Winter Climbs 2014: Denis Urubko Talks K2 in Winter Prior to Departure to China

In just a couple of short weeks the 2014-2015 winter climbing season will get underway in the Himalaya, Karakoram, and beyond. This year, we know that there will be teams on both Nanga Parbat and K2, as climbers attempt to complete the first winter ascents of both of those mountains.

Kazakh mountaineer Denis Urubko, a veteran of winter climbing on big peaks, will lead his team – which includes Adam Bilecki of Poland and Alex Txikon of Spain – to the North Face of K2, the toughest mountain in the world no matter the season. Prior to setting out, he sat down for a two-part interview with that offers some insight into what the team has planned.

In the first part of the interview, Denis talks the logistics of K2 in winter, saying it will certainly be amongst his toughest projects while comparing it to the new routes he opened on Broad Peak in 2005 and Cho Oyu in 2009. He says that some of the biggest challenges of this expedition will be to stay healthy and patient, while waiting for the perfect weather window to give the climbers a shot at the summit.

Urubko goes on to talk about why he wants to climb K2 in the winter, how he keeps these dangerous expeditions to the big peaks in perspective, and the minimalist approach the climbers will take above Base Camp.

In one interesting segment of the interview, Denis is pressed about the limits of his climbing abilities, to which he replies that he feels he is capable of climbing to 9500 meters (31,167 ft) of altitude without the use of supplemental oxygen. Of course, there isn’t a mountain on the planet that reaches that high, so he is essentially saying that he can go up any mountain in the world without using O2. He adds that when he was younger, that limit was closer to 8600 meters (28,215 ft).

In the second part of the interview, the Russian climber talks about the mountaineers he admires (Vlad Smirnov, Eric Shipton, Reinhold Messner, etc.), the importance of every piece of gear that you have with you at altitude, and the importance of meeting the needs of sponsors in the modern age of exploration. He calls climbing on an 8000 meter peak in the summer months “a kind of tourism,” and when asked who is the best mountaineer in the world today, he artfully dodges the question by saying you would first have to define the style of climbing, with great athletes attempting very different things.

All in all, both parts of the interview are very interesting and insightful to read. If you have an interest in the upcoming K2 expedition, I’d highly recommend them both.

Denis, Adam and Alex will depart for China on December 16. Once there, they’ll sort their gear, work out the logistics and paperwork, and then proceed to the mountain. Winter officially begins on December 21, and they should arrive in Base Camp shortly there after. Stay tuned for plenty of updates on their climb.

Kraig Becker