Eye’s on K2 summit
- Friday 15th January 2021
With climbers from no less than four expeditions all vying for the first winter ascent, mountaineers the world over have eye’s on the K2 summit.
Back in the autumn reports starting coming through that a number of the world’s elite mountaineers were moving forward with their plans to hit K2 this winter; all are looking to become the first to bag what is one of the biggest mountaineering prizes left to take – the first winter ascent of K2.
In stark contrast to the thousands who have summited the world’s 14 8000’ers in the ‘normal’ spring/autumn seasons, the tally for successful winter ascents of the highest mountains is a mere fraction; less than 30. Crucially, for this winter’s plot, the only 8000’er not yet climbed in winter is K2.
Although conditions in the spring/autumn climbing seasons can – and often do – vary from difficult/demanding to deadly, conditions in the winter climbing season are rarely anything but horrendous with storms and high winds raking the mountain more days than not. Also, whereas commercial expeditions dominate high altitude activity during the spring/autumn climbing seasons, the pattern – for entirely understandable reasons – flips for the winter season when the expeditions comprise mainly the pro’s – a.k.a. the cognoscenti. Conditions, even low on the 8000’ers, are savagely cold and debilitating. With temperatures down to – 65 degs Celsius and hurricane winds of up to 120km/hour hitting the mountain in bad weather, the common view is that only professional climbers are dedicated and sufficiently driven to summon the resolve to function and climb – when the weather allows – in such cruel conditions.
Inevitably, the subject of O2 has risen to the fore once again. Oxygen levels at 8000m are less than one-third of those at sea level and it’s well known that supplementary oxygen assists climbers on a number of fronts; not least to maintain quick and effective cognitive functionality which might well prove the difference between life and death when climbing in bad conditions at or above 8000m. However, ever since Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler were the first to summit Everest without supplemental oxygen on May 8th, 1978 the ethical debate surrounding O2 has never been far from the surface.
Whilst it is universally accepted that climbers operating without O2 are at a considerable disadvantage, the ethical debate is whether a climber using O2 has made an aided or tainted ascent. Moreover, should a climber not using O2 still be credited with an O2-free ascent if they have used fixed ropes and occupied camps etc. which have been installed by other expedition members who have used supplementary O2?
For some of those attempting to climb K2 this winter the issue is clear; if the first climber to summit K2 this winter has used O2 then the greatest prize remaining in mountaineering will have been “robbed”. Others taking part see it different and their view is that country honour is at stake and they are driven by the desire to succeed regardless.
With what is said to be over 60 climbers from four separate expeditions on the mountain this winter, the plethora of different views and nationalities- to say nothing of the different experiences and drivers – the winter scene on K2 this year seems to have all the hallmarks of a Netflix series even before the weather throws it’s hand into the mix as well!
And just as we publish this report, Nirmal Purja - a.k.a. Nims Dai, posts on Instagram that in a joint effort comprising leading climbers from different expeditions have, today successfully established lines up to Camp 4 at 7800m, the highest altitude ever gained on K2 in winter.
Nims, one of the most remarkable of all mountaineers to come to the fore in recent years, signed off his Instagram post saying: “Later today, I will be leading the fixing team to the summit. We hope to stand on the summit together.”
Click here to follow Nims on Instagram…