First summit successes by foreign climbers on the north side of Everest in five years – another death on the south side

North side of Mount Everest (in 2005)
North side of Mount Everest (in 2005)

“We had the mountain to ourselves. With perfect conditions,” Lukas Furtenbach enthuses on Instagram. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity and not many people will experience an empty Everest ever again. I am aware how magical this is. Have I deserved it? I am not sure. But I am so thankful for the best Everest summit I ever had.”

For the 46-year-old head of the expedition operator Furtenbach Adventures, it was the fourth Everest summit success after 2016, 2019 and 2022, the second (after 2019) via the Tibetan north side. The Austrian led a small team over the Northeast Ridge to the highest point at 8,849 meters early this morning local time. The group had only entered Tibet from Nepal eleven days ago after the Chinese-Tibetan authorities had taken a long time to issue climbing permits.

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Difficult conditions on Mount Everest – permits for the north side have arrived

View of Mount Everest (l.) and Lhotse (from Namche)
View of Mount Everest (l.) and Lhotse (from Namche in 2019)

“At altitudes between 6800 m and 7600 m, there are many places with open blue ice,” warned Valeriy Babanov on Instagram a few days ago. “Therefore, fit and sharpen your crampons well. To avoid misunderstandings on long ice slopes. As you remember, luck always favors the strong and prepared!” Babanov is one of the strong.

The Russian has twice been awarded the Piolet d’Or, the “Oscar of mountaineering”: in 2002 for his solo ascent of the North Face of the six-thousander Meru in the Indian Himalayas, and in 2004 (together with Yuri Koschelenko) for the first ascent of the 7,804-meter-high Nuptse Shar I – in the vicinity of Mount Everest. Now aged 59, Babanov wants to scale the highest mountain on earth without bottled oxygen. If he succeeds, he would be the oldest person on Everest without a breathing mask. So far, the Italian Abele Blanc is in the record lists having achieved this feat. When he summited in 2010, Blanc was 55 years and 264 days old.

Babanov wanted to set off today from Everest Base Camp towards the South Col at just below 8,000 meters – “for the final acclimatization”, as he wrote in his Instagram story.

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60 years ago: First ascent of Shishapangma

North side of Shishapangma
North side of Shishapangma

“A few steps more and we emerged on the very highest point of the mountain, a triangular ice-and-snow-covered piece of ground, about five square metres, commanding a panoramic view to the farthest horizon. A head wind hit us with full force.” This is how Hsu Ching (other spelling Xu Jing) , the leader of the Chinese expedition, described the moment exactly 60 years ago today when people first set foot on the summit of Shishapangma. It was 10.20 a.m. Beijing time on 2 May 1964 when the first of a total of ten climbers arrived at the highest point at 8,027 meters, reported Hsu.

This was the last of the 14 eight-thousanders to be climbed – 14 years after the first ascent of the first eight-thousander, Annapurna I, by the Frenchmen Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal. Shishapangma – translated as “crest above the grassy plains” – is the lowest eight-thousander and the only one that lies entirely on Chinese-Tibetan soil.

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North side of Mount Everest: Only the optimists are still sticking to their plans

Tibetan north side of Mount Everest
Tibetan north side of Mount Everest

This much is already clear: Mount Everest will also be a much lonelier mountain on the Tibetan north side this spring than on the Nepalese south side. While the Nepalese Ministry of Tourism has so far (as of 24 April) issued 388 climbing permits for Everest, the Chinese-Tibetan authorities – as reported – are still stalling the foreign expedition teams. In any case, the number of permits is capped at 300. But there will be nowhere near that many this spring.

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No permits for Shishapangma – for the north side of Everest only in May

Shishapangma
Shishapangma, the only eight-thousander located entirely in Tibet

An unusually large number of foreign eight-thousander climbers have been staying in the Langtang National Park, around 50 kilometers north of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu, these days. The reason was obvious: the border to Tibet is close by and the five- and six-thousanders of Langtang are ideal for acclimatization. The teams were waiting for entry and climbing permits for China, where they wanted to try their hand at the eight-thousanders Shishapangma and Mount Everest this spring.

All those who wanted to climb the 8,027-meter-high Shishapangma received disappointing news today: the lowest of the 14 eight-thousanders remains closed. “After 17 days of waiting for an answer about the possibility of climbing Shishapangma in Tibet, we were informed that climbing in the region will not be allowed this year,” wrote Brazilian Moeses Fiamoncini on Instagram. “Now is the time to rethink our plans and redirect our energy towards exploring new challenges.”

