It’s going to be crowded this year on K2! Yet another high-profile team from Nepal has announced their intentions to grab bragging rights for the first winter summit of the world’s second-highest peak. This goal was once the domain of Russians and Poles but now it is all about Nepalese. Here’s the rundown:
There are four teams (at least more may show up!):
Seven Summits Treks: 24 clients supported by 21 Sherpas. With so many clients, this effort seems to be well funded and the leaders of SST have all summited K2, but not in winter thus they seem to have the best chance.
Mingma Gyalje Sherpa: no foreigners, 3 Sherpas. Short of funds, their GoFundMe page shows $3,797 raised of the $47,500 goal. Mingma summited K2 in 2014 and 2017 plus made an ill-fated winter attempt last year. He has the strength and experience to pull it off if he goes. He will not be using supplemental oxygen.
Nirmal Purja: unclear who beyond Nirmal Purja will be with him on K2, as his announcement was short on details, somewhat suspicious, but on his social media he is asking for sponsors so this may be a headline and not an announcement. He
‘s was rumored to wants to paraglide off the summit. Given his propensity for stunts like the flag on Ama’s summit last year, I think this rumor might be real. He summited K2 last summer as part of his record-breaking run of summiting all the 8000ers in six months, six days. So if he can fund it, he can do it. The question is if he will join another team.
Muhammad Ali Sadpara and his son Sajid Ali will guide Icelander John Snorri Sigurjonsson who had an ugly effort last year with Mingma G and still has ill-will. Their gear is already at K2 BC. Aschar Ali Porik of Jasmine tour is providing the logistics. They were reported to already be in Skardu.
I think many have a good chance but K2 puts up obstacles out of your control, no matter how good you are. They will
- have good weather for acclimatizing and the summit push and back,
- get ropes put in for the steep and dangerous sections,
- stay healthy
- work cooperatively with the other teams and manage egos
- be lucky with objective dangers – rock fall, crevasses, and avalanches.
Overall it looks like there will be close to 60 climbers this winter, similar to a normal summer season. There are also plans on nearby Broad Peak. Russian-American Alex Goldfarb and Hungarian Zoltan Szlanko are planning a climb, hoping to ski from 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.
Previous K2 Winter Attempts
There have been six previous winter attempts, none successful.
- 1983 Reconnaissance: Pol Andrzej Zawada and Canadian-resident Polish national Jaques Olek
- 1987/88 Attempt: 13 Poles, seven Canadians, and four Britons / made Camp 3.
- 2002/03 Attempt: 14 climbers from Poland, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Georgia / made Camp 4.
- 2011/12 Attempt: nine climbers from Russia / made Camp 2
- 2014/15 Near Attempt: Denis Urubko and team lost permit from the Chinese side
- 2017/18 Polish/International: Abandoned due to conditions and team dynamics, Also Spanish with no summit
- 2018/19 Kazakhstan-Russia-Kyrgyzstan and Spanish/Galician Team 2018/19: poor conditions
- 2019/20 Mingma G./Snorri: only two weeks
First K2 Winter Expedition 1987-88
An international team of 13 Poles, seven Canadians, and four Britons made the first attempt on K2 via Abruzzi Ridge. As usual, they established the low camps quickly, but progress stalled at the higher altitudes, not setting C3 at 7300-meters until March 2. Then high winds began to take their toll, and members experienced frostbite; soon, they canceled the entire effort.
This expedition only had ten days of ‘good’ weather in the three months they spent at Base Camp, thus illustrating K2 winter weather issues.
International Expedition 2002-03
In 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. In short order, they established the lower camps. 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 reached Camp 4 at 7650m in mid-February, setting a Winter K2 altitude record that lasted until yesterday, January 15, 2021. They planned a summit attempt on February 21, but one member developed cerebral edema, and the rotation, 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
In the winter of 2011/12, a large and robust Russian team attempted K2 using the Abruzzi Ridge. The group 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 6. At that point, the expedition terminated.
Polish International 2017/18
67 year-old Krzysztof Wielicki returned to lead an effort in 2017/17. who lead the last Polish K2 attempt in 2003. Kazakstan alpinist Denis Urubko was part of the team. He has held Polish citizenship since February 2015. The team was composed of Adam Bielecki, Marek Chmielarski, Rafał Fronia, Janusz Gołąb, Marcin Kaczkan, Artur Małek, Piotr Tomala, Jarosław Botor and Dariusz Załuski in addiiton to Urubko and Wielicki.
They originally planned to use the Česen route, but they shifted to the Abbruzzi due to dangerous conditions. Difficult conditions hit the teams from the start, with injuries from rockfall and illness. Also, team dynamics was a big problem. Denis Uubko openly questioned the team’s tactics and leadership. Urubko believed that winter ends at the end of February, while leader Wielicki felt it ends with the spring equinox on March 20, 2018, at 12:15 pm EDT.
Also, Urubko along with Adam Bielecki – while taking part in the Krzysztof Wielicki led Polish winter expedition on K2 – led a rescue operation on Nanga Parbat to save climbers Élisabeth Revol and Tomasz Mackiewicz.
Frustrated with his teammates’ pace and feeling he was strong enough to attempt the summit, Uubko set out alone after not convincing the next strongest climber, Adam Bielecki, to join him. Urubko reached around 7,350-meters/24,100 feet on his solo push before poor weather (high winds and low visibility) forced him back on February 27.
Krzysztof Wielicki later cited these reason for not summiting and not making another attempt after Urubko returned:
Based on an in-depth analysis of the situation in consultation with the team today decided on the completion of the K2 mountain:
1. The result reconnaissance team Adam Bielecki and Janusz Golab today. We found that on the way to C1, all ropes are covered with tent advanced basecamp is damaged, there is also a high probability to destroy campsC1, C2, and C3.
2. Weather forecast, which only confirms the one short weather window around 11/03/2018
3. Inability to acclimatize minutes. 1st team at the height. 7200m, after which he would return to the base to attempt the summit on 11.03
4. Impact Avalanche in the upper path. In the last eight days, we recorded a total of more than 80cm of snowfall.
5. Warning Portal Ventusky large rainfall on wys.7600m
6. Bad forecasts for the period after 03.11.2018
The priority is the safety of the participants of the expedition.
Kazakhstan-Russia-Kyrgyzstan and Spanish/Galician Team 2018/19
First up is an international group, made up of climbers from Kazakhstan, Russia, and Kyrgyzstan. The second that winter was by Alex Txikon with two Polish and five Sherpa climbers. Txikon left the expedition to help search on Nanga Parbat, which found the bodies of Daniele Nardi and Tom Ballard. Txikon never summited K2 but generated tremendous goodwill with his unselfishness.
Mingma G./Snorri 2019/20
This effort was a very short last winter by Mingma G Sherpa and Jon Snorri. In Mingma’s words, they underestimated how harsh the condition would be, along with illness, which stopped them after only a few weeks. Also, there was discontent amongst the team.
They experienced the usual poor weather and established Camp 1 on January 30 but ended their expedition on February 5, 2020.