Many reporters, including myself, just didn’t have him on their Everest radar. This spring, Rasmus Kragh tackled the highest mountain on earth for the third time without bottled oxygen. In 2017 and 2018, the Danish professional climber had tried to scale Mount Everest via the Tibetan north side of the mountain and had turned around at 8,600 meters each. Last spring, the 30-year-old climbed via the Nepalese south side – and was successful. On 23 May, Kragh reached the highest point at 8,850 meters, as the first Dane without breathing mask. Rasmus comes from the town of Aarhus on the east coast of Denmark. Two months after his Everest adventure he answered my questions.
Rasmus, you reached the summit of Mount Everest on 23
May – according to your own words without bottled oxygen. Did you use it
neither during ascent nor during descent?
“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.
It could be another record season on Mount Everest. Until last Tuesday, the Ministry of Tourism in Kathmandu alone issued 374 climbing permits for the south side of the world’s highest mountain. On the north side, the Chinese-Tibetan authorities have limited the number of climbing permits to 300 this spring. Last year, according to the mountaineering chronicle “Himalayan Database”, 802 climbers reached the summit at 8,850 meters, only one without bottled oxygen: 32-year-old Sonam Finju Sherpa.
This season, too, only a few mountaineers will try to scale Everest without breathing mask. One of them will be David Göttler, who arrived in Kathmandu today. “Nowadays many people think it’s easy because there’s no differentiation between oxygen aspirants and the few without,” the 40-year-old German. “But to make it to the top ‘without diving equipment’ is still not easy. Everything has to fit. And so it would also mean an awful lot to me to reach the summit.”
The route is ready for the commercial expeditions on the Nepalese south side of Mount Everest. The “Icefall Doctors” have completed their job. The team of eight specialized Sherpas secured the route through the dangerous Khumbu Icefall up to Camp 2 at about 6,400 meters with fixed ropes and ladders. Now the summit aspirants can come. To a certain extent en passant, namely at work, some climbers from Nepal will probably improve their records during this spring season. Kami Rita “Topke” Sherpa will be en route with an expedition of the Nepalese operator Seven Summit Treks and – if everything goes according to plan – will reach the highest point on earth at 8,850 meters for the 23rd time.
I guess it’s a classic win-win situation. The Nepalese expedition operator “Seven Summit Treks” benefits from the fact that Pakistan’s top climber Muhammad Ali “Sadpara” strengthens their rope fixing team on the 8,485-meter-high Makalu. And the 43-year-old thus gets the chance to scale the fifth highest mountain on earth in Nepal. The climber is financially supported in this project by the Pakistan Army. For Muhammad, who has been in Nepal since Wednesday, this is the second attempt on Makalu. In spring 2016, he had to turn around 150 meters below the summit in bad weather. At that time he had worked as a mountain guide for the Brazil-born American Cleo Weidlich.
Expedition luggage is piling up these days at the airport of the Nepalese capital Kathmandu. Mountaineers from all over the world arrive in the Himalayan state to tackle Everest or another of Nepal’s high mountains this spring. According to the Ministry of Tourism, the number of mountaineers is expected to be even higher than last year. In 2018, the government issued 768 climbing permits for foreign mountaineers in spring and collected 412 million rupees (the equivalent of more than three million euros) in permit fees. The majority of the summit candidates are once again the clients of the commercial expeditions, who will be bustling on the normal routes. But there are also a few climbers who want to break new ground on the eight-thousanders off the beaten tracks – like the 38-year-old German Felix Berg and the 35-year-old Pole Adam Bielecki on Annapurna.
For about a week the two Russians Dmitry Golovchenko and Sergey Nilov have been fighting their way through the East Face of the 7,710 meter high Jannu in eastern Nepal. The wall has never been completely climbed so far. In the past three days, the two climbers have made little progress due to bad weather. According to information from the Internet portal “Russian Climb“, they are stuck at an altitude of more than 7,000 meters at a spot below the Southeast ridge: “Options: to continue climbing via the French route or to go down. It’s still snowing. Visibility is poor.” The first ascenders of Jannu, the French Rene Desmaison, Paul Keller and Robert Paragot as well as the Nepalese Gyalzen Mitchung Sherpa, had reached the summit via the Southeast Ridge in April 1962.
