The impossible may have just been made possible.
The Seven Summit Treks’ (SST) caravan to K2, led by Mingma Sherpa and his team of Dawa Tenzing and Kilu Pemba, are making progress on a winter climb at K2 in Pakistan’s mountainous Karakorum — something that has never been done before.
According to a report in ExplorersWeb.com, there was good news from expedition participant, Mingma G.
“Today, we fixed the line to the ice section just below Camp 3,” he wrote. “We three were joined by Nims (Nirmal Purja) and Mingma Tenzi at around 7,000m.”
It appears that both rope-fixing teams are working in tandem, ExplorersWeb reported.
SST leader Dawa Sherpa considers that the core rope-fixing work is done on the lower mountain and that the next push could reach up to the summit.
The immediate overall strategy is still to set and supply Camp 3. If all goes well, the rope fixers will then press on toward Camp 4, ExplorersWeb reported.
Summit plans are only expected after January 10.
There are four main teams on K2 this winter:
- Mingma Sherpa: 3 people, all Sherpas;
- Nims Purja : Climbing superstar Nims plus six Nepalis/Sherpas in support, one client looking to experience BC and perhaps C1;
- John Snorri Sigurjonsson with Muhammad Ali Sadpara and son: a three-person independent team;
- Seven Summits Trek’s (SST) 50+ person commercial team with over 20 clients with various experience on 8000m winter climbs.
According to the latest update, as expected the weather is deteriorating, forcing many climbers back to Base Camp.
“The cold paralyzes you to the brain!” said climber Sergi Mingote, “but (we’re) happy to be in one of the most incredible places on earth.”
Some alpine experts say “real winter” has not yet arrived on K2, that the worst is yet to come.
Some Sherpas returned from the higher camps with frostbite, said Mingote, who didn’t name the injured men, ExplorersWeb reported.
Polish climber Waldemar Kowalewski was also evacuated by helicopter because of a hernia that developed during a load-carrying trip.
Kowalewski later described the climb as “a game of Russian roulette.”
The route to Camp 1 is more challenging now than in summer, he said, because of the hard vertical ice, icy wind and constant spindrift, ExplorersWeb reported.
Kowalewski is convinced that there is no way to attempt winter K2 without supplemental O2. It’s too cold, especially on the fingers and toes.
You’d need battery-powered warmers for hands and feet that last at least 50 hours, and there’s nothing of the kind on the market yet, he said.
Even melting water is a problem in winter because the butane mix freezes, he said. Also, spending hours inside the tent melting snow that’s at -40˚ is extremely time-consuming. And yet, proper hydration, especially at altitude, is essential.
Magdalena Gorzkowska and Oswaldo Pereira, along with two Sherpas, were the first STT clients to reach Camp 2 and spend a night there, after five days up the mountain, ExplorersWeb reported.
Gorzkowska returned to BC yesterday after a night in C1, a second one at 6,550m, and a failed attempt to reach Camp 3, but with a graphic description of the challenges ahead:
“It was exactly as I expected,” she said. “Extremely hard, cold, windy, and a few kilometres of abyss below us. Relentless 45 to 60 degrees steep route, calves on fire and no possible rest, stones and chunks of ice constantly falling. The difficulties are not even comparable to anything else.”
Mingma G explained that they had reached the end of the Black Pyramid, which is not a monolith but rather an accumulation of walls, ridges, and traverses on brittle rock in summer, and over the same, only ice-coated, in winter, ExplorersWeb reported.
“The end of the Pyramid is a 60 to 70m steep rock gully that ends with a short (7 to 10m) traverse under a large boulder,” explains Polish veteran Jacek Teler.
“Above that, a field of blue ice begins.”
That steep field of blue ice continues until the so-called infamous Shoulder at nearly 8,000m. Huge avalanches sweep down these ramps, summer and winter, ExplorersWeb reported.
Adds K2 summiter Ralf Dujmovits: “From the end of the Black Pyramid, past Camp 3 (7,300m) up to the Shoulder, the danger of slab avalanches is enormous. It’s textbook avalanche terrain, with wind slabs typically forming after each storm.”
Part of the Karakoram Range that straddles the Pakistan-China border, K2 is the only mountain above 8,000m yet to be climbed in winter, ExplorersWeb reported.
So unforgiving are the conditions on the 8,611m (28,251 ft) high peak, that it has long been referred to as “The Savage Mountain.”
It was a name that stuck after US mountaineer George Bell said of his own attempt in 1953: “It is a savage mountain that tries to kill you.”
In the end, it’s all about the weather.
Previous reports announced more windless days during the first week of January, while other sources show that 2021 will bring “winter normal” back to the Karakorum.
The mystique of that Last Great First will bring as many as 60 climbers to K2 this winter as the mountain normally sees in the summer season, AdventureJournal.com reported.
More than a third of the climbers will be paying clients, giving the enterprise a commercial feel — and a sense that anything could happen.
On the one hand, the notion that anyone can buy their way to the top of K2 in winter is absurd on its face.
On the other, there will be a tremendous amount of Sherpa firepower on the mountain — including two stacked teams that will be unencumbered by foreign clients, Adventure Journal reported.
Mingma G is coming with two strong partners and something to prove, after the expedition he guided to K2 last year ended in rancor at a mere 6,600 meters.
One of Mingma G’s clients on that climb, the Icelander Snorri, accused him of coming to the mountain ill-prepared. Mingma G was more circumspect, saying only “we learned many lessons.” Among them, evidently, is not to bring clients to K2 in the wintertime, Adventure Journal reported.
Instead he’ll come with Dawa Tenzing and Kili Pemba, two of the strongest guides in the business.
Mingma G, whose palmares include five Everest ascents and two K2 summits in summer, plans to climb without supplemental oxygen.
Though operating on an apparent shoestring — their GoFundMe had raised only $5,188 of the $47,500 goal and could use a boost.
Also in the mix is former British Army Special Forces soldier Nirmal Purja, fresh off a 2019 tear that included climbing all 14 of the world’s 8,000-meter peaks in six months and six days, performing three rescues, and snapping the most-viral photo in climbing history.
This year, Purja — who lives in Eastleigh, Hampshire — published his autobiography and still found time to top out on Island Peak (6,189 meters) last month, which suggests he’s both serious and fit, Adventure Journal reported.
According to The Daily Mail, some alpine “purists,” such as Ralf Dujmovits, have slammed Purja for climbing with the aid of oxygen.
Writing on Instagram, Dujmovits – who has climbed 13 of the 14 highest peaks without oxygen – said: “I would find it a real pity if someone steals the first winter ascent of K2 by using supplemental oxygen.
The general public might see this “conquering of K2 as a great feat, but the first winter ascent should be left to those who can do it by fair means.”
Until 2019, Purja was virtually unknown in the mountaineering community. Having grown up in lowland Nepal, he joined the British Army, becoming the first Gurkha to join the elite Special Boat Service (SBS).
On Wednesday, he and another climber were fixing ropes to the top of the Black Pyramid. They paused for a selfie which, Purja suggested, may have left him with minor frostbite.
“I tried my best to capture some moments in the camera but it was almost impossible,” he said on his website. “This selfie might have cost me a small dent in my fingers or two. However, all OK.”
Meanwhile, Dawa Sherpa has signaled in the Nepali press that he wants to see a Nepalese climber — any Nepalese climber — on the summit first.
“I want us to know that Nepalis are more than just guides,” he told Online Khabar. “If we can successfully summit, we can show the world that Nepalis are not far from the alpinists from Europe. I want the world to know that we are climbers too.”