The death of Polish climber Tomek Mackiewicz and the rescue of French climber Elisabeth Revol by the Polish K2 team had followers at the edge of their seat over the past five days as once again the world’s attention was focused on high-altitude mountaineering.
Now the K2 team is trying to regroup and over on Everest, there has been excellent progress this week. But with high winds hitting both Hills, we can expect a pause for a few days. See this post for full background on the K2 and Everest expeditions and the history of winter attempts on the highest two mountains on Earth.
Climbing an 8000-meter peak is difficult enough in the normal seasons – pre and post-monsoon for Everest and summer for K2 – but doing them in winter takes the difficulty to an entirely new level.
There are two major issues: wind and cold. Winter weather is just an unpredictable as summer for high mountains because they make their own conditions poking into the jet stream. The cold is beyond brutal, at times can be -40F/C. Even the best down suits will only do so much. Add in the winds, and exposed skin will almost instantly suffer frostbite. So it becomes a bit of a game to climb as high as you can, as fast as you can and return to the safety of camp before a disaster occurs. If you target a short weather window and are wrong, the results can be deadly.
Depending on the year, heavy snow can be an issue. The Poles had reported that K2 had little snow on the flanks and they were climbing on ice-covered rock most of the time. Of course, we will see what they find at Camp 4, about 8,000-meters. The big issue on Everest will be near the South Col and perhaps the Triangular Face.
All the climbers are not using supplemental oxygen thus the risk is even higher. Extra O’s primarily help keep the climber warm. When cold penetrates the layers, the body will abandon the fingers, toes, nose and shift more blood to save the heart, lungs and other organs. This natural triage must be consciously managed throughout an expedition. The only cure for these conditions is to get lower and warmer.
The Polish team is not 100% back together as the members who went to Nanga Parbat are stuck in Skardu waiting for better weather for the helicopter. The winds are 50kph/30 mph at base camp and stronger up high. The estimate at Camp 2, around 6,300-meters, is winds blowing at 80kph/50 mph.
Once back together, they will continue to fix the route up the Česen Route aka Basque Route, hopefully establishing Camp 3 around 7,000-meters.
Alex Txikon and the team took advantage of good weather. Two days earlier they established their Camp 3 on the Lhotse Face. They put up two tents assuming they can support seven climbers on their summit push. They planned to spend a night at C3 then tag the South Col but it appears they only went a bit higher than C3, perhaps 7,800-meters and are descending. They also are expecting high winds and will return to base camp. Wind gust might reach 150 kph/93 mph at 8,000-meters. Tixkon Garmin Tracker shows they reached just above Camp 3:
Elisabeth Revol is now in Geneva Switzerland undergoing treatment for frostbite on her hands and feet. She is receiving drugs (vasodilators), treatment in a hyperbaric chamber. A decision on amputation will be made in a few days according to Frédéric Champly, emergency chief at Mont Blanc hospital in an interview. source
Tomek Mackiewicz is presumed dead. In a write-up about the incident, Revol said that after they had summited Nanga, he began to suffer from frostbite, and snow blindness. She made the decision to leave him protected in a sleeping bag in a crevasse at 7,280-meters. He was unconscious and immobile.
Desnivel has a good interview with Denis Urubko.
Other Winter Climbs
There are a couple of other climbs this winter:
- A small team of Pakistani climbers is attempting the first winter summit 7200 meter Masherbrum West Peak aka Masherbrum 2. Lead by Maaz Maqsood.
- Another big winter climb is by Simone Moro and Tamara Lunger on a very northern peak in Siberia, Pik Pobeda, 3003 meters, in the Chersky Range region. They have arrived at the peak.
Memories are Everything