Actually, the Icelander John Snorri Sigurjonsson, Muhammad Ali Sadpara, the most successful Pakistani high-altitude climber, and his son Sajid Ali Sadpara had wanted to reach the 8,611-meter-high summit of K2 today. But the trio, who in December became the first winter team to arrive at the foot of the world’s second-highest mountain, abandoned their summit attempt and returned to base camp today.
According to John Snorri, the three climbers decided to rest below Camp 3 on Sunday after a 17-hour ascent. His GPS tracker showed the maximum altitude reached as 6,831 meters. “At that time it was clear to us the strong winds came sooner than expected,” the Icelander let it be known after returning. “This morning, when we were packing our tent, Ali’s backpack blew away and exploded. We managed to safe some of the things in the backpack but lost our summit masks.”
Some nicknames are well-intentioned, but pretty off the mark. “I don’t like being called Everest Queen that much,” Lhakpa Sherpa says about the nickname given to the record-breaking Mount Everest female climber by her compatriots in Nepal. “A queen lives a rich life of comfort and luxury. It definitely does not reflect the way I live.” The 47-year-old works 40 hours a week at an organic supermarket in Hartford, Connecticut. As a single mother, she has to make ends meet for herself and her two daughters. Sometimes she washes dishes, sometimes she cuts fruit.
Nothing earthly is of eternal duration. Even mountains like Mount Everest change – for example through tectonic activities. After the devastating earthquake in Nepal in spring 2015, in which almost 9000 people died, there had also been speculations that the height of Everest might have changed due to the strong earth tremors. A new survey of the highest mountain on earth was due anyway, as several “official” heights existed. Today the governments of Nepal and China have jointly announced: Mount Everest is currently 8,848.86 meters high – and thus about a meter higher than officially set so far. This was based on the results of a Nepalese surveying expedition in spring 2019 and a Chinese one in spring 2020.
Does the cursed climate change, which is causing problems worldwide, perhaps also have a positive side effect on Mount Everest? A team led by climate scientist Tom Matthews from Loughborough University in England has calculated that a global warming of two percent compared to the pre-industrial age means that at the highest point on earth, an average of around five percent more oxygen can reach the lungs due to higher air pressure. Great, some mountaineers who want to climb Everest without bottled oxygen might think. But be careful! It is not that simple. There is a catch.
Crisis meeting in the Oval Office, one week before the presidential election. “What the f…! I’m still behind in the polls,” shouts Scrooge Tramp and clenches his fist firmly on the desk. “Think of something!” The advisors look trodden on their shoes, no one dares to look Tramp in the bright red face. “We could,” one of them finally begins cautiously. “What?” bleats Tramp. “We could perhaps turn the tide with a spectacular, admirable sporting achievement by the President,” whispers the advisor. “And what did you have in mind? Permanently golfing?”, yells Tramp.
“I was thinking of climbing Mount Everest,” says the advisor. “The news of the first ascent in 1953 arrived in London just in time for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. That was a mega PR coup back then. Now, when it is announced on election day that the President of the USA has reached the roof of the world, the mood could still tip in your favor.” Tramp thinks for a moment. “Sounds good,” he finally says. “Then I can tweet up there: Tramp on top – in every respect. H.O.P.A.T – the Highest President of All Time.” Tramp shoos his team out of the office. “Why are you still standing around here? Go, go, organize it! And do it in such a way that it works and that I’m not eaten by the yeti.”
The Khumbu Icefall on Mount Everest can become a deadly trap for climbers at any time. For example, when one of the seracs, the huge ice towers, collapses, when new crevasses open or when existing ones suddenly change. In addition, there is the threat of avalanches from the snow- and ice-laden West Shoulder of Everest and vis-à-vis from the slopes of the 7,861-meter-high Nuptse. In April 2014, an ice avalanche in the Khumbu Icefall killed 16 Nepalese climbers.
The passage above the base camp is the section of the normal route on the south side of Everest in Nepal with the highest objective dangers. The reason is obvious: The Khumbu Glacier moves constantly, on average one meter per day, through the eye of the needle between the West Shoulder and Nuptse, about 600 meters down towards the base camp. And it does not flow evenly.
Some news of climbers’ deaths spread like wildfire. Others do not. For example, I learned rather by chance – through a Facebook post of his ex-wife Lhakpa Sherpa – that the nine-time Everest summiteer George Dijmarescu died of cancer at the age of 59 in the USA at the end of September. Only some media in his native Romania had reported about it – as I subsequently found out. Perhaps it is also because Dijmarescu’s reputation in the mountaineering scene was, to put it mildly, ambivalent due to his character.
The “Snow Leopard” from Mount Everest is no longer among us. The legendary Ang Rita Sherpa died today at the age of 72 years in Kathmandu. Three years ago he had suffered a stroke, from which he continued to suffer. Ang Rita also had problems with his liver.
The Nepalese reverently called him “Snow Leopard”. No other climber has scaled the highest mountain on earth as often without bottled oxygen as Ang Rita did in the 1980s and 90s. “His record of nine will probably stand for a long time since current climbing Sherpas are required to use O2 by their companies,” Richard Salisbury from the “Himalayan Database” wrote to me some time ago.
The son of Everest first ascender Tenzing Norgay is outraged. “This is very disgraceful that a falsified summitter of Everest is being given the highest adventure award of India,” writes Jamling Tenzing Norgay to me. “Shameful!”
