The eXXpress reaches the alpinists from Bielefeld (118 meters above sea level) in Camp 1 of Mount Everest. Internet reception is very limited at an altitude of 5943 meters. Jost Kobusch uses one of the few windows to talk to the eXXpress. He’s happy to give an interview, says the likeable alpinist – but only if we’re on first-name terms. On the mountain there is no polite. And it is precisely this relaxed and open manner that runs through our conversation.
eXXpress: Messner is probably a legend and role model for alpinists, for you too? Where do you see Messner’s legacy?
Kobusch: When I think about what Messner’s legacy is, it’s certainly his pioneering achievements. Even if the latest findings show that his ascents of the 8000m did not always end at the summit (eXXpress reported on the allegations), they are alpinistic milestones within the scope of what was possible at the time.
Messner was the first person to climb Everest without oxygen. Is this the biggest of these milestones?
That was also the achievement of his mountain partner Peter Habeler, with whom he made the first ascent of Everest without oxygen equipment. But the reason hardly anyone (no offense Peter) remembers Habeler is because of Messner’s outstanding PR – that’s where I see his legacy. He was an outstanding alpinist and for me an even more outstanding marketer, with his stories he still inspires (me too) today.
When someone like that describes you as an “alpinist lightweight”, how does that make you feel? Does that perhaps offer additional motivation?
I rather wonder on which needs of Messner this judgment is based. I’m trying to understand the feelings behind those words. Is it fear of change, Reinhold? That doesn’t motivate me at all (my motivation is based on my curiosity) – but it fascinates me why Messner feels addressed by my project.
What are you so curious about?
I’m curious about what awaits me up there. I’m curious about what I’m capable of as an athlete. In 2020 I reached an altitude of 7360m – no expedition on an 8000m peak was that high that winter. Now I’ve managed to build on the experience. What took a month on the first try, I managed within a few days. Slowly but surely I’m becoming someone who is able to pull off the project.
Do you think Reinhold Messner is jealous – of the attention you’re attracting with this project?
I don’t think so. Maybe he’s afraid that people will no longer see him as the great alpinist he is. Superseded by younger ones. Funnily enough, the situation that he himself experienced with the ‘long-established’ alpinists, when he dared to do the impossible and marketed it, is repeated here. But the conditions cannot be compared. He belongs to a different generation with different opportunities. He took advantage of those opportunities like few others.
You use the modern possibilities very skilfully. Would you describe yourself as a mountaineering influencer?
I am an athlete who uses modern means of communication. The focus is on alpinism – unlike Messner’s Instagram account – this is pure “influencing”.
Speaking of influencing: How does a boy from Bielefeld come up with the idea of climbing Everest?
When I climbed Nangpai Gossum 2 (7298m) solo for the first time in 2017, I asked myself how I could transfer such a purely solo ascent to an 8000m peak. I come from a region where it wasn’t easy for me to find rope partners. So I did a lot on my own. I did Annapurna 1 (8091m) without assistance and without oxygen – but there were other climbers and a groomed route. I’ve always wondered how I can perfect a solo climb on such high mountains. Until the answer came to me: go in winter, then nobody is there. Everest in winter via the west ridge is the hardest thing I can think of – but also what I’m most curious about.
A perhaps silly question: If you climb Everest alone, how do you do it with the provisions? Do you have water and food with you?
I have freeze-dried food that has been stripped of all water. I then melt snow on the mountain, the boiling water goes into my food bag and after about ten minutes I have a meal. The whole thing weighs little – my favorite food at the moment: Quinoa Mexican style.
Sounds delicious. Do you actually take your cell phone with you to the summit?
Yes – I love listening to a podcast in my sleeping bag in the evening. The nights are long and lonely.
How does it feel to try something that is considered impossible? Are you scared?
I still remember exactly how my project to climb Everest solo in winter 2019 was received: as a PR stunt. At that time, a professional gave me a 0.1 percent chance of success even getting to 6,000 meters. Of course that motivated me. But the truth is, I didn’t know at the time what was even possible. It was a learning experience to see how the gear I developed would work. How the microclimate really is. And of course I wanted to see the route. It was clear to me from the start that it would take several attempts. It was that I was already fully committed to this project – with all its trials – before I even started the first attempt. A mixture of fascination and yes, of course fear.
There it was again, that word “PR stunt”. This is haunting you. Then let’s do PR now: You can tell Reinhold Messner something in eXXpress. what do you want to say to him
Let’s be honest, even if Reinhold Messner praises my PR from time to time – thank you Reinhold – I’ve learned from the best (you) and added a bit of contemporary stuff on top. For a PR stunt, the whole thing is quite complex. And for a PR stunt, I could never muster the willpower to generate my curiosity.
What do you think awaits you at the summit?
A beautiful view? Answer? Money? Safety? What’s at the top is irrelevant. It’s about the process. To rise above my human weakness.