Will the four-year-old Mateo Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo junior, aged nine, one day enchant the football world like their famous fathers? Quite possible. The two sons of the superstars Lionel Messi from Argentina and Cristiano Ronaldo from Portugal already showed a remarkable feeling for the ball as little children. But that they really follow in their fathers’ footsteps is by no means guaranteed.
Simon Messner, son of the legendary Reinhold Messner, didn’t even want to know anything about mountaineering. “The subject was too present in my family, too commonplace,” the 29-year-old explains on his website the astonishing fact that he started climbing only as a teenager. In addition, Simon was afraid of heights, which had to be overcome: “Don’t fall, then nothing can happen, was my motto. It has remained so to this day.”
Today Simon regularly goes into the mountains and also on expeditions: Last summer he achieved two first ascents of six-thousanders in Pakistan. Simon Messner actually studied molecular biology, but then switched “from the microworld of molecules back to the macroworld of mountains,” as he says. That doesn’t just include climbing. With his 75-year-old father Reinhold, Simon Messner also makes documentary films in and about the mountains.
Simon, do you currently see yourself more as an alpinist or as a filmmaker?
There can be no more than one summit attempt. Jost Kobusch and Alex Txikon agree on this. Both want to climb Mount Everest without bottled oxygen this winter, but in different styles and on different routes. The German solo climber Kobusch wants to do it via the West Ridge and then through the Hornbein Couloir in the North Face to the highest point at 8,850 meters, the Spaniard Txikon with three Sherpas via the Lhotse flank and the South Col.
Kobusch has again ascended to Lho La, a pass of about 6,000 meters on the border between Nepal and Tibet, at the foot of the West Ridge. Yesterday, he reported on Facebook in “light snowfall” from Camp 1. He has rejected all alternative routes, the 27-year-old announced, sounding not very optimistic: “I will make my last and final attempt on the heavily icy route I explored last time in a 17-hour push.“ Before, Jost had complained about new pains in his stressed left foot.
“(It) Is Enough!” That Denis Urubko with this statement on Monday did not only mean the failed winter expedition on Broad Peak, but also his eight-thousander career, was not really clear. But then it gradually seeped through the social networks: The 46-year-old says goodbye to expeditionary mountaineering after two decades. “I plan to stop risky mountaineering, in any mountains,” Denis confirmed yesterday to the Spanish website desnivel.com. “I want to walk on hills and sport climbing.” He will probably do the latter mainly with his partner, the Spanish climber Maria “Pipi” Cardell.
The Russian, who also has a Polish passport, has stood on the top of eight-thousanders 22 times, most recently in summer 2019, when he solo climbed a new route on Gasherbrum II.
“I am (back) in base camp”, Denis Urubko wrote today in a text message to his partner, the Spanish climber Maria “Pipi” Cardell”. “No summit, but (I) survived despite some incidents.” The Russian-born, who has a Polish passport too, left yesterday for his, as he had announced, last summit attempt on Broad Peak. The wind in the summit area was blowing at 70 to 80 kilometers per hour, Denis reported to Cardell. “An avalanche (made me) slide for 100 m, then I fell down with a broken fixed rope for 50 m – not into a crevasse fortunately. I fought despite everything. (It) is enough!”
The three remaining winter expeditions on the eight-thousanders Broad Peak and Mount Everest are entering a potentially decisive phase. At the 8,051-meter-high Broad Peak in the Karakoram in Pakistan, Denis Urubko announced yesterday via Facebook that he would be setting off for his last summit attempt this Sunday – solo and without bottled oxygen. He said he would try to climb to Camp 3 at about 7,000 meters in one go and then reach the summit on Monday. After returning to base camp he wants to finish the expedition. The weather forecast predicts sun and wind speeds between 30 and 40 kilometers per hour for the planned summit day.
No, climbers are not normal employees – even if a glance at the winter expeditions in the Himalayas and Karakoram might give this impression. The mountaineers returned to their base camps just in time for the weekend, but not just to put their feet up, but for other reasons. On Broad Peak, Denis Urubko and Don Bowie abandoned their summit attempt because the latter is ill. “We are in base camp. Today (the) weather is miracle for (the) summit, but I was not able to leave Don alone,” Denis let us know via Facebook. “He was very bad. Now he needs rest.” Yesterday Urubko had informed that the route is secured with fixed ropes up to an altitude of 7,500 meters: “We have two weeks more. I feel well and will wait (for) the (right) moment.”
The good weather window will be only open for a short time. But Denis Urubko and Don Bowie want to take the opportunity to climb “through the window” to the 8,051-meter-high summit of Broad Peak in the Karakoram. As Urubko announced on Facebook, the former Kazakh citizen, who now has a Polish and a Russian passport, and his Canadian teammate left base camp today. They climbed up to Camp 2 at about 6,400 meters in one go. Tomorrow the 46-year-old Denis and the 50-year-old Don plan to reach Camp 3 at 7,000 meters, on Friday the highest point.
Is the other one the perfect climbing partner? Yes, answer both the 41-year-old German high-altitude climber David Göttler and the 42-year-old Italian Hervé Barmasse. “We complement each other super well,” says David. “We train more or less the same way, we have almost the same fitness, we move as fast as is necessary on eight-thousanders,” says Hervé. “Sometimes we have discussions, but that’s quite normal.” In questions of mountaineering ethics, Barmasse is “sometimes even more blatant than I am”, says Göttler: “I accept fixed ropes here and there where it makes sense. He is more rigorous in this respect and says: We don’t do that.”
