«What Harila does is announcement mountaineering at its finest»

With the establishment of mountain tourism on most of the eight-thousanders and all of the Seven Summits plus a few other mountains, the required alpinistic skills have been reduced to almost zero. By alpine skills I mean independent climbing, acting and making decisions on the mountain. Everything that used to be required on these mountains has now largely become superfluous thanks to the technical infrastructure on the mountain. It is enough if you learn to walk with crampons in the base camp and to attach yourself correctly to the fixed rope (Cover photo: Mount Everest summit, photo: Robert Bösch).

An opinion article by Robert Bösch

What is currently going on in the mountains of the world – or in the social media – in terms of record attempts requires a more critical journalistic assessment. Unfortunately, the climbing style on the mountain is hardly ever discussed - although that should be the core of every success report.

The phrase "Harila and her team" is simply adopted as if it were a football team. But “team” in this context means, above all, the division of labor on the mountain: some people tow, trail, erect the tents and install the fixed ropes, the others climb the trail with minimal luggage and report on their “heroic deeds” as effectively as possible in the media.

Announcement alpinism at its finest

That Harila announces that she will now climb all 14 eight-thousanders without oxygen - of course in record time - and then already on the second mountain - notably the lowest eight-thousander - reaches for the bottle because it was a bit windy and she realized that "without" it wasn't quite so fast is like «with», actually proves everything. Announcing great things and then already reaching for the bottle between 7000 and 8000m sounds somehow ridiculous.

"What Harila does is announcement alpinism at its finest."

Inappropriate comparison

The comparison with the mountaineer Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, which is often used, is really inappropriate. Comparing these two women - one took 13 years (how slow) and the other just 1 year (so strong) - is probably not really thought through:

Gerlinde never intended to do all 14 eight-thousanders at first. Over the years and the successful ascents, this project came about. But there was never an attempt to do all the peaks as quickly as possible. It was all about the style.

"The difference between the two women is not only the color of their hair, but also their ability on the mountain, their track record and their need for self-expression."

  • Gerlinde delivered on the mountain and then reported about it.
  • Gerlinde climbed all 8000m peaks without oxygen. How big the difference is between with and without can only be estimated by people who have really traveled at high altitudes without it. They are worlds. Harila may have noticed a bit now.
  • Gerlinde was never on the road with a "team" that took over the tracking work, setting up tents, looking for a way, carrying oxygen bottles for the (weaker) media star. She was always a very strong and responsible person on the mountain. She was often the strongest and most "pushing" person in the rope team. For example with her extremely strong performance when climbing K2 from the north with Wassilij and Maksut.

I was with Gerlinde in the Shisha Pangma south face. I know their strength on the mountain.

"A comparison of Kaltenbrunner and Harila is as absurd as comparing the "team ascents" of a Nims with the really outstanding alpinist exploits of Erhard Loretan, or Reinhold Messner, or Ueli Steck - to name a few."

But «Nims» is a different story – which is actually not true. It's exactly the same, only badder.

Extraordinary act on the mountain

Mountaineering has always (also) been about fame and honor. John Hunt, leader of the British Everest expedition in 1953, has prepared everything so that the news of the summit success - if it takes place - arrives in London in time for the coronation of Elizabeth II.

He certainly wouldn't have turned down the possibilities of social media if this form of communication had existed back then. It would have been easier than rushing a letter to Namche Bazaar on foot. But no matter how the "summit victory" was communicated, it was the act on the mountain that was extraordinary.

"Today, for many protagonists, the reverse applies: no matter what has been achieved, the main thing is that I communicate in a way that is effective for the public."

Anyone who likes to present themselves on social media to become famous or because they think their actions are relevant to humanity should do so. However, this is not at the same time proof that the service provided is really worth mentioning.

It would be the task of good journalism to separate the wheat from the chaff here - and to classify the current events with mountaineering expertise and not simply to reproduce what the protagonists spread on their media channels.

