Everest: Csaba Varga Climbing Without O2

But why aren’t more trying without bottled oxygen this uncrowded season?

Although there will be a Himalayan climbing season, how it will take shape remains uncertain. Even in the third week of March, some climbers are still waiting for news about COVID restrictions before deciding whether to go to Nepal. Others have given up.

“We had some cancellations from climbers in the UK, Australia, and New Zealand,” Lukas Furtenbach told ExplorersWeb. “Also, some Chinese clients found out that they may be able to get to Nepal, but then they could not return to China afterward.”

Although Nepal’s Department of Tourism suggests that about 300 foreign climbers are coming to Everest, Furtenbach estimates that number as closer to 200.

Everest will be less crowded this year than it famously was on the Geneva Spur in 2012. Photo: Ralf Dujmovits


Whether 200 or 300, there will be fewer climbers in Nepal this season. Without the crowds and long waits near the summit that caused so many problems in spring 2019, it seems like the perfect time for no-O2 ascents. Yet until yesterday, no one had committed to going to Everest without supplementary oxygen.

Now Csaba Varga of Hungary will give it a try. To prepare, Varga consulted professional free diver Csaba Ágh, who previously trained several Olympic athletes on breathing techniques. This is the first time that he has worked with a high-altitude mountaineer.

No-O2 climbs have long been a mark of excellence on 8,000m peaks because the hardest part is the lack of air at altitude. But what about other forms of assistance? Nirmal Purja, who summited K2 in winter without O2 this past January, recently weighed in on the debate: “There are many cases where climbers have claimed no-O2 summits but followed the trail that we blazed and used the ropes and lines that we fixed,” he wrote. “What is classified as fair means?”

NIrmal Purja, below the Great Serac on K2, sans supplementary O2. Photo: Nirmal Purja


Using no oxygen may be the ultimate yardstick in high-altitude climbing, but as Purja says, it’s not the only difficulty. Technical and/or new routes, climbing without fixed ropes or a broken trail, single pushes, all increase the merits of a climb.

“Organizing an expedition to a new route is a complex process, especially in these uncertain times,” Denis Urubko told ExplorersWeb. “This is why we don’t see more creative climbs: They are so difficult to carry out.” Urubko recently explained that he would like to work with a female climber to open a new route up an 8,000’er. However, he admits that this won’t happen for some time.

Meanwhile, no-O2 climber Peter Hamor is heading for Annapurna, while Stefi Troguet is already in the Khumbu. Both are on their way to Dhaulagiri. Hamor will lead a team up the NW Ridge, while Troguet will use the normal route.