Flapping in the breeze are the shredded remnants of an orange tent. A solitary rope dangles from the top of a 300-foot granite face. The sound of crampons squeaking on snow and ice punctures the stillness of the mountain. There is just one bag visible, and it belongs to Jost Kobusch, a German who, at the moment, may be classified as the world’s loneliest Alpine climber.
Kobusch is on the summit of Mount Everest in the middle of winter, trying to conquer the world’s biggest peak at a time of year when nearly no one would dare to do it.
Only Kobusch and a 29,031-foot obstacle stand between him and being the first person to climb Everest alone in winter, without the use of supplemental oxygen. There is no one else to be seen for kilometres around him.
In a WhatsApp phone conversation from Nepal, Kobusch described the environment as “surreal and deserted.” According to him, “you have to envision this: there’s just one tent at the base camp.” Of course, it belongs to him. He coughed into the phone, explaining that the freezing air — which can reach temperatures as low as minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit at the top in winter — had been difficult on his lungs.
If he succeeds, Kobusch, 29, will make a significant mark in the annals of Everest climbing by becoming the youngest person to do it. Even he concedes that it is a huge “if,” but his endeavour exemplifies the desire to make a mark on the most iconic peak on the face of the planet.
Since Edmund Hillary and the Sherpa climber Tenzing Norgay were the first individuals to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1953, more than 6,000 people have been honoured for reaching the pinnacle of the mountain.
It has become customary to attach some type of first to Everest — for example, the oldest National Football League player to reach the summit or the world’s highest dinner party — making really remarkable achievements on the mountain all the more unusual.
“It’s becoming more difficult to do anything really remarkable on the 8,000-meter summits since so much has already been accomplished, especially on Everest,” said Billi Bierling, managing director of the Himalayan Database.
Krzysztof Wielicki, 72, and a fellow Polish climber, Leszek Cichy, accomplished the first winter ascent of Mount Everest on Feb. 17, 1980, after a team of 16 climbers laboured away on the peak for two months.
Not only is he climbing in the dead of winter, alone, and without supplementary oxygen, but he is also attempting to reach the summit of Everest via the West Ridge, which is a significantly more difficult approach than the two most popular routes, which are used by over 98 percent of those seeking the summit. To complete the route, Kobusch must deal with vertical cliffs, bullet-hard blue ice pitched at an angle as steep as the steepest church steeple, and the Hornbein Couloir, an icy ravine of ice, rock, and snow into which only a handful of people have ever set foot.
When it comes to experiencing something for the first time, Bierling recommends taking a path that hasn’t been travelled before in the winter. If he manages to make it to the top, he will be standing on the same pinnacle as the rest of us. It’s impossible to compare the methods he uses to get there since they are so different.”
It is not a break from Kobusch’s characteristic style because he is climbing Everest alone, but rather a continuation of it. When he returned from soloing Annapurna I (26,545 feet) in 2016, he decided he wanted to seek out an experience that was even more monastic and isolated.
In 2017, he was able to locate it. As a solo climber, Kobusch scaled Nangpai Gosum I (24,019 feet), which at the time was the fourth-highest unclimbed mountain on the planet. “I then went out in search of that raw area on 8,000-meter peaks, for the most difficult and largest undertaking I could possibly envision,” he said further. “It was fairly evident, too,” she says. “It was Mount Everest.”
This is his second attempt to climb the West Ridge of Everest alone in the winter, after a successful first effort in the 2019-20 climbing season. He made it to a height of 24,167 feet on his first try before abandoning the mission. In all occasions, his lonely Everest experiences have been as far removed as it is possible from the mainstream Everest that the majority of people are familiar with.
While Kobusch claims to be unaware of the historic magnitude of his attempt, he acknowledges the significance of joining the ranks of trailblazers such as Hornbein, Wielicki, and Purja, who have all gone before him.
As for Kobusch, he said, “I’m simply there to do my job.” “However, when I’m up on the mountain, my thoughts don’t stray far from the path. There’s simply a profound sense of flow and concentration.”