Nepal | August 11, 2020

Team that pioneered climbing without oxygen support on Everest returns

Rajan Pokhrel
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(From left) Oswald Olz, Peter Habeler, Reinhold Messner, Dietmar Löffler (ORF), Reini Huber (ORF), Hanns Schell, Marco Polo (ORF), Robert Schauer, Helmut Hagner; (sitting) Wolfgang Nairz, Raimund Margreiter. Dietmar Löffler, Reini Huber and Marco Polo are here to film a documentary that will feature the legendary mountaineers. Photo: Rajan Pokhrel/THT

Kathmandu, April 16

A team of renowned mountaineers who had pulled off a seemingly impossible expedition in 1978 has returned to Nepal to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the historic summit when two of its members scaled Mt Everest without using bottled oxygen.

The surviving eight members of the historic 12-member expedition — Wolfgang Nairz, Reinhold Messner, Peter Habeler, Helmut Hagner, Hanns Schell, Robert Schauer, Oswald Ölz and Raimund Margreiter — would also visit Mt Everest region, legendary mountaineer Messner told THT.

According to Tashi Tenzing Sherpa, grandson of the legendary climber Tenzing Norgay, it’s the team’s first ever visit to Nepal after Messner and Peter Habeler scripted history in Himalayan climbing by standing atop the world’s highest peak for the first time without oxygen support. Till date, less than 200 climbers have made it to the top of Mt Everest from Nepal and Tibet sides without using bottled oxygen.

The team has lost four of its members — Horst Bergmann, Josl Knoll, Reinhard Karl and Franz Oppurg.

Messner, who advocates traditional alpinism, termed the recent trend on Mt Everest climbing ‘tourism’. “It’s tourism, not climbing. But Nepal needs more tourists,” the 74-year-old told this daily.

Habeler, however, seems a bit critical about the unabated flow of inexperienced climbers on Mt Everest in recent years but had no clue how to control it. The 75-year-old mountaineer said Nepal was his second home, recounting a slogan that he coined 40 years ago when he arrived for the first time at Tribhuvan International Airport: “Nepal will change you.”

Nairz, 73, who became the first Austrian to summit Mt Everest, said the 1978 expedition paved the way for others to attempt scaling the roof of the world without supplemental oxygen. “Since then, a few of us have visited Nepal on our own, but never the whole team,” he added.

According to team members, Messner and Habeler scaled the mountain without supplemental oxygen on May 8. With oxygen support, Bergmann, Schauer and Wolfgang climbed Mt Everest on May 3 while Ölz and Karl stood atop the peak on May 11 and Oppurg reached the summit point on May 14. Margreiter, Hagner and Schell gave up due to strong wind and snow on May 7. Knoll also abandoned climbing after his oxygen apparatus got defective on May 14 near Camp IV.

The septuagenarian climbers also made public an expedition postcard undersigned by all eight members of the team, said Sherpa. The team has already left for Lukla to visit Kunde hospital at Kongde and Mt Everest base camp. The Messner Mountain Foundation has supported the hospital, initially built by Edmund Hillary, in the aftermath of devastating earthquake of April 2015. The members are also scheduled to drop the ashes of famous Swiss-American climber Norman Dyhrenfurth, who died last year aged 99, in the Mt Everest region, according to a member of the team. Norman was the leader of the successful American Everest Expedition of 1963.

According to Sherpa, the team’s activities will also be featured in a 90-minute documentary — Land of the Mountains — being filmed by a team of Austrian Broadcasting Corporation — ORF. Nepal Tourism Board and Nepal Mountaineering Association will honour the team at a function in Kathmandu on April 19.


A version of this article appears in print on April 17, 2018 of The Himalayan Times.

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