More DW Blogs DW.COM

Adventure Sports

with Stefan Nestler

Ralf Dujmovits: “My definitely last Everest attempt”

Ralf Dujmovits

Never say Never Again! This is not only the title of an old James Bond film but could also stand for Ralf Dujmovits’ personal story on Mount Everest. The first and so far only German, who has scaled all 14 eight-thousanders, had climbed the highest mountain on earth on his very first attempt in fall 1992. Due to bad weather, however, he had used bottled oxygen above the South Col. “I was very young at the time. It was a mistake,” says Ralf today.

After all, he climbed the other 13 eight-thousanders without breathing mask. And so he later tried to wipe out this Everest mistake again and again. In vain. In 1996, 2005, 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2015 he returned without summit success, for various reasons. This spring, the 55-year-old wants to give it a try again. For the eighth time, he will travel to Mount Everest, the fifth time to the Tibetan north side of the mountain. He will acclimatize in Nepal with an ascent of the 6,501-meter-high Cholatse in the Khumbu area, along with his Canadian partner Nancy Hansen. Ralf has now arrived in Kathmandu. I spoke with him shortly before he left to Nepal.

Ralf, I think, it’s allowed to say, that you and Everest have a relationship.

Ralf and Mount Everest (in 2012)

Yes, of course. If you have been there so often – it will now be the eighth time – an almost personal relationship develops. But I’ve always enjoyed being on Everest. I also look forward to it now. But I have to say quite honestly, that I’m a bit nervous, because I’ve really made it clear that this time is definitely the last time. I also told this to my friends.

And everyone laughed.

First, yes. But then they took me serious, when I confirmed it again and again: the definitely last time! In this respect, I would now once again like to put effort into my partner Everest, and hopefully I will reach the summit.

You’ll be there for the eighth time. Do you become more relaxed or more uptight?

Although I am a bit tense at the moment, I will probably be a bit more relaxed on the climb. There were some years in which I went to Everest North Face with a certain tension. This didn’t work for various reasons. Afterwards, in the last years, I wanted to take the Messner route. [During his solo ascent in 1980, Reinhold Messner traversed to the Norton Couloir and climbed through it to the summit]. This did not work either. I told myself, I’d now take the Tibetan normal route, quite relaxed. And everything else will be seen.

But you won’t climb alone this time.

Not alone, anyway. You’re never alone on Everest. I will be on the mountain along with the Romanian Horia Colibasanu. We’ll probably share the tent up there. I also hired a Sherpa, who will carry for me a bottle of oxygen. If I realize that I get serious health problems, I would, under certain circumstances, use supplemental oxygen and then immediately descend. This means, the oxygen bottle is really only for the descent, in no case for the further ascent.

Tibetan North side of Mount Everest

Would it be an option for you to climb up without bottled oxygen and down with breathing mask?

No, my goal is, of course, up and down without supplemental oxygen. But I just want to keep this option open. In 2010, the Italian Abele Blanc was a few days older than me now, when he climbed Everest without bottled oxygen, aged 55. If I am successful, I would be the second oldest. Meanwhile I realize: For me, at my age, this is really pushing the limits. I simply want to have a certain reserve, a small backup.

Is this a bit like driving a car with safety belt?

(Laughs) I’ve never thought about that. I think, driving a car with seatbelt has become common practice. This also applies to mountaineering with bottled oxygen on the eight-thousanders. Unfortunately. I would rather say that I try to omit the safety belt. I will have the hand on the belt and I would fasten it, if necessary, very quickly.

Do you consider it as a break in style?

Quite certainly, it’s a break in style to take a backup with you. It is not the usual variant, but I don’t care now, because I want to finish my way. I look forward to it and can accept it for myself. I’ve been struggling with me for a while, but now it’s all right for me. Before or afterwards or whenever anyone can tell me what he wants. For me, this fits. And since I don’t hurt anyone, it should be fine.

Cholatse (in the centre, seen from Gokyo Ri)

All expect that Everest will be crowded this spring. There will be much more climbers than usual, not only on the Nepalese but also on the Tibetan side. You know have already experienced that. Probably it won’t impress you, will it?

Before I go to Tibet, I will pre-acclimatize along with my partner on a six-thousander in Nepal. Doing this, I want to escape a little bit from the crowds of people. Then I will reach the Advanced Base Camp in Tibet relatively late, so I hope that I won’t get into the mass ascent. Of course, there will also be many climbers on the mountain during my summit push. But that will not affect me, because I can not start as early as most of the people who climb with bottled oxygen. Start times on 10 or 11 p.m. are quite common now. However, I can not start so early, in this case I would cool down too much up there. I have to use the sun, which will hopefully help me a bit.

This sounds like you choose the same tactics as Ueli Steck on the south side of Everest, who wants to let the first weather window pass, so that the mountain is not so crowded anymore.

If it becomes apparent that a second weather window is developing, I would probably also speculate on it. Normally, it has been too busy on the mountain during the first weather window. And I just have to be able to go exactly at my pace. Too slow would not be good, because I cool down. I can not go too fast either, because I would lose too much body heat due to increased breathing.

Ralf in Everest high camp (in 2014)

On your last attempt in 2014 – I leave out the 2015 season with the earthquake in Nepal – you reached Camp 3 at 8,300 meters. At that time, you said: “I’ve made mistakes.” Did you learn from it?

I used a too light tent at that time, a single-walled one, weighing just one kilo. There was pretty much wind at night. Another problem was that I had a wet lighter and so I could not melt enough snow to drink water. However, in the end I failed because there was strong wind in the morning. I will not have any influence on the weather. But for all the other things, I hope that I will have the right options now. So I hope that everything fits, at least from my side.

You say, this will be definitely your last attempt on Everest. I can’t help smiling. But let’s assume that it will be really the last time. Are you tempted to take more risks?

I do not think so. I know myself very well. I also know that I can turn around. I have often done and would do it again this time, if necessary. For me, health is still the highest good. I won’t give up this principle of returning safely on my very last attempt – even if you smile, it really will be the last one.


28. March 2017 | 16:59