She is a late bloomer as climber, but one who then hit the ground running. Only in 2012, at the age of 22, did Anja Blacha buy her first mountain boots for a holiday trip to Iceland. At the beginning of 2015, she scaled the 6,962-meter-high Aconcagua in South America, her first of the “Seven Summits”, the highest mountains of all continents. By the end of 2017, Anja had completed her collection with the ascent of Mount Vinson in Antarctica, 4,897 meters high. In the same year she had also summited Mount Everest, from the Tibetan north side, with bottled oxygen. At the age of 26 she was the youngest German woman to reach the highest point on earth.
First German woman on K2
She could lose this “record” one day. But she will always be the first German woman to scale the second highest mountain on earth: Almost two weeks ago, on 25 July, the now 29-year-old stood on the 8611-meter-high summit of K2 – without bottled oxygen. At the beginning of July, Blacha had already scaled the neighbouring eight-thousander Broad Peak (8,051 m) without reathing mask. And she has planned another adventure for this year: She wants to reach the South Pole on skis, from the Antarctic coast.
Anja Blacha grew up in Bielefeld in North Rhine-Westphalia. Now she lives in Zurich. There she works in the management of a Swiss telecommunications company. When she returned from Pakistan, she answered my questions.
Anja, first German woman on the K2 – how does this feel for a mountaineer whose roots lie in Bielefeld, which is just 118 meters above sea level?
The 48-year-old Austrian is not a professional climber. Hans Wenzl earns his living as a foreman for an Austrian construction company. He has to save up the money for his eight-thousander expeditions and to take a vacation for his time on the highest mountains in the world. So it is all the more astonishing that Hans scaled his ninth eight-thousander last Thursday when he reached the 8,611-meter-high summit of K2, the second highest mountain in the world – as always without bottled oxygen.
He had previously stood on the top of Broad Peak (in 2007), Nanga Parbat (in 2009), Gasherbrum I and II (in 2011), Manaslu (in 2012), Cho Oyu (in 2013), Makalu (in 2016) and Mount Everest (in 2017). Hans lives in the Austrian federal state Carinthia in the small town of Metnitz with a population of 2,500. In 2005, he also reached the 8,008-meter-high Shishapangma Central Peak, which is 19 meters lower than the main peak.
He has two adult sons with his wife Sonja. After his summit success on K2, Wenzl answered my questions in the northern Pakistani city of Skardu.
Hans, did you still believe in your chance when most teams abandoned their expeditions after the first failed summit bid and declared that the avalanche risk was too high?
Now Purja “only” needs to climb the eight-thousanders Shishapangma and Cho Oyu located in Tibet as well as Manaslu in Nepal to complete his project as planned next fall: to scale the 14 highest mountains in the world within only seven months.
“Once again ‘Project Possible’ team made the impossible possible, as a result of positive mindset with outmost determination, teamwork and leadership.” Thus Nirmal, called “Nims” Purja, is quoted on Twitter after he reached the 8,611-meter-high summit of K2 today at 7.50 am local time in Pakistan with his companions Lakpa Dendi Sherpa and Gesman Tamang from his “Project Possible” team as well as Lakpa Temba Sherpa and Chhangba Sherpa from the team of the expedition operator “Seven Summit Treks” (SST). According to SST, it took the five climbers “eight hours of countless efforts” to reach the top.
“It seems that K2 is still not ready this season,” Dawa Sherpa from the expedition operator “Seven Summit Treks” wrote on Facebook. The team’s Climbing Sherpas, who wanted to fix the ropes above the so-called “Bottleneck”, a narrow couloir at about 8,200 meters with huge seracs above, turned around. The snow above the Bottleneck was 1.40 meters deep, Dawa reported adding that two avalanches had swept down.
The summit wave on K2 is approaching. The weather at the second highest mountain on earth is unusually stable this summer. From tomorrow, Thursday, it could get crowded at the highest point at 8,611 meters. About 120 climbers are on their way, about half of them have chosen the normal route via the Abruzzi Spur, the Southeast Ridge, the other half the Basque route (often also called Cesen route) via the South-Southeast Ridge. Above the “Shoulder”at about 8000 meters, the two routes come together.
