With the Himalayan spring and summer season completed, the autumn season is about to begin with more climbs in the Nepal, Tibet, perhaps Pakistan and around the world. For a change Everest and Lhotse will see a lot of activity this autumn but there are rumors that China may make it difficult to climb in Tibet this autumn. This post is an introduction on what to expect and follow.
2019 Thus Far
Thus far, the 2019 climbing season has been a mixed bag of summits, records and deaths. The Everest season was well chronicled but perhaps the larger story were all the deaths on the other 8000-meter peaks in April and May. And there were more deaths earlier in the year primarily in Pakistan. All of this reveals a changing storyline for climbing on the world’s highest peaks.
Once the domain of the proven, skilled and experienced climbers, now due to low cost guide companies entering the market, the world’s highest (and many time most dangerous) peaks are available to anyone with money. No experience required. The expeditions are staffed with experienced Sherpas who tell prospective clients that they can learn all they need during the climb. Oh and if you get in trouble, by and large you are on your own because as one high profile Nepali guide told me in May, “It’s not our job to turn back clients.” This is a key philosophical difference between the newest Nepali and long-time foreign guides.
This chart tells the tale thus far in 2019 of where people are dying, their agency and suspected cause of death.
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But deaths have occurred all over the mountains this year, including some by extremely talented climbers. 2019 started off with the deaths of Tom Ballard Daniel Nardi in February on the 8,000-meter peak Nanga Pabart. Then in April, elite climbers, American Jess Roskelley and Austrians David Lama and Hansjörg Auer were killed in an avalanche on Canada’s Howse Peak attempting a very difficult new route.
In April and May we saw 10 deaths on the 8000ers, Annapurna, Lhotse Makalu, and Kanchenjunga then another 11 just on Everest. Quick on the heels of these deaths came an avalanche on the24,390-foot/7,434-meter Nanda Devi East in Northern India that took the lives of eight climbers lead by veteran British mountaineer Martin Moran and included four Britons, two Americans, an Australian and an Indian. Seven of the bodies were recovered.
Next was in Pakistan on Melvin Jones Peak at 5,800-meter/19028-foot, seven climbers with an Italian team were hit by an avalanche killing at least one Pakistani. Finally in this string of tragedy, the Alpine Club of Pakistan reported that two Chinese climbers, Li Haoxin Chen and Ka Kit Ng, went missing on a technical 6,400m peak in the Liligo Glacier/Trango Towers area.
And there have been multiple rescues, three by none other than Denis Urubko who also successfully competed a new route on Gasherbrum II – solo.
K2 – Summits and Zero Deaths
The summer K2 season came along with a record 125++ permits and the usual commercial suspects hosting huge teams, some with questionable experience. The season started bad, got uglier and many teams left due to avalanche danger and the Sherpas failing to get the fixed ropes to the summit in time.
Enter Nirmal Purja and his small team of Sherpas. They are trying to summit all 14 of the 8000ers in 7 months. Fresh off summiting Nanga Parbat and the Gasherbrum I and II with days of each other, they were not to be denied on K2 saying they were prepared to wait out the weather and make multiple attempts. They broke with their style and used supplemental oxygen and opened the route in spite of previous failed efforts. Multiple teams followed in their path thanks to improved weather and some strong winds that cleared the avalanche prone terrain. A few professional guides felt that while Nirmal Purja helped, they would have summited with or without his team’s help.
In any event, 31 summited K2 this summer, about average these days. And there were ZERO deaths on any of the 8000ers this summer!!
Autumn 2019 Outlook
As I mentioned, looking to summit all 14 of the 8000ers in seven months, Nirmal Purja, Mingma David Sherpa and Halung Dorchi (Sanu Sherpa) went on to summit Broad Peak two days after K2 taking Nim’s total to 11 in a mere 94 days!: Annapurna (April 23), Dhaulagiri, Kangchenjunga, Makalu, Everest, Lhotse, Nanga Parbat, Gasherbrum I, Gasherbrum II, K2 and Broad Peak (July 26). Next for Nirmal Purja are Manaslu, Cho Oyu and Sishapangma – all of which are considered very achievable although reaching the true summit of Shish is a serious and very dangerous climb. I assume he will climb these three by November 23, most likely in late September/early October to meet his goal of seven months.
