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Climbers

Oct 23, 2017

First (Solo!) Ascent of Nangpai Gosum II by Jost Kobusch

The world’s fourth highest unclimbed peak has just been climbed by German wunderkind Jost Kobusch.

WRITTEN BY

Michael Levy

Mountaineering lore is populated with names like Reinhold Messner, Ueli Steck and Jeff Lowe―climbers who elevated style (the means) above the goal (the summit)―and at just 25 years old, Kobusch is intent on living that legacy.

In 2015, Jost Kobusch was in Nepal to climb Lhotse. Like many other climbers in the Everest region, he witnessed the avalanche that killed 22 people. It was the closest call he’s ever had in the mountains, and it changed his outlook on life.

But perhaps not in the expected way: rather than thank his lucky stars and vow to take fewer risks in the mountains, Kobusch says, “I realized everything after that was a bonus, I was lucky to be alive. So I decided I would do what I wanted, and just climb. I decided to commit myself 100% to becoming a professional climber.”

Two years on, Kobusch has done just that. On October 3, he made the first ascent, solo, of Nangpai Gosum II, which, at 7,296 meters, was the fourth tallest unclimbed mountain in the world, and a major prize in the Himalaya.

Jost Kobusch with Nangpai Gosum II looming behind. Photo: Courtesy of Jost Kobusch.

The mountain had been attempted four times prior, most recently twice in two consecutive years by the same team of French mountain guides. The French were gracious enough to help Kobusch with the information they had about Nangpai Gosum II, including pictures, route descriptions and learnings from their failures. Kobusch decided he would try to finish the route the French had begun; though not the easiest line up the mountain, it was one of the proudest.

Kobusch climbed solo, but not-free solo. He fixed ropes and used protection when necessary. “The French Route was pretty technical,” he says. “And the conditions were terrible. The problem is that it’s a south face. Intense sun melts everything quickly, so there’s really bad and scary rock fall. Literally just a rock shower.”

On one of his forays up the route, he was climbing an especially dry spot, with little ice in which to place protection. “I built up a belay with an ice screw and an ice axe, and started hammering in a piton. Suddenly everything ripped out and I was hanging by the half-hammered in piton. The sun had melted my ice axe and screw out in only 20 minutes. Not so cool…”

Kobusch retreated back to the ground. “I realized this route was not going to work,” he says. He turned his sights to an easier, but equally beautiful part of the mountain, and began planning.

Jost Kobusch climbing on Nangpai Gosum II. Photo: Courtesy of Jost Kobusch.

Despite his relative obscurity, Kobusch has been working up to a coming-out achievement like Nangpai Gosum II for a long time. At just 25 year-old, the young German already has a bevy of impressive alpine-style, solo ascents to his name. His climbs demonstrate a reverence for the ethos of light-and-fast alpinism and the stylistic sensibilities of giants like Ueli Steck and Reinhold Messner.

On a trip to Kenya at 19 years old, Kobusch organized his first minimalist expedition, hiring just a porter and cook, and climbed Mount Kenya―Africa’s second highest peak―solo. “That was the beginning of my soloing,” he says. “I realized, going by myself, that I didn’t need someone who had the same target, skills or budget. I could do it all by myself.” His next big step was climbing Mont Blanc in winter conditions―again solo.

In 2013, eager for more of the solemnity and self-reliance intrinsic to soloing, Kobusch lit out for Kyrgyzstan, where he had his first major humbling in the mountains: “I tried to solo Pik Lenin [7,134 m] in wintertime. It didn’t work out, I almost died a couple of times,” notably when his tent’s snow anchor ripped out and he found himself sliding slowly toward a crevasse.

The do-or-die attitude that Kobusch cultivated up to that point needed some refinement. He says, “You learn from these mistakes a lot, and they kind of let you grow faster. I also did an unclimbed 4,000 meter peak in Kyrgyzstan, which was the beginning of my passion for first ascents, the need to touch the untouched and explore a bit more.” The year after Kyrgyzstan, he visited the Himalayas for the first time and climbed Ama Dablam. His was the first ascent of the year, and he free soloed the route, shunning the unsafe fixed ropes from the previous season.

