UPDATE Tuesday February 26: All K2 teams have returned to base camp due to strong winds
If you are in the camp that believes winter ends on February 28, then you might be getting nervous that a K2 summit won’t happen this winter. The other camp has March 21st, the Spring Solstice, as the end of winter so they have more hope. Either way, it’s going to be difficult so let’s break down what it will take for anyone on either team to summit this week or even next month.
Where are They Now?
The two teams, Spanish/Galician and Kazakhstan/Russia/Kyrgyzstanm aka KRK are converging on the same camps with tolerable weather the past couple of days. Note, not good weather but tolerable weather.
Txikon and his Sherpas are at Camp 2, just. below House Chimney and KRK is at Camp 2 proper. Both teams report “the weather conditions are bad, it’s very cold and windy” They have a long way to go and the conditions will get worse.
The Keys to Summit
In my mind there are four keys to getting the summit this season: teamwork, health, weather and luck. Let’s break it down.
The two teams have been working independently all season long – since the beginning of the year, almost two months ago. The KRK gang is going traditional, setting up camps, stocking them slowly and deliberately and acclimatizing slowly. In other words in traditional siege style. Meanwhile Txikon and his team of Sherpas are patiently waiting for small weather windows to make a quick trip to Camp 1 or 2 and then back to base camp conserving their energy. They are almost acting like they will go for the summit in Alpine style – one fast push. Txikon is strong and he has a team of world-class Sherpas in support so this may be possible.
All of this is fine but the real climbing on K2 starts with the Black Pyramid above 7,000-meters/23,000-feet. Climbers go slower on difficult rock and increased objective dangers of falling rock and ice. Of course as you near 8,000-meters/26,250-feet oxygen becomes more and more of a problem and remember that these teams are going without supplemental oxygen so this increases the risk of getting colder easier along with frostbite thus slowing everyone down even more – not what you want with still air temps of -40C/-40F and wind chills as low as -65C/-85F.
So, in my mind these teams need to join forces, swap the lead often to break trail, split the load of fixed rope, combine efforts to fix the route and establish camps. Together they will be strong. Separate they only compete.
They have been on K2 a long time and in extremely harsh conditions. While they all speak highly of excellent food, the body can only take so much. Now with over six weeks above 5,000-meters/16,400-feet the toll increases daily. Already there are reports of members turning back after reaching Camp 1 at 6,000-meters/20,000-feet. This is not a good sign and suggests fatigue. The extreme cold at base camp has prevented restful sleep – even with Txikon’s igloos – and without rest the body degrades quickly. So, bottom line: They need to get this done and leave soon.
This one is obvious but the major unknown. While weather forecasting for the world’s highest peaks has improved, it is still an estimate at best. As we saw a few days ago, the predicted long window of good weather closed quickly forcing a change of plans. As the teams climb higher from their present altitude of 7,000-meters/23,000-feet the temperature will get colder and the winds stronger – and that is the best case. They need at least two days of low winds and the forecast calls for that Tuesday through Thursday so this might be their chance.
You ask anyone who has climbed an 8000-meter peak in good or bad conditions, they will almost always use the word “luck” at some point. They were lucky with snow conditions, with health, with weather, with the team and more. This is the intangible that often makes or break a summit. Of course, all of these climbers are outstanding in their own right and often make their own luck, however a lucky charm or three never hurts.
Another luck factor will be the snow conditions above Camp 4 and in the Bottleneck and across the traverse. This is the Bermuda Triangle of K2 where climbers disappear or get stuck forcing a retreat. Last year, Denis Urubko, went out alone in an act of frustration only to be turned back as he entered this area stopped by deep snow, high winds, icy conditions – in other words, all the nightmare conditions K2 can throw at you in the winter. Will 2019 be the same way? These climbers will be lucky if K2 is nice to them.
In summary, they need luck with good weather the rest of this week. They need to not get sick. They need to work together – and that doesn’t require luck but it does require strong leadership from both teams.
Can It Be Done?
So will they summit? There are a lot of variables but the fact that they are pushing hard the last two days in marginal conditions tells me they want this badly and can taste it. I wouldn’t count them out just yet.
K2: Spanish/Galician Team – At C2
The K2 team lead by Alex Txikon are at Camp 2 as of Monday night, February 25th.
We are all of us at Camp 2! As I told you yesterday, the rest of the members of the team have climbed today from Camp 1 to 6650 meters where we are at the moment. The conditions are very hard, as it is still very windy. We will see if tomorrow we can continue equipping up to Camp 3. We have recorded for you the conversation via walkie-talkie with the friends at the Base Camp. A big hug! I hope the weather gets better soon!
K2: Kazakhstan, Russia and Kyrgyzstan Team – At C2
Both of the sub teams on the Kazakhstan, Russia and Kyrgyzstan team have resumed climbing.
Due to the end of the vacation, Roman Abildaev leaves the expedition. We thank Roman for his contribution to our dream. The first group continues to work on the route, it is very windy. We spend the night in C2. Tomorrow, the weather forecasts are not very accurate. Big hello to all, we try very hard …
Winter Nanga Parbat – Climbing – at C3
Daniele Nardi, and British Thomas Ballard were last reported at Camp 3 on the Mummery’s Spur but there has been no updates the last 24 hours. Their home team assumes they are in an area with no satellite signal.
Memories are Everything