Some nicknames are well-intentioned, but pretty off the mark. “I don’t like being called Everest Queen that much,” Lhakpa Sherpa says about the nickname given to the record-breaking Mount Everest female climber by her compatriots in Nepal. “A queen lives a rich life of comfort and luxury. It definitely does not reflect the way I live.” The 47-year-old works 40 hours a week at an organic supermarket in Hartford, Connecticut. As a single mother, she has to make ends meet for herself and her two daughters. Sometimes she washes dishes, sometimes she cuts fruit.
“I’ve coped quite well with the corona pandemic so far,” Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner tells me. “I’m very lucky that we live in the countryside. The forest starts right behind the house. I’ve always made an effort to be out in the fresh air a lot and to strengthen my immune system.” In 2011, with her success on the Chinese north side of the 8,611-meter-high K2, the Austrian became the first woman to scale all 14 eight-thousanders without bottled oxygen. In 2017, the Italian Nives Meroi also managed to do so.
In recent years, Gerlinde has faded from the limelight. With her partner, yoga instructor Manfred Jericha, she lives at Lake Attersee in Upper Austria. Together they offer yoga courses and trips. Kaltenbrunner is also still in demand as a lecturer. This Sunday she turns 50.
Gerlinde, half a century, how does that feel to you?
Nothing earthly is of eternal duration. Even mountains like Mount Everest change – for example through tectonic activities. After the devastating earthquake in Nepal in spring 2015, in which almost 9000 people died, there had also been speculations that the height of Everest might have changed due to the strong earth tremors. A new survey of the highest mountain on earth was due anyway, as several “official” heights existed. Today the governments of Nepal and China have jointly announced: Mount Everest is currently 8,848.86 meters high – and thus about a meter higher than officially set so far. This was based on the results of a Nepalese surveying expedition in spring 2019 and a Chinese one in spring 2020.
The Briton was already a legend of mountaineering in the Himalayas and Karakorum during his lifetime. Today Doug Scott has died at the age of 79 years. He passed away peacefully this morning, at his home with his family around him, informed the aid organization “Community Action Nepal” (CAN), which Scott founded 30 years ago.
First come, first serve on K2? The first team to attempt the ascent of the second highest mountain on earth this winter has already pitched its tents at base camp, and the second is on its way. After the mountaineering trio around the Icelandic John Snorri Sigurjonsson had arrived at the foot of K2, today another trio set off from Nepal for Pakistan: Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, Dawa Tenzing Sherpa and Kili Pemba Sherpa. The three Sherpas have also set themselves the goal of making the first winter ascent of K2. If the weather plays along, the two small teams may have a little time advantage. The largest group on the mountain – under the ticket of the expedition operator Seven Summit Treks – is not expected in Pakistan for a fortnight.
Does the cursed climate change, which is causing problems worldwide, perhaps also have a positive side effect on Mount Everest? A team led by climate scientist Tom Matthews from Loughborough University in England has calculated that a global warming of two percent compared to the pre-industrial age means that at the highest point on earth, an average of around five percent more oxygen can reach the lungs due to higher air pressure. Great, some mountaineers who want to climb Everest without bottled oxygen might think. But be careful! It is not that simple. There is a catch.
If a fortune teller had predicted Atanas Skatov ten years ago that he would spend the winter 2020/21 on the 8,611-meter-high K2 in Pakistan, the Bulgarian would probably have demanded his money back. Until 2010, Skatov had only admired the mountains from a distance. His scientific career took up all his time. He studied in Plovdiv and Berlin and finally received his doctorate on plant protection. Atanas’ passion for the mountains was awakened ten years ago when the scientist set out on a 650-kilometer long hiking trail in Bulgaria. Then the mountains that Skatov climbed quickly became higher. Much higher.
As a vegan high up
His goal is to be the first vegan in the world to scale all 14 eight-thousanders. The 42-year-old already has ten of the world’s highest summits on his account, on one of them – Cho Oyu – Skatov climbed without bottled oxygen.
Atanas scaled Mount Everest from both the Tibetan north side (in 2014) and the Nepalese south side (in 2017), as well as Manaslu (in 2015), Annapurna, Makalu (both in 2016), Lhotse (in 2017), Cho Oyu (in 2018) and in 2019 the four eight-thousanders Kangchenjunga, Gasherbrum I, Gasherbrum II and Dhaulagiri. In 2017 he was the first vegan to complete the collection of the Seven Summits, the highest mountains of all continents. On 19 December, Skatov plans to leave for Pakistan to try his hand at the first winter ascent of K2.
