Mount Everest remains a crowd puller. Nepal’s Ministry of Tourism issued permits for 454 foreign climbers to the world’s highest mountain so far this spring season (as of 21 April) – already more than ever before. Most of them come from China (96), the second most from the USA (87). Since a permit costs $11,000, this has already flushed around five million U.S. dollars into the Nepalese government’s coffers.
“Unfortunately, the weather conditions didn’t let them go for another attempt of a summit attack today,” reads Polish ski mountaineer Andrzej Bargiel’s Instagram account. “The team stays overnight in Camp 2, and tomorrow will decide whether to continue the summit push. If the weather forecast is confirmed, it will be possible on Sunday/Monday.”
Then the wind on Mount Everest is expected to calm down significantly. From Tuesday, however, new snowfall must be expected. And from Thursday at the latest, the wind could freshen up again. So – if at all – only a small weather window will open up for Bargiel and Co.
“Maybe I set a record: 30 years for the Seven Summits!” says Gerhard Osterbauer and laughs. The 53-year-old Austrian reached the highest point of Mount Everest at 8,849 meters last Friday at 7:15 a.m. local time – with bottled oxygen – as one of more than 400 climbers who ascended to the summit via Nepal’s south side over the past week and a half.
Oh, if only
all the Everest climbers were Pinocchios! Then it would be very easy to
distinguish the liars from those who tell the truth. We’d just have to watch –
as with the legendary title character of Carlo Collodi’s children’s book – if
their noses had become longer, and we’d have caught the culprits. Also this
spring some Everest climbers would have got longer noses.
The Indian female climber Vikas Rana and her male compatriots Shobha Banwala and Ankush Kasana claimed to have reached the highest point at 8,850 metres at 10.30 a.m. on 26 May. According to the newspaper “The Himalayan Times”, however, the trio was sighted more than 3,300 meters lower only two hours later: back at base camp. To do this, they would have had to get wings. Other climber reported that the trio did not make it above Camp 3 at about 7,150 meters. On 26 May, a strong wind blew on the summit of Everest. Only a day later did a larger team reach the highest point again.
Nirmal, called “Nims” Purja has not lost his optimism yet. “We are making progress, the project is still on and I will complete it within my seven-month goal,” the 36-year-old Nepalese posted on Twitter these days. In seven months Nims wants to have scaled all 14 eight-thousanders. In the spring season in Nepal everything went according to plan. Within a month and a day he stood on the summits of six eight-thousanders: Annapurna (23 April), Dhaulagiri (12 May), Kangchenjunga (15 May), Mount Everest (22 May), Lhotse (22 May), Makalu (24 May). The last three summits he completed within 48 hours and 30 minutes. He ascended with his Sherpa team with bottled oxygen via the normal routes. They were flown to the different base camps by helicopter.
But Purja did not only make headlines with his ascents. On Annapurna, he belonged to the Nepalese who laid the fixed ropes up to the summit. Then he took part in the rescue of the Malaysian mountaineer Wui Kin Chin. Nims and the other rescuers managed to bring Chin from over 7,000 meters from the mountain, but he died a few days later in a hospital in Singapore. On Dhaulagiri, Purja and his companions were the only climbers to reach the summit this spring – despite bad weather. On Kangchenjunga, Nims tried to rescue two Indian climbers who, completely exhausted, had run out of oxygen when they descended. Both died. Most of the headlines, however, were brought to the former soldier of the British Gurkha regiment by the photo he took on 22 May on the summit ridge of Everest. The picture, which showed a long queue on the narrow ridge, went around the world.
Actually, Nims Purja wanted to be now already in Pakistan – for the second phase of his “14/7 Project Possible”: this summer he wants to scale the five eight-thousanders of Pakistan. But he had to postpone his departure because he still lacks money to continue his project. Nims has already taken out a second mortgage on his house in Great Britain. He collects donations via crowdfunding (anyone who wants to support him can do so here – click on the link!). I sent Purja some questions. Here are his answers.
Nims, you stood on the summit of six eight-thousanders in Nepal this spring and were right on schedule with your “Project Possible”. You had to fight the most on Dhaulagiri. How much risk did you have to take?
“It’s not my goal to chase the records,” says Ngima Nuru Sherpa. “Mount Everest is my job.” This spring, the 37-year-old from the village of Tesho near Namche Bazaar, the hub of the Khumbu region, reached once more the summit of Everest: “I’m the youngest till date to have been up there for the 22nd time.”
