8000er winter expeditions: Already or not yet in base camp

Denis Urubko at Broad Peak

The year tips over into the next. It’s high time to take another quick look at the 8000er winter expeditions that will keep us on our toes in early 2020. The Kazakh-born Denis Urubko, now a Russian with a Polish passport (or a Pole with a Russian one), the Canadian Don Bowie and the Finnish Lotta Hintsa have set up their base camp at the foot of Broad Peak. All three fought with diseases during the trekking over the Baltoro Glacier and had to swallow antibiotics. But apparently they have the worst behind them. Denis and Lotta set up a first material depot at 5,100 meters. “We’re trying to get our last member Don Bowie into fighting condition,” Lotta wrote yesterday on Instagram. “Today was the first day my lungs felt clear, and I should be ready to climb in a few days,” Don let us know last Saturday.

The Italian duo Tamara Lunger and Simone Moro should have reached the base camp at the feet of the Gasherbrum group today. Yesterday they reported from Concordia Square, the penultimate stop on their Baltoro trek. They have set their sights on the winter ascent of Gasherbrum I and if possible also Gasherbrum II.

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8000er winter expeditions run up

Broad Peak (with the shadow of K2)

The time for differences of opinion is over – at least as far as winter ascents in the northern half of the world are concerned. This Sunday marked the beginning of the two months in which the meteorological winter (1 December to 29 February) and the calendar winter (22 December to 31 March) overlap. Should a summit success be achieved by the end of February, it will be noted everywhere and by everyone as a winter ascent. At a later date, there are some (few) like Denis Urubko who complain. For the native Kazakh, who meanwhile has a Russian and a Polish passport, the climate is decisive, not the calendar. In March, he argues, the temperature and the conditions mean less winter than in December: “In this context the ‘astronomical’ year is only naked abstraction which doesn’t have a real embodiment for terrestrial conditions.“

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Runway Everest

The Nepalese models are determined by casting

Once again, Mount Everest will be used for an entry in the “Guinness Book of Records”. If everything goes as planned, the “Highest Altitude Fashion Runway“ will be held on 25 January on the 5,643-meter-high Kala Patthar, a popular trekking peak opposite Everest.

During the “Mount Everest Fashion Runway” 15 female and male models from all over the world, five of them from Nepal, will present the winter collection of a local fashion label. In order to prevent the models from suffering from high altitude sickness, they are to trek through the Khumbu region with expert guidance in order to acclimatize properly. “The team of Sherpas who shall lead the way are all locals. They know every nook and cranny of the Khumbu region,“ said Dawa Steven Sherpa, head of the expedition and trekking operator “Asian Trekking”, who was among those who presented the project in Kathmandu. The “Mount Everest Fashion Runway” is one of those activities from which the Nepalese government hopes for positive headlines worldwide as part of its PR campaign “Visit Nepal 2020“.

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Alpinism is Intangible Cultural Heritage

The Reintalanger hut near the highest German mountain Zugspitze

In the middle of the night in the dormitory of an alpine hut. I lie awake, snoring around me, mountaineers and hikers smelling for sweat and beer, ramming their elbows into my back from time to time while I try to sleep. So far I have asked myself in this situation: What am I actually doing here? Now I know: I practice intangible cultural heritage. Since yesterday, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has recognized alpinism as “Intangible Cultural Heritage” – just like playing the harp in Ireland or driving down cattle from mountain pastures in fall in the Alps and the Mediterranean region.

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How many 8000er winter expeditions are left?

Mingma on the summit of K2 (in 2017)

The meteorological winter has begun, the calendrical is just around the corner. And yet it is still not quite clear how many eight-thousander winter expeditions will really take place in this cold season. The expedition announced in September by Mingma Gyalje Sherpa (Nepal), John Snorri Sigurjonsson (Iceland) and Gao Li (China) to K2, the only eight-thousander not yet summited in winter, is on the brink due to financial problems. “We have raised money from our pocket but calculating everything, we found it’s beyond our budget,” Mingma writes on Facebook. “As this is winter climb, there are huge hidden cost.” The 33-year-old, who has already scaled K2 twice in summer, has started a crowdfunding campaign (click here) to raise the obviously still missing sum of 75,000 US dollars.

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Lhakpa Gyaltsen Sherpa: Life and survival on Everest

Lhakpa Gyaltsen Sherpa in front of his lodge in Thame

The village of Thame in the Khumbu region has already seen many Sherpas who achieved fame on Mount Everest. So first ascender Tenzing Norgay grew up there. The legendary Apa Sherpa, who reached the summit of Everest 21 times between 1990 and 2011, was also born in Thame. And Kami Rita Sherpa, with 24 ascents the current record holder, comes from there too. So it’s hardly surprising that the first lodge at the entrance to Thame is called “Third Pole Summiter Lodge”. But it is not named after one of the famous Sherpas mentioned above. In fact, the name indicates that the owner of the lodge also stood on the highest point on earth, the “Third Pole”. “Since 2010 I have tried ten times to reach the summit, eight times I was on the top, twice via the Tibetan north side”, Lhakpa Gyaltsen Sherpa tells me when we stay overnight in his lodge in November. He was a monk for six years before his older brother persuaded him to enter the Everest business too.

