While I was away enjoying a break for the holidays, I still managed to keep a close eye on the two major winter climbs that I’ve been following this season. Both are impressive expeditions to say the least, and both are now in full swing, as winter is underway in ernest.
The Russian team that has set its sights on climbing K2 this winter started working the route today and now have fixed the lines up to 5600 meters (18,372 ft). That means they still have a LONG way to go, but it is a solid start to their efforts. They report that there is little snow on the mountain, at least at this point, but that the temperatures are bitterly cold, as one would expect on the second highest mountain on the planet.
The climbers arrived in BC over the weekend, after being shuttled in by a Pakistani military helicopter, and immediately went to work building their base of operations, organizing their gear, and preparing for the work ahead. It took three flights of the large MI-17 helo to deliver all of the men and their gear to BC, but after waiting out several weather delays, they were happy to finally be on the mountain at last. They now have until March 20th to successfully complete the first winter ascent of K2.
Meanwhile, Lonnie Dupre has been a very busy man on Denali, where he hopes to complete the first solo climb of that mountain in January. He has been building a series of snow caves on the mountain, which will serve as his camps as he goes, and had already shuttled much of his gear up to 4876 meters (16,000 ft). He plans to carry those supplies up to 5242 meters (17,200 ft) tomorrow and establish his High Camp there, before returning to his Low Camp as part of the normal acclimatization process.
Having reached those heights so early in January bodes well for the success of the expedition, but that said, as always on Denali, the weather will decide if and when he can go to the summit. High winds and extremely cold temperatures (-60ºF/-51ºC) have been the norm so far. The mountain is notorious for its bad weather, particularly in the winter, and blizzards can rage for days on end. With that in mind, I’m sure Lonnie wants to take advantage of the current conditions as long as he can, so that he can squeeze through any weather window that is presented.
These two climbers are going to present some amazing drama in the days and weeks ahead. Stay tuned for plenty of updates as both the Russians and Lonnie go after their respective summits.