Traffic jam in the K2 summit zone

Long queue at K2 Bottleneck
Long queue at K2 Bottleneck

Lucky! Damn good luck! This is the impression given by a video posted on social media by Mingma Gyalje Sherpa from 22 July, the record summit day on K2 (see below). On it, a long line of climbers can be seen at the so-called “Bottleneck” – above them huge ice towers that could collapse at any time. On Friday last week, some 120 members of commercial teams had reached (with bottled oxygen, except for a few) the summit of the second-highest mountain on earth – more than ever before in a single day in the history of K2.

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Eberhard Jurgalski: “Achievements of climbing not diminished”

German chronicler of mountaineering, Eberhard Jurgalski.

“Actually, I had thought that with our list, after ten years of research, the main work was finished,” Eberhard Jurgalski tells me. “But that was a fallacy.” The list published by a team around the German chronicler, according to which – as reported – without a doubt only three climbers have stood on the highest points of all 14 eight-thousanders, continues to cause heated debate in the scene.

“I won’t let anyone tell me that such an ascent is not valid,” Reinhold Messner, for example, scolded in an interview with the Swiss newspaper “Tages-Anzeiger”. According to research by Jurgalski and Co., Messner and his South Tyrolean teammate Hans Kammerlander had turned around on Annapurna in 1985 at a point on the summit ridge five meters lower and 65 meters from the highest point. In the new list Messner, celebrated worldwide as the first man on all eight-thousanders, is therefore listed with “only” 13 eight-thousanders. Even though he and Kammerlander had opened a new route through the Northwest Face of Annapurna.

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Summit wave and first fatality on K2

K2
The 8,611-meter-high K2, the second highest mountain on earth (in 2004)

It seems almost surreal: Everest conditions on K2. After the first ascent of the second highest mountain in northern Pakistan on 31 July 1954 by the Italians Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli, it took 40 years to reach the mark of 100 ascents. Today, Friday, according to reports from Pakistan, around 100 climbers are said to have reached the summit of K2 at 8,611 meters – in a single day!

On Thursday, a five-member Sherpa team – Pasdawa Sherpa, Chhiring Namgyal Sherpa (both from the operator 8K Expeditions) and Siddhi Ghising, Dorjee Gyelzen Sherpa and Rinji Sherpa (from Madison Mountaineering) – had fixed the ropes up to the highest point, achieving the first summit successes on K2 this summer. They used bottled oxygen. So did the vast majority of members of commercial teams who summited today – among them Kristin Harila of Norway (eight-thousander number eight for her this year) and Samina Baig as the first woman from Pakistan.

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Denis Urubko scales Broad Peak without breathing mask

Denis Urubko published this picture today on Facebook

He is still able to do it. Denis Urubko informed that he reached the summit of the 8,051-meter-high Broad Peak in the Karakoram today. In February 2020 – after a failed winter attempt on the same mountain – Denis had still declared his eight-thousander career over with the words “(It) Is Enough!”. By his own account, he had summited eight-thousanders 22 times by then, always without bottled oxygen, sometimes on new routes, in winter or solo.

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The eight-thousanders shrink list

Manaslu
The 8,163-meter-high Manaslu in western Nepal (in 2007)

Eberhard Jurgalski polarizes. Some insult him as an armchair adventurer and runner-down. Others praise the 69-year-old German as a meticulous chronicler of mountaineering on the world’s highest mountains who simply works conscientiously. A week ago, Eberhard caused a medium-sized tremor in the high-altitude mountaineering scene. For ten years, Jurgalski and a handful of other chroniclers had reviewed summit photos of the 52 climbers so far who claimed to have scaled all 14 eight-thousanders. Had they, the chroniclers asked, really reached the highest point in each case or “only” a somewhat lower spot – whether deliberately or by mistake?