I am moved, I am over the moon: The expedition “School up!” was successful. The summit has been reached – after almost four years of ascent, which demanded great commitment and staying power from all members.
A few days ago the people in the small mountain village of Thulosirubari, some 70 kilometers east of the Nepalese capital Kathmandu, celebrated the completion of construction work on the new school. After another construction period of almost one year, the third section of the building has now also been completed, with eight new classrooms and a two-story toilet house. A total of 20 classrooms, a teachers’ room and a sufficient number of toilets are now available for several hundred children and young people from Thulosirubari and the surrounding area. Who would have thought this possible after the catastrophe on 25 April 2015?
In the ongoing discussion about the large-scale insurance fraud caused by faked helicopter rescue flights in Nepal, one aspect is missing out in my opinion: As reprehensible as the illegal activities of the trekking agencies, guides and hospitals involved in the scandal are and must therefore be punished, the attitude of many trekking tourists and mountaineers who let themselves be flown out by helicopter also plays a role. The question must be allowed: How willingly has one or the other alleged patient gone on board?
The scandal about allegedly faked rescue flights in Nepal continues to make waves. An ultimatum from the Irish company Traveller Assist, which represents several international travel insurance companies, caused a great stir among the government in Kathmandu. In an open letter Traveller Assist had announced that the insurance companies they represent would no longer issue policies for Nepal trips from 15 February unless the government took immediate legal action against the eleven trekking companies and four hospitals involved in the scandal. After a crisis meeting of the government, Tourism Minister Rabindra Adhikari rejected the accusation. “We are committed to cracking down on insurance fraud,” Adhikari told the “Nepali Times”, pointing out that new rules and a commission had been set up last year to put an end to illegal activity. “After that, the number of cases of helicopter rescues, especially unnecessary ones, had actually started to drop. Which is why we are concerned by the continued leaks to the international press, and the threatening tone of this letter.”
Bad weather forces the climbers of the winter expeditions on the
eight-thousanders K2 and Nanga Parbat in Pakistan and on Manaslu in Nepal to
inactivity. The team from Kazakhstan, Russia and Kyrgyzstan led by Vassiliy
Pivtsov returned to K2 Base Camp yesterday after the seven climbers, according
to their own words, had fixed ropes on the classical Abruzzi route up
to an altitude of 6,300 meters. The
Spaniard Alex Txikon’s team has not yet ascended, but built in the base camp three igloos, in
which a total of ten to 14 people can sleep. Alex was thrilled after his first
While the winter expedition teams at the eight-thousanders K2 and Manaslu
have only just moved into their base camps, the Italian Daniele Nardi and his three companions on Nanga Parbat are in a more advanced phase.
Today Daniele, the Brit Tom Ballard and the two Pakistani mountaineers Rahmat
Ullah Baig and Karim Hayat ascended
again to Camp 3 at 5,700 meters, directly below the Mummery Rib. Five days ago,
the four climbers had deposited a tent there and then returned to base camp.
Several winter expeditions in the Himalayas and Karakoram started in the first days of the year. Two of the three climbers who had succeeded the first winter ascent of Nanga Parbat in 2016 met in Lhukla in Nepal, however now with different goals: The Spaniard Alex Txikon wants to tackle K2 in Pakistan, the last remaining eight-thousander to be climbed for the first time in the cold season, the Italian Simone Moro is drawn to Manaslu again. The 51-year-old and the South Tyrolean Tamara Lunger had failed on the 8167-meter-high mountain in western Nepal in 2015 because of the enormous snow masses of that winter. This year, according to the Kathmandu-based newspaper “The Himalayan Times”, Moro plans to climb with the Nepalese Pemba Gyalje Sherpa on the normal route without bottled oxygen. In order to acclimatize, they wanted to climb the 6,476-meter-high Mera Peak in the Khumbu region. Continue reading “Winter expeditions are on”