Nepalese climbers succeed in first winter ascent of K2

K2
The 8,611-meter-high K2


The Nepalese teamwork was successful. Ten climbers from Nepal from three different teams reached together the 8,611-meter-high summit of K2 in the Karakoram in Pakistan at 5 p.m. local time: Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, Dawa Tenzing Sherpa, Kilu Pemba Sherpa, Nirmal Purja, Dawa Temba Sherpa, Mingma David Sherpa, Gelje Sherpa, Pemchhiri Sherpa, Mingma Tenzi Sherpa and Sona Sherpa.

As Chhang Dawa Sherpa, expedition leader of Seven Summit Treks , reported from the base camp, they had agreed to wait ten meters before the summit and then climb together to the highest point. Thus, the climbers from Nepal succeeded in making the first winter ascent of Chogori, as the local Balti people call the mountain. K2 was the last eight-thousander that had never before been scaled in the cold season, despite several attempts. “Finally we did it . We made the history in mountaineering field”, Mingma Gyalje Sherpa posted on Instagram.

After the summit success in the late afternoon the descent into the darkness was awaiting. The Nepalese cannot take much time for this. After the almost windless summit day, the wind is supposed to freshen up again on Sunday.

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Winter expeditions: Nepalese summit attempt on K2

On the K2 "Shoulder"
On the K2 “Shoulder”

Is the first winter ascent of the second highest mountain on earth imminent? Tomorrow, Saturday, there will be at least an attempt by Nepalese climbers to reach the 8,611-meter-high summit of K2. “We three Mingma(s) made it to Camp 4 on K2,” Mingma Gyalje Sherpa announced on Instagram today. According to his words, Sona Sherpa had turned back 30 meters below the camp because he had run out of rope and other gear. “We see the final route now,” wrote the 34-year-old. A little later, Nirmal Purja praised via Instagram the “combined effort from the teams” and announced: “Later today, I will be leading the fixing team to the summit. We hope to stand on the summit together.”

Yesterday, Mingma Gyalje Sherpa had promised that he and his Nepali “brothers” would make the nation proud. The list of winter first ascents of eight-thousanders has so far lacked names of Nepali climbers, which is seen as a blemish in the Himalayan state. “I do feel ashamed to say we have eight out of these 14 peaks in Nepal and no Nepalese on the list of the first winter ascenders,” Mingma Gyalje told me before his failed K2 winter attempt in January 2020.

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Winter expeditions: Camp 3 reached on K2

View on K2 from base camp (in 2004)

“(The) Sherpas finally fixed Camp III this afternoon on K2, along with Nims’ (Nirmal Purja‘s) team,” Chhang Dawa Sherpa, expedition leader of Nepali operator Seven Summit Treks, let us know on Instagram today. Camp 3 on the route via the Southeast Ridge is located at about 7,200 meters.

The Sherpa trio around Mingma Gyalje Sherpa also arrived there afterwards. So the Nepalese continue to make common cause on K2. “We will make the nation proud,” promised Mingma on Facebook. The 34-year-old announced a day of rest for the “ten Nepalese brothers” at Camp 3 because of the expected high winds. Dawa Sherpa had previously held out the prospect of a further ascent to Camp 4 at 7,600 meters on Friday.

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Winter expeditions: Storm devastates high camp on K2

K2
K2

Actually, Nirmal “Nims” Purja spreads almost boundless optimism. Not so yesterday after returning from Camp 2 on the Abruzzi route on K2, the second highest mountain on earth. “I am devastated to be breaking this news,” wrote the 37-year-old Nepalese. “Now, I have to reassess and replan everything.”

According to Nims’ words, the camp at about 6,700 meters was a “wreckage site”, with tents either destroyed or blown away by the storm. “We have lost everything including all our kits; sleeping bags, mattresses, heated shoe insoles, summit gloves/mittens, summit base layers, paragliding equipment, cooking equipment etc.”

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K2 in winter time without breathing mask – possible or impossible?

K2
The 8,611-meter-high K2 in the Karakoram

“The lower barometric pressure caused by the location, and winter are drawbacks.  Nevertheless my guess is it is possible,” John Burnard West answers my question about whether he thinks a winter ascent of K2 without bottled oxygen is realistic. “Ideally the climbers should go on a day when the pressure is high.”

Most recently, after all, there had been a heated discussion in the scene about whether the possible first winter ascent of the second-highest mountain on earth this year would have to be made without bottled oxygen – as was the case with all first winter ascents of eight-thousanders so far, with the exception of Mount Everest. This is primarily a question of mountaineering ethics.

But what about the probability that any climber at all is capable of scaling K2 in winter without breathing mask? Is it even physiologically possible? No one has ever climbed higher in winter on K2 than the Russian Denis Urubko and the Pole Marcin Kaczkan in 2003: they reached an altitude of 7,650 meters on the north side of the mountain – without bottled oxygen.

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Winter expeditions: Strong winds force break

K2 with snow banner (in 2004)

The freezing winter wind is blowing – both on K2, the second highest mountain in the world in Pakistan, and on the eight-thousander Manaslu in Nepal. On K2, numerous climbers have spent their first nights on the mountain in recent days: in Camp 1 at 6,100 meters or Camp 2 at 6,600 meters.

Three Sherpas from the Nepalese expedition operator Seven Summit Treks, who actually wanted to push the route via the Abruzzi Spur further up, spent two nights in the so-called “Black Pyramid” at around 7,050 meters, but then returned to base camp empty-handed because of the stormy wind. At least they were able to deposit material up there.

