As the winter of 2018/19 begins, we are seeing another set of attempts on the world’s second highest peak K2 however the winter Everest commercial expedition has been cancelled. K2 remains the only 8,000-meter mountain not summited in winter and Everest has only a few. Also there will be a winter attempt by a new route on Nanga Parbat.
Before I get to who is climbing, one of the more interesting aspects of claiming a winter summit is exactly when is winter?
Big Picture – When does Winter End?
If you remember the K2 attempt last winter, there was a lot of controversy over when winter ends, mostly by Denis Urubko. He feels it ends on February 28, not the Spring equinox on March 20, 2018 at 12:15 pm EDT. But to say there is consensus on the date would be a mistake! The reality is it depends on where you live and the local customs and definition.
First off, both Pakistan and Nepal issue climbing permits with different fees according to the season. On Everest, for example, Nepal charges USD$11,000 per person for a spring permit – the most popular time. But for a winter permit, the least popular time, it drops to USD$2,750. Both countries’ tourism ministries define winter as December, January and February for permit purposes. They simply take the year and divide into four equal parts. For most people born and raised in this environment, that is what defines the seasons.
However, many people, including myself, were raised and taught that the seasons are defined according to the astronomical definition which is based on how the sun hits the earth and the shortest and longest days each year, in other words the equinoxes and solstices.
Then there are the seasonal definitions influenced by length of day and temperatures. Obviously March 1 at the North Pole compared to being on the equator are very different. Also, if it is a rainy time of year or dry. To make matter even more complicated, the Hindu calendar has six seasons!! But hold on, it gets worse (or different 🙂 ).
Australia and New Zealand use the meteorological definition, so spring begins on September 1 each year. Ireland uses an ancient Celtic calendar system to determine the seasons, so spring begins on St Brigid’s Day on February 1. In Finland and Sweden, the dates of the seasons are not based on the calendar at all, but on temperatures. To make your head spin a bit, take a look at this chart courtesy of Scribd
So if we see K2 summits in March will it be winter or spring? The answer is “yes.”
The Big Picture
Climbing any peak in the winter is all about weather, specifically cold and wind, wind, wind. Any 8,000-meter team will cope with the cold but when the wind gusts over 40mph/65kph it gets virtually impossible. This year, the K2 climbers have the skills, are strong and experienced so their capabilities are not in question. But even the strongest person cannot withstand 100mph wind gusts.
There are two teams on K2 this winter. It remains to be seen if they will end up working together. I think there is a good chance.
K2: Kazakhstan, Russia and Kyrgyzstan Team
First up is an international group, made up of climbers from Kazakhstan, Russia and Kyrgyzstan. Vassiliy Pivtsov will be the expedition leader. The rest of the team includes Roman Abildaev (Russia), Vitaly Akimov (Russia), Tursunali Aubakirov (Kazakhstan), Mikhail Danichkin (Kyrgyzia), Ildar Gabbasov(Kazakhstan), Eugeny Glazunov (Russia), Dmitry Muraviov(Kazakhstan), Serguey Seliverstov(Kyrgyzia), Pavel Vorobjov (Russia) according to the website Russian Climb.
It’s reported they climbed together above 7,000-meters for the “Winter Snow leopard” program, and the team leader Vassily Pivtsov has climbed all 14 highest peaks of the world without the use of supplemental oxygen. They plan to arrive in Islamabad no later than January 2, 2019 and plan on using the traditional Abruzzi route. They continue to seek financial support so I assume there is a chance this expedition will not happen. On Facebook they posted:
You may have heard about the winter expedition on K2 (8611 M. ), the issue of funding remains open. The project is a, I wish the “word in mountaineering” said our boys! Ours is both kazakhs and kyrgyz and Russians! Friends! If anyone wants to claim themselves on the whole world and enter history, I can tell the briefest way The Flag of your company at the top of k2 as part of the winter expedition, a million audience, PR at the highest level! You can write and in direct, and in the comments It is about the participation of kazakh climbers, kyrgyz and Russians on themselves looking for and will find.Country PR on the highest and most difficult top of the world, billions of times less than expo or other megaproject, hope only on us, the rest denied.
That said their logistics organizer, Jasmin Tours, provide photos of gear deposited at K2 Base Camp by porters.
