One of Nepal’s most promising young climbers is dead. Urken Lendu Sherpa fell to his death while climbing in the Khonar Valley near his home village of Phortse. Urken Lendu would have turned 28 on 16 February. Despite his young age, Urken was considered a prudent climber with great eight-thousander experience: he stood on the summit of Mount Everest four times, scaled Cho Oyu six times, and Manaslu four times.
“Urken was a very passionate, strong, shy, motivated and talented young man,” wrote the Khumbu Climbing Center, where the Sherpa had learned to climb and where he was involved afterwards. Phortse is the village in the Khumbu region with the highest density of Mount Everest summiteers: more than 80 of the current inhabitants have already stood on the highest point on earth at 8,849 meters.
Actually, the Icelander John Snorri Sigurjonsson, Muhammad Ali Sadpara, the most successful Pakistani high-altitude climber, and his son Sajid Ali Sadpara had wanted to reach the 8,611-meter-high summit of K2 today. But the trio, who in December became the first winter team to arrive at the foot of the world’s second-highest mountain, abandoned their summit attempt and returned to base camp today.
According to John Snorri, the three climbers decided to rest below Camp 3 on Sunday after a 17-hour ascent. His GPS tracker showed the maximum altitude reached as 6,831 meters. “At that time it was clear to us the strong winds came sooner than expected,” the Icelander let it be known after returning. “This morning, when we were packing our tent, Ali’s backpack blew away and exploded. We managed to safe some of the things in the backpack but lost our summit masks.”
“We are feeling good and very well acclimatized,” writes Tenji Sherpa, who plans to climb the 8,163-meter-high Manaslu in western Nepal with his Nepalese compatriot Vinayak Jay Malla this winter. “Currently we are at base camp, a schedule rest day and (we are) waiting for the good weather window.” However, stormy high-altitude winds are forecast for the eighth-highest mountain on earth this weekend, which can reach hurricane force in the summit zone.
With or without breathing mask? For two days, the mountaineering scene puzzled over whether anyone from the ten Nepalese climbers that succeeded in the first winter ascent of K2 on Saturday had ascended without bottled oxygen. Inquiries remained unanswered. Then, on Monday evening, Nirmal “Nims” Purja spoke out on his homepage and on social media.
Although he was not actually sufficiently acclimatized and had suffered frostbite from his first rotation ascent, he had taken a “calculated risk” in his summit push and had climbed without bottled oxygen, the 37-year-old ex-soldier of the British Gurkha Regiment wrote: “My self confidence, knowing my body’s strength, capability and my experience from climbing the 14 x 8000ers enabled me to keep up with the rest of the team members and yet lead.” The job of scaling K2 in winter without bottled oxygen was done, Nims said.
The American climber Alex Goldfarb-Rumyantzev has been found dead on the 6,209-meter-high Pastore Peak in the Karakoram. Apparently he fell to his death. This was reported by Laszlo Pinter, the expedition’s spokesman. A Pakistani rescue helicopter had flown several times today to search the mountain for the 57-year-old physician from Boston. Also aboard the helicopter were climbers John Snorri Sigurjonsson and Sajid Ali Sadpara, who want to scale K2 this winter.
First, the crew of the helicopter spotted traces of a tent in the crevasse-strewn terrain. During the third flight, they also found the climber’s lifeless body.
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 second highest mountain on earth. 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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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.