When he returned to the Himalayas in 2015, the Everest avalanche derailed his Lhotse plans. Deciding to dedicate his life to the mountains going forward was only one of his takeaways, though. He found the crowds at Lhotse a major turn off, and determined to avoid them as much as possible in the future.

So with those two pseudo-epiphanies about what he wanted to do and how, Kobusch traveled to Annapurna in 2016. “It’s one of the rarest climbed 8,000 meter peaks and it’s also one of the most dangerous ones,” he says. He soloed Annapurna.

“I still wanted to go more pure, though. I figured a project like Nangpai Gosum II would be the perfect place to do a very pure solo far away from everybody.”

Kobusch high up on the mountain at night. Photo: Courtesy of Jost Kobusch.

Korbusch’s new strategy was to climb a steep couloir on the right side of Nangpai Gosum II’s South face, traverse to a prominent spine on the right side, ascend to the ridge of the first false summit, and then continue towards the top. He would climb it in as pure a style as possible: “I went minimalist: no ropes, no ice screws, nothing. I just took my harness and one carabiner in case of a helicopter rescue.”

He started from Advanced Base Camp (5,600 meters) at 3:00 am. The nighttime temperatures kept the snow firm and consolidated, and mitigated avalanche risk. Kobsuch reached Camp 1 (approximately 6,440 meters) at 4:00 pm, chopped out a one-meter-wide platform for his sleeping pad, and laid down to rest.

The second day he ascended to 6,840 meters. “It was an easy day. It was going good. I was there before sunset,” he says. After a few of hours of sleep, he roused at 10:00 pm, and started his summit push. Catching the sunrise from the first false summit, Kobusch drank in the curve of the earth as he sat above the clouds and gazed towards Everest, steeling himself for the final summit-ridge slog.

He postholed through deep powder for the final 800 meters, pausing every ten steps to catch his breath. Finally, he made the top. He took in the views, enjoyed the moment, gathered his strength, put up some prayer flags, and turned right back around. By the middle of the next day he was back in Base Camp.

Kobusch is extremely happy with his new route up the no-longer virgin peak. “It was beautiful and also felt like I was really exploring. I had no information. I was just reading the terrain and going where I thought would be best to go. It felt like true alpinism,” Kobusch says. “So remote; no one was there, and you’re standing somewhere where you know no one has ever stood before. It was a real adventure. It’s difficult to have a real adventure today where things are unexplored.”

Stay tuned for a film next year about Jost Kobusch’s Nangpai Gosum II expedition!

Want some adventure yourself? What are you waiting for?! Go climb a mountain! Check the world’s best adventures at The Outdoor Voyage.

On the summit. Photo: Courtesy of Jost Kobusch.

 

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Athletes & Explorers

Dec 13, 2018

Steph Davis: Dreaming of Flying

What drives Steph, to free solo a mountain with nothing but her hands and feet, before base jumping? “Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear."

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WRITTEN BY

The Outdoor Journal

Presented byimage

In the coming days the Outdoor Journal will release an exclusive interview with Steph Davis, follow us via our social networks and stay tuned for more.

Do you have to be fearless to jump off a mountain? Meeting Steph Davis, you quickly realise: no, fearlessness is not what it takes. It’s not the search for thrills that drives her. She’s Mercedes travelled to Moab, Utah to find out what does – and to talk to Steph Davis about what it takes to climb the most challenging peaks and plunge from the highest mountaintops.

Steph Davis, getting ready to jump. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

At noon, when the sun is at its highest point above the deserts of southeastern Utah and when every stone cliff casts a sharp shadow, you get a sense of how harsh this area can be. Despite Utah’s barrenness, Steph loves the orange-gold landscape with its towers and elegantly curved arches of sandstone. But Steph is not here because of the natural spectacle. Here, in this area which is as beautiful as it is inhospitable, she can pursue her greatest passion: free solo climbing and BASE jumping.

