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?

K2, the second highest mountain on earth

Actually, I had planned to climb K2 in summer, but there was no expedition. So I decided to try it in winter. I think that we can dare it despite the pandemic.

You have already summited ten of the 14 eight-thousanders. K2 is still missing in your collection. Why do you try it in winter, when the chance of scaling it is much higher in summer?

Because I have never been on an expedition above 8,000 meters in winter and K2 has never been summited in winter. So the challenge is very appropriate.

How do you prepare for the special challenges of a winter ascent?

For the first time, I have included hypoxia training (simulated altitude training through sport in an oxygen-reduced environment) in my preparation. I see that it has an effect. But of course, you can never be one hundred percent prepared for a winter ascent of K2.

Atanas Skatov on the summit of Mount Everest
Atanas Skatov on the summit of Mount Everest (in 2014)

The group of Seven Summit Treks has at least 45 members. Do you want to be part of a small team within a large team?

I don’t have a special group. I will leave Bulgaria alone as always and will rely on the whole team to help each other.

You will eat only vegan food. How do you make sure to get enough vegan food at K2?

As always I only ordered plant food. Of course, I will bring my own food. I hope there are no surprises – although a person can easily survive for two months on rice and potatoes alone.

How big do you estimate your chance to reach the summit of K2 in winter?

We will see for ourselves on site. It depends on the conditions, how we acclimatize, which camps will be built. There are many determining factors. As you said, there will be more than 45 expedition members. So there is a very good chance that someone will reach the summit. Of course, it will be very difficult. And only the mountain will decide who will climb.