When K2 calls in winter

K2, the second highest mountain on earth

The first tents with expedition equipment are already standing at the foot of K2. In about one month the base camp will fill up. How many mountaineers exactly will attempt the first winter ascent of the second highest mountain on earth cannot yet be estimated. But the number of those who would like to put this feather on their hat is increasing. K2, located in the Karakoram in Pakistan, is the last remaining of the 14 eight-thousanders that – despite some attempts – has never been scaled during the cold season.

The first tents with equipment are already in base camp

The largest group will gather under the roof of the Nepalese expedition operator Seven Summit Treks. According to expedition leader Chhang Dawa Sherpa the team now consists of 45 members – 24 clients and 21 Sherpas. Dawa, who is now 38 years old, was the second Nepalese to scale all 14 eight-thousanders in 2013. Before that, his brother Mingma Sherpa had succeeded this feat in 2011.

Well-known names

Sergi Mingote

Sanu Sherpa, another Nepalese who has meanwhile completed the collection of the eight-thousanders, is taking part in the K2 winter expedition. The SST list of participants also includes some other well-known names from the scene. Assistant climbing leader next to Chhang Dawa Sherpa is the Spaniard Sergi Mingote, who has scaled seven eight-thousanders without bottled oxygen since 2018, including K2.

Also on the SST ticket will be the Chilean Juan Pablo Mohr, the Bulgarian Atanas Skatov and the Pole Waldemar Kowalewski. Mohr has so far summited five eight-thousanders without breathing mask, including Mount Everest in 2019. Skatov, a convinced vegan, has already scaled ten of the 14 highest mountains on earth, on Cho Oyu he did it without bottled oxygen. Kowalewski tackled K2 in vain in winter 2018/19, but the following summer he reached the summit at 8,611 meters. It was his fifth eight-thousander. “I will do my best”, the Pole wrote on Facebook and announced that he would climb without bottled oxygen.

Sherpa trio

Mingma Gyalje Sherpa on K2 summit in summer 2017
Mingma Gyalje Sherpa on K2 summit (in summer 2017)

This is also what Mingma Gyalje Sherpa intends to do, as he told me. The 34-year-old head of the expedition operator Imagine Nepal has scaled 13 of the 14 eight-thousanders, only Shishapangma in Tibet is still missing. He returned from K2 last winter empty-handed – and with angry clients. Mingma announced then that as a consequence he would rely on a pure Sherpa team for his next winter attempt on K2. That is exactly what he is doing now. Only Dawa Tenzing Sherpa and Kili Pemba Sherpa will accompany him. Both of them also have a lot of experience on eight-thousanders: So Dawa Tenzing stood on the top of Mount Everest eleven times, Kili Pemba nine times. In order to finance the expedition, Mingma has started a crowdfunding.

“This year we are going there without clients and we are a small team. I have faith on my team that we can do it this time,” Mingma answers me when asked what makes him optimistic about achieving more on K2 this coming winter than last. According to the expedition leader, he has learned his lessons from the experience, “so this year we are prepared and confident”.