It’s against the odds when an extreme mountaineer celebrates his 60th birthday. Many who are on narrow ridge in the mountains, unfortunately, do not live to see this day. Because every little mistake can end fatally. Or nature strikes, whether in the form of a weather storm, an avalanche or rockfall. Even with all the caution, there is still a residual risk that is sometimes incalculable.
Today, Ralf Dujmovits has completed six decades – after more than 50 expeditions in the Himalayas and Karakoram in the past 36 years. So he must have done something right. Perhaps the secret lies in the fact that he sets clear priorities. “For me, health is still the highest good,” Ralf once told me. “I know myself very well. I also know that I can turn around. I have often done.”
On all eight-thousanders
For example, on Mount Everest. Eight times he has tried to climb the highest mountain on earth without bottled oxygen, eight times he returned empty-handed to his hometown of Bühl in the Black Forest. In 2009, Ralf entered the list of mountaineers who have summited all 14 eight-thousanders, the first and still the only German to do so. He managed 13 without breathing mask; only on Mount Everest in 1992 he used bottled oxygen, above the South Col. “I was very young at the time,” Ralf says. “It was a mistake.” Too gladly would he have eradicated it, but it was not to be. Dujmovits has made his peace with the highest mountain on earth. “I’ve closed this story for me,” he told me two years ago.
Friendship is more important than the summit
We have known and appreciated each other since 2000, that is, for more than two decades. In 2005 we were together at Everest – it was my first expedition in the Himalayas. At that time, Ralf wanted to climb the “Supercoloir Route” through the North Face with Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner and Hirotaka Takeuchi. I reported on the expedition from the base camp on the central Rongbuk glacier. Conditions on the mountain did not permit the planned ascent, and the trio climbed to the North Col to reach the summit from there via the normal route – but Hiro (who later became the first Japanese to stand on all eight-thousanders) suffered from a high-altitude cerebral edema. Ralf, who once studied medicine for eight semesters as a young man, and Gerlinde, a trained nurse, saved their Japanese friend’s life. That was a thousand times more important than the summit. In 2007, I also experienced Ralf as a prudent leader of a commercial expedition to Manaslu, who found the right balance between risk-taking and caution.
An honest soul
Speaking of Manaslu, Ralf is one of the few top climbers who has openly admitted that they did not reach the “real” summit at the end of the summit ridge, but mistook one of the pre-summits for the main summit. “Now we know I wasn’t at the summit. I can admit that without any problems,” Ralf told me in 2019. “A strong wind blew that day. I wasn’t able to look behind the supposed summit cornice. The sky was full of spindrift. I climbed another three meters further, but I didn’t see a higher point.”
Ralf is an honest man. One who openly admits when he has misjudged something and who does not – as unfortunately not uncommon in the scene in recent years – twist or bend the truth. This is another reason why Ralf’s word still carries great weight in mountaineering.
Helping without making a fuss about it
Although he is the most successful German high-altitude mountaineer, airs and graces are completely foreign to him. Ralf is modest, open, friendly and always authentic. And he helps without losing many words about it. In Nepal, he has built several schools – our joint project “School up!“, the construction of a school in the mountain village of “Thulosirubari” after the 2015 earthquake, would never have been successful without his commitment.
Ralf still feels most comfortable when he is climbing – preferably with his wife Nancy Hansen. He has also been on several expeditions with her, most recently in Pakistan last summer. The hoped-for first ascent of Biarchedi I came to nothing due to bad weather. But the two of them simply enjoyed being on the high mountains again. I wish him the same for the next decade: many mountain adventures with people who are important to him.
A very hearty congratulations, dear Ralf! I look forward to the next reunion.