Interview with Jost Kobusch: Return to Winter Everest

Jost Kobusch raised eyebrows in 2019 when he announced his three-stage plan to climb Everest alone in winter via the West Ridge.

The brash young German successfully negotiated the hanging glacier leading to Lo Lha, a pass just north of the Western Cwm. He then continued up the ridge as far as 7,400m. It earned him thousands of followers on social media. Everybody liked the (then) 27-year-old, soft-spoken lad, who said that he climbed for himself and not for records. Everybody, that is, except maybe Reinhold Messner. More on that later.

Now 29, Kobusch flies this week to Nepal for the second round of his mega-project. Before leaving, he discussed the details with ExplorersWeb from his current home in Chamonix.

“My goal this time is to reach 8,000m, which is more or less the base of the Hornbein Couloir,” he said. “There, I’ll check the winter conditions on those upper sections. It’s something that no one knows because no one has been there before in winter. I’ll gather all the info I can, so when I come back I can fine-tune my training even more and maybe develop some gear.”

Overall, he says, his expectations for this second phase are to learn as much as possible. Then on the third try, he will go for it.

First ascents to acclimatize

He wants to set foot on the Khumbu Glacier on December 22, right at the beginning of calendar winter. Before that, he will acclimatize by summiting some virgin 6,000m peaks with a partner. He gave no details about the specific climbs.

“The idea is to enjoy the acclimatization as much as possible,” he said. “I am also so excited to be on an expedition after the long COVID break!”

Yet unlike most, the pandemic did not affect his climbing much. Rather, he said, “it was a great chance to focus on my daily training. I must admit I had a really good time! As a professional athlete, I was able to climb and train in the Chamonix Valley without restrictions.”

He points out that he had always planned his second Everest phase for this year. He has focused on training in the kind of terrain and steepness he will find on Everest.

While training, Jost Kobusch mimics some of what he’ll have to do on Everest. He also did uphill-only sessions by paragliding back down from the summit. Photo: Jost Kobusch

Lessons learned

His other significant changes concern Base Camp and tactics. This time, Kobusch will not set up a standard base camp, just a small Advanced Base Camp tent at the base of the route.

“I will stay in Lobuche village and take a more minimalistic, pure approach to the mountain,” he said. “I am also adjusting some gear to go lighter and faster.”

On his first expedition, he eventually found the best climbing line to the Lho La. “But it was more technical than I had expected,” he said. “This time, I am bringing proper static ropes to fix the most difficult sections.

“I will only bring two ropes, 130m in total, and only fix small passages. But I want those ropes to be fully reliable. I don’t want to use those nylon ropes often found on big mountains, the kind you’d use as a swing for the kids.”

On the mountain, he will be fully alone. His expedition cook, also the person on the other end of the radio, will remain in Lobuche. Kobusch will also stay in touch with his team in Germany.

Jost Kobusch heads alone toward Lho La on Everest, winter 2019. Photo: @terragraphy


A heavy snow winter?

As this fall has been quite snowy in the Himalaya, we asked Kobusch what that might mean for winter.

“Well, a mountain is not static, it’s dynamic, it changes constantly,” he says. “But all the expeditions currently reporting loads of snow are performing in fall conditions. I will be there in winter, which…is drier and windier. But if I found more snow than in 2019, it would be actually great, because everything was hard ice around me last time.”

Kobusch’s climbs attract big audiences. Winter, Everest, and solo make an irresistible trifecta. That has brought him both supporters and critics, some quite famous.

Messner’s take

“Alpinism is like art, you want to provoke, to inspire, to make people react somehow,” says Kobusch. “I do this project only for myself, out of curiosity and because it gives meaning to my life. I don’t even know whether it’s possible [to succeed]…At the same time, I realize that I am climbing a meaningless stone hill. I am not producing anything.

“Maybe what I do is not the norm. I am receiving a lot of criticism from people like Reinhold Messner, but I think you are only criticized if you don’t do whatever everybody else does. To me, that means that you’re doing something right.”

The 29-year-old Kobusch on a climb some weeks ago. Photo: Jost Kobusch


He is referring to Messner’s interview in, when the great South Tyrolean tagged Kobusch as the “world champion of advertising,” and a “mountaineering wannabe”.

Kobusch “announced his goals before actually achieving them and even he admitted there was only a one percent chance he would make it,” said Messner. “If I thought I had a one-percent chance to achieve a goal, I wouldn’t even bother flying to Nepal.” Then Messner colorfully compared him to sport climbers “jumping on a wall in ape-behavior patterns”.

Kobusch prefers to take it as a compliment. “Maybe it’s the way Messner shows his love,” he jokes. “If he has taken the effort to check out my project and to criticize it, it means I’ve caught his attention. Moreover, it fuels me to go and prove the critics wrong.”