Winter attempts on the eight-thousanders Annapurna I and Gasherbrum I

Annapurna massif
Northwestern view of Annapurna (the main summit on the left)

“Although December is a very good and pleasant month in Nepal – I would say it is the best month of the year – the wind has made us suffer a lot,” Alex Txikon wrote on Instagram the day before yesterday. “It has blown between 70-80 km/hour, and we stopped very close to Chulu Far East, 6,059m. It is a nice mountain, but the wind has made us suffer … The most important thing is that we have spent many nights at high altitudes.” The 42-year-old Spaniard and his team are currently acclimatizing in the region around the eight-thousander Annapurna I in western Nepal for a winter attempt on the tenth highest mountain on earth.

First winter ascent of Nanga Parbat

Txikon is accompanied by five Sherpas from the commercial Nepalese expedition operator Seven Summit Treks. Among them are Chhepal Sherpa, Mingtemba Sherpa and Gyalu Sherpa, who summited Manaslu with Txikon last winter. Alex had done without bottled oxygen, while the six Sherpas who had accompanied him at the time – including Tenjen “Lama” Sherpa, who died in an avalanche accident on Shishapangma last fall – had climbed with breathing masks.

The successful Nanga Parbat winter team 2016: Alex Txikon, Tamara Lunger, Simone Moro and Muhammad Ali “Sadpara”(from l. to r.)

In 2016, Txikon was one of the trio that succeeded in the first winter ascent of Nanga Parbat. Together with the Italian Simone Moro and the Pakistani Muhammad Ali Sadpara, he reached the 8,125-meter-high summit of the eight-thousander in Pakistan. The South Tyrolean Tamara Lunger had to turn back shortly below the highest point.

Annapurna winter ascents in 1987

Portrait of late Jerzy Kukuczka
Jerzy Kukuczka (1948 – 1989)

Txikon has not yet announced which route and in which style he intends to climb Annapurna I this winter. The two Poles Jerzy Kukuczka and Artur Hajzer made the first winter ascent of this eight-thousander on 3 February 1987 – without bottled oxygen, via the route of the French first ascenders through the North Face.

The following winter, the Japanese Toshiyuki Kobayashi, Teruo Saegusa, Yasuhiro Saito and Noboru Yamada climbed the dangerous South Face of the mountain for the first time in the cold season, also without breathing masks. On 20 December 1987 – in the meteorological winter, shortly before the start of the calendar winter – they reached the highest point at 8,091 meters. The expedition ended in tragedy. Kobayashi and Saito fell to their deaths on the descent. Since then, no one has reached the summit of Annapurna I in winter.

In his blog, Alex Txikon promises to “work hard as always with the knife between our teeth to have a chance. If it (Annapurna) gives us a chance, all well and good. If not, we know why. We only need to look at our statistics. They are not very encouraging.”

Urubko announces winter attempt on Gasherbrum I

Denis Urubko
Denis Urubko

In addition to Txikon’s attempt, there is only one other eight-thousander winter expedition in sight so far: Denis Urubko, who was born in the Russian North Caucasus, has announced that he intends to set off for Pakistan on 30 December to climb Gasherbrum I. Last summer, Denis summited the eleventh highest mountain on earth with his Spanish partner Pipi Cardell. It was his 27th ascent of an eight-thousander without bottled oxygen.

Gasherbrum I, also known as Hidden Peak, is “still unclimbed in winter”, Urubko announced on Instagram. He is of the opinion that a winter ascent should only be counted as such if it was completed by the end of February, i.e. before the end of the meteorological winter. The 8,080-meter-high Gasherbrum I has so far only been summited once in the cold season – in the calendar winter: on 9 March 2012 by the two Poles Adam Bielecki and Janusz Golab.

Denis Urubko has two first winter ascents of eight-thousanders to his name: of the 8,485-meter-high Makalu (with Simone Moro in 2009) and the 8,034-meter-high Gasherbrum II (with Moro and Cory Richards in 2011).

Back injury puts the brakes on Kobusch

Jost Kobusch had actually wanted to set off on another solo winter attempt, his third on Mount Everest. However, a back injury thwarted the German mountaineer’s plans. Last winter, Jost had succeeded in a solo winter ascent of the 6,190-meter-high Denali in Alaska, the highest mountain in North America.

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