To the author

Portrait Robert Bösch

Robert Bösch, photographer, geographer, mountain guide, has been a freelance professional photographer for over 30 years. In addition to commissions from industry and advertising, he works for well-known national and international journals and magazines such as Geo, Stern and National Geographic. He published numerous illustrated books. Robert Bösch is an ambassador for Nikon. 

As an alpinist, his travels and expeditions have taken him to all seven continents, where he has tackled many well-known and unknown mountains on difficult routes. He climbed Mount Everest on a commercial expedition for a film and photo assignment. He accompanied many of Ueli Steck's ventures. 

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Credits: Cover picture Robert Bösch

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14 comments

  1. Thank you for this report. Unfortunately, it is becoming apparent again and again how little the reporting journalists in mountaineering and climbing understand about the matter. The descriptions of how the accident happened border on satire whenever local newspapers report on accidents, for example in the Franconian Jura.

  2. Great post! What is happening in the Himalayas is, to put it mildly, just grotesque! Social media stars, who are practically pushed up the mountain by dozens of Sherpas and other helpers, are celebrated as mountaineering heroes, while the "real" alpinists remain almost unknown. A very bad development of the sport! Thank you for this wonderful article, it gets right to the point!

  3. I couldn't agree more - Bravo Robert Bösch and thanks lacrux.com for the publication. And lacrux, please take more to heart what Bösch writes: "It would be the task of good journalism to separate the wheat from the chaff here - and to classify the current events with mountaineering expertise and not simply to reproduce what the protagonists/ spread inside on their media channels".

  4. For mountain (photo)journalists there are 4 mountains in the world: the Eiger, the Matterhorn, Mont Blanc and Everest. What happens there can be exploited in the media.

    The ridges in mountaineering are often narrow, because I remember a photo by Robert Bösch "Eveline Binsack solo in the Eiger NO face" (Lauper route). Today you could also say "click baite" because the traces of R. Bösch down the firn flank to Mrs. Binsack were clearly visible. Strictly speaking, a rope-free ascent together. Possibly yes, but really solo?

    After all, Ms. Harila clearly communicated that she had resorted to oxygen, so the expert can classify the athletic performance at any time. That might be less relevant for the rest of the readership.
    U. Steck had already recognized that when he confessed that, despite his records, the world continues to turn for everyone else as usual 😉

    • Dear Patrick
      You saw and classified the Lauper route correctly. There were two of us, we had a rope with us, but we climbed the route without a rope. Of course, that had nothing at all to do with a solo ascent - which I would never have described as such, neither in a report nor in a caption. But someone else reported about this inspection.

      • Hello Robert
        Thank you for your explanation and clarification. In addition, your and Zopfi's mountain photography inspired me to perceive the mountains in a different and new way, also through the lens!

  5. Nice discourse, which should be continued and, above all, updated.

    Many were stunned when I described much of all this from a purely journalistic point of view years ago in my admittedly much too "thick" book "The highest mountain - dream and nightmare Everest". Of course, nothing has changed as a result. On the contrary. It was and is getting worse. With the hustle and the criticism of it.

    I'm hardly surprised that Kristin Harila is being approached again here, of course. You can also get hold of her – precisely because she exposes and publishes herself publicly. Easy prey, so to speak. She surrenders herself to public discourse. Hundreds of people with foot problems in the base camp and above with breathing masks and helicopter tickets don't do that. In comparison to the "Norwegian Wonderkind", they achieve much less or nothing in terms of alpine ability. I/we have seen them, the hordes on the highest mountain - a Sherpa guide in front, a second behind. Mask in front of your face and the hose as far as possible to the Sherpa who is carrying the bottle. That's how Everest is climbed, that's how you die there. It is so.

    And above all, nothing will change. Because nobody is interested in changing anything about it. The Nepalese government doesn't, they enjoy the permit income and the garbage deposits. Not even the horde of novices, for whom the tripod at 8848 meters is just one more trophy in the closet that they absolutely must have. The Sherpa, meanwhile, live well with all the madness on Manaslu and Everest. And the agencies between Chamonix, Switzerland, Innsbruck and Kathmandu are selling their hotspot trips with increasing success.

