Winter Climbs 2013: With Heavy Hearts Broad Peak Team Heads For Home

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The Polish team that made history on Broad Peak last week is turning for home this week. Over the weekend they said goodbye to their fallen comrades and began the arduous task of breaking down their camps. In a lot  of ways it was a successful winter season on BP and yet it ends with sadness.

Over the weekend, team leader Krzysztof Wielicki released a direct statement regarding the tragedy on the expedition’s website. That dispatch read as follows:

Considering all the circumstances, conditions, my experience, history of Himalayan mountaineering, knowledge regarding physiology and high-altitude medicine as well as consultations with doctors and co-organizers of the expedition in Poland, I have to declare Maciej Berbeka and Tomasz Kowalski dead.

Taking into account the time that has passed since the last contact, altitude where it took place, their condition, current weather conditions and all other factors, I have to claim openly that both climbers are dead. 

The expedition has come to an end. We are packing the base camp and start to descend. March via the Baltoro Glacier will take approximately 5 days. We will come back to Poland on approximately 20th March. Due to lack of electricity, we will not have any possibilities to maintain contact via telephones or e-mails and thus, the will not be any information about us till approximately 15th March.

Krzysztof Wielicki
Leader of the winter expedition of Polish Mountaineering Association to Broad Peak

By now, the entire team should be descending the Baltoro Glacier and making their way back home. As you can tell from the timeline that Krzysztof shared in his note, that is a process in and of itself, and while I’m sure they are all eager to get home, they undoubtedly leave the mountain with heavy hearts.

Despite their losses, the team did manage to put up the first winter ascent of Broad Peak, which is no small achievement. That leaves just two 8000-meter peaks yet to be climbed in winter – Nanga Parbat and K2. Both of those mountains are formidable challenges and while I’m sure we’ll see attempts on both in the future, it could be some time before either is successfully climbed in the winter.

This wraps up another winter climbing season in Pakistan. We’ll have a very short respite on the mountaineering front before the spring Himalayan season begins to ramp up in just a few weeks time. As I write this, climbers from all over the globe are hurriedly getting their gear together and preparing for the trip to Kathmandu. By the end of the month, they will begin arriving there and a host of new challenges will begin.

Kraig Becker