Last friendship service for Matthew Eakin

Matthew Eakin
Matthew Eakin (1981-2022)

Not only was he a mountain enthusiast, but he had exceptional charisma. “Anyone who had the pleasure to spend even a few minutes with Matthew Eakin would no doubt come away with a renewed zest for life. A guy that constantly gave his time to others,” Australian adventure photographer and cameraman Rob Norman wrote of his friend Eakin after the 41-year-old fell to his death on 25 July while descending K2. “He lived the life he wanted, wore his heart on his sleeve, made the most out of this precious life we have and always did it with a smile his face.” Similarly, Cassie Davies, also a friend of Eakin’s, wrote: “He was a magnet that attracted people to him. He encouraged many of us to try things, just to dare, to put the investment in and make our dreams real.”

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Denis Urubko: On his birthday without breathing mask on top of K2

Denis Urubko
Denis Urubko

The unstoppable. According to Denis Urubko, he stood on the 8,611-meter-high summit of K2 this morning, at 7:30 a.m. local time in Pakistan. In doing so, he gave himself the best present on his 49th birthday. As with all his many previous ascents, Denis climbed without bottled oxygen on the second highest mountain on earth. “I was alone above Camp 4,” Urubko let it be known via Facebook.

Within ten days, the climber, who was born in the Russian North Caucasus, thus reached three eight-thousand-meter peaks – in a rush via the normal routes, without breathing mask, without a companion. First Urubko scaled Broad Peak (8,051 meters) on 19 July, then Gasherbrum II (8.034 meters) on 25 July, and now K2.

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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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Summit wave and first fatality on 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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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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Expedition hotspot 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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Mountaineering legend Kurt Diemberger celebrates his 90th birthday

Kurt Diemberger
Kurt Diemberger

In summer 2004, the same problem befell us. On the journey to K2, the second highest mountain on earth in Pakistan, both mountaineering legend Kurt Diemberger and I contracted diarrhea that put us out of action for two days. As we later discovered in conversation, we had both eaten eggs in a hotel in the town of Chilas on the Karakoram Highway that were past their prime. With rather wobbly legs, we set off as planned to trek across the Baltoro Glacier.

At the time, Kurt was accompanying a large Italian expedition as guest of honor, which had set itself the goal of another ascent of the mountain on the 50th anniversary of the first ascent of K2 by the Italians Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli – five climbers of the team later succeeded in reaching the summit, all without the use of bottled oxygen. I was on a reporting trip to K2 because of the anniversary, which Kurt described to me as his “dream and destiny mountain.”

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Winter expeditions: Down – and over?

Sunrise on Mount Everest
Sunrise on Mount Everest (in fall 2019)

This Monday marks the end of the meteorological winter. All attempts to reach an eight-thousander summit in this cold season were unsuccessful. On Mount Everest, Jost Kobusch returned to the valley today after spending three days and nights at almost 6,500 meters.

“The weather forecast predicted higher speeds at the last minute, which would have made a climb too much of an unnecessary risk,” Jost writes on Facebook. “After all, the route remains technical. And believe me, it was definitely exciting enough to climb down the hard ice backwards and in the dark at high wind speeds.”

The 29-year-old German climber had already declared when setting out on his last ascent that he no longer saw a realistic chance of reaching the summit at 8,849 meters. In the best case, he could perhaps reach higher than during his first attempt two years ago, Jost had said. In 2020, he had reached the West Shoulder of Everest at just below 7,400 meters. But nothing came of it now, the strong wind did not abate. “It was really stormy and maybe a touch worse than I had hoped,” Kobusch summed up his expedition: “But at the end of the day, I learned a lot and am very grateful for the experience.”

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Jost Kobusch on Mount Everest: As high as possible – Waiting for summit chance on K2

Jost Kobusch as he set off
Jost Kobusch as he set off

It is the last ascent in his second solo winter attempt on Mount Everest. In view of the continuing strong winds, Jost Kobusch knows that – as two years ago – he will not reach the summit of the highest mountain on earth at 8,849 meters. He is aware that “the chance of reaching the summit is practically non-existent,” the 29-year-old German climber let it be known on social networks. “The only remaining hope is that I will get higher than last time, see more and gain experience. Maybe I’ll even beat my own record!”

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Gelje Sherpa’s team abandons summit attempt on Cho Oyu

Gelje Sherpa's team on ascent on Cho Oyu
Gelje Sherpa’s team on ascent on Cho Oyu

At 7,560 meters on the Southeast ridge of Cho Oyu was the end of the line. Due to announced gusts of up to 100 kilometers per hour in the upper zone of the eight-thousander, the ten-member Nepalese team led by Gelje Sherpa abandoned its summit attempt – “because the (weather) window was too short to get going,” as Ashok Rai, manager of the expedition, told the Internet portal “Everest Chronicle”: “There will be a second attempt once the weather improves.”

