Secret heroes. There are players on Mount Everest that everyone knows and appreciates, but hardly anyone talks about. Like the “Icefall Doctors”, those highly specialized Sherpas who year after year set up the route through the dangerous Khumbu Icefall and maintain it throughout the season. Or Maurizio Folini and Lakpa Norbu Sherpa, who fly up the Everest slopes with their red-white-blue painted “Kailash” helicopter whenever it is necessary to bring down climbers who have got into trouble or died. The 53-year-old Italian and the 38-year-old Nepalese have long been a well-rehearsed team. Also in the past season they did most rescue flights together.
Maurizio has been flying regularly in the Himalayas since 2011. Lakpa Norbu was trained as a helicopter rescuer in Switzerland. He is a true specialist when it comes to transporting injured, sick or even dead people on the long line. Maurizio Folini took the time to answer my questions after his return from the Himalayas. I appreciate that, because Maurizio rarely has time. Meanwhile he is flying in Switzerland again.
Maurizio, the Everest season is behind you. How many flying hours and how many rescue missions did you have?
There is almost no hope to find the eight climbers alive who have been missing for days in the Indian Himalayas. Indian authorities announced that five bodies had been discovered by a rescue helicopter at an altitude of more than 5,000 meters. The bodies had been sighted in an area where a “huge avalanche” had gone down, it said. It was assumed that the five belonged to the missing group and that the other three climbers had also died in the area.
Yesterday was Everest Day. On 29 May, Nepal celebrates the anniversary of the first ascent of the highest mountain on earth by the New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay in 1953 with numerous events – like the Everest Marathon from the base camp down to Namche Bazaar. Maybe Everest Day is also an opportunity to think about whether and if so, what is currently going wrong on Mount Everest.
Rarely I have been asked so often about Everest as in the past days, even by people who have absolutely nothing to do with mountaineering. The high number of deaths this season and the picture published by Nirmal Purja on May 22, which shows a long queue of people on the summit ridge, have once again put Everest in the headlines worldwide, also in the mainstream media. Mostly only black and white was painted. And I was forced to confront the usual prejudices and clichés. No, it’s still not a walk to the top of Everest. No, not all summit candidates are just egomaniacs who normally have nothing to do with mountaineering. No, not all expedition operators are unscrupulous profiteers. No, not all government officials in Nepal are corrupt.
The Everest season is drawing to a close. Most of the teams on the Nepalese south and Tibetan north side have already broken off their tents and started their journey home. On Monday, a 14-member team of the US operator “Climbing the Seven Summits” reached the highest point at 8,850 meters, with “no crowds” and good climbing conditions, as the operator announced on their homepage. The waiting was worth it. But then also this company had to pass on a sad news. A 62-year-old American died after descending from the summit in his tent at the South Col. It was already this spring season’s eleventh death on Everest, the 21st on all eight-thousanders. The number of Everest summit successes this year should again be well over 700. In 2018, 802 ascents had been registered.
Some pictures say more than a thousand words. Like that shot of Nepalese mountaineer Nirmal Purja from the crowded summit ridge of Mount Everest, which has been making headlines worldwide since the 36-year-old published the picture last Wednesday in the social media (see below). More than 300 people reached the highest point on earth on that day, among them Nirmal, who this spring scaled six eight-thousanders within four weeks as part of his project “Mission Possible” (all 14 eight-thousanders in seven months) – with bottled oxygen, via the normal routes.
Nirmal’s picture might even have opened the eyes of people who have no idea of mountaineering to the fact that such traffic jams in the death zone must simply be life-threatening. Today, two more deaths have been reported from Everest: On Friday a 56-year-old Irishman died on the Tibetan north side of the mountain, on Saturday a 44-year-old Briton on the Nepalese south side, both obviously of high altitude sickness. Ten people have already died this season on the world’s highest mountain.
weather, too many people
The German professional climber David Göttler had – as reported – tried on Thursday to reach the summit of Everest from the south without bottled oxygen. Below the South Summit, the 40-year-old turned around, on the one hand because the weather was getting worse, on the other hand because a lot of people came down from above and he feared traffic jams like on Wednesday. David left Everest Base Camp today. Beforehand he answered my questions.
David, you were on Everest without bottled
oxygen at 8,650 meters, which is higher than the second highest mountain on
earth, K2. How does that sound in your ears?
“I didn’t make it to the summit of Everest, but I still had a pretty special day,” writes David Göttler on Facebook after his failed summit attempt without bottled oxygen. On Thursday, the 40-year-old German professional climber turned around at 8,650 meters. On the same day, he descended to Camp 2 at 6,600 meters, today to Everest Base Camp.
informs me that he left the South Col at 2.30 a.m. local time, i.e. relatively
late – on the one hand to avoid most of the summit candidates, on the other
hand to use the warmth of the sunlight. If you don’t use bottled oxygen, you
have to climb fast, because your body cools down much quicker. David writes
that his tactics “worked really well until just below the South Summit: there,
the weather started closing in and I ran into all those people coming down.”
That’s why he decided to turn around, says Göttler: “Waiting and wasting energy is not an option up there
without supplemental oxygen.”
Probably 22 May will soon appear in the Mount Everest record list: as the day with the most summit successes to date. Over 300 (!) climbers are said to have reached the highest point at 8,850 meters yesterday, the lion’s share from the Nepalese south side. Among them was also Nirmal, called “Nims” Purja, who according to his own words stood on the summit at 5.30 a.m. local time (with bottled oxygen) and afterwards “despite of the heavy traffic”, as he writes on Facebook, also on the top of Lhotse. He reached the summit at 3.45 p.m., he says. It was his eight-thousanders number four and five this season. In the meantime he has arrived at Makalu Base Camp. Nims wants to scale all 14 eight-thousanders in only seven months. If he succeeds on Makalu too, he will be on schedule with his “Mission Possible”, as he called his project.