K2: Spanish/Galician Team
The second team is lead by Alex Txikon with his long time friend and partner Felix Criado from Galicia, Spain. They will have a strong team of eight Sherpas with them in support including Nuri Sherpa, Chhepal Sherpa, Geljen Sherpa, Hallung Sherpa and Pasang Sherpa.
In this interview with Mundo Deportivo Tixkon feels they can reach Camp 4 on K2 but from there it’s an open question depending on weather and snow conditions. Also, he wants to use igloos for shelter, instead the use of the usual tents. “Inside the igloos, we will be able to zero degrees and even positive with the help of a candle values.”
He has not announced what route they will use, Abruzzi or Česen or even the East Face. They also want to be in Pakistan by January 2, 2019. The pair attempted K2 in 2013 but stopped just above Camp 2 at 6,900-meters.
K2 Winter History
During the first winter attempt in 1987/88, the team noted that they only had 10 days of good weather during their three months expedition. Last year’s Polish K2 leader Krzysztof Wielicki was a climber on that expedition. They didn’t reach C3 on the Abruzzi until March 6th and then harsh winds stopped them almost killing two of the climbers with severe frostbite.
The next attempt in 2002/3 was lead by Wielicki and attempted the North Pillar. It was a team of climbers from Poland, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Georgia – they didn’t get along. Denis Urubko was on this effort and stayed with the team after others left. Marcin Kaczkan and Urubko were the only climbers to attempt the summit on 25 February but Kaczkan developed HACE and they abandoned the attempt and the expedition.
In 2010/11 a Russian team reached 7,000-meters at the end of January by the Abruzzi but again high winds forced a retreat, then one member died at base camp and the effort was called-off.
Last winter, 2017/18 a well publicized Polish team made a valiant effort but paused the expedition to render aid to two climbers on Nanga Parbat. As the season progressed the team fell into disarray when Denis Urburko made a solo summit attempt but stopped above Camp 3 due to weather and conditions. A few days later, expedition leader Krzysztof Wielicki ended the overall effort.
So, as you can see these winter attempts are a huge gamble, complete with deaths. They rush to establish the route during brief periods of suitable weather but spend most of their time waiting at base camp. When they do go for the summit, traditionally it has been the winds and illness that have stopped them.
Denis Urubko in South America
Many people are wondering if Denis Urubko will be on K2 again this year after his high profile riff with the Polish team in 2018. The answer appears to be no. Russia Climb posted “Denis Urubko and Maria Cardelli November 28 will fly to South America, where in December and January will make climbing (I) on Cerro Torre.” For more insight into Urubko’s thinking about K2 (he says he WILL return) read this excellent interview with him by by Laszlo Pinter.
It is rumored that the Poles will make another K2 winter attempt in 2019/20. A big question will be who is the leader and who is on the team.
Winter Nanga Parbat
In a vague series of reports, Daniele Nardi with unnamed partners will attempt a new route on Nanga Parbat. This will be his fifth attempt on NB. Alex Txikon, Simone Moro and Ali Sadpara made the first winter summit on February 26, 2016.
Winter Everest – Not this Winter
The Sherpa owned and operated Seven Summit Treks (SST) had announced a Everest Winter Expedition- International Team, starting from 1 Dec 2018 and ending on 28 Feb 2019. The posted on Facebook that 5 members were confirmed but I contacted SST Owner Tashi Sherpa today, December 2, 2018, and he told me “This time 2 of my clients couldn’t join so we postponed for next year.”
Alex Txikon made winter Everest attempts in 2016 and 2017 but was stopped by poor snow conditions and extreme cold just below the South Col. He was considering it for 2018 but when he learned of SST’s commercial outing, he was discouraged and switched to K2. I wonder if he has second thoughts now that SST has cancelled?
Autumn Mountain Deaths
This autumn has seen a fair number of climber deaths. On Ama Dablam, Steven Biem, 47, did from reported HAPE. He was with Tim Mosedale. A few weeks earlier Australian climber Michael Geoffrey Davis , 33, died when from rockfall above C2 also on Ama Dablam. This peak is becoming more and more dangerous with unstable conditions.
Best of luck to all this winter.
Memories are Everything