“For me, time is the key to success,” says Jost Kobusch. And so the 27-year-old German mountaineer will already be heading for Nepal next Sunday – three months before the actual start of his expedition. Jost plans to climb Everest in winter, from the south side, over the Lho La (a 6,000 meter high pass to Tibet) to the West Ridge, through the Hornbein-Couloir to the summit – without bottled oxygen, solo. Beforehand he wants to acclimatize in peace and climb a six- as well as a seven-thousander, in preparation for the highest of all mountains.
The only mountaineer so far to stand without breathing mask on the 8,850-meter-high summit in winter was the legendary Ang Rita Sherpa, on 22 December 1987, exactly at the beginning of the calendrical winter. Some purists argue that Ang Rita ascended in the meteorological winter (which begins on 1 December), but in the calendrical fall – and that it was therefore, strictly speaking, not an Everest winter ascent.
Jost Kobusch wants to start his expedition at the beginning of the calendrical winter and finish it before the end of the meteorological winter (29 February). “The beginning of December and March doesn’t feel like winter for me,” says Jost.
260 foreign mountaineers from 26 expedition teams, to whom the Nepalese government has issued permits for this fall, also want to climb the 8,163-meter-high peak. So the Manaslu summit ridge is likely to be crowded once again – especially if the commercial expeditions take the latest findings about the highest point of this mountain seriously and lead their clients far over the ridge to the “real” summit. In recent years, many commercial teams had declared one of the slightly lower elevations on the ridge to be the summit and had turned back from there.
Shishapangma, of all places. The lowest of the 14 eight-thousanders is not only one of the three peaks missing from the Nepalese Nirmal “Nims” Purja to successfully complete his “Project Possible” – all 14 eight-thousanders in seven months. One of his faithful helpers, Mingma Gyabu Sherpa, also wants to scale the 8,027-meter-high mountain in Tibet this fall. If successful, Mingma “David”, as he also calls himself, would have completed the 14 eight-thousanders. But it is still uncertain whether the Chinese-Tibetan authorities will really make an exception for Nims’ team. As reported, no permits are supposed to be issued for Shishapangma in the upcoming fall season. In this case, the mountain would remain closed.
For almost nine years the summit of Mount Everest was deserted in fall. That could change now. The Kathmandu-based newspaper „The Himalayan Times“ reports that ten climbers have received permits for the world’s highest mountain for the upcoming season. Among them are Polish ski mountaineer Andrzej Bargiel and his older brother Grzegorz.
“Were you on the summit?” Actually, this question should be easy to answer. After all, common sense whispers that the summit is where you can’t get higher. But there are vagaries of nature. Not every mountain is shaped like a pyramid, with a clear peak. In seven years of research, a team led by Eberhard Jurgalski, the German chronicler of high-altitude mountaineering, has investigated three of the 14 eight-thousanders which, due to topographical conditions, have repeatedly been misjudged by climbers: Annapurna, Dhaulagiri and Manaslu. “It is clear now after all this research and communication that many mountaineers, including some well-known ones, have definitely failed to reach the very highest points on one or more of these mountains, ” writes Eberhard on his webside 8000ers.com.
Take Annapurna, for example: Based on high-resolution satellite images, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) made available to Jurgalski and Co. a profile of the Annapurna summit ridge, which is more than 300 meters long, with centimeter-accurate data on the elevations. There are some of them: besides the “real” 8,091-meter-high summit more than a handful of cornices, which could be and partly in fact were taken for the summit. One of these points is only a few centimeters lower than the summit, while the difference on another is almost 27 meters.
“I have never been so scared as I was on this mountain”, says Herbert Hellmuth about K2 in the Karakoram in Pakistan. On 25 July, at three o’clock in the morning, still in the dark, he stood on the 8611-meter-high summit of the second highest mountain on earth – and wanted to descend again as quickly as possible: “At the summit a really strong wind blew, and it was accordingly cold: without wind chill between minus 30, minus 35 degrees. When the wind whistles, you are quickly at minus 40, minus 50 degrees. Then, if the camera isn’t frozen, you take two quick pictures and make sure you get away as soon as possible.”
Especially the so-called “Bottleneck”, a
narrow couloir at about 8,000 meters under a hanging glacier, made him afraid,
Herbert tells me: “You’re standing under this serac and see chunks of ice
as big as cars in front of you. And you know very well that they fell down
recently.” He managed to “put his fear aside”, says the
50-year-old. He simply had no alternative. “I thought to myself: the
others also ran up there yesterday. Nothing will happen.”
Romanian top climber Zsolt Torok has fallen to his death. Last Saturday, the 45-year-old was found dead on the 2,535-meter-high Negoiu, the second highest mountain in his homeland. His wife had reported him missing after not hearing from Zsolt for three days. The two had only married in mid-July. Torok was alone en route in the Fagaras Mountains for training. The rescuers, who found his body, suspect that a boulder on which Zsolt stood had come loose in the fragile rock and dragged the climber down with it into the depth.
“Zsolt was the most experienced and strongest of us,” wrote 29-year-old Romanian Vlad Capusan, who was on several expeditions with Torok, on Facebook. “He didn’t see mountaineering as a sport, but as a lifestyle where you get better with each expedition and bring a valuable story to your fellow human beings. For him, it was never about conquering summits or breaking records, but about spiritual fulfillment on the journey up.”