Like in the
Purja also published on Facebook a picture of the summit ridge of Everest that reminds of a morning in summer sales. A long, almost uninterrupted queue of summit candidates is moving upwards. I still remember the outcry that the pictures of the German high-altitude climber Ralf Dujmovits triggered in 2012, showing a long queue in the Lhotse flank. As a consequence, the number of summit candidates was not reduced, but two lines of fixed ropes were laid parallel to each other – calling that “risk management”. Of course, this is not possible on the summit ridge. According to Gyanendra Shrestra, the government liaison officer in Everest Base camp, climbers reported on Wednesday that they had waited more than two hours (!) at the 8,749-meter-high South Summit.
Now this spring season’s summit ban on the Tibetan north side of Mount Everest has been broken. According to the Nepalese expedition operator “Climbalaya”, the Chinese-Tibetan rope-fixing team reached the highest point at 8,850 meters at 11.25 a.m. local time. It’s only a matter of time before the first commercial teams follow to the summit.
On the south side of Nepal the second summit wave is in full swing. Also today there were again many reports about successful ascents (with bottled oxygen). Due to the high number of summit aspirants, there are said to have been long traffic jams at the key points above the South Col. According to a government liaison officer at the base camp, climbers reported waiting times of more than two hours at the 8,749-meter-high South Summit.
He did it again. This morning,Kami Rita Sherpa led a group of Indian policemen to the 8,850-meter-high summit of Mount Everest. For the 49-year-old Sherpa it was his 24th Everest ascent and the second within a week (with bottled oxygen). On 15 May, Kami Rita – as reported – had already stood on the roof of the world thus improving his own record for most Everest climbs. After his return to the base camp he posted a picture on Facebook that shows him together with his older brother Lhakpa Rita: “Two brothers did 40 summit(s) (of) Mount Everest”, wrote Kami Rita: his brother 17 times, he himself 23 times. Now the two brothers have even 41 ascents in total.
The second wave is rolling, this time even from two sides. After more than 100 mountaineers had used the first good weather window last week to reach the summit of Mount Everest from the Nepalese south side, the first summit successes of the spring season are expected also on the Tibetan north side in the coming days. Some teams are on their way to the summit, among them the German climber Luis Stitzinger with his clients. He informed me that the Chinese authorities had issued only 142 permits for foreign climbers this season, “as few as probably never before,” Luis writes. According to him, there are in addition about 40 Chinese and Tibetans and about 150 Climbing Sherpas from Nepal.
On Mount Everest, the first two deaths of the spring season are to be mourned. Today an Indian mountaineer was found dead in his tent at the South Col at 7,900 meters, apparently he had died of high altitude sickness during the night. He had reached the 8,850-meter-high summit on Thursday. Meanwhile the search for a 39-year-old Irishman, who has been missing since yesterday, was stopped. During the descent from the highest point he had slipped and fallen from an altitude of about 8,300 meters into depth. There is no hope any more to find him alive. The wind in the summit area has refreshed and makes a further search impossible for the time being.
During the first good weather window of the season, more than 100 climbers reached the summit of Everest, obviously all of them used bottled oxygen. Last year, according to the mountaineering chronicle “Himalayan Database”, among 802 climbers standing on the roof of the world, only one was successful without breathing mask: 32-year-old Sonam Finju Sherpa.
Also this spring only very, very few climbers tackle the mountain without bottled oxygen. One of them is – as reported – the German professional mountaineer David Göttler. The 40-year-old has completed his acclimatization and is now waiting in Everest Base Camp for a favourable time for his summit attempt without breathing mask.
David, there are aerial photos circulating from
Everest Base Camp. It doesn’t look like a camp, but like a tent city. How is it
to live there?
The weather window on Mount Everest is still a little bit open, but stronger winds are expected from Friday onwards. Another 30 climbers took the chance today and reached the highest point on earth at 8,850 meters. Among them was the 45-year-old Brit Kenton Cool, who scaled Mount Everest for the 14th time. A whole continent celebrates Saray Khumalo. The 47-year-old South African was the first black woman from Africa to stand on the roof of the world today. The businesswoman, who works for a major financial services group in Johannesburg, has been climbing mountains only for seven years.
“I can climb for a few more years,” said Kami Rita Sherpa some time ago in a BBC interview. “I am healthy. I can go until I am 60 years old. With oxygen it’s no big deal, we were born in the Himalayas.” The 49-year-old reached the summit of Mount Everest at 8,850 meters today at 7.50 a.m. local time – for the 23rd time already – thus improving his own record. “I’ve been always 100 percent focused on my job,” Kami Rita told the BBC. “I never thought about making records. I actually didn’t know that you could make a record. Had I known, I would have done a lot more summits earlier.”
Cheers to the Sherpas! The teams responsible for fixing the ropes have done a great job. On yesterday’s Monday, they were the first climbers of the season to reach the summits of four eight-thousanders: Mount Everest, Kangchenjunga, Lhotse and Makalu. On the highest of all mountains Siddhi Bahadur Tamang, Pasdawa Sherpa, Dorji Gyaljen Sherpa, Pasang Dawa Sherpa, Ang Phurba Sherpa, Dawa Nurbu Sherpa, Ming Dorchi Sherpa and Sangbu Bhote climbed from the Nepalese south side to the highest point at 8,850 meters. The team of eight of the expedition operator “Himalayan Guides” has prepared the way for the numerous clients of the commercial teams. The Nepalese government has issued a total of 378 Everest permits this spring.