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K2 in winter: Nepali cooperation

K2
The 8,611-meter-high K2 in the Karakoram

They know each other, they help each other – even on K2, the second highest mountain on earth. “Today we fixed the line to the ice section just below Camp 3,” Mingma Gyalje Sherpa posted on social media. He and his teammates Dawa Tenzing and Kili Pemba Sherpa were joined at about 7,000 meters by Nirmal “Nims” Purja and Mingma Tenzi from the other Nepali team, the 34-year-old wrote: “Thanks to Nepalese brother n Nepalese heart.” The two teams from Nepal, led by Mingma and Nims, had left base camp on Sunday to take advantage of the calm winter weather of the past few days to push the Abruzzi route further up.

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K2 in winter: Three teams on the mountain, base camp filled

View on K2 from base camp (in 2004)

K2 is not yet flexing its winter muscles. At least until Wednesday, meteorologists are forecasting calm winter weather on the world’s second highest mountain – with wind speeds of only around 20 kilometers per hour and temperatures in the summit zone around minus 40 degrees Celsius.

“We want to make the best out of the weather,” let Nepalese Nirmal “Nims” Purja know before he set off from base camp last Sunday with four Sherpas. Ideally, they want to secure the route via the Abruzzi Ridge up to the last high camp at 7,600 meters, Nims informed. Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, who also ascended with his Nepalese team mates Dawa Tenzing and Kili Pemba, gave Camp 3 at 7,200 meters as the preliminary goal. And Iceland’s John Snorri Sigurjonsson and the Pakistani father-son duo of Muhammad Ali and Sajid Ali “Sadpara” are also on the route again. According to John, they reached Camp 2 at 6,700 meters today, at minus 30 degrees Celsius and lots of blue ice on the route.

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Nepalese Manaslu winter expedition: “We have confidence in our abilities”

Tenji Sherpa (l.) and Vinayak Jay Malla (r.) with Nirmal Purja
Tenji Sherpa (l.) and Vinayak Jay Malla (r.) with Nirmal Purja

“We have had this project in mind for a long time,” Tenji Sherpa writes to me. “Now is a good time to realize it. We as representatives of the young generation want to send a positive message to the world that Nepal’s mountains are a safe destination.” The 29-year-old wants to climb the 8,163-meter-high Manaslu this winter with his 32-year-old Nepalese compatriot Vinayak Jay Malla – on the normal route via the mountain’s northeast flank, in alpine style, meaning no fixed high camps, no fixed ropes and no bottled oxygen. 

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K2 in winter: Tamara Lunger will be there too

Tamara Lunger

She kept it a secret for a long time. It was only on the plane to Islamabad that she laid her cards on the table: along with many others, South Tyrolean climber Tamara Lunger also wants to try her hand at K2 this winter.  This has been “a dream of mine for years,” says the 34-year-old in a video she posted on Instagram. “I’m so excited.” Back in October, Tamara had appeared on the long K2 expedition member list that the Nepalese operator Seven Summit Treks had posted on social media. Lunger had been upset about it and had made sure she was removed from that list. Maybe Tamara just wanted to have her peace in the run-up.

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Second team arrives at K2 Base Camp

View on K2 from base camp

“Hello K2!” These were the words Mingma Gyalje Sherpa used to greet the second highest mountain on earth via social media today after reaching base camp with his Nepalese compatriots Dawa Tenzing Sherpa and Kili Pemba Sherpa: “We will take two days complete rest and then plan our climbing.” The Sherpa team is the second one at base camp at the foot of the 8,611-meter-high mountain in the Karakoram, the only eight-thousander never scaled in winter so far.

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K2 in winter: An extremely hard nut to crack

K2 with snow banner

“Winter climbing gives me the greatest satisfaction because it raises the difficulty bar, because it demands a lot from the climber. It shows us what we are capable of. For me this is the future of himalaism – the most difficult routes in the toughest conditions.” This was once written by the Pole Andrzej Zawada. The pioneer of winter climbing on the world’s highest mountains led the Polish winter expedition to Mount Everest, during which Krzysztof Wielicki and Leszek Cichy succeeded in making the first winter ascent of an eight-thousander on 17 February 1980, – and eight years later also the first winter expedition to the 8,611-meter-high K2 in Pakistan.

To date, the second highest mountain on earth is the only one of the 14 eight-thousanders that has never been scaled in the cold season. Zawada would probably not have thought it possible that around 60 mountaineers from 19 countries would attempt K2 this winter 2020/21 – about as many as in a normal summer climbing season.

In the more than three decades that have passed since the first K2 winter expedition, seven teams have left Chogori – as the local Balti people call the mountain – empty-handed. The look back.

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Lhakpa Sherpa wants to climb Mount Everest and K2 in 2021

Lhakpa Sherpa
Lhakpa Sherpa

Some nicknames are well-intentioned, but pretty off the mark. “I don’t like being called Everest Queen that much,” Lhakpa Sherpa says about the nickname given to the record-breaking Mount Everest female climber by her compatriots in Nepal. “A queen lives a rich life of comfort and luxury. It definitely does not reflect the way I live.” The 47-year-old works 40 hours a week at an organic supermarket in Hartford, Connecticut. As a single mother, she has to make ends meet for herself and her two daughters. Sometimes she washes dishes, sometimes she cuts fruit.

So far, Lhakpa has reached the summit of Mount Everest at 8,849 meters (from now on, I’ll use the official altitude that Nepal and China have determined and jointly announced) nine times, using bottled oxygen. The Sherpani would like to improve this record to ten successes in spring 2021.

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