While I was away last week there were massive developments in the two major climbing expeditions that we’ve been following closely this winter, with one coming to an end and the other losing its strongest climber after he went AWOL on the mountain. Today, we also received news that the winter expedition to K2 is ending as well, all but bringing an end to the winter climbing season.
We’ll start on Everest where Alex Txikon has pulled the plug on his winter attempt without the use of supplemental oxygen. When last we checked in, the Basque alpinist, along with climbing partner Muhammad Ali Sadpara and a strong team of Sherpa guides, was heading upwards to make a summit bid with a narrow weather window opening last weekend. But, that window slammed shut and the team was forced to return to Base Camp.
Unfortunately, their climbing permit expired on February 28, and while it would have been relatively easy to extend its deadline, Txikon decided to head home instead. Sadapara and one of the Sherpas were forced to return to Kathmandu and the weather in the days ahead didn’t look promising. Alex said it was a tough decision to make, but ultimately he knew it was the right one. The entire squad has left the mountain now.
Meanwhile, over on K2 things have been equally eventful. This morning the Polish Ice Warriors team have announced that they are ending their attempt at the first winter ascent of that mountain due to a number of factors. After looking at the weather forecasts, team leader Krzysztof Wielicki found poor conditions throughout the month of March with only one narrow weather window to take a shot at the summit. He also cited avalanche dangers and deep snow on the upper flanks of the mountain, as well as the high likelihood that Camps 1, 2, and 3 have been destroyed by the current weather pattern. With the safety of the climbers in question, he has decided to go home, leaving K2 unclimbed in winter once again.
This comes after what can only be described as a tumultuous few days last week. That’s when climber Denis Urubko went rogue, leaving the team and setting out on a solo summit bid. Urubko has been highly critical of Wielicki and his tactics, and has taken shots at his teammates who he didn’t feel were climbing fast enough. In his defense, Urubko was clearly the strongest person on the team, and fixed most of the ropes himself. This led to frustration on his part, which boiled over several times, before coming to a head last week.
Without saying a word to Wielicki, Urubko left Base Camp and headed up the mountain with the intent of reaching the summit completely on his own. He managed to climb above C3 before poor weather turned him back, He then returned to BC where he reportedly was unapologetic. He was banned from using the team’s Internet, and then later left altogether on February 28. He has yet to share more details on his side of the story.
Finally, Lonnie Dupre has also called off his attempt on Mt. Hunter in Alaska. He was set to make a solo winter attempt on that difficult mountain but heavy snow is preventing that from happening. The forecast calls for more than 6 feet (2 meters) of snow in the next few days, making it a very dangerous climb. Dupre says he will now wait until next winter to make the attempt once again.
That pretty much wraps up the winter climbing season altogether at this point. These were the last three expeditions I was following and I’m not aware of any other major climbs that are currently underway. Of course, in a few weeks we’ll start looking ahead to the spring climbing season, which promises to be as eventful as ever.