Tom Matthews after Everest scientific expedition: “It was humbling”

New weather station at the so-called "Bishop Rock" near the summit of Mount Everest
New weather station at the so-called “Bishop Rock” near the summit of Mount Everest

The icy ground is melting away from Everest Base Camp on the south side of the mountain in Nepal. For this reason, the Ministry of Tourism in Kathmandu is considering moving the camp’s location away from the glacier to ice-free ground in the future. The site behind the last inhabited settlement of Gorak Shep is reportedly under discussion, at an altitude of around 5,200 meters – at the foot of the popular hill Kala Patthar (5,645 m), from whose highest point many trekking tourists enjoy the view of Mount Everest. The possible move was triggered by the effects of climate change.

“I remember not many years ago when kitchen staff used to collect big pieces of ice, and boil them in huge pots to make water. These days, we can fetch water directly from Khumbu glacier,” Khimlal Gautam writes in the Everest Chronicle portal. The surveyor, who stood on Everest in 2011 and 2019, spent the entire past spring season at the base camp – as a member of that commission of the Ministry of Tourism, which now recommended moving the base camp to lower regions.

British climate scientist Tom Matthews stood on the summit of Everest at 8,849 meters this spring. The 36-year-old mounted a weather station with teammates from the National Geographic science expedition at an altitude of 8,810 meters, not far from the summit. In spring 2019, Tom had already installed a station on the so-called “Balcony” at about 8,400 meters, but it had survived only a few months. Matthews answered my questions.

Tom, What was it like for you as a scientist to stand on the highest point on earth?

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Everest season 2022: Sherpas, Sherpas, Sherpas

South side of Mount Everest

The route through the Khumbu Icefall secured by the Icefall Doctors, a highly specialized Sherpa team, has been officially closed since yesterday, Sunday. This means that the 2022 spring season on Mount Everest is history.

It brought some 700 ascents to the highest point on earth, about 650 on the Nepalese south side of the mountain and before that 50 on the Tibetan north side, which once again remained closed to foreigners. With very few exceptions – one of them the German climber David Göttler – the mountaineers used bottled oxygen. By now we have become as accustomed to this as we have to the lurid headlines: “First … on Everest” or “New record on Everest”. In other respects it was a memorable season.

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David Göttler: “Alone on the summit of Mount Everest”

David Göttler on the summit of Mount Everest (wearing a mask to moisten his breath).

His tactics worked out perfectly. “I’ve always said I need a year with a long lasting good weather window,” David Göttler tells me, “so that all the other expeditions have been on the mountain before I get going.” As reported yesterday, the 43-year-old German professional mountaineer had reached the summit of Mount Everest at 8,849 meters on Saturday: without bottled oxygen – and without Sherpa support. With the exception that Göttler also used the ropes that a Sherpa team had fixed for the commercial teams to secure the normal route.

After two failed attempts in 2019 and in 2021, David now stood on the highest point on earth. It was his sixth eight-thousander summit success without bottled oxygen after Gasherbrum II (in 2006), Broad Peak (in 2007), Dhaulagiri (in 2008), Lhotse (in 2009) and Makalu (in 2013). In 2017, Göttler had climbed the South Face of Shishapangma with Italian Hervé Barmasse – before they stopped their ascent five meters below the summit because of too high avalanche danger.

I spoke to David on the second day after his Everest summit success.

First of all, congratulations on your Everest ascent without breathing mask. How many stages did your summit push have?

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David Göttler: Everest success without bottled oxygen

David Göttler near Everest South Col

“For dreams like this to come true, you probably need a lot of attempts. Because everything just has to fit,” David Göttler told me last year after failing for the second time on Mount Everest climbing without breathing mask. On his third attempt, it apparently worked. According to Chhang Dawa Sherpa of the Nepalese expedition operator Seven Summit Treks, David reached the highest point on earth at 8,849 meters on Saturday without bottled oxygen and without Sherpa support. In spring 2019, Göttler had turned back on Everest at 8,650 meters because there was too much traffic on the normal route and the weather was getting worse. In 2021, he and the Spaniard Kilian Jornet had abandoned their attempt on the South Col at just below 8,000 meters because neither felt optimal.

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One of over 400: Everest summiteer Gerhard Osterbauer

Gerhard Osterbauer on the summit of Mount Everest
Gerhard Osterbauer on the summit of Mount Everest

“Maybe I set a record: 30 years for the Seven Summits!” says Gerhard Osterbauer and laughs. The 53-year-old Austrian reached the highest point of Mount Everest at 8,849 meters last Friday at 7:15 a.m. local time – with bottled oxygen – as one of more than 400 climbers who ascended to the summit via Nepal’s south side over the past week and a half.

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Mount Everest: Now already about 400 summit success on the south side

Sunrise on Mount Everest
Sunrise on Mount Everest (in fall 2019)

It almost seems as if someone has put a wedge in the fair weather window so that it cannot close. For more than a week, there has been little or no wind blowing in the summit region of Mount Everest, and little or no snow falling. As a result, most of the 319 foreign climbers to whom Nepal’s Ministry of Tourism issued Everest permits this spring have already completed their summit attempts.

U.S. blogger Alan Arnette, who keeps track of the numerous commercial teams on the world’s highest mountain like no other, has meanwhile noted some 400 summit successes (as usual, except for a few, with bottled oxygen) on the Nepalese side of Everest. In addition, there have been dozens of ascents of neighboring Lhotse.

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Everest summit wave rolls – Lhakpa Sherpa on top for the tenth time

Lhakpa Sherpa

She wanted to ” to show the younger generations that women can do it,” Lhakpa Sherpa wrote on Facebook in February when she announced that she wanted to climb the world’s two highest mountains in 2022. Last year, she had not yet been able to financially lift this project. Now Lhakpa has achieved part one: the 48-year-old Nepalese climber reached the summit of Mount Everest at 8,849 meters for the tenth time today – with bottled oxygen. Even before that, she was the woman with the most Everest summit successes worldwide.

