“I’m picking up right where I left off,” Jost Kobusch tells me. “It was clear from the start that a project like this would need several attempts. And this is just the second one.”
In a week, on 29 October, the 29-year-old German climber will fly to Nepal to try his hand at Mount Everest again in winter: solo; without bottled oxygen; via the challenging, rarely climbed route over the Lho La, a 6,000-meter-high pass between Nepal and Tibet, the West Ridge and the Hornbein Couloir located in the North Face. In his first solo attempt on this route, Jost had reached an altitude of 7,366 meters in February 2020.
Unclimbed six-thousander for acclimatization
Kobusch feels “massively better” prepared this time. He has recently been training between 30 and 40 hours a week in the mountains around Chamonix, where he moved his home a year and a half ago, “on routes similar to what awaits me high on Everest,” Jost says. “I actually enjoyed the corona pandemic time in some ways because it gave me the opportunity to be so focused on this project. I was like in training camp and dutifully did my homework.”
In order to acclimatize for his Everest project, Kobusch says he first wants to tackle along with a rope partner “an unclimbed six-thousander. Which one, unfortunately, I can’t tell you.” Only so much he lets out: the mountain is not in the Everest region, but “in another direction” of Nepal.
Afterwards, he wants to make his way to the highest mountain on earth. He will be “even more minimalist” on Everest than he was the winter before last, Jost announces: “This time I will leave out the base camp with cook. I’ll just pitch a small tent there and store a few supplies, that’s it. If I want to rest, I’ll go to the village of Lobuche. If I want to work on the mountain, I’m on the mountain.”
Homework done on the lower part
He says he learned a lot during his first attempt in winter 2019/2020: about the “microclimate on Everest”, the ice and snow conditions, but also about the lower part of the planned route. “I don’t want to downplay the difficulties at the top. They are enormous, we don’t have to argue about that,” Kobusch says. “Nevertheless, the route up to Lho La has been, in my opinion, the most technically demanding part. Accordingly, it took a lot of time. Clearly I see the key section high on the mountain, but at least the homework for the lower part has been done.”
Taking a look into the Hornbein Couloir
I ask Jost if he wants to complete his project this time, or if he sees this expedition again as one of several stages. “I’m not a writer who knows he’s writing a trilogy or five episodes. I let it come to me,” Kobusch replies. “Of course, I have set a goal: I want to reach an altitude of 8,000 meters. The highest altitude ever reached on the West Ridge in winter was 7,500 meters (in the winter 1984/85 by a French expedition). Even if I crack that mark, it would be an achievement in some way.”
But actually he would like to go higher, at least take a look at the Hornbein Couloir, “to be able to assess whether it makes sense up there in winter. After all, it could be that the couloir is filled with deep powder snow. Then it would be a horror to climb up there. Likewise, if it were really dry, with super hard ice. But that’s what’s so exciting. I don’t know what to expect up there.”
Messner’s criticism taken as a “compliment”
Kobusch has set the period between the calendar start of winter on 21 December and 28 February as the time window for his Everest climb. “I’ll be on the mountain during that time, not before and not after,” Jost says, though he qualifies: “After all, if I were to reach the summit on Feb. 27, I’d still be descending on March 1.”
The young German climber takes the harsh words of old master Reinhold Messner, who had called Kobusch an “announcement world champion” in an interview in the magazine “Alpin”, lightly. “I saw it as a compliment,” says Jost. “If Messner wants to show his love, he does it in the form of criticism.”