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Aug 132019
 

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.

Commercializing 8000ers

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.

2019 Himalayan Spring Deaths

DatePeakAgencyClimberAgeNationalitySuspected Cause of DeathNote
DatePeakAgencyClimberAgeNationalitySuspected Cause of DeathNote
April 26AnnapurnaSeven Summits TreksWui Kin Chin48TwaineeseAltitude Related, Exposure
April 29Cho OyuSummit ClimbPhujung Bhote SherpaSherpaCrevasse Fall
May 8MakaluIndependentRichard Hidalgo52PeruvianAltitude RelatednO's, E
May 15KangchenjungaPeak PromotionRodrigo Vivanco52ChileanAltitude RelatednO's, E
May 15KangchenjungaPeak PromotionKuntal Karar46IndianAltitude Related
May 15KangchenjungaPeak PromotionBiplab Baidya48IndianAltitude Related
May 16MakaluSeven Summits TreksDipankar Ghos53IndianAltitude Related
May 16MakaluSeven Summits TreksNarayan Singh35IndianAltitude Related
May 16EverestSeven Summits TreksSeamus Sean Lawless39IrishCrevasse Fall
May 17LhotseMakalu ExtremeIvan Yuriev Tomov35BulgarianAltitude RelatednO's, E
May 17EverestSeven Summits TreksRavi ThakarIndianAltitude RelatedC
May 22EverestArunAnjali S Kulkarni54IndianAltitude RelatedC
May 22EverestPioneer AdventuresDon Cash54AmericanHealth (heart attack)
May 23EverestDreamers DestinationKalpana Dash52IndianAltitude RelatedC
May 23EverestKobler & PartnerIng ‘ Ernst’ Landgraf65SwissHealth (heart attack)
May 23EverestPeak PromotionNihal Bagwan25IndianAltitude RelatedC
May 24Everest360 ExpeditionsKevin Hynes56IrishAltitude Related
May 24EverestHimalayan Ski TreksDhruba Bista32NepaliAltitude Related
May 24MakaluSeven Summits TreksNima Tshering SherpaSherpaAltitude Related
May 25EverestSummit ClimbRobin Haynes Fisher44BritishAltitude Related
May 27EverestClimbing The Seven SummitsChristopher Jon Kulish61AmericanHealth (heart attack)
Footnotes: E = extremely experienced, nO's = did not use supplemental oxygen, C = Crowd Related

 

Experienced Deaths

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 Nims 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!!

8000 Meter Summits and Deaths

I’ve tried to update the chart for all 14 of the 8000-meter peaks with total summits, deaths and a measure of difficulty with a deaths as a percentage of summits. Also, I used the death rate calculated by the Himalayan Database where they divide the total summits into the total climbers who went above base camp. Similar figures are not available for the 8000ers in Pakistan and Shishapangma.

The big take aways are Annapurna continues to be there deadliest mountain while Nanga Parbat has replaced K2 in second place. Everest remains one of the safest climbs statistically and Cho Oyu is the absolute safest by death rate. Sort the table by clicking on the header title.

8000 Meter Summits and Deaths

8000 Meter MountainsLocationHeight
feet
Height
meters
Through
Date
SummitsDeathsDeath/Summits %Death Rate
EverestNepal/Tibet2903588482019101793042.99%1.11 *
K2*Pakistan/China282518611201945286 19.03%
KangchenjungaNepal/India28169858620193794812.66%2.96
LhotseNepal/Tibet2794085162019787202.54%0.77
MakaluNepal/Tibet2783884852019486449.05%1.69
Cho OyuNepal/Tibet26906820120193845511.33%0.54
Dhaulagiri INepal26795816720195448515.63%2.99
ManasluNepal26781816320191740854.89%1.72
Nanga ParbatPakistan26660812620193557420.96%
Annapurna INepal26545809120192667126.69%3.89
Gasherbrum I*Pakistan/China264448080201934429 8.43%
Broad Peak*Pakistan/China2641480512019463224.86%
Gasherbrum II*Pakistan/China2635880342019948222.32%
Shishapangma*Tibet2633580272019340267.65%
Sources: Himalayan Database, 8000ers.com, Alan Arnette Research
Note *: Pakistan & Shishapangma summits & death totals are Alan Arnette estimates, others from HDB

 

Autumn 2019 Outlook

Project Possible

As I mentioned, looking to summit all 14 of the 8000ers in seven months, Nirmal PurjaMingma David Sherpa and Halung Dorchi (Sanu Sherpawent 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 Nims 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.

Everest

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.

 NepalTibetTotalExpedition Success %
Spring627935899868

66%
Summer09912%
Autumn2573028728%
Winter1501516%

 

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.

Manaslu

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.

Tibet

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 Nims project and the hopes of many more. I’ll keep you updated as I learn more. 

Cho Oyu

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.

Shisha Pangma

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.

Elsewhere

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.

Climb On!
Alan
Memories are Everything

  6 Responses to “Autumn 2019 Himalayan Season Coverage Begins – Updated”

  1.  

    Alan
    Why is It that Everest is seldom summited in Autumn?

  2.  

    Did they ever find Seamus Sean Lawless?

  3.  

    Thanks again Allan for such a great and detailed round up of the climbing season on many mountains around the world. Your stats are a great insight into how we as humans are willing to potentially sacrifice ourselves for glory and with little or no mountain climbing experience but a burning pocket of money while sadly putting the under paid people of a country at risk. Keep up the great work and keep climbing in memory of your Mum. She would be very proud of your achievements and dedicated work.

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