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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
It almost looks as if this winter there will be a real race for the first winter ascent of K2. More and more climbers are throwing their hats into the ring for the prestige project of scaling the second highest mountain on earth for the first time in the cold season. Today the Nepalese climber Nirmal “Nims” Purja also announced that he will travel with a team to the 8,611-meter-high mountain in the Karakoram in Pakistan. In 2019, Nims had made headlines around the world when he summited all 14 eight-thousanders within only six months and six days – with bottled oxygen, supported by a strong team.
He does not give in so quickly. Icelandic professional mountaineer John Snorri Sigurjonsson has arrived in Pakistan to tackle K2 for the second winter in a row. Last winter, he had reached Camp 2 at 6,600 meters in early February before his team had abandoned the expedition. Afterwards, John Snorri and the Slovenian Tomaz Rotar had accused their expedition leader, Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, and other team members of having started the expedition ill-prepared. The Nepalese had rejected the accusations.
This Sunday is International Women’s Day. Also in Nepal. Nepalese women still have a hard time in high altitude mountaineering. The Nepalese Lhakpa Sherpa, who was born in Nepal and lives in the USA, is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the most successful woman on Mount Everest with nine summit successes. This spring she plans to reach the summit for the tenth time, from the Nepalese south side of the mountain. But the 46-year-old also has difficulties finding sponsors. To be able to finance her project, Lhakpa has started a crowdfunding campaign.
Since Pasang Lhamu Sherpa was the first Nepalese woman to reach the summit of Everest on 22 April 1993 (she died on the descent at the 8,749-meter-high South Summit), 66 ascents have been made by women from Nepal – half of them in the last four years, according to the mountain chronicle Himalayan Database.
“Climbing in winter takes a lot of courage and ability for suffering. The risk is much higher,“ Hans Kammerlander answered when we met last Sunday at the ISPO trade fair in Munich. I asked him what makes winter climbing on the eight-thousanders so special. “The eight-thousanders can be very cold even in spring due to the high altitude, but in winter it’s sometimes twice as cold,” continues Hans. “In addition, the jet stream is lower, the winds hit the mountains sometimes brutally. Everything becomes difficult, just breathing becomes harder in this cold.”
Jost Kobusch has achieved his first stage goal. According to his GPS tracker, the 27-year-old German climber reached the 6,006-meter-high Lho La, a pass on the border between Nepal and Tibet, today. Lho La is the lowest point of Everest West Ridge, which Jost says he wants to climb on his solo winter ascent.
The currently “100 percent bloody cold” (Jost), but sunny weather on the highest mountain on earth is expected to continue next week. However, meteorologists predict hurricane-force storms for the summit area of Mount Everest starting Sunday evening. At an altitude of 7,000 meters, wind speeds of at least 80 kilometers per hour are expected – anything but good conditions for an ascent over the exposed West Ridge.
The year tips over into the next. It’s high time to take another quick look at the 8000er winter expeditions that will keep us on our toes in early 2020. The Kazakh-born Denis Urubko, now a Russian with a Polish passport (or a Pole with a Russian one), the Canadian Don Bowie and the Finnish Lotta Hintsa have set up their base camp at the foot of Broad Peak. All three fought with diseases during the trekking over the Baltoro Glacier and had to swallow antibiotics. But apparently they have the worst behind them. Denis and Lotta set up a first material depot at 5,100 meters. “We’re trying to get our last member Don Bowie into fighting condition,” Lotta wrote yesterday on Instagram. “Today was the first day my lungs felt clear, and I should be ready to climb in a few days,” Don let us know last Saturday.
The Italian duo Tamara Lunger and Simone Moro should have reached the base camp at the feet of the Gasherbrum group today. Yesterday they reported from Concordia Square, the penultimate stop on their Baltoro trek. They have set their sights on the winter ascent of Gasherbrum I and if possible also Gasherbrum II.