for permits for this eight-thousander. “It’s cancelled for this season,” confirms Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, head of the expedition operator Imagine Nepal, “but Everest will happen.” Mingma expects the permits for the highest mountain on earth “on May 6 or 7, maybe even earlier”.

Tibetan north side of Mount Everest
Tibetan north side of Mount Everest (in spring 2005)

While Labor Day is celebrated worldwide on 1 May, in China all stores, offices and schools remain closed until 5 May to mark the occasion. Other expedition operators told ExplorersWeb that 7 May would be the date on which the border will open for the Everest teams. In return, the season should last longer than usual: until 11 June. Lukas Furtenbach, head of the Austrian operator Furtenbach Adventures, disagrees. The season also ends in Tibet on 1 June, he writes to me. Part of his team on the north side is now moving to the south side, says Lukas. The remaining clients continue to wait.

After a four-year break, the foreign expeditions want to return to the north side of Mount Everest this year. It is shaping up to be a comeback with obstacles. Meanwhile, the Nepalese government has so far (as of 22 April) issued 364 permits for the south side of Everest. Last year at this time (21 April 2023), there were already 454 climbing permits. A decrease of 23.8 percent.

Update 24 April: After the British operator Adventure Peak, the Dutch expedition leader Arnold Coster, who lives in Nepal, has also pulled the ripcord and sent his team to the south side of Nepal. “The Chinese authorities keep delaying our entry date and now I feel like waiting any longer is too risky,” Coster writes on Instagram. “After more than a dozen Everest North expeditions I simply think the gamble on a late summit is too big. Yes, there been years when people summited late, but I have also seen years when the season just abruptly stops when the monsoon arrives.”

Update 25 April: The field of teams that wanted to ascend via the north side of Everest is getting smaller and smaller. Now Andreas Neuschmid, expedition leader of the Swiss operator Kobler & Partner, has also announced that his team switches to the Nepalese south side.

Norrdine Nouar after Annapurna summit success: “I’m still in the eight-thousander learning phase”

Norrdine Nouar on the summit of Annapurna I
Norrdine Nouar on the summit of Annapurna I

Norrdine Nouar has scaled his second eight-thousander without bottled oxygen. Last Sunday (14 April), the 36-year-old German mountaineer stood on the 8,091-meter-high summit of Annapurna I in western Nepal. In spring 2023, Nouar had already scaled the 8,516-meter-high Lhotse. Norrdine did not join any large teams on either occasion, but went it alone – on the normal routes, which were secured with fixed ropes by the commercial teams.

Nouar was a late bloomer when it came to mountaineering. Neither his family nor his friends were drawn to the mountains. He is the son of a native Algerian who came to the former GDR as a guest worker and met his future German wife there. Norrine grew up in the southern German state of Franconia, studied International Technology Management and spent his free time playing computer games rather than going out into nature.

So why did the mountain fever take hold of him at some point? “Ever since I can remember, I have been driven by an insatiable curiosity, a thirst for adventure and the constant urge to take on a new challenge,” Norrdine writes on his website. “I couldn’t help but opt for an uncertain adventure. So I went to the mountains, albeit late.” He reached his first summit at the age of 23. He later climbed four-thousand-metre peaks in the Alps, in the High Atlas in Morocco and also high mountains in the Caucasus and other mountain regions around the world. Nouar has stood on the summits of Mont Blanc, Elbrus and Kilimanjaro, among others. He lives in the municipality of Oberstaufen in the Bavarion region of Allgäu.

After his summit success on Annapurna, Norrdine, currently in Kathmandu, answered my questions.

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First summit successes of the season on Makalu and Annapurna I

Makalu in first daylight, from Gokyo Ri (in 2016)
Makalu (seen from Gokyo Ri)

The commercial climbing season on Nepal’s eight-thousanders has begun. The first summit successes of the spring were reported from two mountains higher than 8,000 meters – in both cases it was initially the teams of local climbers who fixed the ropes to the highest points.

According to Mingma Sherpa, head of Nepal’s largest expedition provider Seven Summit Treks (SST), an eight-man team led by Lakpa Sherpa reached the summit of Makalu at 8,485 meters yesterday, Thursday. The eight-thousander not far from Mount Everest is the fifth highest mountain on earth.

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New regulation: Everest climbers must use poo bags

Mount Everest
Mount Everest

It stinks to high heaven. This is now to be a thing of the past on the highest mountain on earth. Anyone who wants to climb Mount Everest or the neighboring eight-thousander Lhotse from the Nepalese south side from this spring onwards must buy so-called “poo bags” at base camp and use them if they need to relieve themselves on the mountain.

