Alex Txikon said going on would have been “suicide.” With a team of five Sherpas he reached Camp 2 on 7th March 2017 from the Nepal side of Everest. They felt the extreme cold and high winds with the same in the forecast for many days and called it quits. Txikon says he will return.
Txikon deserves a lot of credit for not giving up easily. He reached the South Col almost a month ago but was stopped by high winds – so much so that they couldn’t even pitch their tent. One of the Sherpas was hit by rockfall on the descent to Camp 2 and the entire team flew back to Kathmandu, against Txikon’s wishes.
The organizer for this winter attempt was Seven Summits Treks, a Sherpa owned guide company that has become the dominate guide force on Everest. They regularly have between 60 to 100 clients each season, primarily from China and India.
The Icefall Doctors initially helped set the route thru the Khumbu Icefall with Txikon chipping in on the work.Txikon is 35 years old and was joined by 28 year old Spanish climber Carlos Rubio who was better known for extreme skiing than climbing. Aitor Barez was the expedition movie director and Pablo Magister was the cameramen. Carlos Rubio was evacuated by helicopter with lung inflammation a few weeks into the effort.
Summiting any 8000 meter mountain in winter is difficult but Txikon had knocked off Nanga Parbat last winter and had hopes to summit Everest this season without using supplemental oxygen.
History of Winter Ascents
Txikon is not alone in not reaching the summit in winter. A paltry 0.2% of all summits since 1953 have occurred in the winter.
The Himalayan Database reports that the last successful winter summit was in 1993 and the only previous summit without supplemental oxygen was by Ang Rita Sherpa in 1987. Technically winter begins on the winter solstice on December 21st or 22nd and ends on March 20th.
To add some controversy, the solstice in 1987 was on December 22nd at 4:45:13 and Ang Rita summited at 15:20. Some articles position Txikon as the first winter, no supplemental oxygen summit, if successful, others note Ang Rita’s winter, no Os winter summit.
If Txikon had summited it would have been widely admired given he spent the majority of the winter on his quest.
There have been 21 winter expeditions with only five successful summits:
2017 Winter Attempt Timeline
The team arrived in Kathmandu on Christmas day, 25th December 2016 with plenty of time to summit before 20th March, 2017 – the end of winter. They spent weeks setting the route thru the Khumbu Icefall and establishing Camp 1 and Camp 2 before leaving Base Camp aiming for a 14 February summit.
The First Summit Attempt
Txikon, and Seven Summits Sherpas: Norbu, Chhepal left base camp on 10 February for the summit push arriving at Camp 2 in about 8 hours. The next day 3 more Sherpas, Nuri, Furba and Pemba joined them. They reported extremely cold still air temps in the -20F to -30F range, without windchill.
They left Camp 2 to establish High Camp at the South Col and began to experience even worse weather -45C/-49F air temp with 60 kph/37 mph winds. This puts the wind chill at -70C/-95F, perhaps a bit lower at this extreme altitude but still deadly cold.
Skin would instantly freeze in those conditions and even with the world’s best down suits the climber would soon become chilled beyond recovery. Given they were climbing without supplemental oxygen, the risks were dramatically increased.
Dead Bodies at South Col
On the push from Camp 2 directly to the South Col, there were fighting the wind on each step. At the South Col, the high winds made it impossible to set up a tent.
They arrived without sleeping bags assuming a short stay in the tent before pushing for the summit. The climbers were becoming dangerously cold. As they struggled to establish camp, the wind broke a pole sending Txikon searching in tents from last spring’s expeditions for a spare. He finds not one, but two dead bodies in separate tents. He didn’t identify them.
After only half an hour, with harsh winds making establishing Camp 4 impossible, they all retreated to Camp 3 for a short, cold night then down to Base Camp. But while on the Lhotse Face, an avalanche of snow and mostly falling rock, hits the team sending Txikon sliding hundreds of feet and injuring Sherpa Chhepal.
Back to Kathmandu
With Chhepel injured, Seven Summits Treks orders a helicopter and the entire team was transported back to Kathmandu. Reports were confusing with some saying the summit effort has ended, others saying it would go on but Txikon posted he was not ready to give up.
The difference in plans between Mingma, one of the owners of Seven Summits Treks and an extremely accomplished mountaineer himself and Txikon seemed to be that Mingma was protecting his employees and most likely felt the conditions were too dangerous for another attempt, especially given the rockfall. Txikon, following his dream, was willing to take more risks.
After a meeting between Mingma, Txikon and the remaining Sherpas, it was agreed to return to Base Camp and give the summit another attempt.
While in Kathmandu, they ate, slept and recovered. A climber would usually keep their acclimatization for a couple of weeks once achieved, so the 8 day rest at 5,000 feet did not impact their acclimatization and allowed Txikon to recover.
Txikon swapped out most of original crew of Sherps for reasons not cited. Most likely the Sherpas, who work for Seven Summits Treks, were committed to work on Everest for the Spring season and need to rest up. Nuri Sherpa was the only Shepa from the first attempt to join Tixkon for the second try.
Txikon posted a ghostly image of himself saying he lost 12kg/26 pounds on his already lean frame.
Once back at base camp, Txikon received a huge mental boost when Reinhold Messner, who was already in Nepal, flew to Base Camp to wish him the best as he left for Camp 2 on 6 March.
The team had to reestablish 60% of the route thru the Khumbu Icefall. The Icefall moves constantly, sometimes as much as 3 feet a day in some sections, so ladders would fall into crevasses and ropes would be lost.
Weather For Thwarted Summit
They reached Camp 2 but were met by high winds. As you can see by the computer model below, a tiny window of low winds was forecasted for 8 March but would quickly regain strength for the foreseeable future.
Txikon noted winds well over 40 mph at Camp 2 with air temp of -40F. He knew the winds would be higher and the windchill would have been deadly so he called an end to their expedition.
This was the computer model from Mountain Forecast for the summit of Everest for March 8, their anticipated summit day:
You can see their tracks from his GPS tracker and when they reached the South Col.
He Will Return
Txikon posted on facebook (translation by Google) on 8 March 2017:
This was not a goodbye, it’s a “see you later”. Everest has not wanted this year to conquer her heart, but what I do appreciate clearly was that she has stolen my heart. I dream, every day, since we left our home on December 25 that we reach the 8848 meters that separate us from the sky, but greed was useless in the mountain. You never have to go against nature; This was something that has been engraved during my entire career in which I have lived very difficult moments: if you do not want the mountain defeating you, do not end with it; Respect and care of it. Therefore, although I feel very strong physically and psychologically, the winter has not given a truce, the strong wind tossed us to the ground and the forecast of the next few days was terrifying. However, there was no doubt that it has been the most special expedition of my life, In which I have been surprised by myself, and in which we have achieved the world of mountaineering to have a continuous follow up that excites me. In addition, without a doubt, all of you were icing on the cake, that I have felt you every minute as if you were my family, supporting me in every achievement and every complicated moment. I promise you that I would return to the mountain that you have stolen my heart in the purest way. I love you, guys.
Congratulations to Txikon and team for a fine effort. Once again the whole mountaineering world will be pulling for you when you try again.
Memories were Everything