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Simone Moro and Tamara Lunger plan Gasherbrum double traverse in winter

Tamara Lunger (l.) and Simone Moro

The 33-year-old South Tyrolean Tamara Lunger and the 52-year-old Italian Simone Moro follow in the footsteps of Reinhold Messner and Hans Kammerlander. In summer 1984, 35 years ago, the South Tyrolean Messner and Kammerlander had written alpine history in the Karakoram in Pakistan, when they had traversed the eight-thousanders Gasherbrum II (8,034 meters) and Gasherbrum I (8,080 meters): in Alpine style, in one push, i.e. without descending – a pioneering act that has not been repeated on these two eight-thousanders to this day. The Spaniards Alberto Inurrategi, Juan Vallejo and Mikel Zabalza last failed in 2016 and 2017 in attempting the double traverse oft he Gasherbrum summits. “We raise the bar on it,“ says Simone Moro, „daring both eight-thousand meter peaks including the crossing as a winter expedition.“

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Mount Everest only for the rich?

North side of Mount Everest

“Only millionaires left who expect you to carry anything after them.” So an expedition leader, who is often en route in the (due to climate change unfortunately not quite) eternal ice of the Arctic, described his clientele to me some time ago. The reason is obvious: the price for last-degree expeditions – from 89 degrees latitude to the North Pole – has almost tripled in the last ten years due to increasingly expensive logistics, to currently around 60,000 euros. The prices for expeditions to the Antarctic – whether to the South Pole or to the continent’s highest mountain, Mount Vinson – have the same order of magnitude and thus are actually out of reach for average earners. The same now applies to the “Third Pole”, Mount Everest – at the latest since the drastic increase in permit fees on the Tibetan north side of the mountain, which comes into force on 1 January 2020.

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China again fuels the permit price spiral for Everest and Co.

Tibetan north side of Everest

Permits for eight-thousander expeditions in Tibet will be significantly more expensive from next spring. The Chinese Mountaineering Association (CMA) has now sent out the new tariffs, which are to apply from the beginning of 2020 to the end of 2022. The price increase for Mount Everest is particularly high. According to the list available to me, the foreign summit candidates for the world’s highest mountain will now have to pay 15,800 US dollars instead of 9,950. That is an increase of around 58 percent. For Cho Oyu, 9,300 dollars per mountaineer will have to be paid next spring. So far it was 7,400 dollars, which results in a plus of 25 percent. The permits for Shishapangma will cost 9,300 dollars for the normal route via the North Face (previously 7,150 dollars, plus 30 percent), 9,400 dollars for the South Face (previously 7,650, plus 22 percent).

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When altitude sickness knocks

Our turning point at 5,000 meters, in the background Renjo La

At about 5,000 meters, it was over. My daughter, who walked in front of me, suddenly tilted sideways and spat out the little she had been able to eat in the last 24 hours. All her strength seemed to have disappeared from her body. Only about 300 meters difference in altitude were missing to Renjo La, from which – despite some clouds – an incomparable panorama with three eight-thousanders would have opened up to us: Mount Everest, Lhotse, Makalu. But suddenly the mountain pass had become out of reach. Our Nepalese mountain guide estimated the time my daughter would need in her condition to reach the highest point at two and a half to three hours – if she made it at all. And then another 500 meters down to Gokyo and a night at 4,800 meters.

High time to turn back. My daughter would probably have been a hot candidate for a (life-threatening) high-altitude cerebral edema. Finally she showed classic symptoms of acute mountain sickness: severe headache (also in the back of the head), nausea, vomiting, tickle of the throat, loss of performance. Actually, we should have pulled the rip cord much earlier. But who wants to give up an attractive goal? You don’t want to believe it, you reach for every straw that promises hope.

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Giant flag on Ama Dablam divides opinion

Kuwaiti flag on Ama Dablam

Nailing one’s colors to the mast is actually regarded as something positive. But does the flag have to be 100 x 30 meters and fly from a 6812-meter-high summit? That’s exactly what happened on Tuesday last week on the beautiful Ama Dablam in the Everest region. A giant flag of Kuwait was rolled out from the summit ridge down the striking hanging glacier. Even in the village of Khumjung, a good ten kilometers away as the crow flies, the flag was still visible. Since then, the mountaineering scene has been discussing the action fiercely. Some see the mountain desecrated and the alpinistic values betrayed, others cheer the daring of the action.

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Big celebration in the 2015 earthquake region

Festival on the grounds of the new school in Sangachok

I’m reminded of a Hollywood movie: The vice-president enters by helicopter. A handful of bodyguards pave the way for him. The Secret Service men are wearing grey suits, dark glasses, earphones – and they keep a straight face. I’m tempted to shout to the wannabe Clint Eastwoods: “Hello, wake up! You’re on a school compound, there’s no danger here, just partying!” But then I deny myself to do it. That’s probably how it must be when a high-ranking politician attends an event in Nepal. And after all Nanda Bahadur Pun is the second man in the state as vice-president. In his posh suit one hardly believes that he once commanded the Maoist rebels in the Nepalese civil war (from 1996 to 2006).

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Nirmal Purja completes eight-thousanders in six months

Nirmal Purja: “Mission achieved”

Nims did it. “Mission achieved”, Nirmal, called “Nims” Purja announced today, after his “Project Possible” team had reached the 8,027-meter-high summit of Shishapangma in Tibet. The 36-year-old former soldier of the British Gurkha Regiment has thus successfully completed his plan to climb all 14 eight-thousanders in seven months. It was even faster than planned. Only six months and six days passed between his first eight-thousander success on Annapurna on 23 April and that on Shishapangma. For comparison: The fastest eight-thousander collector to date, the South Korean Kim Chang-ho, needed seven years, ten months and six days.

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