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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Mystery of tragic winter summit attempt on K2 still unsolved

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

It seems like a puzzle that takes time to put together. And possibly it will never be completed. Even after the bodies of the three missing climbers Muhammad Ali Sadpara from Pakistan, John Snorri Sigurjonsson from Iceland and Juan Pablo Mohr from Chile were found on K2, the crucial questions remain largely unanswered: What exactly happened to them last winter? And were they really at the summit, as media reported, especially in the three home countries of the climbers who perished?

Canadian climber and filmmaker Elia Saikaly, who had been searching for the missing along with Muhammad’s son Sajid Ali Sadpara and Nepalese Pasang Kaji Sherpa, is cautious. “Our work continues here. We jump to no conclusions as we continue to put the pieces together and search for evidence of a successful winter ascent,” Saikaly wrote on social media.

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K2: Zimmerman and Welsted give up on the West Ridge, further summit successes

On K2 West Ridge
On K2 West Ridge

They have thrown in the towel. American Graham Zimmerman and Canadian Ian Welsted abandoned their attempt on the rarely climbed, challenging K2 West Ridge and returned to base camp. The two were climbing in alpine style, meaning no bottled oxygen, no fixed high camps and no high altitude porters.

“In the end we were stopped in our tracks by some of the warmest temperatures either of have experienced in the big mountains,” Zimmerman wrote on Instagram. “At 7,000m we were unable to go any further due to near constant avalanches and rock fall down the route.”

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K2: Missing winter climbers found, first summit successes

The 8,611-meter-high K2, the second highest mountain on earth – on the left the West Ridge

The first summit successes of the summer season are reported from K2. Among those who reached today – with bottled oxygen – the highest point at 8,611 meters was also the only 19 years old Pakistani climber Shehroze Kashif. Last May, Kashif had also scaled Mount Everest, and in 2017 he summited Broad Peak – since then he has been called “Broad Boy” in his homeland.

All those who reached the summit of K2 today had also passed the bodies of Muhammad Ali Sadpara, John Snorri Sigurjonsson and Juan Pablo Mohr. The Sherpas of a commercial team that fixed the ropes had discovered yesterday the bodies of the three climbers who had been missing since their winter summit attempt in early February and were later declared dead.

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Mourning for Rick Allen after avalanche on K2

Rick Allen died on K2 – this picture was taken by Canadian Louis Rousseau in summer 2018.

One of the great British climbers is no longer with us. The 68-year-old Scotsman Rick Allen died yesterday in an avalanche on K2. Rick was reportedly planning to open a new route up the world’s second highest mountain with Austrian Stephan Keck and Spaniard Jordi Tosas – in alpine style, i.e. without bottled oxygen, high altitude porters and prepared high camps.

Where exactly the route was to go up is unclear; some reports say on the southeast side of K2, while others speak of the avalanche-prone East Face, which has never been climbed. Keck and Tosas escaped the avalanche. The Spaniard remained at K2 Base Camp, the Austrian was flown out to the town of Skardu. According to reports from Pakistan, Allen’s body was found near the Advanced Base Camp.

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K2 and Broad Peak: Difficult search for missing climbers

The eight-thousander Broad Peak in Pakistan (in 2004)

The South Korean climber Kim Hong-bin is almost certainly dead since last Monday, but signals from his satellite phone could still be located later – at 7,000 meters on the hard-to-access Chinese east side of the eight-thousander Broad Peak. Whether Kim’s body lies there or only his satellite phone is still open. The South Korean news agency Yonhap reported on Friday that the Chinese authorities had allowed Pakistani rescue helicopters to search for Kim on Chinese territory. The Chinese had set up an operations center near the site of the accident to assist in the search effort, it said.

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