Everest permits only after the Chinese holidays

Fiamoncini has already summited seven eight-thousanders without bottled oxygen; Shishapangma was to be number eight. Several dozen climbers had applied for permits for this eight-thousander. “It’s cancelled for this season,” confirms Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, head of the expedition operator Imagine Nepal, “but Everest will happen.” Mingma expects the permits for the highest mountain on earth “on May 6 or 7, maybe even earlier”.

Tibetan north side of Mount Everest
Tibetan north side of Mount Everest (in spring 2005)

While Labor Day is celebrated worldwide on 1 May, in China all stores, offices and schools remain closed until 5 May to mark the occasion. Other expedition operators told ExplorersWeb that 7 May would be the date on which the border will open for the Everest teams. In return, the season should last longer than usual: until 11 June. Lukas Furtenbach, head of the Austrian operator Furtenbach Adventures, disagrees. The season also ends in Tibet on 1 June, he writes to me. Part of his team on the north side is now moving to the south side, says Lukas. The remaining clients continue to wait.

After a four-year break, the foreign expeditions want to return to the north side of Mount Everest this year. It is shaping up to be a comeback with obstacles. Meanwhile, the Nepalese government has so far (as of 22 April) issued 364 permits for the south side of Everest. Last year at this time (21 April 2023), there were already 454 climbing permits. A decrease of 23.8 percent.

Update 24 April: After the British operator Adventure Peak, the Dutch expedition leader Arnold Coster, who lives in Nepal, has also pulled the ripcord and sent his team to the south side of Nepal. “The Chinese authorities keep delaying our entry date and now I feel like waiting any longer is too risky,” Coster writes on Instagram. “After more than a dozen Everest North expeditions I simply think the gamble on a late summit is too big. Yes, there been years when people summited late, but I have also seen years when the season just abruptly stops when the monsoon arrives.”

Update 25 April: The field of teams that wanted to ascend via the north side of Everest is getting smaller and smaller. Now Andreas Neuschmid, expedition leader of the Swiss operator Kobler & Partner, has also announced that his team switches to the Nepalese south side.

Bumpy start to the season on Mount Everest

The Icefall Doctors ascend in the Khumbu Icefall. One of them pulls a ladder behind him.
The Icefall Doctors doing their dangerous work in the Khumbu Icefall

That was a hard piece of work. Yesterday, Thursday, the Icefall Doctors finally announced the completion of their work. The route from the base camp on the Nepalese south side of Mount Everest through the Khumbu Icefall up to Camp 2 at 6,400 meters has been secured with fixed ropes, the Sagarmatha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC) announced.

The eight Icefall Doctors – Ang Sarki Sherpa, Dawa Nuru Sherpa, Pemba Tshering Sherpa, Ngima Tenzi Sherpa, Ngawang Chhimi Sherpa, Dawa Chhiri Sherpa, Dawa Jangbu Sherpa and Mingma Gyaljen Sherpa – had needed ten working days more than originally planned, Tshering Sherpa, chief executive officer at SPCC, told the newspaper “The Himalayan Times”. They were “struggling hard”, he said. The team found a route through the ice labyrinth only on the third attempt.

The SPCC and its Icefall Doctors are responsible for securing the lower part of the ascent route. Above Camp 2, a team from a Nepalese expedition operator takes over the task of rope-fixing up to the summit at 8,849 meters on behalf of the Expedition Operators’ Association Nepal (EOA-Nepal). This year, Seven Summit Treks, the largest expedition operator in Nepal, is responsible for this.

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Commercial expeditions return to the north side of Mount Everest

North side of Mount Everest
North side of Mount Everest

After a four-year interruption, this spring will see the return of a “normal” season for commercial expeditions on the north side of Mount Everest in Tibet. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chinese-Tibetan authorities had closed the eight-thousanders in Tibet to foreign teams from 2020 to 2022. Only Chinese expeditions were permitted.

In spring 2023, the authorities waited so long to issue permits that the foreign operators ran out of time and ultimately decided against Everest expeditions via the Northeast Ridge route. This time, around a handful of foreign teams are expected at the base camp on the Rongbuk Glacier. “Everything is going normally so far,” Lukas Furtenbach writes to me. His company, Furtenbach Adventures, will be on the north side with 18 clients this season.

