Fully supported winter climbing on K2

Grace Tseng (2nd from r.) and her Nepalese companions, on the right Nima Gyalzen Sherpa.
Grace Tseng (2nd from r.) and her Nepalese companions, on the right Nima Gyalzen Sherpa.

Nima Gyalzen Sherpa, Chhiring Sherpa, Dawa Sherpa, Furi Sherpa, Ngima Tendi Sherpa, Ningma Dorje Tamang, Muhammad Sharif Rasool. To be on the safe side, I name the six Nepalese and Pakistani climbers who are currently on their way to K2 (today they reached the Goro II camp on the Baltoro Glacier at 4,200 meters). For all too often, those who have made successes on the eight-thousanders possible through their hard work are kept quiet afterwards.

The seven-member team of the Nepalese operator Dolma Outdoor Expedition wants to lead the Taiwanese Tseng Ko-erh, also called “Grace” Tseng, to the summit of the second highest mountain on earth this winter. Actually, Tashi Sherpa should also have been in the team. But he did not get an entry visa to Pakistan because of problems with his passport and was replaced by Rasool, as Dolma Outdoor Expedition told me.

Regular client

Nima Gyalzen Sherpa and Grace Tseng on Lhotse summit
Nima Gyalzen Sherpa and Grace Tseng on Lhotse summit

The K2 team is led by Nima Gyalzen Sherpa. According to the mountaineering chronicle Himalayan Database, the 36-year-old founder and head of the agency has already stood on eight-thousanders more than 20 times, eight times alone on the summit of Mount Everest. Grace is a regular client of Dolma Outdoor Expedition. Nima Gyalzen has already led her up five eight-thousanders: in fall 2019 on Manaslu, in spring 2021 on Mount Everest and Lhotse, and last fall on Dhaulagiri and Kangchenjunga.

As she is now on K2, Tseng was the only client on Kangchenjunga. There she was accompanied to the highest point by four Sherpas: in addition to Nima Gyalzen, Gelje Sherpa (he wants to open a new route on the Nepalese side of Cho Oyu this winter with a Nepalese team, suitable for commercial expeditions), Dakipa Sherpa and Pasang Rinjee Sherpa.

Grace Tseng on the summit of Kangchenjunga
Grace Tseng on the summit of Kangchenjunga

In Taiwan’s media, Tseng, the first woman from Taiwan to stand on the top of Kangchenjunga, was already being hailed as a “climbing sensation” and a “heroine” – there was no mention of massive Sherpa support in the reports. The enthusiasm in her homeland would certainly turn into euphoria should the 29-year-old also return home from Pakistan with a summit success. She would be the first woman in winter on K2.

A race between two Taiwanese women?

With five eight-thousander successes, Grace is currently Taiwan’s most successful female high-altitude mountaineer. She wants to become the first Taiwanese woman to climb all 14 eight-thousanders. The slightly older Chan Chiao-yu, known as “Tri Fish” Chan, born in 1987, also dreams of this. She summited Lhotse and Manaslu in 2018, Everest and Makalu in 2019. This year, Chan has her sights set on four more eight-thousanders. If everything goes according to her plan, Tri Fish would complete her project in 2024.

Tri Fish Chan
Tri Fish Chan

Like Tseng, Chan has always been a member of commercial teams and used bottled oxygen, but not as a sole client. Compared to Grace, more is known about Tri Fish’s mountaineering skills: Chan is a professional rescuer and trainer in rock climbing. Tseng’s mountain past, on the other hand, is largely in the dark. All that has been made public of her so far is that she traveled the world in the years leading up to her first eight-thousander success on Manaslu in 2019.

Maximum support

Grace Tseng’s recipe – single client, as much Sherpa power as possible – is not new, by the way, you just have to be able to afford it or have financially strong sponsors. In fall 2010, for example, U.S. polar adventurer Eric Larsen had himself guided to the summit of Mount Everest by five Sherpas: Chhering Dorje, Pasang Dawa, Dawa Gyalzen, Pasang Temba and Nima Dorje.

The 8,611-meter-high K2, the second highest mountain on earth – on the left the West Ridge

Chinese Wang Jing stood on the highest point on earth during her controversial Everest success in spring 2014 with three Sherpas: Lhapka Gyalzen, Pasang Dawa and Riten Jangbu. After the avalanche accident in the Khumbu Icefall, in which 16 Nepali climbers had died, the season on the Nepalese side of Everest had actually been canceled. However, Wang had then had herself dropped by helicopter above the icefall and climbed up from there with her Sherpa team – a classic case of heli-doping.

Last fall, Jan Werner also traveled to Kangchenjunga as a commercial team’s only client with maximum support: Esteban “Topo” Mena and Carla Perez from Ecuacor as well as the Sherpas Dorji, Mingma, Namgye, Pemba Gelje and Pasang – the seven together come to more than 50 eight-thousander summit successes – were to lead the Dane to the summit of the third highest mountain. The project failed, but the team that arrived later with the client Tseng profited from the preliminary work.

In 2021, when ten Nepalese climbers succeeded in the first winter ascent of K2, there had been a commercial team of the operator Seven Summit Treks there, but with a few dozen clients. Now the “fully supported winter climbing” makes its debut.

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