I admit that I am a bit biased. Perhaps I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Nancy Hansen and Ralf Dujmovits in their summit attempt on the 6,810-meter-high, still unclimbed Biarchedi I in the Karakoram a bit tighter than I do for other climbers. I have known Ralf, the only German mountaineer so far to have scaled all 14 eight-thousanders (except for Mount Everest, all without bottled oxygen), for over 20 years now.
In 2005 we were (together with Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner and Hirotaka Takeuchi) on the north side of Mount Everest. In 2007, I accompanied a commercial expedition led by him to the eight-thousander Manaslu. After the devastating earthquake in Nepal in 2015, the two of us, together with Gerlinde and Nepalhilfe Beilngries, ensured that a school destroyed by the quake was rebuilt for several hundred children and young people in the mountain village of Thulosirubari. All this bonded us and made us friends – and perhaps explains to you why I am particularly excited about the adventure of Ralf and his wife Nancy.
“Turning around is not the difficult part,” David Göttler tells me. “What’s difficult is afterwards, when you’re struggling with fate. But I don’t think Mount Everest will be my mountain of fate.” For the second time after 2019, the German top mountaineer has returned without a summit success from the highest mountain on earth, which he only wants to climb without bottled oxygen. Two years ago he turned back at 8,650 meters, about 200 meters below the summit. This time, the end of the line was at the South Col at just below 8,000 meters.
“Things weren’t going well for either of us,” says the 42-year-old, describing what prompted him and 33-year-old Spaniard Kilian Jornet to descend again. “We kept nodding off, it didn’t feel right.” Goettler had climbed through the night from Camp 2 at 6,400 meters to the South Col, Jornet from base camp. “It was relatively clear up there that we were going to have to turn around – due to the style we are climbing.” David suspects that they had “caught a little sunstroke” on one of the hot previous days: “At some point our bodies would have shown us the red card.”
“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.
Lhakpa Nuru Sherpa is the fifth casualty of the spring season on Mount Everest, which concluded last week. On 3 June, Lhakpa Nuru died at Khangri International Hospital in Kathmandu. He would have turned 43 this month. The Sherpa died of cardiopulmonary arrest as a result of a severe High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), according to the hospital’s death certificate.
Chhang Dawa Sherpa, board director of Seven Summit Treks, Nepal’s largest expedition operator, confirmed the death to me. Lhakpa Nuru, he wrote, had been rescued from Everest Base Camp on 29 May and admitted directly to the hospital, where he was treated for HAPE – in the end to no avail. The 42-year-old is survived by his wife and their son.
“It felt a bit like an apocalypse movie,” says Felix Berg, describing the moment when he and his client Robert Westreicher landed by helicopter at Everest Base Camp on 29 May. “The whole time, at least three helicopters were permanently landing and then taking off again. It was quite special: there were two of us going in, while what felt like hundreds of people were setting off, not to say fleeing.”
For weeks, the scene was puzzled about it: What exactly are David Göttler and Kilian Jornet up to on Mount Everest? It was clear that they wanted to climb the highest mountain on earth without bottled oxygen. But on which route? Possibly as a traverse, and Lhotse for good measure?
The most common speculation was that the German and the Spaniard would try to ascend to the summit via the West Ridge. In any case, this did not happen. David and Kilian abandoned their attempt without breathing mask at the South Col, i.e. on the normal route. The 42-year-old Göttler had climbed there from Camp 2, the 33-year-old Jornet directly from Everest Base Camp.
Not one hundred percent
“We both climbed through the night and met at South Col and we both experienced the same sensation of not feeling well or strong,” David described on Instagram the decision to turn back at nearly 8,000 meters. ” It would have been foolish to continue to climb higher in that state. You can’t climb Everest in our style if you don’t feel 100%, and luckily both of us know very well how we should feel at those altitudes.”
Shortly before the end of the spring season, some teams reached the summit of Mount Everest today. “Mission accomplished,” let Nirmal “Nims” Purja know, head of the operator Elite Expeditions. Apart from the 37-year-old himself, six of his clients and nine Sherpas reached the highest point at 8,849 meters, he wrote: “After having to wait for a weather window good enough to summit, their patience was rewarded.” All returned safely to the South Col at nearly 8,000 meters. Nine team members, including Nims, still want to climb the neighboring 8516-meter Lhotse on Tuesday – incidentally, as on Everest, with bottled oxygen.
Actually, the “Icefall Doctors” on Mount Everest wanted to start already today to remove the ladders and ropes from the dangerous Khumbu icefall, the first stage on the route to the summit. But because of bad weather last week, there was, with permission from the Nepalese government, an extra three days for this spring season.
