Karakoram summer climbing under the sign of the pandemic

Biarchedi I (in the center of the picture, on the right Biarchedi II)

“The mountain is still unclimbed for a reason,” Ralf Dujmovits told me before setting off for Pakistan with his wife Nancy Hansen. “Even the approach to the base of Biarchedi I is difficult.” The German-Canadian mountaineering couple is attempting the still unclimbed 6,810-meter-high mountain in the Karakoram this summer.

In 2016, Ralf had caught sight of the Biarchedi group during Nancy’s and his failed attempt on the also still unclimbed 7,134-meter-high Praqpa Ri and learned afterwards that the highest mountain of the massif had not yet been climbed – unlike the 6781-meter Biarchedi II, which the legendary Polish climber Jercy Kukuczka (1948-1989) had first climbed solo in 1984. In the meantime, the two have moved into their base camp at 4,500 meters. During the first eight days in Pakistan “everything has gone incredibly smoothly and we have been warmly welcomed by everyone we met,” Ralf writes on Instagram.

Entry requirements somewhat relaxed

This is not surprising, since this summer season in the Karakoram is also marked by the pandemic. After the Pakistani government had initially banned the entry of mountaineers from Nepal due to corona, several commercial expedition operators had canceled their expeditions planned for this summer – most recently last Tuesday also the largest Nepali operator Seven Summit Treks. A day later, the government relaxed the entry regulations somewhat: now Sherpas can enter Pakistan again if they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 and have tested negative, but they must go into a ten-day quarantine.

The number of commercial teams on the eight-thousanders will remain manageable. For example, Pakistani operator Karakorum Expeditions has eleven clients on K2 and Broad Peak. The rope-fixing team is led by two European mountain guides: Austrian Stephan Keck and Spaniard Jordi Tosas. They will be responsible for further improving the local climbers’ safety skills.

Zimmerman and Welsted on K2 West Ridge

K2
The 8,611-meter-high K2, the second highest mountain on earth – on the left the West Ridge

Top climbers Graham Zimmerman from the U.S. and Ian Welsted from Canada – both already decorated with the Piolet d’Or, the “Oscar of mountaineering” – want to scale K2 via a variant of the rarely climbed West Ridge, in alpine style, i.e. without bottled oxygen, without fixed high camps and without high altitude porters. “The West Ridge is stunning,” Graham writes on Instagram. “It’s not super hard while still being technical. If conditions are right, it will be safe (i.e., no big seracs), and it has an unclimbed direct finish that looks pretty sweet.”

Sajid Sadpara searches for his father and his father’s companions

Also expected on the second highest mountain on Earth is Sajid Ali Sadpara. He plans to search for his father Muhammad Ali Sadpara, Icelander John Snorri Sigurjonsson and Chilean Juan Pablo Mohr, who have been missing since last winter. They had left for a winter summit attempt on 5 February and never returned. Two weeks later, they had been declared dead. Sajid had also been part of the team, but had turned back during the summit attempt because of a faulty oxygen regulator.

Few teams on Broad Peak, Nanga Parbat and Gasherbrum I and II

The eight-thousander Broad Peak

Canadian Don Bowie and Finn Lotta Hintsa have returned to Broad Peak. In winter 2020, they had failed on the 8,051-meter-high mountain – then together with the Russian Denis Urubko. A Spanish team led by Manuel Gonzalez is expected on Nanga Parbat. The five climbers want to repeat the ascent route of Reinhold Messner during his successful solo in 1978.

It will also remain comparatively lonely on the eight-thousanders Gasherbrum I and II. Among the few who have announced themselves there for this summer are the commercial German expedition operator Amical alpin. And Sirbaz Kahn will also be there. The 32-year-old wants to climb both G I and G II. In spring, he had scaled Annapurna and Mount Everest in Nepal, with bottled oxygen. These were his eight-thousanders number six and seven. Sirbaz has set himself the goal of climbing all 14 eight-thousanders. So far, no climber from Pakistan has succeeded in doing so.

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