On 23 May, Ngima Nuru stood at the highest point at 8,850 meters after climbing via the Northeast Ridge. “This year there was more snow below the Advanced Base Camp than in 2018, but less snow above 7,900 meters,” the Sherpa writes to me adding that during the whole time it was very windy on the Tibetan north side: “At the North Col many tents were damaged, the wind blew some equipment off the mountain.”
“If a committee had been set up to create the world, it wouldn’t be ready today.” This realization, attributed to the Irish writer and politician George Bernhard Shaw (1856-1950), I had to think of when I read today that Nepal’s Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli has ordered the formation of an Everest committee of five. The members are to investigate the recent deaths on Mount Everest and review the existing guidelines for climbing the highest mountain on earth, Department of Tourism Director General Dandu Raj Sharma was quoted.
Elisabeth Revol is not one of those professional climber who constantly informs the public about their plans and then share their adventures in real time. When her sponsor Valandre announced on 23 May that the 39-year-old Frenchwoman had scaled Mount Everest without bottled oxygen, hardly anyone knew that she was on the highest mountain on earth. One day later she also reached the summit of Lhotse.
Last Saturday Valandre rowed back. Because Revol was already pre-acclimatized to an altitude of 8,400 meters, it had been “in error” assumed that she had not used bottled oxygen on Everest, the company said.
Becoming everybody’s darling is certainly not one of Lukas Furtenbach’s goals in life. The 41-year-old Austrian doesn’t mince his words when he represents his points of view. He does this offensively and is also not afraid to name names when he criticizes someone. It’s obvious that he doesn’t make only friends by this. Furtenbach polarizes.
Five years ago, Lukas founded his company “Furtenbach Adventures”. In 2018, the operator offered for the first time an “Everest Flash Expedition”. The concept: Everest in four weeks – through targeted preparation with a specially developed hypoxia training and system, more bottled oxygen than usual, more Sherpas. “I have been using and experimenting with hypoxia for almost 20 years,” says Lukas.
He scaled Cho Oyu in 2006 and Broad Peak in 2007. Furtenbach reached the summit of Everest twice: in 2016 via the south side – and this year via the north side. In the past season he started with two groups: a “classic” Everest expedition with seven members and a flash expedition with five clients – in addition the mountain guides Rupert Hauer and Luis Stitzinger, 21 Sherpas and himself. All of them reached the summit. After his return Lukas answered my questions.
Lukas, the situation on the south side of Mount
Everest has been discussed for weeks, but hardly anyone talks about the north
side. How did you experience the season there?
Secret heroes. There are players on Mount Everest that everyone knows and appreciates, but hardly anyone talks about. Like the “Icefall Doctors”, those highly specialized Sherpas who year after year set up the route through the dangerous Khumbu Icefall and maintain it throughout the season. Or Maurizio Folini and Lakpa Norbu Sherpa, who fly up the Everest slopes with their red-white-blue painted “Kailash” helicopter whenever it is necessary to bring down climbers who have got into trouble or died. The 53-year-old Italian and the 38-year-old Nepalese have long been a well-rehearsed team. Also in the past season they did most rescue flights together.
Maurizio has been flying regularly in the Himalayas since 2011. Lakpa Norbu was trained as a helicopter rescuer in Switzerland. He is a true specialist when it comes to transporting injured, sick or even dead people on the long line. Maurizio Folini took the time to answer my questions after his return from the Himalayas. I appreciate that, because Maurizio rarely has time. Meanwhile he is flying in Switzerland again.
Maurizio, the Everest season is behind you. How many flying hours and how many rescue missions did you have?
The Everest season is drawing to a close. Most of the teams on the Nepalese south and Tibetan north side have already broken off their tents and started their journey home. On Monday, a 14-member team of the US operator “Climbing the Seven Summits” reached the highest point at 8,850 meters, with “no crowds” and good climbing conditions, as the operator announced on their homepage. The waiting was worth it. But then also this company had to pass on a sad news. A 62-year-old American died after descending from the summit in his tent at the South Col. It was already this spring season’s eleventh death on Everest, the 21st on all eight-thousanders. The number of Everest summit successes this year should again be well over 700. In 2018, 802 ascents had been registered.