His girlfriend at the time hardly recognized him. “It seems that a drunk came down from the col and not the same man who left four days ago,” Nena Holguin wrote in her diary. “He looks at me with tears in his eyes. His face is yellow, his lips are chapped and frayed.” Reinhold Messner was all run down, physically and mentally too. This alpinistic stroke of genius had demanded everything from him.
Again he had pushed a limit, made possible what others had thought impossible. In the middle of the monsoon, the South Tyrolean had scaled Mount Everest via the Tibetan north side: climbing solo, without bottled oxygen, on a partially new route: Messner crossed the north flank below the Northeast Ridge, then ascended through the Norton Couloir and finally reached the highest point at 8,850 meters in the afternoon of 20 August 1980, the third day of his ascent.
For a long time, the first man to climb all 14 eight-thousanders described the Everest solo as the “icing on the cake” of his mountaineering career. Now, four decades later, Reinhold Messner classifies his pioneering achievement differently. I spoke with the 75-year-old.
Reinhold Messner, do you still sometimes think of that 20 August 1980, when you reached the summit of Mount Everest after you had solo-climbed it?
One of the best-known famous Nepalese climbers, Chhiji Nurbu Sherpa, is no longer with us. “We are extremely saddened to express the demise of our managing director”, the company “Highlight Expeditions” announced yesterday on Facebook: “He was one of the top climbers accomplishing 13 out of the 14 x 8000m summits.” The expedition operator did not mention the cause of death. Chhiji Nurbu turned 40 years old. He leaves behind a wife, a son and a daughter.
The international mountaineering scene is shocked. Doug Scott, the living legend of climbing in the Himalayas and the Karakoram, is terminally ill with brain cancer. The 79-year-old Englishman has an inoperable cerebral lymphoma, the “Sunday Times” reported this weekend, referring to Scott’s wife Patricia. Doug received the diagnosis on the first day of the corona lockdown in Great Britain in mid-March, according to the Times. Since then, he has been staying on the ground floor of his house in the Lake District of Cumbria County.
When they reached Everest Base Camp, Julie and Chris Smith had a sip of Scotch whisky. Apart from the couple from Scotland, their two children – the nine-year-old daughter Erihn and the four-year-old son Jacob – and their Nepalese companions Kevin Sherpa and Dhanku Rai, nobody else was then at this point at almost 5,400 meters, the destination of one of the most popular trekking routes in the world.
The corona pandemic had made the hike of the Scottish Smith family an exclusive adventure. Julie, Chris and their children had been stuck in Lukla for three months before the lockdown in Nepal was eased a bit and Kevin Sherpa could organize the necessary papers for the family to continue their trek.
Everest trek after three months in lockdown
When they had just started their trekking tour to Everest Base Camp in the village of Salleri in the Solukhumbu mid-March, the pandemic reached the Himalayan state: The government of Nepal imposed a lockdown. The Smiths hiked on to Lukla, which was their final destination until the end of June. Then they were allowed to continue their trip
About one year ago, at the end of July 2019, the family from Aberdeen had set off for their lifetime trip which had finally taken them to Nepal via Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, the Middle East and India. In their Facebook blog “Clan Wander” the Smiths have been reporting about their adventures.
Meanwhile, 46-year-old Julie, her 41-year-old husband Chris and the two children are on their way back from Everest Base Camp through the Khumbu region. They also made a side trip to the Gokyo valley. I have reached the couple from Scotland by email.
She almost forgot the summit picture. When Sophia Danenberg reached the summit of Mount Everest together with the brothers Panuru and Mingma Chhiring Sherpa at 7 a.m. on 19 May 2006, they were alone on the top at 8,850 meters. It was windy, all the surrounding mountains were peeking up from the clouds, Sophia recently recalled in an interview with the US technology portal “GeekWire“: “It’s odd to really be above everything. However, I was mostly focused on getting down. I probably would have forgotten to take a picture if it hadn’t been for Panuru.” The Afro-American was the first black female mountaineer on the highest mountain on earth – which she only learned about on Everest. She climbed the mountain from the Nepalese south side and used bottled oxygen for her ascent.
Danenberg grew up in Chicago. She graduated from the renowned Harvard University in environmental sciences and public policy with honors (Magna Cum Lauda). During her studies, her passion for climbing arose. In November 2005, half a year before she scaled Everest, she reached the summit of the nearby Ama Dablam (6,814 m). In addition to Everest, Sophia summited three more of the Seven Summits, the highest mountains in all continents: Aconcagua (6,962 m, South America), Denali (6,194 m, North America) and Kilimanjaro (5,895 m, Africa).
Today the 48-year-old mountaineer lives in Seattle. She works for the US aviation company Boeing analyzing international environmental policy and maintaining contact with international companies and organizations. I sent Sophia some questions as part of my reports on the “Black Lives Matter” movement in the USA.
Sophia, you summited Mount Everest in 2006. What made you go there that time?
The “sprinter”, as he was once called, will return to Mount Everest. In spring 2022 Marc Batard wants to climb the highest mountain on earth without bottled oxygen – at the age of 70. If he succeeds, Marc would then most likely be by far the oldest climber on the roof of the world without using a breathing mask. So far, this Everest record is held by the Italian Abele Blanc, who reached the highest point on earth in 2010 at the age of 55 years and 264 days. For years, Batard had completely retired from high altitude climbing and devoted himself to painting.