“Waiting game”

Everest base camp on the north side (in 2005)
Everest Base Camp on the north side (in 2005)

For Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, head of Imagine Nepal, the normality is to remain cool in the face of the halting proceedings of the Chinese-Tibetan authorities. “As always, it’s just a waiting game. They are hopeful to give us climbing permits in the beginning of April,” writes Mingma, whose company will have five clients on the north side of Everest.

Other operators with experience of Tibet had also announced expeditions to the Chinese side for this spring, including Seven Summit Treks, Nepal’s largest expedition operator, as well as Kobler & Partner from Switzerland and Climbalaya from Nepal, both of which are known for their close contacts in Tibet. It is not yet clear how many clients these three companies will have there. My inquiries have so far gone unanswered.

Climbs without breathing masks prohibited

A yak is loaded at the foot of Mount Everest (in 2005)
Five yaks per climber from base camp to ABC are included in the permit, four for the way back

The prices in Tibet are still the same as after the last increase before the 2020 season (which was then canceled): The Chinese-Tibetan authorities charge 15,800 US dollars per person for a standard Everest package, and 18,000 dollars for the luxury version. However, unlike in Nepal, this also includes hotel accommodation and material transportation with yaks. The teams must consist of at least four members.

In addition, foreign clients are required to have climbed at least one seven-thousander before their Everest attempt. From an altitude of 7,000 meters, i.e. the North Col, all climbers must use bottled oxygen. Thusm attempts without a breathing mask are prohibited. The number of permits is capped at 300. In all likelihood, there will be significantly fewer this spring.

Nepal expects over 400 Everest aspirants

There is no such restriction in Nepal. Last year, the Ministry of Tourism in Kathmandu issued a record number of 478 permits for the south side of Mount Everest – at a price of 11,000 dollars per permit. From 2025 onwards, the government wants the price to rise to 15,000 dollars. According to the newspaper “The Himalayan Times “, again more than 400 foreign mountaineers are expected this spring.

Shishapangma: Mourning for four avalanche victims

Shishapangma
Shishapangma

The Chinese-Tibetan authorities have pulled the brakes. After two avalanches hit the summit zone of the eight-thousander Shishapangma on Saturday, they declared that “all climbing activities have been suspended in view of the unstable snow conditions on the mountain.” Apparently, this applies not only currently, but also for the rest of the fall season.

On Saturday, as reported, the US American Anna Gutu and her Nepalese mountain guide Mingmar Sherpa had died in a first avalanche. Their bodies had been found – unlike those of Gina Marie Rzucidlo, also from the U.S., and her Nepalese mountain guide Tenjen “Lama” Sherpa, who were swept away by another avalanche about two hours later. The search for the two missing people was suspended.

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Avalanche on Shishapangma: Two dead, two missing

Shishapangma
Shishapangma


Sad news from the eight-thousander Shishapangma: According to the newspaper “The Himalayan Times”, the American climber Anna Gutu and her Nepalese guide Mingmar Sherpa died today in an avalanche accident on the 8,027-meter-high mountain in Tibet. Gina Marie Rzucidlo, also from the U.S. and her Nepalese mountain guide Tenjen “Lama” Sherpa were reported missing. Apparently there is little hope of recovering the two missing alive.

Naila Kiani and Sirbaz Khan, both from Pakistan, who were also on the mountain and eyewitnessed the disaster, spoke of four dead. They abandoned their summit attempt and descended back to Camp 1. They were “very shaken and distressed” after witnessing how the avalanche swept their friends to their deaths, they let it be known via Instagram. Apparently, two avalanches had gone off at an altitude of around 7,800 meters. The four climbers ascending on the normal route had been caught by the snow masses.

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Everest ski descent via Hornbein Couloir?

The Tibetan north side of Mount Everest (in 2005)
The Tibetan North Face of Mount Everest (in 2005)

Fall projects on Mount Everest, once commonplace, have become rare. Because of the often rather bad weather, commercial expeditions give the highest mountain on earth a wide berth in the post-monsoon season, concentrating instead on Manaslu in western Nepal or the eight-thousanders Cho Oyu and Shishapanga in Tibet – provided the Chinese-Tibetan authorities clear these mountains.

In fall 2022, a Polish team led by ski mountaineer Andrzej Bargiel had attempted the Nepalese south side of Everest. Bargiel, who wanted to climb to the summit without bottled oxygen and ski down to base camp, and his companion Janusz Golab had aborted their summit attempt at the South Col at almost 8,000 meters. They had been greeted by such violent gusts of wind that they had not even been able to pitch their tent.

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