With winter now here, its time to review the Himalayan action for the next few months. There are expeditions planned for K2, Everest, Broad Peak, and the Gasherbrums plus a few other peaks. I’ll cover Everest and K2 in two separate posts. This is for K2 and Broad Peak. See this post for Everest.
This winter we will try K2 via Abruzzi Route following the traditional and most successful route. We are 3 members in the team: 1. Mingma G – Nepal, 2. John Snorri -Iceland, 3. Gao Li -China. I have successfully climbed K2 in 2014 and 2017. And i was looking for someone to climb K2 in winter. I am very familiar with John Snorri from 2017 and we have climbed K2 together in 2017. He also has climbed Mt Ama Dablam and Mt Lhotse 8516m previously
Gao Li is another member in the team and we are known from 2016 during his Manaslu Expedition, After that he has climbed Everest 8848m in 2018, Lhotse (8516m) and Makalu 8463m in 2019 and was on K2 till 7800m. So we are known to each other very well and we have been talking about winter ascent on K2 since long time now. We are all now going to Manaslu 8163m to build our confidence and understand each other even more.
Depending on our fund, we will try to add 2-3 more Nepalese Sherpa and Pakistani Climber to make this climb successful. If our own contribution is not enough then we will go for some sponsorship too. We are also very confident in our project and we will make this huge success.
Now he posts he needs more money:
We were supposed to go for K2 by this month but we got to postpone to next month because of our funding. We have raised money from our pocket but calculating everything, we found it’s beyond our budget. And the reason I planned to go through GoFund. As this is winter climb, there are huge hidden cost. So this is our humble request to all friends and mountaineering communities to donate little in this winter projects. We expect the mountaineering community and mountain lovers will enjoy our climb.
A French team with zero K2 experience made a splash with a website and an announcement that THEY would climb K2 this winter. There are only two members, Jonathan Bordes, age 42 and Vincent Saura, age 25 and their team is named Saura-K2-Bordes. Multiple media reports say they only have a trekking permit but appear to have enough gear to try for a summit push. Others report they just want to “inspect” the peak. This will be interesting to watch how it develops. They are playing a dangerous game with Pakistan if, in fact, it is a ploy. UPDATE: on their website, Saura-K2-Bordes saying they never intended to attempt to summit K2 but only to “explore the Karakorum massif in winter. Our personal initiative aims to provide information that we will share as widely as possible with the entire mountain community to allow a future French team to climb this summit.”
Broad Peak First then Maybe K2
Then there is Denis Urubko who is well known in the winter climbing world and on K2. Also for his rescues of other climbers. His last attempt on K2 was the ill-fated 2017 attempt where he left his Polish team for a solo summit bid. He is teaming with Don Bowie and Lotta Hintsa who will stay in base camp to support the two climbers. Their goal is to climb what Urubko considers the first true winter ascent of Broad Peak and then, perhaps, go to K2. He writes on his blog:
In this reason all climate (meteorological) WINTER ascents in the Himalayas need to happen in period 01 December – 28(29) February. I am very proud to have successful experience on Makalu and G2 already. And hope to repeat same on Broad peak (and K2 perhaps) for the coming winter 2019-2020 with my friends Donald Bowie and Lotta Nakyva. If I manage to climb the peak of Broad Peak, then I will have good acclimatization. This is my plan for the coming winter, but its implementation depends on many factors – the risk while climbing K2 is very high.
He does not accept any of the winter summits outside of his definition including the March 5, 2013, Broad Peak summit by Polish climbers Maciej Berbeka, Adam Bielecki, Tomasz Kowalski, and Artur Malek.
K2 Winter Background
K2 is the world’s 2nd highest mountain at 28,251’/8611m. It is located in northwest Pakistan about 30 miles from the border with India. K2 is called the Mountaineer Mountain and the Savage Mountain for its deadly and difficult reputation.
The most significant obstacle K2 climbers will encounter is the weather. Even in the summer, it is unpredictable, harsh and deadly. High winds have blown climbers off the summit, avalanches have killed climbers in their tents at high camps and some have simply disappeared. But the weather is the wild card. They will need winds under 60 kph/40mph for a safe ascent.
While there are multiple routes on K2 including from the Chinese side, most of the summits have been successful via the Abruzzi Spur. On this route, there are multiple camps depending on conditions. The Česen and Abruzzi routes merge at Camp 3.
- Base Camp: 17,500ft/5334m
- Advanced Base Camp: 18,650ft/5650m
- Camp 1: 19,965’/6050m
- Camp 2: 22,110’/6700m
- Camp 3: 23,760’/7200m
- Camp 4: 25,080’/7600m
- Summit: 28,251”/8611m
From my own summit of K2 in 2014, this is my brief description of the Abruzzi route. The climbing starts steep from start to finish as in 40-degree minimum snow slope angles and near-vertical rock or ice walls.
BC to C2
From ABC to C1 it is a long snow slope with some rock. The rock climbing starts upon leaving C1 to C2 and includes House’s Chimney – a 100′ near-vertical rock crack at 21,500′ – just below C2.