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Sigurjonsson’s family asks the climbers on K2

John Snorri Sigurjonsson (1973-2021) on the summit of K2 in summer 2017

Actually, it should go without saying. But what is self-evident in times when, for some, the only thing that seems to matter on the mountain is making it into the headlines? It is not only the truth that tends to fall by the wayside, but also empathy. The family of Icelandic climber John Snorri Sigurjonsson, who died on K2 in the winter of 2021, has asked summit aspirants this summer season to show reverence and not to film or photograph John’s body.

The body of the Icelander is still lying in the summit area, above the so-called “Bottleneck”, the avalanche-prone key section of the normal route at around 8,400 meters – latched into the fixed rope. That the request of Sigurjonsson’s family is not superfluous is proven by the countless pictures circulating on the Internet of the corpses of climbers who have died on Mount Everest, for example.

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When communication breaks down on the mountain

Broad Peak (with the shadow of K2, photographed in 2004)

4G network in the base camps at the foot of Mount Everest or K2 – climbers have now become accustomed to being able to communicate with their smartphones even on the two highest mountains in the world. In this way, they receive the latest weather reports in a simple and, above all, extremely fast way or can also maintain contact within their teams by cell phone. Not as in the past with radios or the considerably more expensive satellite phones. In recent days, however, expeditions in Pakistan have reported communication problems with their teams on the mountain.

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Fatal fall on Broad Peak

Broad Peak (in 2004)

The second fatality of the summer climbing season has occurred on the eight-thousander Broad Peak in the Karakoram. Pakistani climber Sharif Sadpara fell from the summit ridge and has been missing since. The hope of recovering him alive is close to zero.

Describing how the accident happened on Tuesday, Austrian expedition operator Furtenbach Adventures wrote on Instagram: “There is still difficult and limited communication (with Broad Peak base camp) but what we know so far is that our team started from Camp 3 in the night, also fixing the rope to the summit ridge. They were followed by climbers from other teams. Shortly before the summit a following Pakistani climber from a different team fell through a snow cornice on the summit ridge down to the Chinese side. That event halted the summit push for everyone for obvious reasons.”

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Italians without bottled oxygen on Nanga Parbat – first fatality of the season

Nanga Parbat

At express speed, six Italian mountain guides from the Aosta Valley at the foot of Mont Blanc have scaled the 8,125-meter-high Nanga Parbat in Pakistan – without bottled oxygen! Marco Camandona, Francois Cazzanelli, Emrik Favre, Jerome Perruquet, Roger Bovard and Pietro Picco climbed via the Kinshofer route, according to Italian press reports, and reached the summit in less than two days on Monday morning local time.

They had decided to rest only at Camp 3 at around 6,700 meters. Cazzanelli set off from base camp at 4,300 meters only after the others and reached the highest point in just 20 hours and 20 minutes. Cazzanelli and Picco had – as reported before – opened a challenging variant to the Kinshofer route in the lower area of the Diamir Face last week and called it “Aosta Valley Express”.

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Kristin Harila’s eight-thousander chase: Number 7, Nanga Parbat

The Diamir side of Nanga Parbat
The Diamir side of Nanga Parbat

The first eight-thousander summit success of the summer season in Pakistan is reported from Nanga Parbat. According to Pemba Sherpa, founder of the Nepalese operator 8K Expeditions, today the 36-year-old Norwegian Kristin Harila and her three companions Chhiring Namgel Sherpa , Pasdawa Sherpa and Dawa Ongju Sherpa reached the summit at 8,125 meters. Kristin thus continued her record chase in the footsteps of Nirmal “Nims” Purja.

Like the Nepalese did in 2019, Harila wants to be the first woman to climb all 14 eight-thousanders in half a year – like Nims with bottled oxygen, strong Sherpa support and, if possible, helicopters to cover the distances between the mountains as quickly as possible. This is unlikely to be realized in Pakistan, where helicopter flights in the north of the country are only permitted to the Pakistani military.

