Norrdine Nouar after Annapurna summit success: “I’m still in the eight-thousander learning phase”

Norrdine Nouar on the summit of Annapurna I
Norrdine Nouar on the summit of Annapurna I

Norrdine Nouar has scaled his second eight-thousander without bottled oxygen. Last Sunday (14 April), the 36-year-old German mountaineer stood on the 8,091-meter-high summit of Annapurna I in western Nepal. In spring 2023, Nouar had already scaled the 8,516-meter-high Lhotse. Norrdine did not join any large teams on either occasion, but went it alone – on the normal routes, which were secured with fixed ropes by the commercial teams.

Nouar was a late bloomer when it came to mountaineering. Neither his family nor his friends were drawn to the mountains. He is the son of a native Algerian who came to the former GDR as a guest worker and met his future German wife there. Norrine grew up in the southern German state of Franconia, studied International Technology Management and spent his free time playing computer games rather than going out into nature.

So why did the mountain fever take hold of him at some point? “Ever since I can remember, I have been driven by an insatiable curiosity, a thirst for adventure and the constant urge to take on a new challenge,” Norrdine writes on his website. “I couldn’t help but opt for an uncertain adventure. So I went to the mountains, albeit late.” He reached his first summit at the age of 23. He later climbed four-thousand-metre peaks in the Alps, in the High Atlas in Morocco and also high mountains in the Caucasus and other mountain regions around the world. Nouar has stood on the summits of Mont Blanc, Elbrus and Kilimanjaro, among others. He lives in the municipality of Oberstaufen in the Bavarion region of Allgäu.

After his summit success on Annapurna, Norrdine, currently in Kathmandu, answered my questions.

Thank you very much! It was hard work and a bitterly cold climb through the night to reach the summit. There were several things this time. First of all, I was glad that I had reached the summit at all, as I had thought at least three times on the way that I would have to turn back. I was seriously worried about either suffering frostbite or just getting stuck on the way up out of exhaustion, as has happened to so many. When you reach the summit, you’re just glad that the ordeal is over and that you can descend again soon to get your life back to safety.

Furthermore, I looked at the various elevations on the summit ridge from up there and had to think about the debate about the “True Summit” of Annapurna. I came to the conclusion that this debate is completely ridiculous. I’m pretty sure that the alpine legends of yesteryear would never have wanted to cheat a mountain of its summit, as is perhaps the fashion today. Besides, the three peaks I saw there are more or less all the same height and probably change every year, depending on the weather, wind and snowfall.

Finally, I was happy that the clouds around the summit had disappeared and I was able to enjoy a phenomenal view so early in the morning. It was an incredibly sublime feeling.

Lhotse is often ignored, as it is only Everest’s “little brother”. However, it should not be forgotten that it is the fourth highest mountain in the world and the ascent up its flank and couloir is extremely steep. Lhotse is therefore a very physical and mental challenge. It was also a very special day last year, because I was all alone in the Lhotse Couloir, hadn’t seen anyone the whole day and had the summit all to myself. What’s more, I was the only climber on Lhotse this season without bottled oxygen. That had a bit of a “solo” feeling.

Norrdine in the tent on Annapurna
Norrdine in the tent on Annapurna

Climbing Annapurna, on the other hand, felt complex in many ways. The weather is unpredictable, the risk of avalanches is extremely high every day and the route up to camps 3 and 4 is very challenging and far from easy. The fatality rate on Annapurna clearly shows this, and you can count yourself lucky if you were able to scale this mountain without incident and descend safely.

That’s a very important point that you raise and one that really bothered me while I was lying in my tent in Lower Camp 4 at 6,600 meters. In my wildest dreams, of course, I see myself opening a solo route or a new route to one of these peaks with a rope partner in a very reduced alpine style. Unfortunately, I have to realize that walking on fixed ropes does not correspond to my idea of the ideal of mountaineering and alpinism. To use Reinhold Messner’s words, I’m currently just “a Schneehatschera” (snow walker). So for my next ascents, I have to think seriously about how and when I will climb more eight-thousanders in the future.

View down from the tent on Annapurna
View down from the tent

Yet at the same time, I am indulgent with myself. Basically, I’m an eight-thousander novice and first have to gather my experience, understand these high mountains, the winds, the temperatures, the weather, the risks as well as the limits of my body and my mental strength. Even if you have already gained a lot of experience in the Alps or on other mountains, eight-thousander mountaineering remains a completely different category and therefore has to be “relearned”. I am currently in this learning phase and am gathering my experience on these high mountains.

On my tours on the mountain, I always have to bear in mind that losing my life would also cause a lot of pain and suffering among my friends and family. You can’t treat this responsibility lightly and carelessly. But yes! I actually already have an idea for an alpine-style project that I would like to realize next year on one of the eight-thousanders. But first I have to find the right rope partner and the right funding. But you can look forward to it!

I have tremendous respect for this challenge. I think it’s one of the most demanding things a person can go through physically and mentally. So many top climbers and the best alpinists have already failed on Everest without bottled oxygen, and solo, no-O² climbers are constantly disappearing into the eternal ice on the eight-thousanders. I did my homework, gained experience, trained like crazy and completed an important acclimatization unit with the ascent of Annapurna. In short, to the best of my knowledge and belief, I have created the ideal conditions for a successful ascent. The mountain and, above all, the weather and wind now have the final say. I therefore reckon I have a 50/50 chance. However, the aim must be to come down the mountain unscathed, with or without summit success. Because no mountain or summit is worth accepting irreversible damage for.

Sunrise on Mount Everest
Sunrise on Mount Everest (in fall 2019)

Well, if I was already good enough or had a rope partner, I would prefer to climb the Hornbein Couloir. No, seriously – I have two options. Either to be one of the first and ascend just behind the rope-fixing team, setting off around four hours before the people wearing masks the night before. Or I can take advantage of a potential second or third weather window when the big rush is gone and the crowds have already dispersed or are on their way down. However, this depends very much on how robust and well acclimatized my body is and whether the acclimatization on Annapurna was sufficient.

If I have the feeling that I’m not fit enough for the altitude, I have to go back down to Camp 2 (at 6,400 meters), while the members with bottled oxygen can simply carry on. So it depends on several factors and has to be considered and assessed very situationally. The current difficulties at the Khumbu Icefall to get to the higher camps, for example, could have an impact on the whole season and possibly be a harbinger of disaster on Everest. I very much hope that we don’t break last year’s sad record of deaths on Everest again.

2 Replies to “Norrdine Nouar after Annapurna summit success: “I’m still in the eight-thousander learning phase””

  1. Hi, my husband and I together with my son and daughter in law were on our way to Thorangla pass and we had the pleasureof meeting at high camp. Congratulations on successfully summitting without using bottled oxygen. Great achievement. Wishing you every success on you summit to Everest.

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