“Climbing in winter takes a lot of courage and ability for suffering. The risk is much higher,“ Hans Kammerlander answered when we met last Sunday at the ISPO trade fair in Munich. I asked him what makes winter climbing on the eight-thousanders so special. “The eight-thousanders can be very cold even in spring due to the high altitude, but in winter it’s sometimes twice as cold,” continues Hans. “In addition, the jet stream is lower, the winds hit the mountains sometimes brutally. Everything becomes difficult, just breathing becomes harder in this cold.”
Hard high-altitude mountaineering
The 63-year-old, who has scaled twelve of the 14 eight-thousanders, knows what he is talking about. Together with Reinhold Messner, he tackled two eight-thousanders in winter: Cho Oyu in 1982, Makalu in 1986. Both times the South Tyroleans failed – too much snow, too high avalanche danger, storms. “There were specialists who were superior to us in winter. The Poles, the Russians,” Hans recalls. “I think we were the better climbers, but they were harder and more willing to suffer. They did great things that I admire very much.” Kammerlander also follows the current winter expeditions in the Himalayas and Karakoram with interest. “This is hard high-altitude mountaineering,” says Hans.
Ants in the pants
At Mount Everest, Jost Kobusch today set off again from base camp towards Lho La, the about 6,000-meter-high pass between Nepal and Tibet. “If the weather was right, I actually wanted to climb up again on Thursday. But I simply have too many ants in my pants and have already left today,” Jost writes on Facebook. The 27-year-old German mountaineer wants to climb from Lho La via the West Ridge and the Hornbein Couloir in the North Face to the summit at 8,850 meters – solo and without bottled oxygen. Hans Kammerlander is sceptical. “I admire when someone aims for such a project,” says Hans. “Of course I wish him to return safe and sound, but I don’t think he has a chance. The goal is set too high.”
It can’t be done
In his opinion, this also applied to the meanwhile failed winter expedition of the Italian Simone Moro and the South Tyrolean Tamara Lunger. They had announced they wanted to repeat the double traverse of the eight-thousanders Gasherbrum I and II in the Karakoram, which Messner and Kammerlander had completed in summer of 1984, for the first time – and that in the cold season. “I said right from the start: It can’t be done by two in winter, no matter how good the weather is”, says Hans.
Time for K2
He sees better chances for the team of the Nepalese expedition leader Mingma Gyalje Sherpa that wants to manage the first winter ascent of K2. According to Icelandic John Snorri Sigurjonsson, he and other team members meanwhile deposited 250 kilograms of equipment on the route via the Abruzzi Spur and then returned to base camp.
The second highest mountain in the world is the only eight-thousander that has never been scaled in winter. “It’s just time for K2. I’m surprised it hasn’t been summited in winter yet,” says Kammerlander. “Actually (Krzysztof) Wielicki and his team (in winter 2018) were the right ones in my eyes. The Poles lacked a bit of luck. But K2 will be scaled soon in winter, that’s for sure.”
Update 29 January: Jost Kobusch has returned to Everest Base Camp.