The ridge between triumph and tragedy can be very narrow on eight-thousanders. First, the headline went around the world that the South Korean Kim Hong-bin had summited the 8,051-meter-high Broad Peak in the Karakorum and had thus become the first disabled climber in the world to stand on all 14 eight-thousanders – with bottled oxygen. Even South Korean President Moon Jae-in congratulated Kim via Twitter for completing the collection of the eight-thousanders: “You gave more pride and hope to the people who are tired of the corona virus.”
A few hours later, news broke that the 56-year-old was missing. Russian climbers who were also on the mountain eventually reported that Kim had fallen into a 15-meter-deep crevasse far up the mountain while descending and had died. Other reports on social media had previously said Hong-bin had fallen to his death towards the Chinese side of Broad Peak.
At the risk of repeating myself, children do not belong on eight-thousanders. And I mean that without any ifs or buts. I have raised five children – and not in the style of a cosseting father who always wraps his kids in cotton wool. But I ask myself: How can parents deliberately expose their children to the danger of death on an eight-thousander? I have no understanding for that. And so I shake my head again now.
Twelve-year-old Pakistani Selena Khawaja and her father are on their way to Broad Peak. This summer, they want to scale the 8,051-meter-high mountain in the Karakoram. Should Selena reach the highest point, she would be the youngest person ever to stand on an eight-thousander.
The good weather window did not open wide enough. “We needed six days of good weather in order to get safely up and down the remote, unclimbed Biarchedi I (6,810 m) in Pakistan’s Karakoram mountains”, Ralf Dujmovits writes on Instagram after the abandoned summit attempt. “With a forecast of 4.5 days of good weather, we headed up, but the snow started again after only one day and our good weather window was shortened to 2.5 days – not nearly what we needed.”
Samina Baig lives her dreams. Pakistan’s best-known female climber wants to fulfill another one on K2: She wants to be the first woman in her home country to stand on the 8,611-meter-high summit this summer. With her Pakistani team, the 30-year-old arrived last Thursday at the base camp at the foot of the second highest mountain on earth. Once again, Samina wants to take up the cudgels for her countrywomen. ” Being a woman, my message to people is to encourage and support their daughters and let them choose their own profession,” the climber said before setting off for the Karakoram. “Let them make their own mark.”
I admit that I am a bit biased. Perhaps I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Nancy Hansen and Ralf Dujmovits in their summit attempt on the 6,810-meter-high, still unclimbed Biarchedi I in the Karakoram a bit tighter than I do for other climbers. I have known Ralf, the only German mountaineer so far to have scaled all 14 eight-thousanders (except for Mount Everest, all without bottled oxygen), for over 20 years now.
In 2005 we were (together with Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner and Hirotaka Takeuchi) on the north side of Mount Everest. In 2007, I accompanied a commercial expedition led by him to the eight-thousander Manaslu. After the devastating earthquake in Nepal in 2015, the two of us, together with Gerlinde and Nepalhilfe Beilngries, ensured that a school destroyed by the quake was rebuilt for several hundred children and young people in the mountain village of Thulosirubari. All this bonded us and made us friends – and perhaps explains to you why I am particularly excited about the adventure of Ralf and his wife Nancy.
“The mountain is still unclimbed for a reason,” Ralf Dujmovits told me before setting off for Pakistan with his wife Nancy Hansen. “Even the approach to the base of Biarchedi I is difficult.” The German-Canadian mountaineering couple is attempting the still unclimbed 6,810-meter-high mountain in the Karakoram this summer.
In 2016, Ralf had caught sight of the Biarchedi group during Nancy’s and his failed attempt on the also still unclimbed 7,134-meter-high Praqpa Ri and learned afterwards that the highest mountain of the massif had not yet been climbed – unlike the 6781-meter Biarchedi II, which the legendary Polish climber Jercy Kukuczka (1948-1989) had first climbed solo in 1984. In the meantime, the two have moved into their base camp at 4,500 meters. During the first eight days in Pakistan “everything has gone incredibly smoothly and we have been warmly welcomed by everyone we met,” Ralf writes on Instagram.
The odyssey of the two Czech climbers Marek Holecek and Radoslav Groh on the seven-thousander Baruntse in eastern Nepal has found a happy end. The two were flown out today by helicopter to Kathmandu. The pictures that Marek posted on Instagram – apparently from a hospital – give the impression that the 46-year-old survived the ten days on the mountain marked, but apparently relatively unscathed. Holecek and Groh had set out from base camp last Wednesday to open a new route through the challenging Northwest Face of Baruntse in alpine style – with no fixed high camps, no bottled oxygen and no Sherpa support.
The cloud cover on Baruntse in eastern Nepal just won’t break. “The situation is unchanged, we are trapped at 7,000 meters and we cannot move,” Marek Holecek informed via satellite phone today. “It’s still snowing, blowing and not visible. We are waiting for a miracle that will hopefully arrive on Saturday.”