Fast, clean, without bottled oxygen
Therefore, Hervé reports, he did not accompany David to Everest. In spring 2019, Göttler had tried in vain to scale the highest mountain on earth without bottled oxygen – via the normal route secured with fixed ropes. “I think that for the next generation of the best alpinists, it is no longer just about reaching the summit of Everest or any other mountain, but about respecting the mountain, respecting our planet,” says Barmasse. “That’s why I want to climb clean, in Alpine style.” On the whole, he agrees with Göttler on this point: They want to be en route on the eight-thousanders fast, in a clean style, without breathing mask. This also applies to their next project.
Analogy of events: As it happened already on Gasherbrum I two weeks ago, Alex Txikon’s winter expedition on Mount Everest has now also suffered a fall into a crevasse, which fortunately ended relatively mildly. The Spaniard Jonatan Garcia was carrying latters to secure the route through the Khumbu Icefall when an ice bridge collapsed below him. Jonatan fell twelve meters deep into a crevasse. Alex Txikon managed to bring his companion back to the light. Garcia suffered rib injuries and was to be flown out by helicopter. This ist most probably the end of the expedition for him and Alex has lost an important companion. Last week, Txikon and Garcia had stood together on the summit of the 6,814 meter high Ama Dablam.
At 7,650 meters it was over. Denis Urubko finished the first summit attempt of the winter expedition on the 8,051-meter-high Broad Peak and turned back. “No ropes and a lot of crevasses,” the 46-year-old posted on Facebook. „(Too) Tired to break trail, too risky, not enough time, but good acclimatization. Now we are drinking tea in Camp 3, tomorrow base camp.” It almost sounded as if Denis had been en route all the time today with his expedition companions Don Bowie and Lotta Hintsa. But Urubko climbed up alone.
57 days, 18 hours, 50 minutes of physical and mental exertion, loneliness, the endless expanse of Antarctica, crevasses, strongly fluctuating temperatures, the lowest at minus 35 degrees Celsius, severe weather, storms. Then the German adventurer Anja Blacha reached the South Pole on 9 January, overjoyed. On 12 November, the 29-year-old had set off from Berkner Island in the northwest of the icy continent. Solo and unsupported, Anja skied the distance of 1,381 kilometers to the pole, pulling her sledge, which initially weighed 100 kilograms.
From the highest mountains to the eternal ice
In 2017, Blacha, then 26 years old, had been the so far youngest German woman to scale Mount Everest, with bottled oxygen. In 2019, she was the first German female climber ever to stand on the summit of K2, the second highest mountain on earth – without breathing mask. A few weeks earlier she had already summited the neighbouring eight-thousander peak Broad Peak without bottled oxygen.
Anja Blacha grew up in Bielefeld in North Rhine-Westphalia. Today she lives in Zurich. There she works in the management of a Swiss telecommunications company, which is obviously very tolerant of her adventures: After all, last year Anja spent on average every third day on expedition. After her return from Antarctica and after Anja has recovered a little from the strains, she answered my questions.
Anja, first of all, congratulations. How do you feel after 57 lonely days in Antarctica?
“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.”
This spring, Sergi Mingote will start the second half of his ambitious project: Within 1000 days, the 38-year-old Spaniard wants to climb all 14 eight-thousanders – without bottled oxygen. Sergi needed 444 days to scale the first seven eight-thousanders without breathing mask. In 2018, the Catalan summited Broad Peak, K2 and Manaslu, in 2019 Lhotse, Nanga Parbat, Gasherbrum II and Dhaulagiri.
In mid-February, Mingote will leave for Chile to pre-acclimatize in the Andes. On 27 March, he will then head for Nepal, where Sergi wants to tackle the next two eight-thousanders. The Spaniard Carlos Garranzo and the Italian Matteo Conte will be his climbing partners. Garranzo accompanied Mingote already on Lhotse, Conte on Gasherbrum II and Dhaulagiri.
At the end of Sergi’s project, Mount Everest is scheduled for May 2021. Mingote has already scaled the highest mountain on earth twice, both times with breathing mask: in 2001 via the Tibetan north side of the mountain, in 2003 via the Nepalese south side.
This spring you want to climb the 8,091-meter-high Annapurna and the 8,485-meter-high Makalu without bottled oxygen, then Gasherbrum I in summer, Cho Oyu and Shishapangma in fall. How are you preparing for this mammoth program?
Everest may come. The Spaniard Alex Txikon reached today at 10.15 a.m. local time with his compatriot Jonatan Garcia and the Nepalese Pasang Sherpa, Cheppal Sherpa and Kalden Sherpa the 6,814-meter-high summit of the shapely Ama Dablam (see the video below). “It’s been a tough ascent,” the 38-year-old reported from the highest point. “Wind hit us hard all the way up, but here we are, the five of us on top! Next, let’s start descending carefully.” In the meantime, the five climbers have returned to base camp safely.
A new era has begun in Oman. Two weeks ago, Sultan Qabus bin Said al Said died of cancer at the age of 79. For almost half a century, the monarch had led the country on the Arabian Peninsula into the modern age as absolute ruler with a steady hand: Qabus invested primarily in education, infrastructure and tourism. “As a traveler, you experience an open country, a high degree of hospitality and a feeling of security,” writes the 51-year-old German top climber Alexander Huber.
The younger of the two Huber brothers went climbing in the desert state in December with the Canadian Read McAdam and the Austrians Guido Unterwurzacher and Jakob Oberhauser. Their destination: the famous Majlis al-Jinn cave. The dome-shaped rock hall, one of the largest in the world with 61,000 square metres of floor space, is connected to the outside by three holes in its ceiling. The quartet wanted to open a new route through the second hole.