C2 to C3
The Black Pyramid consumes the entire route from C2 to C3 and is the technical crux in my opinion with sustained rock climbing ranging from high class 4 to mid 5’s.
C3 to C4
From C3 to C4 it is a short (3 hour) snow climb but the angle is still very steep – 50 degrees – you don’t want to fall. From C4 you can see the Ice Serac plus the summit.
The Traverse and Summit
Leaving C4, it starts off on another steep snow slope, maybe 40 degrees then hits the Bottleneck. We avoided the Bottleneck in 2014 since it was filled with rock and huge ice blocks and took a right-hand variation onto a large buttress still well underneath the Ice Serac. This was safer with respect to the gulley aka Bottleneck but put us under the Serac longer.
The Traverse past the Bottleneck was unrelenting but only about 500 meters in total distance. There was one exposed section that required using your crampon front points on a 2-inch ice stub to support your weight while maintaining balance using the fixed rope at your chest. But most of the traverse allowed for full purchase with crampons. From here it was another 2 hours to climb more steep snow slopes at 50-60 degree angles to the summit.
The first attempts began in 1902 by Brit Aleister Crowley. But it was the Duke of Abruzzi who made the most valiant attempts in the early 1900s thus named the ridge most popular used today, the Abruzzi Spur. The first summit of K2 was on July 31, 1954, by Italians Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni.
K2 has seen a bit over 450 summits compared with over 10,000 on Everest. K2 can go for years without a summit. For example, after 2012, there have only been summits in 2014 and 2017. The best year ever for K2 was in 2018 with over 60 total summits. Over 80 climbers have died on K2.
11 died in 2008 including my friend Gerard McDonnell. K2 has a special reputation for women climbers. Prior to 2014, of the nine women who have summited, five have died – 3 descending from K2’s summit and 2 on other 8,000m peaks. Basque climber Edurne Pasaban was the sixth woman to climb K2 in 2004 and, until 2014, was the only one of four still alive today along with Norwegian climber Cecilie Skog in 2008, Nives Meroi from Italy and Austrian climber Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner who summited from the north side of K2 in 2010.
In recent years, K2 has been kinder to female climbers with 6 summits in 2014, including the Nepali women’s team (Oasang Lhamu Sherpa, Maya Sherpa, and Dawa Yangzum Sherpa); Chris Burke (New Zealand), Luo Jing (China), Tamara Lunger (Italy) and Vanessa O’Brien (US/UK) in 2017.
There have been few winter attempts due to the difficult and financing involved.
First K2 Winter Expedition 1987-88
An international team of 13 Poles, 7 Canadians, and 4 Brits made the first attempt on K2 via Abruzzi Ridge. As usual, the low camps were set up but progress stalled at the higher altitudes. It wasn’t until March 2 that Camp 3 was established at 7300 meters. Then high winds began to take its toll and members experienced frostbite and soon the entire effort was canceled.
To amplify the weather concerns, this expedition only had 10 days of ‘good’ weather in the three months they spent at Base Camp.
International Expedition 2002/03
The winter of 2002/3, Polish alpinist legend Krzysztof Wielicki lead a small team of four members from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Georgia. They arrived in mid-December planning to climb via the North Ridge. The lower camps were established in short order and by January 20 they had reached 6750m.
But discourse within the team caused the Eastern European members to leave except for Kazakh climber Denis Urubko. They went on to reach Camp 4 at 7650m in mid-February and planned a summit attempt on February 21st but one member was hit with cerebral edema and the attempt, and soon, the entire expedition, was called off.
When the expedition ended on February 28, 2003, Krzysztof Wielicki declared “The mission of ascending the peak has not ended but rather been suspended. I will not give any dates, but I assure you that I will return to K2. One does not combat a mountain, one struggles against adversities. These adversities include snow, hurricane winds, and exhaustion.”
Russian Attempt 2011/12
The most recent winter attempt was by a large and strong Russian team on the Abruzzi Ridge route in winter 2011-12. The team consisted of nine climbers. They began at the end of December and quickly established Camps 1 and 2 at 6050m and 6350m respectively. By January 25, they had reached 7000m.
High winds hit the mountain in early February and one member, Vitaly Gorelik, suffered from frostbite and pneumonia. The poor weather prevented an evacuation and Vitaly died in BC on February 6th. At that point, the entire expedition was canceled.
In 2014/15 Denis Urubko planned an expedition from the Northside but politics with China stopped the permit process.
Polish 2017/18 Attempt
Krzysztof Wielicki led a Polish National Winter Expedition of 13 climbers in December 2017. The team was fraught with discontent and eventually abandoned the attempt after reaching 7400 meters on the Abruzzi Spur. Denis Urubku did a solo summit push as reportedly reached 7600 meters before harsh conditions turned him back.
Best of luck to all.
Broad Peak, then K2?
- Denis Urubko
- Vincent Saura, Jonathan Bordes, Vadim Druelle, Tim Serra, David Sherpa
- Simone Moro and Tamara Lunger
- Adam Bielecki, Filip Babicz, Rafal Fronia and Piotr Tomala
Memories are Everything