Meteorologists expect the snowfall to end and the wind to calm down on Saturday. As reported, Marek and his Czech rope partner Radoslav Groh had completed a new route through the Northwest Face of the 7,129-meter-high Baruntse on Tuesday – in alpine style, meaning no fixed high camps, no bottled oxygen, no Sherpa support.
The fifth highest mountain on earth showed its teeth. Actually, Felix Berg and his team wanted to reach the 8,485-meter-high summit of Makalu in Nepal on Monday – without bottled oxygen. On Sunday evening, the German expedition leader of the operator Summit Climb, two clients from Germany, one from Austria and two Sherpas set off from their Camp 3 near Makalu La, a col at 7,450 meters – “in good weather,” as Felix writes. “Unfortunately, after two hours the weather became much worse, and at 7,600 meters we turned back.”
“Even their guardian angels got a little sweaty, but everything went well in the end,” reads Peter Hamor’s Facebook page. The Slovak and his two Romanian team partners Horia Colibasanu and Marius Gane today abandoned their expedition on the eight-thousander Dhaulagiri. The chronic bad weather caused “unacceptable” dangers, the trio let it be known. During their summit attempt without bottled oxygen via the still unclimbed Northwest Ridge, the three climbers had – as reported – reached an altitude of 6,800 meters. During the night, their tent had been hit by an avalanche. They had to cut open the tent wall to free themselves.
An 82-year-old climber from Spain is managing the corona outbreak on the eight-thousander Dhaulagiri in western Nepal. “Five more people were evacuated today,” Carlos Soria wrote on Twitter today. “We have received 90 tests for everyone at base camp. We have done 30 tests: Twelve of them were positive. We are trying everything to stabilize the situation and take care of everyone’s health.”
Speaking to Explorersweb, Carlos described the situation at the base camp as “crazy.” Currently, 19 sick people were still staying there, Soria said. A total of about 20 people have already been flown out, he said. That the government of Nepal still denies that there is a corona problem in the mountains is a scandal against the background of the massive outbreak on Dhaulagiri.
On Mount Everest, the first commercial teams have left for summit attempts. Among those who set out were the mountaineers of Bahrain’s Royal Guard. If everything goes as planned, Sheikh Mohamed Hamad Mohamed Al Khalifa and Co. are expected to reach the 8,849-meter-high summit next Tuesday. Before that, the rope-fixing team led by Everest record holder Kami Rita Sherpa is to secure the route up to the highest point.
During their successful expedition on the eight-thousander Manaslu last fall, some climbers of the team from Bahrain had – as reported – quite obviously let themselves be flown by helicopter from base camp to Camp 1. I had called this “heli-doping”. Helicopters are being used more and more frequently on Nepal’s eight-thousanders – and by no means only, as in earlier days, for rescue flights.
After articulating my gut feelings about some of the developments on the eight-thousanders following the events in mid-April on the 8,091-meter-high Annapurna, Maurizio Folini commented on my article: “We need absolutely to introduce ethics using the helicopter in Nepal. I’m the first pilot flying above 7,000 meter for rescue, I’m also part of the game but it is time to stop the commercial fake rescue (many…) and start a professional Himalayan rescue organization.”
Since 2011, Folini has been flying regularly in the Himalayas. In 2013, the Italian achieved the highest helicopter rescue of all time on Mount Everest, when he carried a Nepalese climber down from 7,800 meters on a long line. I contacted the 55-year-old:
Maurizio, you are one of the pioneers of rescue helicopter flights in the Himalayas. In your experience, how widespread is “heli-doping” in the meantime, i.e. climbers being flown directly to the high camps or from there afterwards in order to save themselves dangerous or even just annoying stages?
Dinner is served. The first summits of the spring season on Mount Everest and Dhaulagiri in western Nepal are expected this weekend. The weather promises to be stable, with little wind, so the chances are good. Many of the commercial teams have completed their acclimatization and are champing at the bit. All quite normal, isn’t it?
I admit, it’s hard for me to report on expeditions to Nepal’s eight-thousanders while completely ignoring the dramatic corona situation in the Himalayan state – as if the mountains were a giant bubble, sealed off from everything going on around it. Day after day, new highs in COVID-19 infections are currently being reported from Nepal. Today there were 8,970, half of them in the Kathmandu Valley. The country’s health system is completely overwhelmed. Many hospitals lack beds and oxygen. Patients have to be turned away.
This time next year, Marc Batard wants to summit Mount Everest for the third time without bottled oxygen. The Frenchman will then be 70 years old. If he succeeds, he would be by far the oldest climber without breathing mask on the top of the highest mountain on earth.
At the end of the 1980s, Marc was a big shot in the Himalayas. Within just under ten months, the “sprinter”, as he was called because of his fast pace, scaled four eight-thousanders, all without bottled oxygen. In 1988 and 1990, he stood on the summit of Mount Everest.
On Sunday, contact with Sergey Kondrashkin, Alexander Luthokin and Dmitry Sinev was lost. According to the newspaper The Himalayan Times, Kondrashkin and Sinev had reached the 8,091-meter-high summit, Luthokin is said to have given up above 7,000 meters. The trio was eventually discovered above Camp 3 (6,600 m) and rescued by helicopter.