Bavarian climber Billi Bierling and Lydia Bradey from New Zealand are part of the 18-member expedition which will attempt to summit Broad Peak without supplemental oxygen. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad
Bavarian climber Billi Bierling and Lydia Bradey from New Zealand are part of the 18-member expedition which will attempt to summit Broad Peak without supplemental oxygen. — Photo by Tanveer Shahzad

ISLAMABAD: An 18-member expedition has reached Pakistan to climb Broad Peak, the ninth highest mountain in the world, this summer.

Comprising veterans, the expedition includes Bavarian climber Billi Bierling, who plans to summit Broad Peak without bottled oxygen, as well Lydia Bradey, the first woman from New Zealand to climb Mount Everest without supplemental oxygen — who also summited Gasherbrum II alpine-style in 1987 without oxygen and has just returned from summiting Everest for the sixth time. She too, will attempt to climb Broad Peak without supplemental oxygen.

Ms Bierling has climbed five peaks over 8,000 metres, all of which were in Nepal. They include Everest, Mt Lhotse – the fourth highest in the world and Makalu, the fifth highest. She also climbed Cho Oyu, the sixth highest, and Manaslu, the eighth highest, without supplemental oxygen.

Two members plan to summit ninth highest mountain in the world without supplemental oxygen

She previously attempted Broad Peak in 2015 and climbed up to camp III, at 7,200 metres, which was still a long way from the summit. She was forced to quit because the slopes were too avalanche prone and climbing higher would have been too dangerous.

Ms Bierling said she is excited to be back in Pakistan. She told Dawn that climbing in Pakistan is different from Nepal.

“It is raw and more real. I mean, Nepal is beautiful but the trekking and mountaineering business there is so much more advanced compared with the expedition business in Pakistan, which is in infancy,” she said.

She said that there are 20 to 30 helicopters at the Everest base camp alone, and every day climbers get fresh food and salmon from Kathmandu. But, she said, the Karakoram is raw.

They have to walk 100 kilometres on the Baltoro glacier, there are no cars or helicopters, just mules and porters. The weather in Pakistan is also much more unpredictable than Nepal.

When asked why she chose to climb Broad Peak, Ms Bierling said: “I have no business on K2. It’s too hard and dangerous. Broad Peak is not too technical despite the risks of rock fall. But there is an ever better reason, which is that when you climb Broad Peak, you see K2 all the time and it is so beautiful.

“When you climb K2, you don’t see the second highest mountain in the world. Plus I really enjoyed it last time. So that’s the beauty. When you don’t summit, you go back.”

Describing the fascination of climbing without O2, she said that traditionally, Broad Peak had always been climbed without bottled oxygen, as have mountains such as the Gasherbrums and K2.

“They say that when you climb an 8,000-der with oxygen it comes down to about 6,500 metres. Mt Everest, which I climbed with bottled oxygen, came down to 6,500 metres. Oxygen keeps blood thinner and the climber stays warmer thus minimizing the risk of frostbites.

“As for me, I feel more at one with nature when I climb without supplemental oxygen. Plus that mask around the mouth is very inconvenient, especially when you like to talk a lot,” she said.

Asked how climbers compensate for the lack of oxygen above 8,000 metres, she said that you just climb very slowly.

“You have to drink a lot to keep the blood thinner. I can sleep above 8,000 metres but many can’t. I cannot eat or drink at that altitude though. It’s so hard because the body is so busy acclimatizing that everything else shuts down,” she told Dawn.

Ms Bierling’s expedition plans to summit July 22 or 23 depending on weather.

“It is an eight-day walk to base camp. The summit push from the last camp at 7,200 meters to the top of the peak at 8,047 meters, is a very long distance. Without oxygen it can take up to 20 hours, 12 hours with bottled O2,” she said.

She added: “At the top you are higher than most people on this planet, which is just amazing. But between now and then there is so much. If I capture the summit it will be a bonus and if I can’t I will walk away saying I had a fantastic time.”

Published in Dawn, June 17th, 2019

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