Some pictures say more than a thousand words. Like that shot of Nepalese mountaineer Nirmal Purja from the crowded summit ridge of Mount Everest, which has been making headlines worldwide since the 36-year-old published the picture last Wednesday in the social media (see below). More than 300 people reached the highest point on earth on that day, among them Nirmal, who this spring scaled six eight-thousanders within four weeks as part of his project “Mission Possible” (all 14 eight-thousanders in seven months) – with bottled oxygen, via the normal routes.
Nirmal’s picture might even have opened the eyes of people who have no idea of mountaineering to the fact that such traffic jams in the death zone must simply be life-threatening. Today, two more deaths have been reported from Everest: On Friday a 56-year-old Irishman died on the Tibetan north side of the mountain, on Saturday a 44-year-old Briton on the Nepalese south side, both obviously of high altitude sickness. Ten people have already died this season on the world’s highest mountain.
weather, too many people
The German professional climber David Göttler had – as reported – tried on Thursday to reach the summit of Everest from the south without bottled oxygen. Below the South Summit, the 40-year-old turned around, on the one hand because the weather was getting worse, on the other hand because a lot of people came down from above and he feared traffic jams like on Wednesday. David left Everest Base Camp today. Beforehand he answered my questions.
David, you were on Everest without bottled
oxygen at 8,650 meters, which is higher than the second highest mountain on
earth, K2. How does that sound in your ears?
“I didn’t make it to the summit of Everest, but I still had a pretty special day,” writes David Göttler on Facebook after his failed summit attempt without bottled oxygen. On Thursday, the 40-year-old German professional climber turned around at 8,650 meters. On the same day, he descended to Camp 2 at 6,600 meters, today to Everest Base Camp.
informs me that he left the South Col at 2.30 a.m. local time, i.e. relatively
late – on the one hand to avoid most of the summit candidates, on the other
hand to use the warmth of the sunlight. If you don’t use bottled oxygen, you
have to climb fast, because your body cools down much quicker. David writes
that his tactics “worked really well until just below the South Summit: there,
the weather started closing in and I ran into all those people coming down.”
That’s why he decided to turn around, says Göttler: “Waiting and wasting energy is not an option up there
without supplemental oxygen.”
Probably 22 May will soon appear in the Mount Everest record list: as the day with the most summit successes to date. Over 300 (!) climbers are said to have reached the highest point at 8,850 meters yesterday, the lion’s share from the Nepalese south side. Among them was also Nirmal, called “Nims” Purja, who according to his own words stood on the summit at 5.30 a.m. local time (with bottled oxygen) and afterwards “despite of the heavy traffic”, as he writes on Facebook, also on the top of Lhotse. He reached the summit at 3.45 p.m., he says. It was his eight-thousanders number four and five this season. In the meantime he has arrived at Makalu Base Camp. Nims wants to scale all 14 eight-thousanders in only seven months. If he succeeds on Makalu too, he will be on schedule with his “Mission Possible”, as he called his project.
Like in the
Purja also published on Facebook a picture of the summit ridge of Everest that reminds of a morning in summer sales. A long, almost uninterrupted queue of summit candidates is moving upwards. I still remember the outcry that the pictures of the German high-altitude climber Ralf Dujmovits triggered in 2012, showing a long queue in the Lhotse flank. As a consequence, the number of summit candidates was not reduced, but two lines of fixed ropes were laid parallel to each other – calling that “risk management”. Of course, this is not possible on the summit ridge. According to Gyanendra Shrestra, the government liaison officer in Everest Base camp, climbers reported on Wednesday that they had waited more than two hours (!) at the 8,749-meter-high South Summit.
Now this spring season’s summit ban on the Tibetan north side of Mount Everest has been broken. According to the Nepalese expedition operator “Climbalaya”, the Chinese-Tibetan rope-fixing team reached the highest point at 8,850 meters at 11.25 a.m. local time. It’s only a matter of time before the first commercial teams follow to the summit.
On the south side of Nepal the second summit wave is in full swing. Also today there were again many reports about successful ascents (with bottled oxygen). Due to the high number of summit aspirants, there are said to have been long traffic jams at the key points above the South Col. According to a government liaison officer at the base camp, climbers reported waiting times of more than two hours at the 8,749-meter-high South Summit.