Sometimes he attacks his victims, sometimes he creeps up on them – death has many faces. In January, Italian climber Simone Moro barely managed to get away from him. On Gasherbrum I, the 52-year-old fell 20 meters deep into a crevasse. His partner Tamara Lunger from South Tyrol was able to break the fall with a rope. After two hours Simone crawled back over the edge of the crevasse. Both suffered minor injuries, ended their winter expedition and returned to Italy.
What Moro would experience in his hometown Bergamo in this March, he could not yet guess. Bergamo currently represents the deadly danger from the corona virus worldwide: In the province around the northern Italian city currently between 100 and 120 people die every day of the Covid-19 virus. Simone is in South Tyrol, where he answered my questions.
Simone, the most important question in these days of the corona virus first: How are you?
I like solo expeditions. They are challenging and therefore exciting. And if the goal is not reached, there is no one afterwards to whom the adventurer can blame for it – except nature or himself. Even before his solo winter expedition to Mount Everest, Jost Kobusch had already told me that his main concern was to find out whether his plan to climb the highest mountain on earth solo, without bottled oxygen and on an ambitious route was realistic. “My personal goal would be to reach an altitude of about 7,200 meters. Anything above that would be a bonus, the summit anyway,” Jost had said before leaving for Nepal. In the end the bonus was 166 meters.
On his last attempt, the 27-year-old German climbed up to 7,366 meters at the Everest West Shoulder. The fact that he reached his altitude despite his damaged left foot makes him very happy, Kobusch wrote on Facebook, back in Kathmandu. “Sometimes you just have to set intermediate goals to get closer to the final goal.”
Mount Everest remains unclimbed in this (meteorological) winter. After the German solo climber had abandoned his last attempt on Tuesday at 7,360 meters on the West Shoulder, the two teams on the normal route also turned back today at about 7,000 meters. “No way to get to Camp 3. 45 centimeter of fresh, unstable snow on the Lhotse Face have proven too dangerous”, Alex Txikon let us know. „We also had some close calls with avalanches yesterday . It’s frustrating, we’re strong and willing to go on, but conditions are unforgiving! We must go down.“ This means that after 2017 and 2018, the 38-year-old Spaniard’s third attempt to climb Everest in winter without bottled oxygen has failed too.
Also the four Sherpas of the “Breathless Winter Everest” team, who showed up at base camp only on Monday and planned a winter speed ascent of the highest mountain on earth, threw in the towel just below Camp 3. Expedition leader Tashi Lakpa Sherpa, like Txikon, pointed out the dangerous conditions in the Lhotse flank: too much unstable fresh snow, underneath blue ice.
Is it over? As Jost Kobusch’s GPS tracker showed today, he descended from the Everest West Shoulder to Lho La. On the 6,000-meter-high pass between Nepal and Tibet he had set up his Camp 1. Yesterday, Monday, the 27-year-old German climber had reached an altitude of about 7,300 meters, but had then climbed down again to his Camp 2 at about 6,800 meters.
Kobusch had set himself the extremely ambitious goal of climbing the highest mountain on earth solo and without bottled oxygen, via the rather rarely climbed West Ridge and the Hornbein Couloir in the North Face. Before his current try he had spoken of the “final attempt”. This was also in line with his announcement before the expedition to break down his tents on Everest by the end of the calendrical winter next Saturday at the latest.
“(It) Is Enough!” That Denis Urubko with this statement on Monday did not only mean the failed winter expedition on Broad Peak, but also his eight-thousander career, was not really clear. But then it gradually seeped through the social networks: The 46-year-old says goodbye to expeditionary mountaineering after two decades. “I plan to stop risky mountaineering, in any mountains,” Denis confirmed yesterday to the Spanish website desnivel.com. “I want to walk on hills and sport climbing.” He will probably do the latter mainly with his partner, the Spanish climber Maria “Pipi” Cardell.
The Russian, who also has a Polish passport, has stood on the top of eight-thousanders 22 times, most recently in summer 2019, when he solo climbed a new route on Gasherbrum II.
“I am (back) in base camp”, Denis Urubko wrote today in a text message to his partner, the Spanish climber Maria “Pipi” Cardell”. “No summit, but (I) survived despite some incidents.” The Russian-born, who has a Polish passport too, left yesterday for his, as he had announced, last summit attempt on Broad Peak. The wind in the summit area was blowing at 70 to 80 kilometers per hour, Denis reported to Cardell. “An avalanche (made me) slide for 100 m, then I fell down with a broken fixed rope for 50 m – not into a crevasse fortunately. I fought despite everything. (It) is enough!”
The good weather window will be only open for a short time. But Denis Urubko and Don Bowie want to take the opportunity to climb “through the window” to the 8,051-meter-high summit of Broad Peak in the Karakoram. As Urubko announced on Facebook, the former Kazakh citizen, who now has a Polish and a Russian passport, and his Canadian teammate left base camp today. They climbed up to Camp 2 at about 6,400 meters in one go. Tomorrow the 46-year-old Denis and the 50-year-old Don plan to reach Camp 3 at 7,000 meters, on Friday the highest point.
Analogy of events: As it happened already on Gasherbrum I two weeks ago, Alex Txikon’s winter expedition on Mount Everest has now also suffered a fall into a crevasse, which fortunately ended relatively mildly. The Spaniard Jonatan Garcia was carrying latters to secure the route through the Khumbu Icefall when an ice bridge collapsed below him. Jonatan fell twelve meters deep into a crevasse. Alex Txikon managed to bring his companion back to the light. Garcia suffered rib injuries and was to be flown out by helicopter. This ist most probably the end of the expedition for him and Alex has lost an important companion. Last week, Txikon and Garcia had stood together on the summit of the 6,814 meter high Ama Dablam.
At 7,650 meters it was over. Denis Urubko finished the first summit attempt of the winter expedition on the 8,051-meter-high Broad Peak and turned back. “No ropes and a lot of crevasses,” the 46-year-old posted on Facebook. „(Too) Tired to break trail, too risky, not enough time, but good acclimatization. Now we are drinking tea in Camp 3, tomorrow base camp.” It almost sounded as if Denis had been en route all the time today with his expedition companions Don Bowie and Lotta Hintsa. But Urubko climbed up alone.
“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.”
Everest may come. The Spaniard Alex Txikon reached today at 10.15 a.m. local time with his compatriot Jonatan Garcia and the Nepalese Pasang Sherpa, Cheppal Sherpa and Kalden Sherpa the 6,814-meter-high summit of the shapely Ama Dablam (see the video below). “It’s been a tough ascent,” the 38-year-old reported from the highest point. “Wind hit us hard all the way up, but here we are, the five of us on top! Next, let’s start descending carefully.” In the meantime, the five climbers have returned to base camp safely.
After a fall of Simone Moro into a crevasse on Gasherbrum I, the Italian and his South Tyrolean climbing partner Tamara Lunger have abandoned their expedition. “The winter expedition of Simone and Tamara to Gasherbrum I and II ends here”, Moro’s manager Marianna Zanatta announced. “We are happy to know that both are safe and sound.”
Full of energy and with great confidence, Moro and Lunger set off from base camp on Saturday. After ten days of hard work they had cleared a path through the icefall at the foot of Gasherbrum I and wanted, if the conditions allowed it, to pass Camp 1 at almost 6,000 meters and climb up directly to Camp 2 at 6,400 meters.
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.“