That would be really harsh. Perhaps the Nepalese climber Nirmal, called “Nims” Purja cannot complete the third and final phase of his “Project Possible” as planned due to insurmountable bureaucratic hurdles. The 36-year-old former soldier of the British Gurkha Regiment has so far – as reported several times – despite some adversities been on his schedule to scale all 14 eight-thousanders within seven months. After he and his team “ticked off” eleven eight-thousanders in an unprecedented tour de force in spring and summer, Nims wants to tackle the missing three peaks in the upcoming fall season: Manaslu in Nepal as well as Cho Oyu and Shishapangma. The last two eight-thousanders are located in Tibet – and that’s exactly the problem. I have learned from several trustworthy sources that the Chinese-Tibetan authorities are unwilling to issue any permit for Shishapangma this fall, allegedly for security reasons. The 8,027-meter-high mountain, the lowest of the 14 eight-thousanders, would thus remain closed for this season.
She is a late bloomer as climber, but one who then hit the ground running. Only in 2012, at the age of 22, did Anja Blacha buy her first mountain boots for a holiday trip to Iceland. At the beginning of 2015, she scaled the 6,962-meter-high Aconcagua in South America, her first of the “Seven Summits”, the highest mountains of all continents. By the end of 2017, Anja had completed her collection with the ascent of Mount Vinson in Antarctica, 4,897 meters high. In the same year she had also summited Mount Everest, from the Tibetan north side, with bottled oxygen. At the age of 26 she was the youngest German woman to reach the highest point on earth.
First German woman on K2
She could lose this “record” one day. But she will always be the first German woman to scale the second highest mountain on earth: Almost two weeks ago, on 25 July, the now 29-year-old stood on the 8611-meter-high summit of K2 – without bottled oxygen. At the beginning of July, Blacha had already scaled the neighbouring eight-thousander Broad Peak (8,051 m) without reathing mask. And she has planned another adventure for this year: She wants to reach the South Pole on skis, from the Antarctic coast.
Anja Blacha grew up in Bielefeld in North Rhine-Westphalia. Now she lives in Zurich. There she works in the management of a Swiss telecommunications company. When she returned from Pakistan, she answered my questions.
Anja, first German woman on the K2 – how does this feel for a mountaineer whose roots lie in Bielefeld, which is just 118 meters above sea level?
“Denis did it. He’s already in camp 1. He’ll be back in base camp tonight.” With this message the Spanish climber Maria “Pip” Cardell made the scene be able to breathe a sigh of relief. On Wednesday evening, Denis Urubko had set off from Camp 1 at about 5,900 meters to climb the 8,034-meter-high mountain solo, without bottled oxygen, on a new route and then descend via the normal route. Urubko had wanted to climb up an down in one push, without a bivouac, in order to be able to climb as light as possible. Since then, nothing had been heard from the 46-year-old Kazakh, who now has a Russian and a Polish passport.
The award is something like the “Oscar of Climbers”. The Piolet d’Or is awarded year after year for outstanding climbing achievements on the mountains of the world. When this year’s golden ice axes are presented at the “Ladek Mountain Festival” in Poland on 21 September, two of the winners will no longer be able to receive them personally, but will have to be represented by family members or friends. The Austrian top climbers David Lama and Hansjörg Auer had died in an avalanche on the 3,295-meter-high Howse Peak in the Canadian Rocky Mountains in April, as had the 36-year-old American Jess Roskelley. David was only 28 years old, Hansjörg 34.
The 48-year-old Austrian is not a professional climber. Hans Wenzl earns his living as a foreman for an Austrian construction company. He has to save up the money for his eight-thousander expeditions and to take a vacation for his time on the highest mountains in the world. So it is all the more astonishing that Hans scaled his ninth eight-thousander last Thursday when he reached the 8,611-meter-high summit of K2, the second highest mountain in the world – as always without bottled oxygen.
He had previously stood on the top of Broad Peak (in 2007), Nanga Parbat (in 2009), Gasherbrum I and II (in 2011), Manaslu (in 2012), Cho Oyu (in 2013), Makalu (in 2016) and Mount Everest (in 2017). Hans lives in the Austrian federal state Carinthia in the small town of Metnitz with a population of 2,500. In 2005, he also reached the 8,008-meter-high Shishapangma Central Peak, which is 19 meters lower than the main peak.
He has two adult sons with his wife Sonja. After his summit success on K2, Wenzl answered my questions in the northern Pakistani city of Skardu.
Hans, did you still believe in your chance when most teams abandoned their expeditions after the first failed summit bid and declared that the avalanche risk was too high?
Many reporters, including myself, just didn’t have him on their Everest radar. This spring, Rasmus Kragh tackled the highest mountain on earth for the third time without bottled oxygen. In 2017 and 2018, the Danish professional climber had tried to scale Mount Everest via the Tibetan north side of the mountain and had turned around at 8,600 meters each. Last spring, the 30-year-old climbed via the Nepalese south side – and was successful. On 23 May, Kragh reached the highest point at 8,850 meters, as the first Dane without breathing mask. Rasmus comes from the town of Aarhus on the east coast of Denmark. Two months after his Everest adventure he answered my questions.
Rasmus, you reached the summit of Mount Everest on 23
May – according to your own words without bottled oxygen. Did you use it
neither during ascent nor during descent?