The odyssey of the two Czech climbers Marek Holecek and Radoslav Groh on the seven-thousander Baruntse in eastern Nepal has found a happy end. The two were flown out today by helicopter to Kathmandu. The pictures that Marek posted on Instagram – apparently from a hospital – give the impression that the 46-year-old survived the ten days on the mountain marked, but apparently relatively unscathed. Holecek and Groh had set out from base camp last Wednesday to open a new route through the challenging Northwest Face of Baruntse in alpine style – with no fixed high camps, no bottled oxygen and no Sherpa support.
The cloud cover on Baruntse in eastern Nepal just won’t break. “The situation is unchanged, we are trapped at 7,000 meters and we cannot move,” Marek Holecek informed via satellite phone today. “It’s still snowing, blowing and not visible. We are waiting for a miracle that will hopefully arrive on Saturday.”
Meteorologists expect the snowfall to end and the wind to calm down on Saturday. As reported, Marek and his Czech rope partner Radoslav Groh had completed a new route through the Northwest Face of the 7,129-meter-high Baruntse on Tuesday – in alpine style, meaning no fixed high camps, no bottled oxygen, no Sherpa support.
The fifth highest mountain on earth showed its teeth. Actually, Felix Berg and his team wanted to reach the 8,485-meter-high summit of Makalu in Nepal on Monday – without bottled oxygen. On Sunday evening, the German expedition leader of the operator Summit Climb, two clients from Germany, one from Austria and two Sherpas set off from their Camp 3 near Makalu La, a col at 7,450 meters – “in good weather,” as Felix writes. “Unfortunately, after two hours the weather became much worse, and at 7,600 meters we turned back.”
Once again, the highest point on earth has been a busy one over the past two days. According to the Nepalese Ministry of Tourism, more than 170 people reached the summit of Mount Everest on Sunday, with more than 100 likely to have joined them on Monday. Dozens of summit successes were also reported from Lhotse. Wang Dorchi Sherpa, who worked for the Russian expedition operator 7Summits Club, died near the nearly 8,000-meter-high Everest South Col. Nothing was initially announced about the cause of death. It was the fourth fatality of this spring season on Everest.
The dramatic corona development in Nepal has also had its first effects on the summer climbing season in Pakistan. With Furtenbach Adventures and Kobler & Partner, two European operators canceled their eight-thousander expeditions in the Karakoram that were actually planned for the summer – not least because of the recent events on Mount Everest.
In the Western Qwm, the “Valley of Silence”, at above 6,000 meters, more than 200 climbers are currently waiting for their summit chance on Mount Everest, according to press reports from Nepal . By the weekend, the strong winds caused by a cyclone west of India are expected to subside. On the South Col at an altitude of almost 8,000 meters, several dozen tents are said to have been blown away. During the first summit wave a week ago, about 150 climbers had reached the highest point at 8,849 meters.
It almost seems as if the weather god has also had enough of all the lies, half-truths and cover-ups in connection with the corona outbreak at Everest base camp. A cyclone raging on the west coast of India is causing snow and strong winds to hit Mount Everest over the next few days as well. The next good weather window actually expected for the middle of the week probably falls flat – and with it for the time being also the second large summit wave. Only towards the end of the week, the wind should subside again.
On Saturday, Lukas Furtenbach had – as reported – broken the wall of silence and talked turkey. The Austrian abandoned his expedition with immediate effect and referred to the escalating COVID-19 situation in base camp: “We all know that we have a massive outbreak in base camp. All teams. (Helicopter) Pilots know, insurances know, HRA (the Himalayan Rescue Association, which runs an infirmary at base camp) knows. Still sending people up is negligent from a legal point of view and inhuman from a moral point of view.” Furtenbach explained that climbers who become infected may not show symptoms, such as fever and breathing problems, until several days later at Camp 3 at nearly 7,200 meters or even higher. This could escalate into a “real severe problem,” including death, he said.
“The situation is escalating,” Lukas Furtenbach writes to me. “There are many new cases in all teams.” Because of a corona outbreak at Everest Base Camp, the head of Austrian operator Furtenbach Adventures has pulled the emergency brake and become the first major team to abort the expedition.
“I didn’t make the decision easy for myself,“ says Furtenbach. “But to climb with these massively increasing corona numbers at base camp and risk the lives of our 20 customers, four mountain guides and 27 Sherpas carelessly, would be irresponsible.”