David Göttler: “Everest is a mirror of our society”

David Göttler points to Everest
David Göttler points to the summit of Mount Everest

“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.”

“Unbelievable what is announced”

Kilian Jornet and David Göttler
David with Kilian Jornet (l.).

What exactly the two planned, Göttler still does not want to reveal. Only this much: because of the short time left until the end of the season, they would have “adjusted” their goal. David joins the criticism of veteran Reinhold Messner, who had recently complained about “announcement alpinists” in an interview with the German magazine “Alpin”. “It’s unbelievable what is announced on the high mountains and spread on all platforms without questioning,” Göttler also says. “From A to B and then to C and D and back, and all without oxygen. But the reality is brutal and just looks different. So many things have to fit together. That’s why even we, with our vast experience, don’t want to just announce anything.”

Maximum isolation

David has also been annoyed by what he sees as the impression given by the media that the climbers on Everest are to blame for the escalation of the corona situation in Nepal since mid-April. “The situation would have escalated even if zero permits had been issued and the country had been closed. The wave from India would have come in that way, too,” Göttler believes, though he concedes, “maybe not as far into the Khumbu.”

Moving fast (Ama Dablam in the background).

Kilian Jornet and he stayed at the base camp for as short a time as possible, wearing masks there and keeping their distance. “We isolated ourselves to the maximum,” says David. “This also applies to the much time we spent in a lodge in the village of Pheriche (at 4,371 meters). There, we were mostly the only guests. If a trekker ever came by, we retreated to our room and ate there, too.”

Never in a “bubble”

The German climber believes that the fact that the corona virus also spread to Everest Base Camp, where up to about 1,000 people stayed this season, was hardly avoidable. “You’re never in a bubble at base camp, you can test as much as you want. It doesn’t work because there are far too many people going in and out.” Still, he didn’t have a queasy feeling that he might catch the virus, Goettler says. “With common sense, you can protect yourself.” A residual risk remains, of course, says David, adding that not everyone behaved sensibly. “In the end, Everest is just a mirror of our society.”

Next attempt

David Göttler below Everest South Col (wearing a mask for moister breath).
David Göttler below Everest South Col (wearing a mask for moister breath).

David Göttler and his Spanish team partner Kilian Jornet have set their sights on tackling again their Everest project without bottled oxygen. “But we haven’t set a time frame for it,” David says. “For such dreams to come true, you probably need a lot of attempts. Because everything just has to fit. So it’s going to start again sooner rather than later.”