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.”
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?
His 70th birthday next Monday, French climber Marc Batard is likely to celebrate at the foot of Mount Everest. The “sprinter”, as Marc was called in the 1980s, has his sights set on scouting out a new route from Everest Base camp to Camp 1 this late fall – across the Nuptse flank, away from the dangerous Khumbu Icefall through which the normal route on the south side of the mountain passes.
One of Batard’s team is likely to be missing from the fit jubilarian’s birthday celebration on Monday: Sajid Ali Sadpara was flown by rescue helicopter from Everest Base Camp to Kathmandu hospital. The 23-year-old reportedly suffered from high-altitude cerebral edema – which can easily be fatal if you are not brought quickly to lower altitudes.
“I’m picking up right where I left off,” Jost Kobusch tells me. “It was clear from the start that a project like this would need several attempts. And this is just the second one.”
In a week, on 29 October, the 29-year-old German climber will fly to Nepal to try his hand at Mount Everest again in winter: solo; without bottled oxygen; via the challenging, rarely climbed route over the Lho La, a 6,000-meter-high pass between Nepal and Tibet, the West Ridge and the Hornbein Couloir located in the North Face. In his first solo attempt on this route, Jost had reached an altitude of 7,366 meters in February 2020.
Mount Everest has never been a fashionable mountain in the post-monsoon season. But it has rarely been as lonely as it is this fall on the highest mountain on earth. The Nepalese Ministry of Tourism has not issued any permits for Everest this season (as of September 14). Demand equals zero. Instead, mainly commercial expeditions are flocking to the 8,163-meter-high Manaslu in western Nepal. 171 foreign climbers from 17 teams received permits. If you add the local staff, Manaslu Base Camp at around 4,800 meters is again populated by around 400 people. The first high camps have also already been set up.
“Turning around is not the difficult part,” David Göttler tells me. “What’s difficult is afterwards, when you’re struggling with fate. But I don’t think Mount Everest will be my mountain of fate.” For the second time after 2019, the German top mountaineer has returned without a summit success from the highest mountain on earth, which he only wants to climb without bottled oxygen. Two years ago he turned back at 8,650 meters, about 200 meters below the summit. This time, the end of the line was at the South Col at just below 8,000 meters.
“Things weren’t going well for either of us,” says the 42-year-old, describing what prompted him and 33-year-old Spaniard Kilian Jornet to descend again. “We kept nodding off, it didn’t feel right.” Goettler had climbed through the night from Camp 2 at 6,400 meters to the South Col, Jornet from base camp. “It was relatively clear up there that we were going to have to turn around – due to the style we are climbing.” David suspects that they had “caught a little sunstroke” on one of the hot previous days: “At some point our bodies would have shown us the red card.”
Lhakpa Nuru Sherpa is the fifth casualty of the spring season on Mount Everest, which concluded last week. On 3 June, Lhakpa Nuru died at Khangri International Hospital in Kathmandu. He would have turned 43 this month. The Sherpa died of cardiopulmonary arrest as a result of a severe High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), according to the hospital’s death certificate.
Chhang Dawa Sherpa, board director of Seven Summit Treks, Nepal’s largest expedition operator, confirmed the death to me. Lhakpa Nuru, he wrote, had been rescued from Everest Base Camp on 29 May and admitted directly to the hospital, where he was treated for HAPE – in the end to no avail. The 42-year-old is survived by his wife and their son.
“It felt a bit like an apocalypse movie,” says Felix Berg, describing the moment when he and his client Robert Westreicher landed by helicopter at Everest Base Camp on 29 May. “The whole time, at least three helicopters were permanently landing and then taking off again. It was quite special: there were two of us going in, while what felt like hundreds of people were setting off, not to say fleeing.”
For weeks, the scene was puzzled about it: What exactly are David Göttler and Kilian Jornet up to on Mount Everest? It was clear that they wanted to climb the highest mountain on earth without bottled oxygen. But on which route? Possibly as a traverse, and Lhotse for good measure?
The most common speculation was that the German and the Spaniard would try to ascend to the summit via the West Ridge. In any case, this did not happen. David and Kilian abandoned their attempt without breathing mask at the South Col, i.e. on the normal route. The 42-year-old Göttler had climbed there from Camp 2, the 33-year-old Jornet directly from Everest Base Camp.
Not one hundred percent
“We both climbed through the night and met at South Col and we both experienced the same sensation of not feeling well or strong,” David described on Instagram the decision to turn back at nearly 8,000 meters. ” It would have been foolish to continue to climb higher in that state. You can’t climb Everest in our style if you don’t feel 100%, and luckily both of us know very well how we should feel at those altitudes.”
Shortly before the end of the spring season, some teams reached the summit of Mount Everest today. “Mission accomplished,” let Nirmal “Nims” Purja know, head of the operator Elite Expeditions. Apart from the 37-year-old himself, six of his clients and nine Sherpas reached the highest point at 8,849 meters, he wrote: “After having to wait for a weather window good enough to summit, their patience was rewarded.” All returned safely to the South Col at nearly 8,000 meters. Nine team members, including Nims, still want to climb the neighboring 8516-meter Lhotse on Tuesday – incidentally, as on Everest, with bottled oxygen.
Actually, the “Icefall Doctors” on Mount Everest wanted to start already today to remove the ladders and ropes from the dangerous Khumbu icefall, the first stage on the route to the summit. But because of bad weather last week, there was, with permission from the Nepalese government, an extra three days for this spring season.
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.
Once again, the highest point on earth has been a busy one over the past two days. According to the Nepalese Ministry of Tourism, more than 170 people reached the summit of Mount Everest on Sunday, with more than 100 likely to have joined them on Monday. Dozens of summit successes were also reported from Lhotse. Wang Dorchi Sherpa, who worked for the Russian expedition operator 7Summits Club, died near the nearly 8,000-meter-high Everest South Col. Nothing was initially announced about the cause of death. It was the fourth fatality of this spring season on Everest.
In the Western Qwm, the “Valley of Silence”, at above 6,000 meters, more than 200 climbers are currently waiting for their summit chance on Mount Everest, according to press reports from Nepal . By the weekend, the strong winds caused by a cyclone west of India are expected to subside. On the South Col at an altitude of almost 8,000 meters, several dozen tents are said to have been blown away. During the first summit wave a week ago, about 150 climbers had reached the highest point at 8,849 meters.