Castleton Tower… Look closely. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Today, Steph wants to take us to Castleton Tower. We travel on gravel roads that are hardly recognizable, right into the middle of the desert. Gnarled bushes and conifers grow along what might be the side of the road. Other than that, the surrounding landscape lives up to its name: it is deserted. Steph loves the remoteness of the area. “One of my favourite places is a small octagonal cabin in the desert that I designed and built together with some of my closest friends. It’s not big and doesn’t have many amenities but it has everything you need: a bed, a bathroom, a small kitchenette … and eight windows allowing me to take in nature around me. That’s pretty much all I need.” Steph Davis cherishes the simple things. She has found her place, and she doesn’t let go.

Whilst pictured with ropes here, Steph often free solo’s without any equipment at all. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Castleton Tower is home turf for Steph. She has climbed the iconic red sandstone tower so many times she’s lost count. The iconic 120-metre obelisk on top of a 300-metre cone is popular among rock climbers as well as with BASE jumpers. Its isolated position makes it a perfect plunging point and it can easily be summited with little equipment – at least for experienced climbers like Steph Davis.

“It would be reckless not to be afraid. But I don’t have to be paralysed by fear.”

Steph is a free solo climber, which means she relies on her hands and feet only – not on ropes, hooks or harnesses. She loves to free solo, using only what’s absolutely necessary. She squeezes her hands into the tiniest cracks in the stone and her feet find support on the smallest outcroppings, where others would see only a smooth surface. Steph climbs walls that might be 100 metres tall – sometimes rising up 900 metres – with nothing below her but thin air and the ground far below. She knows that any mistake while climbing can be fatal.

Flying. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

The possibility of falling accompanies Steph whenever she climbs. Is she afraid? “Of course – it would be reckless not to be. But I don’t have to be paralysed by fear.” She has learned to transform it into power, prudence, and strength. “It’s up to us to stay in control.”

“You have to learn to face your fears and accept them for what they are.”

That’s what, according to her, free soloing and BASE jumping are all about: to be in control and to trust in one’s abilities. “It’s not about showing off how brave I am. It’s about trusting myself to be good enough not to fall. It takes a lot of strength, both physical and mental. You have to learn to face your fears and accept them for what they are.”

Touchdown. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

Steph Davis likes to laugh and she does so a lot. She chooses her words with care, and she doesn’t rush. Why would she? There’s no point in rushing when you’re hanging on a vertical wall, with nothing but your hands and feet. Just like climbing, she prefers to approach things carefully and analytically. That’s how she got as far as she did. “I didn’t grow up as an athlete, and started climbing when I was 18,” she smiles, shrugging. But her work ethic is meticulous and she knows how to improve herself. Whenever she prepares for an ascent, she does so for months, practising each section over and over again – on the wall and in her head – until she has internalised it all. She does the same before a BASE jump and practices the exact moves in her head until she knows the movement is consummate.

Steph loves the orange-gold landscape with its towers and elegantly curved arches of sandstone. Photo by Jan Vincent Kleine

“Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear.”

Would Steph consider herself brave? She says that she wouldn’t know how to answer that, you can see the small wrinkles around Steph’s eyes that always appear whenever she laughs. In any case, she doesn’t consider herself to be exceptional. “I’m not a heroine just because I jump off mountaintops,” Steph says she has weaknesses just like everyone else. But she might overcome them a little better than most of us do, just as she has learned to work with fear. “Bravery is not caused by the absence of fear. It is brave to accept fear for what it is, as a companion that you should sometimes listen to, but one you shouldn’t be obedient to.”

She slows the car down. We have reached Castleton Tower. It rises majestically in front of us while the sun has left its zenith. If Steph started walking now, she’d reach the top at the moment the sun went down, bathing the surrounding area in a golden light. She takes her shoes and the little parachute; all she needs today. Then she smiles again, says “see you in a bit”, and starts walking. Not fast, not hastily, but without hesitation.

All photos by Jan Vincent Kleine

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