“Our mountains have begun to stink,” Mingma Sherpa, head of the local administration of the Khumbu region, told the BBC: “We are getting complaints that human stools are visible on rocks and some climbers are falling sick. This is not acceptable and erodes our image.”

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Paul Ramsden after another first ascent of a six-thousander in Nepal: “Anything but alpine style is cheating”

Ascent and descent route by Paul Ramsden and Tim Miller on Surma-Sarovar in western Nepal
Ascent and descent route by Paul Ramsden and Tim Miller on Surma-Sarovar in western Nepal

Paul Ramsden and Tim Miller have done it again: the two Brits managed another first ascent of a six-thousander in Nepal this fall – in alpine style (without bottled oxygen, without Sherpa support, without fixed ropes and without fixed high camps) and on a difficult route. Paul and Tim climbed the North Face of Surma-Sarovar in the far west of the country. The 6,574-meter-high mountain is located in the Salimor Khola Valley in the Gurans Himal, close to Nepal’s border with Tibet and India. “Possibly the most remote location I have ever been to, and we managed to climb a great route,” Paul wrote to me after his return from Nepal. He and Miller have thus achieved yet another feat of alpinism.

I had actually sent Paul some questions three weeks ago on the occasion of the Piolets d’Or award ceremony in Briancon on 15 November. Paul’s wife then informed me that he and Tim were still in Nepal. Ramsden and Miller will receive the “Oscar of Mountaineering” – as reported – for their first ascent of the 6,563-meter-high Jugal Spire in Nepal last year. Paul is the first mountaineer to be awarded the prestigious prize for the fifth time. Here are the answers from the 54-year-old top climber from Yorkshire in northern England.

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Russian expedition abandons Cho Oyu expedition – first ascents on six-thousanders

Cho Oyu (in the center of the picture the mentioned rock tower)
Cho Oyu (in the center of the picture the mentioned rock tower)

For the time being there is no new route on the Nepalese south side of the eight-thousander Cho Oyu. A five-member Russian team abandoned its attempt to reach – without bottled oxygen – the summit at 8,188 meters via the still unclimbed South-Southwest ridge and headed home.

Gale-force winds had prevented further ascent, the team announced on the website of the Russian Mountaineering Federation. In addition, time was running out. “The main reason for turning back was the understanding that there was still infinitely much ahead,” expedition leader Andrey Vasiliev told mountain.ru. “We had about four kilometers left to the top.”

For weeks, Vasiliev, Viktoria Klimenko, Vitaly Shipilov, Sergei Kondrashkin and Kirill Eizeman had worked their way up – repeatedly stopped by bad weather that forced them to retreat. Their highest point reached was around 7,350 meters, below a high rock tower.

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Rousseau, Marvell and Cornell pull off a coup on the 7000er Jannu

Matt Cornell, Alan Rousseau and Jackson Marvell on the summit of Jannu
Matt Cornell, Alan Rousseau and Jackson Marvell (from l. to r.) on the summit of Jannu.

It’s projects like this that show that alpinism is far from dead – even if the crisis of meaning in eight-thousander mountaineering sometimes makes it seem that way. The U.S. Americans Alan Rousseau, Jackson Marvell and Matt Cornell opened a new route on the 7,710-meter-high Jannu in eastern Nepal through the extremely steep, demanding and therefore rarely climbed North Face. It was the first time the 2,700-meter-high so-called “Wall of Shadows” had been mastered in alpine style – that is, without bottled oxygen, fixed high camps, fixed ropes or Sherpa support.

“So for three years I’ve been trying to climb the North Face of Jannu in alpine style with Matt and Jackson,” Alan Rousseau writes on Instagram. “We finally got it done! In a 7 day push BC (Base Camp) to BC.” The three climbers christened their route “Round trip ticket”.

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Fatal fall on Dhaulagiri – mourning for Nadya Oleneva

Dhaulagiri in the first daylight
Dhaulagiri (in 2004)


Miracles – like last spring’s survival of Indian climber Anurag Maloo in a crevasse on Annapurna – are unfortunately the exception on eight-thousanders. On the 8167-meter Dhaulagiri, not far away, Russian climber Nadya Oleneva died in a fall yesterday. This is reported by the Russian mountaineering portal mountain.ru.

According to this information, Oleneva had set out on Friday with her Russian compatriots Roman Abildaev and Rasim Kashapov for a summit attempt without bottled oxygen. Yesterday, they climbed separately and rope-free from Camp 1 at 6,050 meters towards Camp 2 at 6,880 meters. After Roman and Rasim arrived there shortly after each other, they wondered where Elena was, who had been only a short time behind them. Rasim searched for her in vain, but spotted one of her sticks and a slide down track into the depths. The two immediately requested a helicopter rescue and descended to base camp. The helicopter could not take off until today, Sunday. Oleneva’s lifeless body was discovered at an altitude of about 6,100 meters.

