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Two years ago, the 29-year-old Jost Kobusch announced his plans to climb the West Ridge of Mt. Everest (8,849 meters) solo and unsupported, in lightweight alpine style, in the dead of winter. Climbers and media makers from around the world chimed in, some with praise for the German’s idealistic and audacious goal, while others, including Reinhold Messner, criticized his inexperience and youthful vigor.
The skepticism may have been well deserved. At the time of his first attempt, Kobusch, though an already accomplished alpinist, had spent relatively little time at altitudes above 8,000 meters: on his first trip to Asia, in 2013, he attempted the 7,134-meter Pik Lenin; a year later, the then-21-year-old became the youngest person to free solo Ama Dablam (6,812 meters), one of Everest’s highly technical neighbors; in 2016 he soloed Annapurna (8,091 meters) without supplemental oxygen; and in 2017 he soloed the unclimbed Nangpai Gosum II (7,296 meters) placing him on the shortlist for that year’s Piolets d’Or.
With this resume, or perhaps despite it, Kobusch said the idea to attempt Everest’s West Ridge came easily. “I was just asking myself what was the most difficult thing I could imagine to do,” he told Rock and Ice in 2019. “Everest in wintertime—you will basically get a real adventure, real alpinism. Not just standing in a traffic jam.”
Indeed, soloing the West Ridge in winter without external support is the most difficult thing many climbers could imagine doing. For context, Cory Richards, the only American to summit an 8,000-meter peak in winter, considers climbing Everest in spring by the normal route (South Col) an incredibly serious undertaking if done without supplemental oxygen. So to take on the 60-degree Hornbein Couloir, with so little margin for error, the criticisms and concerns for Kobusch are understood.
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During his first attempt, Jost acclimatized on several 6,000-meter peaks, including one then-unclimbed, before making several trips from his base camp to Lho La Pass at 6,006 meters. From there, Kobusch’s high camp sat 3,000 meters horizontally from the summit, and almost as many beneath it. He made steady progress up to 7,400 meters, including a particularly steep mixed section, before ending his expedition after two months of effort.
Kobusch returned to Everest in autumn 2021 for this second attempt of the West Ridge. His main goal of this expedition was to reach the start of the Hornbein Couloir at 8,000 meters, and he acknowledged the unlikelihood of summitting Everest on this attempt. But Kobusch doesn’t believe that low odds of success should deter him from trying. Just like in sport climbing, where one builds familiarity and strength by trying their project, Kobusch aims to redpoint Everest in a similar manner.
Reinhold Messner, one of the most accomplished Himalayan alpinists of all time, disagreed with this approach. “It is all PR,” he told the Nepali Times. “He said he has only one percent chance, if that is so he should stay in the Alps, do smaller things successfully, or climb the challenging six or seven thousanders first.”
Climbing caught up with Kobusch while he rested at the Italian Pyramid Research Station, near Lobuche, to learn more about how his expedition is going, his redpointing tactics, and his goals for this attempt.
Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Climbing: How are conditions on the route compared to your first attempt?
Kobusch: The conditions compared to last time are definitely more icy. I think there was more sunshine and warmer temperatures leading up to this condition and when it finally snowed the slopes were already so icy that the snow just glided down. Therefore it’s a bit more tricky to deal with the wall leading up towards Lho La and I followed a slightly different line to avoid objective dangers like avalanches on this attempt.
From Lho La up to 6,450 meters, it looks like I’m under this huge serac [on my live-tracking map] which looks very dangerous, but it’s actually pretty safe and sheltered by rocks. Anyway, the route changed a lot in conditions from my first attempt. I’ve seen a lot of potential dangers.
Did you plan to establish a cache camp at Lho La Pass similar to your 2019 attempt? How much weight are you carrying?
This year I don’t have a base camp. I’m staying close to the village of Lobuche, in the Pyramid Research Center, so I established some kind of advanced base camp at 5,700 meters and that’s where I have my cache, halfway up to Lho La Pass. It’s in the middle of the wall below a cliff and it’s pretty protected. This way, when I go on the route I can reach the advanced camp within a few hours.
My backpack weighs around 35-40 pounds. For winter expeditions you are more defensive so you carry more insulation, more gas, a shovel to establish camp, and this makes my pace slower because I want to be safer and, you know, considering the margin of error is smaller.
Your goal for your second attempt is to reach an altitude of 8,000 meters and gain access to the Hornbein Couloir. What is your intended strategy for the next rotations?
I think I will put Camp Two where you last spotted me [on the tracking map] at my high point (6,457 meters). I think I would have one more camp above that and then go lightweight and put a last camp behind the West Ridge, to avoid the strong winds. And then the plan would be to traverse into the Hornbein Couloir. I mean, that’s the plan. Let’s see how it works out. It could very well be that I’ll put up more camps, preparing for potential storms or if bad weather forces me to bivouac.
Strategy…well this project is huge and I personally believe that no other project could prepare me for this better than the project itself. The idea is you go, you try the moves, you learn a lot, you come back, you try the same route, until you’re finally able to climb the route. I’m using this slow approach here. It’s like going exploring. Focusing on learning as much as possible. The chance of success is small but with every attempt they increase and increase. And, I mean, what I really enjoy about this project is this journey into the unknown. I’m really curious what I’m going to find out there because nobody knows and I’m really curious about what I’ll be able to do. This key curiosity is the main driver of the project.