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Tough struggle for the winter expeditions on Everest, Cho Oyu and K2

Mount Everest
Mount Everest

What is still possible this winter for climbers on the eight-thousanders? After the expeditions on Nanga Parbat in Pakistan and on Manaslu ended unsuccessfully, only the attempts on K2 in the Karakoram in Pakistan and on the Himalayan giants Cho Oyu and Mount Everest in Nepal are still running.

Jost Kobusch currently has plenty of time to read during his solo attempt on Everest. “My favourite book at the moment: Positive Psychology for Dummies,” writes the 29-year-old German climber from Lobuche in the Everest Valley. “With the current conditions here, I really need this book!” In it, two English psychologists give tips on how to deal with difficult feelings and make your life happier and healthier.

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Winter expeditions on Everest and Co.: Patience is needed

Suddenly aged? Jost Kobusch
Suddenly aged? Jost Kobusch

Jost Kobusch hasn’t lost his sense of humor yet. “And I’m still waiting for better weather…,” the 29-year-old German climber wrote on social media, posting a fake portrait showing him as an old man with a gray beard. For the past week and a half, Jost has been killing time in the village of Lobuche, located at about 5,000 meters in the Everest Valley. Snowfall and gale-force storms are currently making mountaineering impossible in the region around the world’s highest mountain.

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Fully supported winter climbing on K2

Grace Tseng (2nd from r.) and her Nepalese companions, on the right Nima Gyalzen Sherpa.
Grace Tseng (2nd from r.) and her Nepalese companions, on the right Nima Gyalzen Sherpa.

Nima Gyalzen Sherpa, Chhiring Sherpa, Dawa Sherpa, Furi Sherpa, Ngima Tendi Sherpa, Ningma Dorje Tamang, Muhammad Sharif Rasool. To be on the safe side, I name the six Nepalese and Pakistani climbers who are currently on their way to K2 (today they reached the Goro II camp on the Baltoro Glacier at 4,200 meters). For all too often, those who have made successes on the eight-thousanders possible through their hard work are kept quiet afterwards.

The seven-member team of the Nepalese operator Dolma Outdoor Expedition wants to lead the Taiwanese Tseng Ko-erh, also called “Grace” Tseng, to the summit of the second highest mountain on earth this winter. Actually, Tashi Sherpa should also have been in the team. But he did not get an entry visa to Pakistan because of problems with his passport and was replaced by Rasool, as Dolma Outdoor Expedition told me.

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Graham Zimmerman: “Climate change makes hard climbing even harder”

Graham Zimmerman
Graham Zimmerman

Climate change is increasingly throwing a monkey wrench in the works of even top climbers: heavy precipitation at times when it used to be dry, high temperatures where it used to be cold, falling rocks and avalanches. Graham Zimmerman was among those who returned empty-handed from the Karakoram last summer.

Zimmerman is a U.S. citizen and a New Zealander: He was born in Wellington, his American parents returned to the U.S. when he was four years old, Zimmerman later studied in New Zealand and now lives in Bend in the U.S. state of Oregon.  The 35-year-old is one of the best alpinists in the world. In 2014 he was nominated for the Piolet d’Or for his new route via the Northeast Buttress of Mount Laurens in Alaska (together with Mark Allen), and in 2020 he received the “Oscar of the Climbers” (together with Steve Swenson, Chris Wright and Mark Richey) for the first ascent of the seven-thousander Link Sar in the Karakoram. Zimmerman’s film about the pioneering feat in summer 2019 was just released (see video below). Graham answered my questions about the impact of climate change on climbing the world’s highest mountains.

Graham, last summer you and Ian Welstedt attempted to climb K2 via a new variation of the West Ridge route. You stopped at about 7,000 meters because of the climatic conditions on the mountain. What exactly did these look like?

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Season’s balance in the Karakoram: Nothing groundbreaking

Sunrise at Gondogoro La in Karakoram

The climbing season is over – what remains? This is a question we should perhaps ask ourselves more often when we look at what is happening on the world’s highest mountains. Were there any truly groundbreaking ascents that added new, exciting chapters to the book of alpinism? There were a few such attempts this summer in the Karakoram, but they all failed – either because of the conditions on the mountain, as in the case of Graham Zimmerman and Ian Welstedt’s attempt on the rarely climbed West Ridge of K2, or as in the case of the Czech expedition to the still unclimbed 7,453-meter-high Muchu Chhish in the Batura Massif, where Pavel Korinek and Tomas Petrecek turned back at 6,600 meters in waist-deep snow.

Or they failed because of the weather, as in the case of Nancy Hansen and Ralf Dujmovits on the also still unclimbed 6,810-meter-high Biarchedi I. Or because of an accident, as in the case of the Briton Rick Allen, who was caught in an avalanche and died while attempting to open a new route on K2 in alpine style with the Austrian Stephan Keck and the Spaniard Jordi Tosas. Equally tragic was the fatal fall of Kim Hong-bin on Broad Peak – just hours after the South Korean had become the first disabled climber to complete his collection of the 14 eight-thousanders.

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