Nepalese team makes history, scales K2 in winter

Published January 17, 2021
The team of Nepalese climbers which made history by becoming the first to summit K2 in winter. — Photo courtesy: Radio Pakistan
The team of Nepalese climbers which made history by becoming the first to summit K2 in winter. — Photo courtesy: Radio Pakistan

GILGIT: Ten Nepalese climbers on Saturday set a record by scaling Pakistan’s K2 (8,611m), the world’s second highest mountain and the only one among the 8,000m peaks that had never been climbed before in winter.

The same day, however, a Spanish climber lost his life after falling into a crevasse at camp 1.

Over 60 international climbers from 18 countries had arrived at the K2 base camp and started their adventure in early January to try and scale what is also known as the Savage Mountain or the King of North, as winds there can blow at more than 200km an hour and temperatures can drop to minus 60 degrees Celsius in winter.

On Saturday at about 1656 hours, the 10 Nepalese climbers from three different expedition teams stood on the top of K2. The achievement was the result of a remarkable collaborative effort between Nepalese climbers affiliated with multiple teams: one led by Nirmal Purja and the other by Mingma Gyalje Sherpa. In the days before last night’s summit push, the two groups combined forces.

Spanish mountaineer, who was part of the SST international winter expedition team, falls to death

“The impossible is made possible, history made for humankind and Nepal… A very special moment. The whole team waited 10m below the summit to form a group then stepped onto the summit together,” said jubilant Nirmal who along with Mingma was leading the Nepalese climbers’ team.

He said: “We are proud to have been a part of history for humankind and to show that collaboration, teamwork and a positive mental attitude can push limits to what we feel might be possible.”

Mingma Gyalje, also a team leader, said: “Finally, we did it. We made the history in mountaineering field.”

The 10 summiting team members, originally from three expedition teams, were Nirmal Purja, Mingma David Sherpa, Mingma Tenzi Sherpa, Geljen Sherpa, Pem Chiri Sherpa, Dawa Temba Sherpa, Mingma Gyalje, Dawa Tenjin Sherpa, Kilu Pemba Sherpa and Sona Sherpa.

The other members of three expedition teams remained at camp 1, camp 2 and base camp.

SPANISH climber Sergio Mingote Moreno
SPANISH climber Sergio Mingote Moreno

Also on Saturday, Spanish climber Sergio Mingote Moreno, who was part of the SST international winter expedition team, lost his life while returning to base camp when he fall into the crevasse from Camp 1.

Earlier, Mr Gyalje said K2 was the only 8000ers remaining to be climbed in winter and that no Nepalese had ever been on the list of first winter ascent on 8000ers. “Nepal is proudly home of eight different 8000ers, but it’s disappointing we are not there on the list of first winter ascent. So we are here on a mission to enlist Nepal on first winter ascent list,” said the optimistic team leader.

So far only these 10 climbers in winter and 367 climbers in summer have completed the ascent of K2, while 86 climbers have lost lives during attempts to climb the peak between the first ascent of K2 on July 31, 1954 and the first winter summit on January 16, 2021.

K2 in winter has become an increasingly sought-after objective, as the other 8,000m peaks succumbed to mountaineers in the coldest season.

According to climber Alex Gavan K2 is one of the world’s most difficult and dangerous mountains to climb, with the second-highest fatality rate among the 14 tallest peaks.

For every four reaching the summit, around one climber never returns from the mountain.

Nicknamed the Savage Mountain, this first winter ascent is largely regarded as one of the last great undone challenges of the current generation of high altitude climbers.

Thin air, unpredictable weather, fierce winds, extremely low temperatures, technical mixed terrain of rock and ice and the short days of the coldest of the seasons made climbers to back off in the winters of 1987-88, 2002-03, 2011-12, 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20.

The highest point ever reached during winters was 7,650m.

Not only the Gilgit-Baltistan government but climbers from across the world congratulated the Nepali climbers for their achievement. Congratulating the Nepalese climbers, GB chief minister said: “I hope the other mountaineers will also succeed in their quest.” He said the successful summit of the world’s second highest mountain would boost tourism. “It will be a new dawn of winter tourism in the region,” the CM said.

The mountaineering community celebrated the first-ever winter summit of K2 as the 10 Napali climbers reached the top of the world’s second highest peak. However, while the world record was being set, all the celebration was dampened by the death of a veteran climber. “The good news does not come without the saddest of the death of veteran mountaineer Sergio Mingote who fell to his death while climbing between two camps on K2,” said Karrar Haidri, secretary of the Alpine Club of Pakistan.

The Spanish climber fell some 600 metres and was seriously hurt, he said, adding that his body would be airlifted from the base camp on Sunday.

Earlier on December 19, 2020, an international winter K2 expedition reached Pakistan. After completing official formalities at Islamabad, the expedition made up of British, Iceland, German, Switzerland, Belgium and Bulgaria climbers to mention some from over a dozen countries reached K2 base camp on December 29, 2020. The expedition included some of the biggest names in the mountaineering world such Waldemar Kowalewski, Sergio Mingote as well as Pakistani Ali Sadpara. It was the largest concentration of climbers during a winter season at K2 base camp, according to the Alpine Club.

On January 15, four Nepali Sherpas smashed the previously held record by climbing higher than 7,750 metres, which was achieved by Denis Urubko and Marcin Kaczkan in the 2002-03 winter summit attempt. On Saturday, the all-Nepalese team launched the summit push from Camps 3 and 4. The team broke trail and fixed along the way for other climbers.

“It is a significant accomplishment although breaking trail and fixing ropes for other climbers delayed their triumph by several hours. The 10 Sherpas will descend in darkness and the team members await for their safe descent,” said Mr Haidri.

While lamenting the loss of Sergio Mingote, he said the Spanish climber was on a different project, of summiting all 14 peaks above 8, 000 metres without bottled oxygen and completing the challenge he had set himself in 1,000 days.

Jamal Shahid in Islamabad also contributed to this report

Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2021

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