This Sunday is International Women’s Day. Also in Nepal. Nepalese women still have a hard time in high altitude mountaineering. The Nepalese Lhakpa Sherpa, who was born in Nepal and lives in the USA, is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the most successful woman on Mount Everest with nine summit successes. This spring she plans to reach the summit for the tenth time, from the Nepalese south side of the mountain. But the 46-year-old also has difficulties finding sponsors. To be able to finance her project, Lhakpa has started a crowdfunding campaign.
Since Pasang Lhamu Sherpa was the first Nepalese woman to reach the summit of Everest on 22 April 1993 (she died on the descent at the 8,749-meter-high South Summit), 66 ascents have been made by women from Nepal – half of them in the last four years, according to the mountain chronicle Himalayan Database.
“Climbing in winter takes a lot of courage and ability for suffering. The risk is much higher,“ Hans Kammerlander answered when we met last Sunday at the ISPO trade fair in Munich. I asked him what makes winter climbing on the eight-thousanders so special. “The eight-thousanders can be very cold even in spring due to the high altitude, but in winter it’s sometimes twice as cold,” continues Hans. “In addition, the jet stream is lower, the winds hit the mountains sometimes brutally. Everything becomes difficult, just breathing becomes harder in this cold.”
Jost Kobusch has achieved his first stage goal. According to his GPS tracker, the 27-year-old German climber reached the 6,006-meter-high Lho La, a pass on the border between Nepal and Tibet, today. Lho La is the lowest point of Everest West Ridge, which Jost says he wants to climb on his solo winter ascent.
The currently “100 percent bloody cold” (Jost), but sunny weather on the highest mountain on earth is expected to continue next week. However, meteorologists predict hurricane-force storms for the summit area of Mount Everest starting Sunday evening. At an altitude of 7,000 meters, wind speeds of at least 80 kilometers per hour are expected – anything but good conditions for an ascent over the exposed West Ridge.
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.
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.“
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.
Mourning for Davo Karnicar: The first person to ski from the summit of Mount Everest to the base camp died in a forest accident in his Slovenian hometown of Jezersko. Karnicar succumbed to his severe injuries on Monday. A tree he had tried to cut down with a chainsaw had fallen on him. Davo was 56 years old. He leaves behind seven children from two marriages.
“I have never been so scared as I was on this mountain”, says Herbert Hellmuth about K2 in the Karakoram in Pakistan. On 25 July, at three o’clock in the morning, still in the dark, he stood on the 8611-meter-high summit of the second highest mountain on earth – and wanted to descend again as quickly as possible: “At the summit a really strong wind blew, and it was accordingly cold: without wind chill between minus 30, minus 35 degrees. When the wind whistles, you are quickly at minus 40, minus 50 degrees. Then, if the camera isn’t frozen, you take two quick pictures and make sure you get away as soon as possible.”
Especially the so-called “Bottleneck”, a
narrow couloir at about 8,000 meters under a hanging glacier, made him afraid,
Herbert tells me: “You’re standing under this serac and see chunks of ice
as big as cars in front of you. And you know very well that they fell down
recently.” He managed to “put his fear aside”, says the
50-year-old. He simply had no alternative. “I thought to myself: the
others also ran up there yesterday. Nothing will happen.”
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.