Job Done! K2 winter with no supplementary oxygen
- Wednesday 20th January 2021
Once back at Base Camp after making the first winter ascent of K2 alongside nine other Nepali mountaineers, Nirmal 'Nims' Purja tells the world – Job Done! K2 winter with no supplementary oxygen!
Having helped catapult Nepali mountaineering into the upper echelons of high altitude climbing Nims’ news that he’d climbed K2 without supplementary oxygen amped-up one of the biggest mountaineering achievement of recent times yet further.
Last Friday we reported the then-emerging situation on K2 where 60+ climbers from four separate expeditions with different experiences, drivers and thoughts on the use of supplementary oxygen were vying for the first winter ascent of K2. Somewhat tongue-in-cheek we compared the situation and the intrigue to that of a Netflix series. The latest twist in the story is even more remarkable, therefore.
Saturday, as we now all know, saw a 10-man team summiting K2 at 17:00 local time. The temperature was low, reportedly about -40degs centigrade, but the summit conditions were very calm with unusually light (c.10 mph) winds. They posed for the obligatory summit photographs – a few of which have now been posted online and shared many times around the world - and then descended into the night. Gelje Sherpa and Sona Sherpa descended in a monster 36-hour push; the remaining eight team members, Nims included, rested at Camp 3 before completing their descent. By Sunday, the entire summit team were back at Base Camp. History had been made, the first winter ascent of K2, the final 8000’er not yet climbed in winter, had been done by the all-Nepali team.
Nims, having taken high altitude mountaineering to new levels with his epic ascent of all 14 8000’ers in 2019, once again was central to turning the impossible into possible. With skills honed in the SBS unit of UKSF, his mental strength, determination and leadership aren’t in doubt. On a quest to write Nepalese mountaineering into the history books, the first winter ascent of K2 was an obvious target. That vision was shared by others too. Nearly a month into the campaign, and although originally on separate expeditions, by late December the Nepali mountaineers were combining their efforts to push the route. December 29th saw members from Team Nimsdai and Team Mingma G jointly establishing fixed ropes up to Camp 3 (7100m). It was happening. They were forming a unified team and a formidable team at that.
“Climbing K2 in the winter is not purely about setting a world record, it’s about the achievement it represents for my fellow Gurkhas, for my Sherpa brothers but above all, for the human race as a whole.” Nims wrote in early January. Other prominent Nepalese mountaineers on the mountain echoed that view as well.
As soon as the news broke of the successful summit push praise for the Nepali team started flooding in. The team’s focus at that point however was clearly on getting down. The day after descending back to Base Camp Nims took to his official social media accounts and directly addressed the issue of supplementary oxygen.
Nims: “It was a tough call this time in order to make that decision whether to climb with or without supplementary oxygen (O2). Due to the weather conditions and time frame, I hadn’t acclimatised adequately. I was only able to sleep as high as Camp 2 (6,600m). Ideally, climbers need to sleep OR at least touch Camp 4 before heading for a summit push. Lack of acclimatisation, developed frostbite from the first rotation and slowing down other team members, risking everyone’s safety, were the key uncertainties associated.”
And then Nims dropped the news: “I took a calculated risk this time and I pressed on without supplementary O2. My self-confidence, knowing my body’s strength, capability and my experience from climbing the 14 x 8000ers enabled me to keep up with the rest of the team members and yet lead.
JOB DONE ! K2 WINTER WITH NO SUPPLEMENTARY OXYGEN!”
Unsurprisingly, following his latest news, the tributes to Nims flooded in once again. “Way to represent your nation. Congratulations!” wrote Conrad Anker. Others online called him the greatest of all time!
It still isn’t yet known for certain if any other in the summit team climbed without supplementary oxygen. All of the summit photos which have been released thus far show other summiteers wearing O2 masks. Alan Arnette, reports on his website, that he has spoken directly with Mingma Gyalje Sherpa on Tuesday 19th January about the use of supplementary oxygen and he confirmed that he personally had used O2. Whilst it appears likely therefore that the other eight in the summit team also used O2 until we have further clarification we only know for sure that Nims was alone in summiting without O2. It is understood that some of the successful summit team are now returning by helicopter to Skardu and will post further reports and photos from there following their arrival.
Until we get further clarification the best information source remains Nims’ account which he posted on Facebook and Instagram. His full comments are reproduced below:
“K2 winter was a beast of a challenge. I firmly believe that a feat of such calibre is never possible if you don’t have a purpose or if it is only aimed for your own self-glory.
I have always known what my mind and body are capable of. To lay it out straight, on my previous evolutions I had been carrying oxygen from 8000m and above, but I was personally satisfied with my work efficiency up to 8000m. It was my choice and I had my own reasons and ethos.
It was a tough call this time in order to make that decision whether to climb with or without supplementary oxygen (O2). Due to the weather conditions and time frame, I hadn’t acclimatised adequately. I was only able to sleep as high as Camp 2 (6,600m). Ideally, climbers need to sleep OR at least touch Camp 4 before heading for a summit push. Lack of acclimatisation, developed frostbite from the first rotation and slowing down other team members, risking everyone’s safety, were the key uncertainties associated.
The safety of my team is and always have been my top priority above all. I have lead 20 successful expeditions so far and all my team members have returned home the exact way that they had left home i.e. without losing any fingers or toes.
I took a calculated risk this time and I pressed on without supplementary O2. My self-confidence, knowing my body’s strength, capability and my experience from climbing the 14 x 8000ers enabled me to keep up with the rest of the team members and yet lead.
There are many cases, where climbers have claimed no O2 summits but followed our trail that we blazed and used the ropes and lines that we had fixed. Some of which are widely known within the inner climbing community. What is classified as fair means? Personally, it had never been a major deal for me and it still isn’t. Coming from a United Kingdom’s Special Forces background, you have been and done all sorts but we don’t make a big fuss about everything. It is a personal choice. Nature and the mountains are for everyone. You make your own call!”
Regardless of O2, the entire summit team have deservedly received worldwide praise. Sadly, the death of Spanish mountaineer Sergie Mingote, as a result of injuries sustained in a fall when descending from Camp 1 to Advance Base Camp, tainted the success. Mountains, particularly in winter, remain dangerous places; the Savage Mountain especially so. Mingote’s death is a painful reminder of that and is no doubt weighing heavily on the minds of everyone still on K2 and attempting to summit themselves. Currently, high winds have now forced the remaining mountaineers still on K2 back to Base Camp. Whilst some are apparently intent on continuing their attempts on K2, Alex Gavan, one of the no O2 mountaineers, is reported to have decided to end his attempt.