    No, nobody will change anything about all this. No Reinhold, no Hans, no Gerlinde, no Simone, no Robi, no nobody...

    Since Kristin Harila is the least of all excitement. Somehow I like her now. Also and precisely because she usually tells quite openly (I always hope hopeless romantics) what she is doing at the moment. She is there and makes herself understandable. I prefer that to those who dig themselves into the snow somewhere and then tell their summit hero dream, even though they haven't even been close to their postulated goal.

    I've been a writing journalist for over forty years now. I've looked at worse people than Kristin Harila. Working through it just because it exposes itself is just as obvious, because it's simple and at the same time doesn't really serve the purpose. Taking on the topic in principle is worth all the journalistic effort. Also and especially that of Robi Bösch.

  6. Great post, that's exactly how I feel. Apples are being compared to pears!!! Thank you Robi.

  7. Hello Robert,
    You speak my mind and as far as I know, the climber scene in Nepal mostly thinks the same way. The question is how to get people to climb again for the experiences instead of raising their egos with the height of the mountain alone? From my point of view, there is a lot more to it than reporting...

  8. Let's be honest folks: Actually, exactly the same figures walk around on our 4 thousanders as in Nepal on the 8 thousanders. Mentally, technically and physically often at the limit.
    In this situation, however, I more or less only see the problem that, especially on the 8 thousand meters, the “honest” alpinist hardly has a chance to really try it on the mountain. This is a pity.
    In the Alps, such “figures” are simply saved or you won’t be back down until tomorrow.

    I don't blame the Sherpas and porters and the government in the slightest, who benefit from "mass tourism", because with us too, with the beginning of mountaineering, an unparalleled opening up of the mountain world happened, and with it also economic prosperity.
    From a retrospective point of view, criticism of the actions or the development is appropriate, since we can see where this can lead in the Alps. But how many mountains are there actually and how many others are there?
    I was traveling in the Langtang in 2008. The closest valley to Kathmandu. ALONE! For weeks on the mountain, alone!

    But I'm leaving the topic of "announced alpinism". Well, whoever announces must deliver! That increases the pressure on you. He or she then also has to communicate failure. But if I read the media in general, they are full of announcements: climate, biodiversity, wars, diseases, election outcomes, government programs, etc. Even worse in sports: A good result is widely expected from a national team in all media!
    I suspect that sports journalism also conforms to the usual pattern and announces it loudly, which generates attention.
    Bösch is certainly right, and I find that an exciting thought, that today's fast media would certainly have been used by Hillary too.
    But there is a tiny bit of hope: a group of professional alpinists recently signed off in order to report on their expedition only after their return to the capital! Significantly, I've already forgotten their name...

  9. Thank you Robert Bösch for this accurate comment!
    That would be something for Dominik Osswald to publish a critical report in a major magazine!

  10. Above all, one should stop calling these people alpinists. They are very talented logisticians with a lot of money and a good willingness to take risks.
    Without judging too much here, but flying from base camp to base camp with a helicopter and then climbing mountains on fixed ropes has little to do with alpinism in my understanding.
    I would be surprised what figure a Nims or a Harila would make on a north face of the Eiger or on the Salbit.

  11. Thank you Robert for your article. You're opposing diverse forms of alpinism in terms of ethics and meaning, considering that one is better than the other, and truly I agree with you. But let's talk about photography. What about what you call "Fine Art" on your website? Is Fine Art just personal, non-commercial black and white productions? Is Fine Art just special series, sometimes non figurative, taken in unreachable places to share beauties and emotions? Is fine art a marketing position to differentiate rich consumers, hence people? I don't think so and I kindly respect your engagement in mountain photography. But art is something different that what you mean. Art photography is far away from just taking photographs as you know alpinism is far away from just climbing a mountain.

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