It is that time of year for climbing to resume on the Himalayan 8000m peaks. Fall brings attention to the 'other' 8000m mountains near Everest: Makalu, Manaslu, Pumori and Ama Dablam in Nepal and Cho Oyu and Shishapangma in Tibet. And of course, Everest.
Fall climbing in Nepal and Tibet is dramatically different than in the Spring. The season starts soon after the summer monsoons let up leaving the area clean, clear and crisp. It is an absolutely beautiful season for trekkers and some climbers.
But each day is shorter and slightly colder - just the opposite from the spring. Also storms can dump feet of snow late in the season as winter approaches. So teams must be focused on making steady progress. There is limited opportunity to wait out storms and often expeditions are suddenly halted by a big storm.
While summits are commonplace on the other Hills, it is rare to see a summit on Everest in the Fall. The last one was in October 2006. Amongst the many weather issues already noted, the lack of other teams sometimes complicates the climbing.
Often the Sherpas must do double duty as climbing Sherpas and Icefall Doctors. And of course every foot of fixed line must be set by these same Sherpas. So any summit of Everest in these conditions is deserving of every mountaineer's respect.
This makes the attempt by Japanese climber Nobukazu Kuriki even more noteworthy. He intends on climbing solo without supplemental oxygen from the Nepal side. The 28 year-old attempted the same last year from the north side. It is not clear how he will navigate the Icefall without some assistance.
The Everest commercial operators make Cho Oyu a priority. At 26,907 feet and the 6th tallest mountain, Cho Oyu has a good success rate in the Fall when the weather cooperates. It offers relatively easy access to base camp and the route is well known with little objective danger. That said, deaths occur on a regular basis.
Manaslu, 26,758', located in Nepal, has taken on increased focus over the past few years as getting into China has been difficult. However, it is known for heavy snowfall and unpredictable weather thus often limiting true summits.
Shishapangma, 26,335', located entirely within Tibet, is another difficult fall climb with harsh weather often slamming summits windows hard and fast. Hopefully, crossing the boarder into China will be easier. Last year, the Chinese closed the Tibetan borders from September 24th to October 8th due the 60th anniversary of the Chinese Republic.
Ama Dablam, another popular fall climb is recently known for instability near the summit with parts of the "dablam' collapsing in 2006 and 2008. However it seems to have recently stabilized and teams are back to climbing. As an alternative some teams climb nearby Pumori which is more stable but offers it's own set of challenges with avalanches. Both mountains are deemed quite dangerous today by most seasoned climbers.
Another interesting fall climb is to Lobuche, 20,075', which isconsidered a trekking peak and often used for acclimatization forEverest climbs. This year, Erik Weihenmayer, is leading a team of 12injured soldiers to Lobuche and nearby Kala Patar, 18,512'.From their site, Soldiers to the Summit:The goal of the Soldiers to the Summit Himalayan Expedition (SSHE) andWorld TEAM Sports is to demonstrate to everyone that great things canbe achieved no matter how high the obstacles.
Thus far here is a partial lineup of expeditions:
Alberto Zerain - Hornbein Couloir (solo)
Nobukazu Kuriki - Solo without O's
Summer Climbing Wrap-up
Of note, K2 was yet another difficult season with only one summit by Christian Stangl, and it is currently disputed. Team after team were turned back by another year of harsh weather and high-mountain conditions. It was a simlar story for nearby Broad Peak and the Gasherbrums.
Also in recent climbing news, controversy continues on who was the first woman to summit all 14 of the 8000m mountains. This according to the Telegraph:
Oh Eun-Sun, 44, "probably failed" to reach the top of the world's third highest mountain Kanchenjunga, according to the Korean Alpine Federation (KAF) on Thursday. The record should now pass to Spanish climber Edurne Pasaban, 37, who scaled the last of the 14 peaks over 8,000 meters barely three weeks after Miss Oh claimed to have completed the list.
Best of luck to all the teams this year.
Update: Christian Stangl has now admitted he did not summit K2 and the only picture he submitted as proof was from C3. You can read his new story at the German site ORF.
Arnette is a speaker, mountaineer and Alzheimer's Advocate. You can read more on his site