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Dozens of Climbers to Attempt K2 this Winter

There's a good chance the final 8,000-metre mountain to get a winter ascent will see a summit in the next few months

K2 climbing ascend himalayas

K2 is 8,611 metres high, which puts it about 200 metres less than Everest, but it’s considered a far more technical and dangerous. Of the 14 8,000-metre peaks, it’s the only yet to be climbed in winter, with or without supplementary oxygen.

K2 is known as the Savage Mountain after George Bell, a climber on the 1953 American Expedition, told reporters “It’s a savage mountain that tries to kill you.” Of the five highest mountains in the world, K2 is the deadliest; approximately one person dies on the mountain for every four who reach the summit.

In winter 2020/21, at least 60 climbers (roughly half support and half clients) will attempt K2. Himalayan expert Alan Arnette reported: Seven Summits Treks with 55 members (27 clients, 28 Sherpas), Mingma Gyalje Sherpa with three Sherpa and no members, Icelander John Snorri Sigurjonsson with two Pakistani HAP support, and Nims Purja has an unknown number of support staff with an estimated two clients, perhaps more.

Also going this winter are high-altitudue experts Alex Gavan and Tamara Lunger. Gavan has climbed seven 8,000-metre peaks without oxygen, while Lunger has climbed K2 without supplemental oxygen, and has made four 8,000-metre winter expeditions. They will start their trek into K2 on Christmas Day.

There’s limited space for tents the higher you go on K2, with camp one having the capacity to hold six or seven. The 60-plus people will need to work together to progress towards the summit.

In August 2008, 11 experienced climbers died on K2 after a series of avalanches in a “death zone” section called the Bottleneck at 8,200m. It will be one of the many dangerous cruxes for climbers this winter.

While Arnette said he believes there’s a chance a few climbers might summit, if the conditions hold out, he noted: “With a modern death to attempt rate of around 20 per cent, it would not be surprising to see five, eight or maybe 10 deaths from the 50 to 60+ people on K2 this winter, assuming anyone gets above C2 and the Black Pyramid.

“The big danger is the objective danger – avalanche, and rockfall. Also, the vast majority of all of the climbers lack extensive winter 8000-meter experience. When I interviewed Minga G last year after his failed winter attempt, he said they severely underestimated the winter conditions’ cold and harsh nature.”

Winter Attempts

1987/1988: Polish-Canadian-British expedition led by Andrzej Zawada from the Pakistani side. Hurricane winds and frostbite forced the team to retreat.
2002/2003: Netia K2 Polish Winter Expedition. The team of 14 intended to climb North Ridge. Failed due to the destruction of the tent by harsh weather in camp IV and cerebral edema.
2011/2012: Russian expedition. Nine Russian climbers attempted K2’s Abruzzi Spur route. The expedition was called off after a death.
2017/2018: Polish National Winter Expedition consisting of 13 climbers attempted by bailed. Denis Urubko then attepted to solo and reached around 7,600m.

Canadians Up K2

Only four Canadians have reached the summit of K2: Jim Haberl and Dan Culver in 1993, Andrew Evans (no supplemental oxygen) in 2000 and Don Bowie in 2007.

Haberl’s first book was K2: Dreams and Reality, which he self-published in 1994. It is the story of Haberl and his close friend Dan Culver and their efforts to summit on Pakistan’s K2 in 1993. They became the first Canadians to reach the peak.

Culver died during the descent from K2 and Haberl died in 1999 in an avalanche while skiing in Alaska.

Manaslu 2020/21

Simone Moro, Alex Txikon and Iñaki Álvarez are heading to Manaslu for a winter attempt. Also on Manaslu are Tenji Sherpa and Vinayak Jay Malla, two Nepali mountain guides, who will be attempting to climb it wihtout supplemental oxygen and in alpine-style.