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8000er weekend summary: Kami Rita’s record, summit successes and two deaths

Kami Rita Sherpa

“When I’m on Everest, I’m totally focused,” writes record climber Kami Rita Sherpa in his little book “How to climb Everest.” The 52-year-old has done it once again: for the 26th time Kami Rita stood on the roof of the world.

On Saturday, he reached the highest point on earth at 8,849 meters – with bottled oxygen – as the head of an eleven-member team of Climbing Sherpas. The team fixed the ropes to the summit, paving the way for commercial expedition teams. This week, Mount Everest is likely to see its first major summit wave.

Meanwhile, German professional climber David Göttler is practicing patience on his third Everest attempt without bottled oxygen. It’s getting too crowded for now, the 43-year-old writes me. “So I wait.”

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Mount Everest: Route through Khumbu Icefall completed

Dangerous job: Icefall Doctor in the Khumbu Icefall

The season of commercial expeditions on Mount Everest can begin. The Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC) announced today that the six Icefall Doctors – Ang Sarki Sherpa, Dawa Nuru Sherpa, Pemba Tshering Sherpa, Sonam Tshering Sherpa, Chewang Nuru Sherpa and Ngima Gyaljen Sherpa – have successfully completed their work in and above the dangerous Khumbu Icefall after two and a half weeks.

Every year, the Icefall Doctors prepare the route for the commercial teams – with fixed ropes and ladders up to Camp 2 at around 6,400 meters. They also maintain the route until the end of the season in early June. For this service, the teams have to pay $600 per expedition member to the SPCC.

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Nepal ahead of spring season: Fewer climbers on Mount Everest?

View of Mount Everest (l.) and Lhotse (from Namche)

And again it will probably be a difficult spring season in the mountains of Nepal. In 2020 nothing went at all because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, a wave of infections also hit the base camps on Mount Everest and Dhaulagiri – the fact that the Nepalese government has not admitted this to this day is and remains a scandal. And now in spring 2022, the Russian war in Ukraine is causing uncertainty worldwide – certainly also among mountaineers.

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Jost Kobusch after his Everest expedition: “It was a tough winter”

Jost Kobusch
Jost Kobusch

For the second time, Jost Kobusch returns from Mount Everest with many experiences, but without a summit success. However, he had not set his sights on Everest summit this winter. His goal was to climb to 8,000 meters – if conditions allowed. But that’s exactly what didn’t happen this winter. Today, the 29-year-old German climber returned to the Nepalese capital Kathmandu. His flight home is scheduled for 11 March.

Jost, you have now spent two months almost continuously at an altitude of above 5,000 meters. How are you physically?

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Jost Kobusch on Mount Everest: As high as possible – Waiting for summit chance on K2

Jost Kobusch as he set off
Jost Kobusch as he set off

It is the last ascent in his second solo winter attempt on Mount Everest. In view of the continuing strong winds, Jost Kobusch knows that – as two years ago – he will not reach the summit of the highest mountain on earth at 8,849 meters. He is aware that “the chance of reaching the summit is practically non-existent,” the 29-year-old German climber let it be known on social networks. “The only remaining hope is that I will get higher than last time, see more and gain experience. Maybe I’ll even beat my own record!”

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Extreme ice melt on Mount Everest

Ice sample above Everest South Col (red arrow; yellow arrow shows location on the “Balcony” where a weather station was installed)

The ice high up on Mount Everest, the highest mountain on Earth, is also under attack. If climate change continues unabated, climbers could find a completely ice-free Everest South Col at around 8,000 meters in 2050. This is the conclusion reached by researchers from the University of Maine in the USA.

While the South Col Glacier (SCG) used to lie under a blanket of snow, the ice is now often exposed to solar radiation without protection, which could lead to “extremely rapid mass loss,” the scientists wrote: “At an estimated thinning rate approaching 2,000 mm (two meters) per year, even glaciers such as SCG that are above 8,000 m may disappear by mid-century.”

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Everest north side probably further closed

Everest north side
North side of Mount Everest

As long as COVID-19 has the world in its grip, it will remain lonely on the Tibetan north side of Mount Everest. It’s not official yet, but hardly anyone on the scene still doubts that China will not allow foreign climbers into Tibet for the third spring in a row because of the pandemic.

“No change. See you in 2023!” – that’s how Kari Kobler, head of the Swiss expedition operator Kobler & Partner, sums up the reactions of those responsible in Tibet to his inquiries regarding Everest. “I think expeditions to Tibet’s eight-thousanders are impossible in spring,” Kari, who has been organizing expeditions to the Himalayas for three decades, writes to me. For the 2022 fall season in Tibet, he sees a 50/50 chance at most, “but even that looks chanceless from my point of view at the moment.”

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Dangerous thrill: Everest taster course

Khumbu Icefall
Dangerous Khumbu Icefall

As if Mount Everest wasn’t full enough, as if there weren’t already too many unsuspecting aspirants with no mountaineering experience. “Touching Everest” is offered by the commercial Russian expedition operator 7 Summits Club for the spring season 2022. After the traditional trekking to Everest Base Camp, clients also have the option of being guided through the Khumbu Icefall up to Camp 2 at 6,400 meters – “with oxygen and with one Sherpa per participant”, as the operator lets it be known. That costs 14,900 US dollar.

For comparison: Who wants to ascend up to the summit on 8,849 meters, must pay 69,900 dollar. 7 Summit Club promises enough “impressions and adrenaline”. And “by the way, the transfer of the route to the right side of the icefall made it much safer,” claims the Russian operator. Much safer?

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