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ExWeb Interview: Everest 2005 - Ralf Dujmovits for the Supercouloir
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Apr 2, 2005 18: 34 EST
Previously published Mar 24, 2005 18: 17 EST Preparations have been made. Teams are chomping at the bit to get to BC. Everest season is kicking off! Excitement is racing through the teams on the mountain, as envy grips the dreamers at home.

The daring trio of German climber Ralf Dujmovits, Austrian Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, and Japanese climber Hirotaka Takeuchi are making a lot of waves this season. They are the only team that has declined to climb the standard routes, in favor of attempting to tackle the exposed and highly difficult Supercouloir (the combination route that follows the West Ridge and the Hornbein Couloir on the North Face of the mountain).

With a flair for the dramatic, they’ll stick to their principles and climb in alpine style! As a preparatory climb, they’ll climb Shisha Pangma’s south face… also in alpine style, of course.

Days before leaving for Tibet, expedition leader Ralf Dujmovits explained some details of the climb during a chat with Explorersweb. He also hammered home his views on high altitude mountaineering.

ExWeb: Can you give us some details on the climbing strategy for Everest?

Ralf: We will be climbing alpine style: That means no fixed ropes, no high camps, no O2, no Sherpa support. Hopefully we will be acclimated from the Shisha south face climb, and we should be ready to start after a few days in ABC on the central Rongbuk Glacier.

Of course, our first foray from ABC towards the North Face will not be directly into the face - first we’ll have to check the conditions (how much snow, how much blue ice, which is the best route, avalanche routines, etc.). But the second time - weather permitting – we’ll start with light packs and go as high as possible.

If we only come across blue ice on the lower part, we’ll try to climb the buttress (from the 1984 Canadian Expedition) to reach the West-Ridge. Then we’ll follow the West Ridge and traverse towards Hornbein-Couloir.

ExWeb: Where are you setting your base camp, and how are you planning the approach?

Ralf: I only know Everest from south side. On the north side we heard there should be a nice spot for ABC at about 5800 m on the Central Rongbuk Glacier, just south of Changtse, below its West Ridge/Pillar. The approach won’t be too complicated: We’ll use Jeeps to get to the Chinese BC, and then walk one day to ABC.

ExWeb: What made you choose that particular route?

Ralf: Hiro and I already climbed Everest. Gerlinde didn't want to follow one of the normal routes. And all of us prefer to turn around than to climb with oxygen. First, our idea was to use the normal South Side route up to CII, and from that point traverse to the West-Ridge. But the climbing fee for the three of us from the Nepalese side is just too expensive. Then we found out more information about this very direct North-Face line Japanese Couloir / Hornbein Couloir.

We got really excited about the possibility of climbing a direct line on Everest, something like the classic British Route on Shisha's south face. With the help of Mrs. Hawley's Himalayan Database we went through the history of this beautiful line and found out that it was climbed only once in alpine style and without supplementary O2 by Erhard Loretan and friends. There were some more attempts on the "Super Couloir" but some ended in disaster, and the rest were made with 02. With that kind of background, we decided the route was well worth a try.

ExWeb: What are your main concerns about this climb?

Ralf: If conditions are difficult (a lot of blue ice in the lower part and no snow in the Hornbein Couloir) the return via the same route will be a problem. In that case we’ll have to descend the normal Tibetan route, and climb down from the saddle between Changtse and Everest towards the central Rongbuk Glacier to get back to our ABC. Let's see what happens.

ExWeb: Amical –the expedition outfitting company you run -launches guided expeditions to many peaks, but not to Everest. Why is that?

Ralf: Well, there are three main reasons for that:

First: I accept everybody who climbs with the help of O2, but neither my company nor I want to offer climbs with supplementary 02. Depending on technological help is not climbing by fair means.

Second: History shows that even professional guides can do a good and safe job only up to 8200 m. Running short of oxygen or having technical or support problems causes, and will continue causing, tragedies.

Third: After having slept at 8000 m without oxygen even the strongest guides are working at their limits. In 1994 I guided a successful expedition to K2 without O2; in 1992 I spent three nights at Everest’s South Col without 02 and climbed up to Everest South Summit without 02 - I guess I know what I'm talking about.

ExWeb: When and where did you and Gerlinde meet?

Ralf: We first met in 2002 climbing Manaslu, where we fell in love. We’ve been together since then, although we are not married… yet.

German climber Ralf Dujmovits, Austrian Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, and Japanese climber Hirotaka Takeuchi are rejoining forces this spring for some doubleheader action in the Himalayas.

They’ll attempt an alpine style climb which includes Shisha South Face and Everest North Face though the Supercouloir (combination route on the Japanese Ridge and Hornbein Couloir).

Ralf Dujmovits started climbing at the age of 7 at The Battert, a climbing school near Baden-Baden (Southern Germany). Currently he is in charge of Amical Alpine, and has summited 10 main 8000ers: Dhaulagiri in 1990, Everest in 1992, K2 in 1994, Cho Oyu (1) in 1995, Shisha Pangma Central Summit in 1996, Shisha Pangma main Summit in 1997, Cho Oyu (2) in 1998, Broad Peak in 1999, GII in 2000, Nanga Parbat in 2001, Annapurna I in 2004, GI in 2004. He has guided teams on all those peaks, except Annapurna.

In 2004, Ralf, Gerlinde and Hirotaka summited Annapurna, after a serious attempt on Shisha Pangma South Face. In summer, they planned on climbing both Gasherbrums and K2, but poor weather conditions left them with only enough time to summit GI.

Ace female climber, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner has summited Cho Oyu, Makalu, Manaslu, Nanga Parbat, Annapurna and most recently Gasherbrum I: Six 8,000ers. Gerlinde is considered one of the top female high altitude climbers and is the 6th women to reach Anna's summit. She has also summited Shisha Pangma Central and Broad Peak.

Japanese climber Hirotaka has summited Makalu, Everest, K2, Nanga Parbat, and in 2004, he summited Annapurna and GI. He summited Everest and K2 back to back in 1996 and, at the age of 25, became the youngest climber to summit the world's two highest mountains. He now has six 8,000ers.

The Japanese Couloir/Hornbein Couloir combination route is one of the most difficult and dangerous routes on Everest. Few have attempted it, and fewer succeeded. Only Erhard Loteran and Jean Troillet summited without O2 in 1986. The last attempt took place in 2004, by an American climbing/snowboarding expedition led by Stephen Koch.

Image of Ralf and Gerlinde back from GI summit last year, courtesy of Ralf Dujmovits/Amical
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