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Expedition hotspot K2

K2
The 8,611-meter-high K2 in the Karakoram (in summer 2004)

Will K2 become a bestseller like Mount Everest? No, I don’t have to formulate that as a question anymore. The 8,611-meter-high mountain on the border between Pakistan and China is already a big seller among commercial expedition operators. Karrar Haidri, head of the Alpine Club of Pakistan, told the Pakistani newspaper “The News” that this summer more than 400 climbers would attempt to climb the second highest mountain on earth. By comparison, Nepal’s government issued 325 climbing permits for the past spring season on Everest, compared with 408 in the record year of 2021.

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Tom Matthews after Everest scientific expedition: “It was humbling”

New weather station at the so-called "Bishop Rock" near the summit of Mount Everest
New weather station at the so-called “Bishop Rock” near the summit of Mount Everest

The icy ground is melting away from Everest Base Camp on the south side of the mountain in Nepal. For this reason, the Ministry of Tourism in Kathmandu is considering moving the camp’s location away from the glacier to ice-free ground in the future. The site behind the last inhabited settlement of Gorak Shep is reportedly under discussion, at an altitude of around 5,200 meters – at the foot of the popular hill Kala Patthar (5,645 m), from whose highest point many trekking tourists enjoy the view of Mount Everest. The possible move was triggered by the effects of climate change.

“I remember not many years ago when kitchen staff used to collect big pieces of ice, and boil them in huge pots to make water. These days, we can fetch water directly from Khumbu glacier,” Khimlal Gautam writes in the Everest Chronicle portal. The surveyor, who stood on Everest in 2011 and 2019, spent the entire past spring season at the base camp – as a member of that commission of the Ministry of Tourism, which now recommended moving the base camp to lower regions.

British climate scientist Tom Matthews stood on the summit of Everest at 8,849 meters this spring. The 36-year-old mounted a weather station with teammates from the National Geographic science expedition at an altitude of 8,810 meters, not far from the summit. In spring 2019, Tom had already installed a station on the so-called “Balcony” at about 8,400 meters, but it had survived only a few months. Matthews answered my questions.

Tom, What was it like for you as a scientist to stand on the highest point on earth?

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New aid project in Nepal: “School up – far west”

Lessons in the provisional school in Rama
Lessons in the provisional school in Rama

“Our village children attend a school with inadequate facilities. The roof leaks, the classrooms are too small. There is a lack of school furniture, of toilets and much more,” says Him Bahadur Shahi from the small mountain village of Rama. “We have a high proportion of school dropouts due to a variety of social factors, including a lack of adequate educational facilities. Having a full-service school would benefit our community and encourage students to finish their school studies.“

Over the next two years, the German aid organization “Nepalhilfe Beilngries” plans to build two more building wings around the existing school building – with toilets and water supply. With my new “School up” project I would like to support this school construction.

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Apparently second shoe of Günther Messner found on Nanga Parbat

The shoe now found

“Last week, the second shoe of my brother Günther was found at the foot of the Diamir glacier by local people. After fifty-two years. The Nanga Parbat tragedy remains as well as Günther forever.” With these words, mountaineering legend Reinhold Messner commented today on social media on the image of an old mountaineering boot on a large boulder. He had been sent the photo, the 77-year-old South Tyrolean told the German Press Agency (dpa). He will personally pick up the shoe in Pakistan, but there is no hurry, Messner said.

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Peter Riemann and the mystery of his winter coup on Cho Oyu

Peter Riemann (Cho Oyu in the background)
Peter Riemann (Cho Oyu in the background)

Is Peter Riemann now sitting in heaven chatting with Cho Oyu, the “Goddess of Turquoise”, about his solo winter ascent of the eight-thousander in the border region between Nepal and Tibet? Probably, however, he doesn’t make much fuss about it up there either. “He was pretty private and not at all boastful about his accomplishments,” recalls the German climber’s widow, American Carol Davis. “He was fine with his own company.”

Carol is one of apparently very few people Peter let in on his secret about his alleged 1992/93 winter coup: “Peter told me, in no uncertain terms, that he summited Cho Oyu from the Nepal side, alone and without supplemental oxygen. He eschewed supplemental oxygen, and never used it. Also, Peter always climbed alone.”

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