You can’t hear his exhaustion. When I reach Jost Kobusch by phone in Chamonix, the words just gush out of the 30-year-old German climber. Just two weeks ago, Jost succeeded in a solo winter ascent of Denali, via the Messner Couloir, which has never been climbed in winter before. At 6,190 meters, Denali, formerly known as Mount McKinley, is the highest mountain in North America and thus one of the Seven Summits. Because of its location in Alaska, high in the north, it is considered one of the coldest mountains in the world.
In recent years, Jost Kobusch had made headlines with his winter attempts on Mount Everest. His goal is to climb the highest mountain on earth solo and without bottled oxygen, via the rarely attempted route via West Ridge and Hornbein Couloir to the summit at 8,849 meters. In the first attempt, he had reached the West Shoulder at a good 7,300 meters in winter 2019/2020. In winter 2021/2022 the end of the line was due to strong winds at just below 6,500 meters.
Jost, first of all congratulations on your winter ascent of Denali. How do you feel physically?
I am simply exhausted. The body has been working at full speed for three weeks. Just because of the low temperatures, it was a high stress load.
You spoke of slight frostbite after your tour. How bad is it?
I only have slight numbness, two toenails have turned blue, but that can all be regenerated. The skin has not turned white, and no blisters have formed.
You climbed to the summit via the Messner Couloir. What were the conditions like on the mountain?
On the day of the ascent, it was stormy in the morning. The weather report had predicted that the wind would die down around noon and it would be nice. And so it came. The following day should be cloudy with only 10 km/h wind. So the temperatures should be bearable. This turned out to be wrong. There were very strong winds. On the summit ridge it was so windy that I partly lost my balance. I put myself in a protective position several times so that I wouldn’t get blown down. The pilots of the plane that flew me out later told me there had been a wind speed of 30 knots on the summit day at the highest point. That’s just over 50 km/h. It shouldn’t have been more than that, otherwise it wouldn’t have worked out with the summit.
Did you only stay on the summit for a short time because of the wind?
There are some elevations on the summit ridge that could be mistaken for the highest point. When the GPS finally indicated that I was at the summit, I just knelt down – I didn’t want to stand in the wind – pulled out my InReach unit and sent off a message that I was at the top. I filmed briefly, that was it. After that, I sprinted down there. In the short time at the top that I had to take off my glove to send the message, my hand froze stiff. I then wrapped it in the glove with heat batteries. Only after a good quarter of an hour could I use my hand again to some extent. That was already really at the limit.
Why did you not descend via the Messner Couloir, but via another route?
It was so stormy that I didn’t want to climb down via the blue ice on the Messner route. I navigated with the GPS data and the map. In the end, I got a little lost because it was so cold that the battery on my GPS unit eventually died. I ended up at the bottom of the wrong valley and couldn’t see my tent. So I climbed back up another slope and returned to my camp from there.
Did you only feel at your limit at the summit?
Yes, actually only there. On the summit ridge it was so cold that my eyes froze shut. I pushed them open again with my fingers. There I was really at the limit. If I had felt at the limit the whole time, I would have done something wrong. It’s not supposed to be like that.
What did you learn from your Denali adventure for your project to climb Mount Everest in winter?
I learned that my training paid off, that I have enough resources to deal with these conditions. Of course, I also learned how to handle this extreme cold even better. The low temperatures force you to be very accurate in the transition phases. For example, when you get out of your sleeping bag, slip into your gear and go. If that doesn’t go smoothly, you risk frostbite. I also carried heavier, rugged gear because of the extreme conditions on Denali. I’d like to carry that over to Everest. I’ll train more in the direction of carrying more weight – so I can regenerate better on the mountain because of the gear.
Has it been good to come back from this project with a summit success?
Well, sure, that’s always nice.
Was that also a message to your critics who call you an “world champion of announcing”?
They don’t matter to me. I did it because I was up for it. I didn’t choose the first winter ascent of the Messner Couloir as a message. If the couloir had been called something else, I also would have climbed it. It is simply a beautiful line.
What’s next for you now?
First I have to regenerate, then I will climb as much as possible here in Chamonix. In fall I want to go back to the Himalayas. There I want to climb something nice for acclimatization and then return to Everest.