The teams at the second highest mountain on earth have sorted themselves. As Herbert Hellmuth, German climber in the team of the Nepalese expedition operator “Seven Summit Treks” wrote me yesterday from the base camp, the summit candidates are distributed quite evenly on the normal route via the Abruzzi Spur and the Basque route (often also called Cesen route).
Herbert had a look around the base camp: Of the 120 climbers with permits (75 international mountaineers, 45 Climbing Sherpas from Nepal – they are spread over ten teams) 64 want to climb the Abruzzi route, 56 the Basque route. The Pakistani High Altitude Porters do not appear in this calculation as they do not need a permit. Around ten climbers who had granted a permit had already left the mountain, Herbert writes me: “All in all not such an overcrowded year.”
It’s quite normal that mountaineers return from an expedition with dirty clothes. After all, it’s important to travel with as little weight as possible. And that’s why, after the trip, the strong smell in the laundry room at home from clothes worn too long is simply part of it. But is it really necessary to wash your dirty laundry in public? For days, the members of the two recently failed K2 winter expeditions have been engaged in a media exchange of blows. With the meanwhile almost usual echo on the social networks – from people who weren’t there, but think they have to put their oar in.
The second highest mountain on earth has once again shown its teeth in winter. After the team from Kazakhstan, Russia and Kyrgyzstan, led by Vassiliy Pivtsov, had broken off their summit attempt on the Southeast Ridge of K2 at 7,500 meters due to poor visibility a week and a half ago, the Spaniard Alex Txikon and his Sherpa team now also returned to base camp without summit success. Their Camp 3 at about 7,050 meters altitude was the end of the line.
“The strong wind didn’t let us climb upwards,” Alex explained. “Winter K2 resists, but we must respect it. You have to listen to the mountain. This winter has showed us that it is not the time yet. I will definitely return!” Perhaps already next summer. Txikon has announced that he wants to try the first traverse of the mountain: ascent via the Chinese side of K2, descent via the Pakistani side. Let’s see if the Chinese authorities will grant him a permit.
“We’re heartbroken; we inform you that the research of Daniele and Tom has ended. A part of them will always remain on the Nanga Parbat,” Daniele Nardi’s home team wrote on Facebook. “The big pain hurts; facing objective facts and after doing everything possible finding them, we must accept what happened.” So now it’s sad certainty: 42-year-old Italian Daniele Nardi and 30-year-old Brit Tom Ballard have died while trying to fully climb the striking “Mummery Rib” in the Diamir Face for the first time.
There is much speculation these days about the search for the two climbers Daniele Nardi and Tom Ballard missing on Nanga Parbat. And it’s not always easy to keep facts and assumptions apart in the countless publications. Nardi’s home team announced today that Spaniard Alex Txikon said he discovered yesterday with a telescope from base camp “two silhouettes” on the Mummery spur. Actually, it was planned to fly to this spot by helicopter today.
Even ten days after the last sign of life of Daniele Nardi and Tom Ballard from Nanga Parbat, there is still no trace of the two missing climbers. After three days of searching in vain for the 42-year-old Italian and the 30-year-old British in the area around the “Mummery Rib”, a striking rock spur in the Diamir Face, and today also on the nearby Kinshofer route, the Spaniards Alex Txikon and Felix Criado as well as the Pakistanis Muhammad Ali Sadpara and Rahmat Ullah Baig returned to base camp. The rescue team had also used camera drones during their search.
The third winter ascender of Nanga Parbat in 2016, Simone Moro, is staying in his home country Italy after his return from Nepal. The 51-year-old and his Nepalese climbing partner Pemba Gyalje Sherpa surrendered to the huge masses of snow on the eight-thousander Manaslu at the end of January. I had sent Simone some questions before the events in Nanga Parbat took their dramatic turn. Among other things, I asked him about the chances of the teams on K2 and Nanga Parbat. Moro replied with reference to the current developments on Nanga Parbat as follows: