The 48-year-old Austrian is not a professional climber. Hans Wenzl earns his living as a foreman for an Austrian construction company. He has to save up the money for his eight-thousander expeditions and to take a vacation for his time on the highest mountains in the world. So it is all the more astonishing that Hans scaled his ninth eight-thousander last Thursday when he reached the 8,611-meter-high summit of K2, the second highest mountain in the world – as always without bottled oxygen.
He had previously stood on the top of Broad Peak (in 2007), Nanga Parbat (in 2009), Gasherbrum I and II (in 2011), Manaslu (in 2012), Cho Oyu (in 2013), Makalu (in 2016) and Mount Everest (in 2017). Hans lives in the Austrian federal state Carinthia in the small town of Metnitz with a population of 2,500. In 2005, he also reached the 8,008-meter-high Shishapangma Central Peak, which is 19 meters lower than the main peak.
He has two adult sons with his wife Sonja. After his summit success on K2, Wenzl answered my questions in the northern Pakistani city of Skardu.
Hans, did you still believe in your chance when most teams abandoned their expeditions after the first failed summit bid and declared that the avalanche risk was too high?
I knew it could work because high winds could blow out the snow in a few days.
How did you feel your ascent to the highest point?
On the summit day it was as good as windless. This is very important for a climb without supplemental oxygen. Nevertheless my toes in my left shoe were very cold. I was afraid of frostbite, so I kept moving my toes to warm them a bit.
Since the first attempt was not so long ago, I felt a little exhausted. In the steep and partly also icy passages I used up a lot of strength. Our Camp 4 was at 7,650 meters. So the summit day was very long.
After Mount Everest now K2 – both under difficult conditions. Where were you more at the limit?
That’s hard to compare. On Everest the weather was worse, but on the summit day there is more walking terrain – except for the Hillary Step. Steep steps like at the K2 Bottleneck require a lot of effort. In summary, you are very exhausted on these heights at the summit.
There were also climbers on K2, who were climbing without bottle oxygen, but had supporters with breathing masks around them. Is that something like a “light” variant?
That should be the so-called emergency oxygen. But in the end it doesn’t serve as such but is used to reach the summit if it doesn’t work without it.
Are you already thinking about your possible tenth eight-thousander without bottled oxygen?
Until now I was so busy with K2 that I haven’t thought of any more eight-thousander goals yet. But if I’ll do, then again without additional oxygen. 😉