Interview, Stitzinger and Melle: Everest North Side Without Oxygen

Posted: Apr 07, 2015 07:30 am EDT

(Tina Sjogren) UIAGM climbing guide and ski instructor Luis Stitzinger has skied down at least a portion of Gasherbrum II, Nanga Parbat, Broad Peak (the col), and K2 (2,800 meter run).  His attempt for the first consecutive ski descent of Manaslu turned out a nightmare and then came Shisha. 


His regular real-life and climbing partner Alix Von Melle has more 8,000m summits than any other German female but usually prefers to climb down the same style she came up. Shishapangma became the sixth 8000m peak for the pair and then they took a timeout. 

Now they are back, with a vengeance, going with Ralf Dujmovits signature team of mountaineers climbing Everest without oxygen. This season the Amical expedition is led by Dominik Mueller while Dujmovits will assess conditions on the mountain and may go for a new route variation himself. Canadian Nancy Hansen completes the outfit. 


Shortly before their departure to Nepal on Easter Monday, we checked in with Luis for a fast Q & A.


Explorersweb: How do you expect Everest to be different from your other climbs?


Luis: We have the greatest respect for the extreme altitude. This will be the biggest difference and greatest obstacle in relation to our other climbs. We don't know how well our bodies will be able to take the altitude on the summit bid.


We fear the crowds, especially since we are not using oxygen. This means we will not be able to wait in line for a long time. We will get cold and worn out much earlier.


Explorersweb: What made you choose to climb without the aid of supplementary oxygen?


Luis: We feel this is the right way to do it in the spirit of the sport. Hans Kammerlander once said, “climbing an 8000m-peak with the aid of bottled oxygen is like riding Tour de France on a motorbike”. Although it's quite a drastic comparison, it hits the spot.


Using artificial oxygen on an eightthousander is degrading it to a seven- or sixthousander, depending on how much you crank up the valve. We often hear climbers talk about the greater safety of using oxygen on the ascent. On the other hand we have all too often seen climbers push themselves up at altitudes beyond the reach of any help with bottled oxygen. Without it, they would have realized much earlier they were at their limit. 


Explorersweb: Why the north side of Everest?


Luis: Each side has its pros and cons when going without oxygen. In our case we took this decision to avoid the dangers of the Khumbu Icefall and the supposedly bigger crowds on the south side. Hopefully this will not flip the other way this year after last year´s debacle, we will see. We are joining an AMICAL alpin group for travel logistics and Basecamp on the north side.


Explorersweb: How come you left the skis home this time?


Luis: The north and northeast ridge are no good terrain for a ski descent. If you want to ski Everest, I think you have to go from the south side. Or ski down one of the couloirs on the north side - or the Kangshung Face ; ) Just kidding, but while it could be done technically (the North side couloirs have been tried before with partially fatal results) I'm not sure it can be done physically. Maybe with oxygen, without it is a HUGE disadvantage. I have too much respect for the altitude to try something like that on a first visit to Everest.


Explorersweb: You climb as a couple - the best and worst part of that? :)


Luis: As a couple we form a strong team and to some degree compensate for each other's weaknesses. Planning and carrying out a big expedition together with you partner is a very intense experience. It's rare privilege, and we are aware of that. The flip side is that we are often worried about the other´s safety and well-being – much more than our own. That can sometimes increase the hardship. 


Explorersweb:  Be safe guys and say hi to the others! 


Luis: Thanks for the good wishes! We will try our best, and if it's not good enough, we'll turn around.



Expedition Dispatches


Previous with  Luis Stitzinger


German couple eyes first Shisha summits, ski descent


Sky-skiing special: Luis Stitzinger's Manaslu debrief


Sky-skiing special: ExWeb interview with Luis Stitzinger 


Sky skiing, Luis Stitzinger final: Finding a way through the impossible line


Related,  Himalaya spring 2015


Wanted: 6 tops in six months. Himalaya then and now, Nick's story


Explorersweb interview with Alan Arnette: "I now know I can do most anything I set as a goal in life"


Everest 2015: Interesting Expeditions of the Season


Hello from Kathmandu: Tunc Findik going for Annapurna


Horia and Hamor Rope Up for Manaslu North Side Climb and Ski


10 things to do before going off to climb Everest


Wildcard: Everest Rules and Permits 2015


Annapurna: Holding back Summit-Bids, Other Climbers Start Acclimatization


R.I.P. Samuli Mansikka


Annapurna Rescue Mission Launched: Not Everything is alright


Annapurna: List of Summiteers


Annapurna: Climbers on Final Summit-bid! (Update: Summits)


Annapurna: First Summit Push of the Season Begins


Spring 2015: Early Birds Have Reached Annapurna


Lifesaving Wrong Turn: Unsuccessful but Happy Expedition on Nanga Parbat









Pic showing the couple Luis Stitzinger and Alix von Melle 2013 on top of their last 8000m-peak, Shishapangma 8027 m
courtesy Luis Stitzinger and Alix von Melle, SOURCE
Early morning Shisha, enroute to C1.
courtesy Luis Stitzinger and Alix von Melle, SOURCE
Luis high up on Manaslu at around 7300 m. "We followed the route up over two steep snow and ice slopes and the large plateau that lies in between was completely wind swept and blue ice."
courtesy Luis Stitzinger, SOURCE
Luis skiing down to Manaslu basecamp after a day on the mountain. The summit push turned into a nightmare of lightning and rescue of a team mate.
courtesy Luis Stitzinger, SOURCE
Climbing the Cesen Route on K2 (2011). "Some things are different in the Himalayas or Andes than in the Alps or elsewhere."
courtesy Luis Stitzinger, SOURCE