Their syringes are ropes, their plasters aluminum ladders. Year after year, the so-called Icefall Doctors “doctor” the ascent route through the dangerous Khumbu Icefall, the passage on the way to the summit of Mount Everest with the greatest objective dangers. With their ladders they bridge deep crevasses, with the fixed ropes they secure the route – and then maintain it throughout the season until the end of May. It’s extremely dangerous work, as the icefall is constantly moving and one of the mighty ice towers can collapse at any time.
For the fourth spring in a row, the three eight-thousanders in Tibet – Mount Everest, Shishapangma and Cho Oyu – will probably remain closed to foreign climbers. Kari Kobler, founder of the Swiss expedition operator Kobler&Partner, writes to me that a “100 percent reliable” source in Tibet has informed him that there will be no permits for non-Chinese this spring either. An official announcement, however, is still pending. In the coming fall season, however, the eight-thousanders would be open, and agencies could plan accordingly, Kari learned from Tibet.
Sino-Tibetan authorities are stalling the expedition operators. After signals from Tibet last fall that there might be permits for foreign climbers to climb Mount Everest, Cho Oyu and Shishapangma for the first time since 2019, there has been no official confirmation until now.
“It is likely that they will open (the eight-thousanders on the Tibetan side), but not sure in spring,” Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, head of Nepalese expedition operator Imagine Nepal, wrote to me. “They will open in autumn.” Following the positive signals, Imagine Nepal had advertised an expedition to the 8,027-meter-high Shishapangma, which Mingma himself wanted to lead. “We will be going to Shishapangma in autumn instead of spring,” the 36-year-old wrote. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, China’s high mountains have been closed to foreigners, with only locals given a chance to obtain climbing permits.
Just so you are not surprised: Should you make your way to Mount Everest, you may encounter cats even above 5,000 meters. Biologists who took part in a science expedition to Everest in 2019 now reported finding DNA of Pallas’s cats in scat samples at two sites – one at 5,110 meters, the other at 5,190 meters.
Ed Webster stands for one of the greatest adventures of all time on the highest mountain on earth. “Our new line up Everest was his idea,” writes British climber Stephen Venables following the death of his former teammate and friend. Webster died last weekend at the age of 66 after suffering a heart attack. The sudden death of the legendary American climber was “a huge shock,” Venables writes adding that Ed had been “a brilliant pioneer rock climber.”
“Unfortunately, the weather conditions didn’t let them go for another attempt of a summit attack today,” reads Polish ski mountaineer Andrzej Bargiel’s Instagram account. “The team stays overnight in Camp 2, and tomorrow will decide whether to continue the summit push. If the weather forecast is confirmed, it will be possible on Sunday/Monday.”
Then the wind on Mount Everest is expected to calm down significantly. From Tuesday, however, new snowfall must be expected. And from Thursday at the latest, the wind could freshen up again. So – if at all – only a small weather window will open up for Bargiel and Co.
He’s ready. “We spent a few days in Camp 2, as another part of the acclimatization. I was able to reach almost 8000 m, and then ski down to Camp 3 (at around 7300 meters) where we spent the night with Janusz (Golab),” writes the Pole Andrzej Bargiel on Instagram. In the base camp at the foot of Mount Everest, the 34-year-old is now gathering strength: “Now waiting for weather window, and (then) straight to the top!”
If you want to experience Mount Everest in solitude, you should come there in fall. The five-member expedition of Polish ski mountaineer Andrzej Bargiel is (at least so far) the only one to which the Nepalese government has granted Everest permits for this season. The 34-year-old wants to climb the highest mountain on earth without bottled oxygen and ski down from the highest point.
On his ascent he will be accompanied by the experienced 54-year-old Janusz Golab, who in 2012 succeeded with his compatriot Adam Bielecki in the Karakoram in Pakistan in the first winter ascent of the 8,080-meter-high Gasherbrum I. Bargiel climbed with Golab and filmmaker Carlos Llerandi yesterday to Camp 2 at around 6,400 meters to acclimatize further.
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?
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.
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?
“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.
“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.
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.
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.