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Anurag Maloo, survivor on Annapurna I: “Never take a mountain lightly”

Anurag Maloo
Anurag Maloo


“We saw last year on Manaslu and this year on Shishapangma that even the easiest mountain can become the most difficult one, depending on the weather condition or different circumstances,” Anurag Maloo tells me. “Mountaineering is not a race, it’s your own individual journey with the mountains you go to. You shouldn’t compare yourself to others, whether it’s the 14 eight-thousanders or the Seven Summits or whatever. People shouldn’t feel that kind of a competitive mindset.”

The Indian mountaineer was referring to the avalanches in fall 2022 on the eight-thousander Manaslu in western Nepal, in which the Nepalese Anup Rai and Dawa Chhiring Sherpa and the American ski mountaineer Hilaree Nelson were killed. On the other hand, the avalanches of last Saturday on Shishapangma in Tibet, in which the US-American Anna Gutu and her Nepalese mountain guide Mingmar Sherpa as well as Gina Marie Rzucidlo, also from the USA, and her Nepalese mountain guide Tenjen “Lama” Sherpa lost their lives. Others on the ground – such as the Pakistani climber Naila Kiani – had reported a real race between the two U.S. climbers with hard bandages. Both wanted to be the first woman from the USA on all 14 eight-thousanders.

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Shishapangma: Mourning for four avalanche victims

Shishapangma
Shishapangma

The Chinese-Tibetan authorities have pulled the brakes. After two avalanches hit the summit zone of the eight-thousander Shishapangma on Saturday, they declared that “all climbing activities have been suspended in view of the unstable snow conditions on the mountain.” Apparently, this applies not only currently, but also for the rest of the fall season.

On Saturday, as reported, the US American Anna Gutu and her Nepalese mountain guide Mingmar Sherpa had died in a first avalanche. Their bodies had been found – unlike those of Gina Marie Rzucidlo, also from the U.S., and her Nepalese mountain guide Tenjen “Lama” Sherpa, who were swept away by another avalanche about two hours later. The search for the two missing people was suspended.

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Avalanche on Shishapangma: Two dead, two missing

Shishapangma
Shishapangma


Sad news from the eight-thousander Shishapangma: According to the newspaper “The Himalayan Times”, the American climber Anna Gutu and her Nepalese guide Mingmar Sherpa died today in an avalanche accident on the 8,027-meter-high mountain in Tibet. Gina Marie Rzucidlo, also from the U.S. and her Nepalese mountain guide Tenjen “Lama” Sherpa were reported missing. Apparently there is little hope of recovering the two missing alive.

Naila Kiani and Sirbaz Khan, both from Pakistan, who were also on the mountain and eyewitnessed the disaster, spoke of four dead. They abandoned their summit attempt and descended back to Camp 1. They were “very shaken and distressed” after witnessing how the avalanche swept their friends to their deaths, they let it be known via Instagram. Apparently, two avalanches had gone off at an altitude of around 7,800 meters. The four climbers ascending on the normal route had been caught by the snow masses.

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Summit successes on Cho Oyu

Tibetan side of Cho Oyu
Tibetan side of Cho Oyu

The weather gods remain in favor of the commercial expedition teams this fall. After numerous summit successes on Manaslu and some on Dhaulagiri – both eight-thousanders are located in western Nepal – the first ascents of the season of Cho Oyu are also reported from Tibet today. Operator Imagine Nepal announced that eight team members led by company head Mingma Gyalje Sherpa reached thesummit of the sixth-highest mountain on earth at 8,188 meters, “just five days after crossing the Tibet border, as they were well acclimatized from their Manaslu expedition”

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Summit successes reported from Dhaulagiri

Dhaulagiri
The 8,167-meter-high Dhaulagiri in western Nepal

As the commercial climbing season on fall “fashion” eight-thousander Manaslu in western Nepal draws to a close, the first summit successes are being reported from Dhaulagiri, not far away. According to the Nepalese operator Seven Summit Treks, at least 13 members of theirs team reached the summit at 8,167 meters today.

Among them, in addition to the Sherpas who fixed the ropes to the highest point, was also (with bottled oxygen) the founder of the company, Mingma Sherpa. This means that Mingma has now undoubtedly reached all the “True Summits” of the eight-thousanders, SST announced. The now 45-year-old, celebrated in 2011 as the first Nepalese on all 14 eight-thousanders, had also scaled Manaslu again nine days ago to make up for not having stood on the very highest point before.

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