As if Simone Moro had read my thoughts. These days I really wondered what the 53-year-old Italian and the 38-year-old Spaniard Alex Txikon, both proven winter climbing specialists, would be doing in the coming months. Would they, like many others, be drawn to K2, the only eight-thousander never scaled in winter?
He does not give in so quickly. Icelandic professional mountaineer John Snorri Sigurjonsson has arrived in Pakistan to tackle K2 for the second winter in a row. Last winter, he had reached Camp 2 at 6,600 meters in early February before his team had abandoned the expedition. Afterwards, John Snorri and the Slovenian Tomaz Rotar had accused their expedition leader, Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, and other team members of having started the expedition ill-prepared. The Nepalese had rejected the accusations.
The first tents with expedition equipment are already standing at the foot of K2. In about one month the base camp will fill up. How many mountaineers exactly will attempt the first winter ascent of the second highest mountain on earth cannot yet be estimated. But the number of those who would like to put this feather on their hat is increasing. K2, located in the Karakoram in Pakistan, is the last remaining of the 14 eight-thousanders that – despite some attempts – has never been scaled during the cold season.
Sometimes things just happen differently. French climbers Symon Welfringer and Pierrick Fine, both in their mid-20s, had actually planned a project in Nepal this fall. But because of the corona pandemic, it was uncertain for a long time whether the Himalayan state would even be open to foreign visitors. So they decided to change their plans and travel to Pakistan to tackle Sani Pakkush.
The shapely 6,953-meter-high mountain is located in the Batura Muztagh massif in the northwest of the Karakoram. It had been scaled only once before, in 1991 by a German expedition: Hubert Bleicher, Arnfried Braun, Daniel Ketterer and Leo Klimmer had climbed up via the steep Northwest Ridge. Welfringer and Fine – they had already opened a new route in 2019 in the Karakoram on the 5,960-meter-high Risht Peak – had another goal: the still virgin 2500-meter-high South face of the mountain.
11. November – this date actually makes the carnival reveler’s heart beat faster. Traditionally on this day in my hometown Cologne the carnival time is rung in. The costumed carnival revelers sing, dance, swing and sway in the streets and public places, they also celebrate in the pubs – usually. This year everything is different. Because of the corona pandemic, all events have been canceled, the pubs remain closed, several hundred police officers check if the ban on assembly is being observed. In view of the still tense corona situation, hardly anybody should feel like celebrating anyway.
This certainly also applies to Nepal, where life is currently anything but normal. Today, the number of officially registered corona infections exceeded 200,000. 1,174 people have died of COVID-19 in the Himalayan state so far. And the number of unreported cases is likely to be high.
“Exceptionally quiet and beautiful this time” – that’s how the experienced US expedition leader Garrett Madison described the trekking through the Khumbu region to the 6,814-meter-high Ama Dablam a week ago. And Swiss mountaineer Sophie Lavaud agreed: “Beautiful weather and no one around.” How calm it is currently in the region around Mount Everest can be guessed by looking at the short list of expeditions published yesterday, to which the Nepalese Ministry of Tourism has granted permits this fall season. On this list there are only seven expeditions with a total of 58 members for the whole season and all of Nepal.
When Priti and Jeff Wright later look back on 2020, they will surely agree that it was “an exceptional year” – and not just because of the corona pandemic. At the end of 2019, the software developer and the aerospace engineer from the US city of Seattle took a one-year career break to live out their passion for climbing.
The couple, both in their early 30s, first traveled to Patagonia, then to Europe and finally to Pakistan. Their mountaineering record is impressive: Cerro Torre, the six great north faces of the Alps and finally – as reported – as the cherry on top K6. On the challenging seven-thousander in the Karakoram, they succeeded in traversing from the West Summit (7,040 m) to the hitherto unclimbed Central Summit (7,100 m), climbing in alpine style. The “Alpine Vagabonds”, as they call themselves on their website, answered my questions about their coup on K6.
What does the adventure on K6 with the only third ascent of the West Summit and the first ascent of the Central Summit mean to you?
The 6,962-meter-high Aconcagua is not allowed to be climbed for the time being. Due to the corona pandemic, the authorities of the Argentinean province of Mendoza canceled the climbing season on the highest mountain in South America, which normally lasts from mid-November to the end of February. The Aconcagua National Park is only open to local trekkers, overnight stays are not allowed.
The first summit success of the year on an eight-thousander in Nepal is perfect. The Nepalese expedition operator Seven Summit Treks let it be known via Facebook that the team of the Royal Guard from Bahrain reached the 8,163-meter-high summit of Manaslu this morning at 6:10 a.m. local time. Media reports citing the Ministry of Tourism in Kathmandu said that three Nepalese mountain guides had been on the summit with 14 climbers from the Bahrain team.
One usually imagines vagabonds something different than a software developer and an aeronautical engineer from the USA. Priti and Jeff Wright, a climbing couple in their early 30s from Seattle, call themselves “Alpine Vagabonds“. They have now realized a real coup in the Karakoram in Pakistan.
Everything is arranged on the eight-thousander Manaslu for the mountaineers from Bahrain. The base camp is ready for occupancy – and the Sherpa team of the Nepalese operator Seven Summit Treks (SST) has already prepared most of the way up the mountain. According to SST expedition manager Chhang Dawa Sherpa, the route to Camp 3 at 6800 meters is prepared. The mountaineers from Bahrain have acclimatized on Lobuche East not far from Mount Everest. According to SST, they reached the summit of the six-thousander last Saturday. As reported, the 8,163-meter-high Manaslu, the eighth-highest mountain in the world, located in Nepal, will be only the overture for the mountaineers of the Royal Guard of Bahrain – for Everest next spring.
The first eight-thousander summit success of the fall season is reported from Tibet. Twelve clients and eleven climbers working for the operator Tibet Himalayan Expeditions reached the summit of Cho Oyu today, confirms Mingma Sherpa. The head of the Nepalese operator Climbalaya has good contacts to China. The Chinese expedition team had set off for Cho Oyu on 14 September.
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.
All mountaineers are the equal, but some mountaineers are more equal than others – one could say freely after George Orwell’s novel “Animal Farm”. Actually, the Nepalese government had declared that, due to the recent sharp increase in corona infections, only Nepalese returnees, diplomats and employees of UN aid organizations would be allowed to fly to the country from 1 September . There was no mention of foreign tourists – and these usually include mountaineers. This fall’s climbing in the Himalayas seemed to be over before it began.
However, this week a government spokesperson in Kathmandu suddenly declared that an 18-member expedition from Bahrain had received a permit for the eight-thousander Manaslu and – for the purpose of acclimatization – for the six-thousander Lobuche East near Mount Everest. The team of the Royal Guard of Bahrain will arrive in Kathmandu in mid-September on a charter flight, enter a one-week quarantine and then head for the mountains, it said.
But Holecek’s statement on his sponsor’s website that it was “the first ascent of the 2,000 m high grueling Northwest Face climbing Alpine style” is only correct if “complete” is added before the word “ascent”. Because already 30 years ago two German mountaineers climbed the Northwest Face – at least up to 6,600 meters, in order to ascend from there via the West Face to the summit. They were also climbing in Alpine style.