Polish climber Andrzej Bargiel will attempt to ski from the summit of Everest without using supplemental oxygen, a first if he is successful. Of course he caught the world’s attention with his K2 ski descent last year. He has an interesting interview at this link.
Garrett Madison of Madison Mountaineering will lead a rare autumn expedition to Everest. The last time Everest was summited in autumn was in 2010. Wally Berg used to guide in the autumn regularly but stopped over a decade ago. Now Madison is experimenting to see if there is demand for a second trip each year, and if the weather and conditions will allow for safe summits. The largest issue of course is with winter approaching each day is colder and shorter, the opposite of spring where the monsoonal moisture flows usually stops the season along with warming temperatures creating even more dangers in the Khumbu Icefall.
Of course, much of Everest’s rich history was started in the autumn season. The Swiss made the first national attempt on Everest using the SE Ridge route in 1952. They arrived at EBC on July 10, 1952 and ended the expedition on No member 27, 1952 reaching 8100 meters, short of the summit. The first successful autumn summit was on October 26, 1973 by a Japanese expediton lead by Michio Yuasa. They had a huge team of 50 people. Only two members summited: Yasuo Kato and Hisashi Ishiguro. In subsequent years, mostly national teams from Korea, Spain, Japan and a few internal teams made autumn attempts. American Wally Berg lead several commercial efforts including in 1992, 2003 and 2006. Similar, Austrian Kurt Diemberger lead several trips: 1978, 1980, and 1981.
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Jost Kobusch is planning a solo climb Everest from the northwest through the Hornbein Couloir, a route that hasn’t been repeated since the 1963 American Everest Expedition.
No new updates from Jost Kobusch is planning a solo winter climb Everest from the northwest through the Hornbein Couloir, a route that hasn’t been repeated since the 1963 American Everest Expedition. He will begin in December.
Lhotse – Updated
An 11 member Polish team will attempt Lhotse via the standard route through the Khumbu Icefall this autumn. One of the members will also attempt Everest according to news reports.
The team includes Denis Urubki and Piotr Morawski who are hoping to lead a K2 winter attempt next year. They view this as a test climb for the entire team.
This has become extremely popular in recent years due to being in Nepal and not dealing with Chinese politics. Also, Seven Summits Treks has heavily marketed the climb as easy and cheap. Similar for other low-end operators like Summit Climb. While it does have a good safety record, Manaslu can be deadly with avalanches killing people who camped in the wrong spot.
I expect well over 400 on Manaslu this autumn. We can expect all the Nepali guides to run trips and most of the foreign companies but a few shy away from Manaslu citing the dangers.
UPDATE: I’m getting reports that China may not issue any permits for Shishapangma and Cho Oyu climbs must be over by October 1. This is unconfirmed but if true will stop Nirmal Purja project and the hopes of many more. I’ll keep you updated as I learn more.
Another 8000er marked as “easy” but in recent years it has proven to be avalanche prone and deep snow has thwarted success. But I still expect to see hundreds on this mountain. Look for the usual Nepali and foreign guide companies to all run Cho trips this year.
Shish is not on the tourist route but may become one if Seven Summits has their way. Either way, Nirmal Purja will be there to try and wrap up his 14th 8000er. I expect him to do this as his last 8000 after nabbing Cho and Manaslu.
Northern India is often popular but with the conflict over Kashmir between Pakistan and India, options are limited this year. Looking around the world, autumn brings climbs on Khan Tengri, Kazakhstan / Kyrgyzstan and Pamir Mountains, Afghanistan / China / Kyrgyzstan / Tajikistan / Uzbekistan are all available.
As we move into November, the volcanoes circuit shines in Mexico, Ecuador along with many South American Peaks. Of course New Zealand treks and climbs are popular and moving into December, one of the Seven Summits, Antarctica’s Vinson takes center stage for those who can afford the $45,000 price tag.
Best of luck to all and hopefully the success and zero deaths trend will continue.
Memories are Everything