Atanas, don’t you have any concerns about going on an expedition in times of the corona pandemic?
As if Simone Moro had read my thoughts. These days I really wondered what the 53-year-old Italian and the 38-year-old Spaniard Alex Txikon, both proven winter climbing specialists, would be doing in the coming months. Would they, like many others, be drawn to K2, the only eight-thousander never scaled in winter?
And not only there, but also at all the camp sites on the normal route on the south side of the mountain in Nepal, where samples were taken – as well as on Lobuche East, which in recent years has increasingly become the “acclimatization mountain” for Everest aspirants. Not surprisingly, the researchers determined the highest microplastic density in samples from the base camp. After all, there are staying up to 1,000 persons in the spring climbing season.
It almost looks as if this winter there will be a real race for the first winter ascent of K2. More and more climbers are throwing their hats into the ring for the prestige project of scaling the second highest mountain on earth for the first time in the cold season. Today the Nepalese climber Nirmal “Nims” Purja also announced that he will travel with a team to the 8,611-meter-high mountain in the Karakoram in Pakistan. In 2019, Nims had made headlines around the world when he summited all 14 eight-thousanders within only six months and six days – with bottled oxygen, supported by a strong team.
He does not give in so quickly. Icelandic professional mountaineer John Snorri Sigurjonsson has arrived in Pakistan to tackle K2 for the second winter in a row. Last winter, he had reached Camp 2 at 6,600 meters in early February before his team had abandoned the expedition. Afterwards, John Snorri and the Slovenian Tomaz Rotar had accused their expedition leader, Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, and other team members of having started the expedition ill-prepared. The Nepalese had rejected the accusations.
And again one of the greats of mountaineering has passed away. The legendary Scottish climber Hamish MacInnes died on Sunday at the age of 90 years in his hometown Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands.
He climbed the Matterhorn at the age of 16. In 1953 Hamish traveled to Nepal with his Scottish climbing partner John Cunningham. Their goal: the first ascent of Mount Everest. It was an “audacious two-man affair”, MacInnes later recalled: without visas, without a permit, with almost empty coffers. They wanted to live on food that a Swiss expedition had left behind during the failed attempt in 1952. When MacInnes and Cunningham arrived at Everest, they found that Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay had beaten them to it. The Scots attempted to scale the then unclimbed seven-thousander Pumori located vis-à-vis Everest, but had to turn back 400 meters below the summit due to the danger of avalanches.
She made sure that the news of the successful first ascent of Mount Everest arrived in England in time for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Last Friday the British writer Jan Morris died at the age of 94 years in a hospital in the Welsh coastal town of Pwllheli.
In 1953 Morris was still a man, his first name was James and he accompanied the British expedition as a reporter for the newspaper “The Times”. Later Morris underwent a male-to-female gender reassigment. Until her death, the writer lived with her partner Elizabeth, with whom she had five children. She wrote more than 40 books. How Morris transmitted the news of the Everest summit success on 29 May 1953 to London, is legendary.
The first tents with expedition equipment are already standing at the foot of K2. In about one month the base camp will fill up. How many mountaineers exactly will attempt the first winter ascent of the second highest mountain on earth cannot yet be estimated. But the number of those who would like to put this feather on their hat is increasing. K2, located in the Karakoram in Pakistan, is the last remaining of the 14 eight-thousanders that – despite some attempts – has never been scaled during the cold season.
Sometimes things just happen differently. French climbers Symon Welfringer and Pierrick Fine, both in their mid-20s, had actually planned a project in Nepal this fall. But because of the corona pandemic, it was uncertain for a long time whether the Himalayan state would even be open to foreign visitors. So they decided to change their plans and travel to Pakistan to tackle Sani Pakkush.
The shapely 6,953-meter-high mountain is located in the Batura Muztagh massif in the northwest of the Karakoram. It had been scaled only once before, in 1991 by a German expedition: Hubert Bleicher, Arnfried Braun, Daniel Ketterer and Leo Klimmer had climbed up via the steep Northwest Ridge. Welfringer and Fine – they had already opened a new route in 2019 in the Karakoram on the 5,960-meter-high Risht Peak – had another goal: the still virgin 2500-meter-high South face of the mountain.