K2 in winter: Nepali cooperation

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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Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner turns 50: “I’d do it again like that”

Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner
Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner

“I’ve coped quite well with the corona pandemic so far,” Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner tells me. “I’m very lucky that we live in the countryside. The forest starts right behind the house. I’ve always made an effort to be out in the fresh air a lot and to strengthen my immune system.” In 2011, with her success on the Chinese north side of the 8,611-meter-high K2, the Austrian became the first woman to scale all 14 eight-thousanders without bottled oxygen. In 2017, the Italian Nives Meroi also managed to do so.

In recent years, Gerlinde has faded from the limelight. With her partner, yoga instructor Manfred Jericha, she lives at Lake Attersee in Upper Austria. Together they offer yoga courses and trips. Kaltenbrunner is also still in demand as a lecturer. This Sunday she turns 50.   

Gerlinde, half a century, how does that feel to you?

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New official height of Mount Everest: 8,848.86 meters

Tibetan north side of Mount Everest

Nothing earthly is of eternal duration. Even mountains like Mount Everest change – for example through tectonic activities. After the devastating earthquake in Nepal in spring 2015, in which almost 9000 people died, there had also been speculations that the height of Everest might have changed due to the strong earth tremors. A new survey of the highest mountain on earth was due anyway, as several “official” heights existed. Today the governments of Nepal and China have jointly announced: Mount Everest is currently 8,848.86 meters high – and thus about a meter higher than officially set so far. This was based on the results of a Nepalese surveying expedition in spring 2019 and a Chinese one in spring 2020.

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K2 winter expeditions: Let’s go!

Mingma Gyalje Sherpa and his K2 Team
Mingma Gyalje Sherpa (2nd from r.) and co. before the departure from Kathmandu

First come, first serve on K2? The first team to attempt the ascent of the second highest mountain on earth this winter has already pitched its tents at base camp, and the second is on its way. After the mountaineering trio around the Icelandic John Snorri Sigurjonsson had arrived at the foot of K2, today another trio set off from Nepal for Pakistan: Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, Dawa Tenzing Sherpa and Kili Pemba Sherpa. The three Sherpas have also set themselves the goal of making the first winter ascent of K2. If the weather plays along, the two small teams may have a little time advantage. The largest group on the mountain – under the ticket of the expedition operator Seven Summit Treks – is not expected in Pakistan for a fortnight.

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When the thin air on Mount Everest becomes thicker

Wetterstation Everest Balcony with team
The highest weather station in the world – on the Everest Balcony (© Mark Fischer/National Geographic)

Does the cursed climate change, which is causing problems worldwide, perhaps also have a positive side effect on Mount Everest? A team led by climate scientist Tom Matthews from Loughborough University in England has calculated that a global warming of two percent compared to the pre-industrial age means that at the highest point on earth, an average of around five percent more oxygen can reach the lungs due to higher air pressure. Great, some mountaineers who want to climb Everest without bottled oxygen might think. But be careful! It is not that simple. There is a catch.

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Atanas Skatov before K2 winter expedition: “The mountain will decide”

Atanas Skatov
Atanas Skatov

If a fortune teller had predicted Atanas Skatov ten years ago that he would spend the winter 2020/21 on the 8,611-meter-high K2 in Pakistan, the Bulgarian would probably have demanded his money back. Until 2010, Skatov had only admired the mountains from a distance. His scientific career took up all his time. He studied in Plovdiv and Berlin and finally received his doctorate on plant protection. Atanas’ passion for the mountains was awakened ten years ago when the scientist set out on a 650-kilometer long hiking trail in Bulgaria. Then the mountains that Skatov climbed quickly became higher. Much higher.

As a vegan high up

His goal is to be the first vegan in the world to scale all 14 eight-thousanders. The 42-year-old already has ten of the world’s highest summits on his account, on one of them – Cho Oyu – Skatov climbed without bottled oxygen.

Atanas scaled Mount Everest from both the Tibetan north side (in 2014) and the Nepalese south side (in 2017), as well as Manaslu (in 2015), Annapurna, Makalu (both in 2016), Lhotse (in 2017), Cho Oyu (in 2018) and in 2019 the four eight-thousanders Kangchenjunga, Gasherbrum I, Gasherbrum II and Dhaulagiri. In 2017 he was the first vegan to complete the collection of the Seven Summits, the highest mountains of all continents. On 19 December, Skatov plans to leave for Pakistan to try his hand at the first winter ascent of K2.

Atanas, don’t you have any concerns about going on an expedition in times of the corona pandemic?

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