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Kammerlander: Sherpa attack ‚below the belt’

Hans Kammerlander

The phone rings. At the other end: „Hans Kammerlander!” I had asked the South Tyrolean extreme mountaineer by email for his thoughts on the 60-year-anniversary of the first ascent of Everest. Hans prefered to answer directly. The 56-year-old has climbed twelve of the fourteen 8000ers, all without bottled oxygen, seven of them together with Reinhold Messner. With him Kammerlander succeeded in 1984 the first (and till this day not repeated) double traverse on 8000ers, in Alpine style, i.e. without the help of Sherpas, without high camps, fixed ropes and oxygen mask. In the Karakoram in Pakistan Messner and Kammerlander summited Gasherbrum I, descended on another route to a col, from where they directly climbed up to the top of Gasherbrum II and downhill via another route. After eight days, they returned to basecamp. It was a milestone of climbing on the 8000ers.

In the morning hours of 24th May 1996 Hans reached the summit of Mount Everest, after climbing up from the Tibetan north side of the mountain. He was alone then. Afterwards he skied down, only in a few passages without snow he had to put off his skies. We talked not only about this day but also about the recent events at the highest mountain on earth.

Hans, what kind of mountain is Everest for you today?

It has always been important for me as a high altitude climber. For years I’ve dreamed of him because I have had two hobbies since I was a child: climbing and skiing. I had the idea to combine both on the highest mountain in the world. For me, Everest stands for extraordinary memories: especially the moment when I started with skies from the highest point – and the loneliness. I had climbed up alone from 7000 metres, I could really feel the mountain. I have good memories of Everest and I’m glad that I had this adventure many years ago. Nowadays, it wouldn’t be possible. Climbing Everest has become tourism. What’s happening on the normal routes has nothing to do with alpinism.

Hans (l.) with Reinhold Messner in 1991

Has Everest lost its appeal for you as an extreme mountaineer?

There are still interesting routes on Everest, where you can surely climb alone. But an ascend on the normal route among hundreds of people would be a horror for me. The mountain has been enchained, that’s nothing. But everyone has to decide for themselves. Such attacks as recently against Ueli Steck and Simone Moro puts me in a very, very reflective mind.

Do you agree with Ueli and Simone who said that the attack was a indication for a conflict that has been brewing over years.

Yes, sure. I admire both of them. Ueli Steck is an exceptionally fast, good high altitude mountaineer. It is quite clear that Simone Moro and Ueli Steck don’t need any fixed rope. Even the Sherpas have to understand that the top climbers of the world should not be forced to move in these crowds. Of course the Sherpas do a great job on Everest. But they have also become managers, corrupted by mass tourism, by people throwing money around. The Sherpas do their work to get money which is as cold as ice. They don’t want to see anybody who doesn’t use the fixed ropes. They are afraid that this could lead to a chain reaction, that other climbers could say, I don’t need the ropes too. If the Sherpas attack such top alpinists, it’s below the belt. 

Were you surprised by the level of violence?

Yes, of course. That’s mediocre. I know that especially Moro has a social conscience. He has done a lot for the Sherpas, for example with his helicopter rescue flights. That also applies to Ueli Steck. And if the Sherpas attack such people they have to be reprimanded. This is not okay.

Do you think that it is possible to regain trust?

It will be very difficult, because for years climbing on the normal routes has become a puppet theater. It’s an important source of income for the country. Think of the permits which have to be paid! It would be possible to introduce new laws or rules, but Nepal or Tibet are not interested.

We expect the 60-year-anniversary of the first ascent of Everest. What do you wish Mount Everest for the future?

I would wish the mountain a bit more rest – and other candidates. Just now there are climbers for which an ascent of Mont Blanc on the normal route would be a sufficient challenge. Everest is no place for them. For these climbers the Sherpas prepare the routes. I wish that people look for other beautiful, lonely destinations and that as many as possible stay away from the beaten path on Everest.


10. May 2013 | 18:22