Winter Climbs 2019: K2, Alaska Expeditions Set to Begin

Now that the New Year has arrived, and winter is in full effect here in the Northern Hemisphere, the major winter mountaineering expedition teams are preparing to embark on their adventures. Over the coming weeks we’ll be following two teams on K2 and another on Nanga Parbat, as well solo climbers in Alaska and Nepal. It should be a very busy and ambitious year on the winter climbing front, with the potential for history to be made.

We’ll start with an update on K2, where two teams are currently en route to the mountain. The all-star European team with climbers from Russia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan left for Islamabad on January 1 and are currently collecting their gear, organizing their supplies, and preparing for the journey to Skardu, where they’ll then drive to Askole to begin the trek to the mountain. The squad has had some challenges before they have even arrived on the mountain however, as a lack of funding has caused them to reduce the size of the team from 11 climbers down to 7. Whether that ultimately has an impact on their chances of success has yet to be seen, but the team is led by Vassiliy Pivtsov, who has a lot of experience on 8000 meter peaks. The others have extensive climbing experience as well, although none have spend much time in the Himalaya or Karakoram during the winter.

Meanwhile, Spaniard Alex Txikon is left Kathmandu for Islamabad today. He’s driving with a group of Sherpas from Nepal to Pakistan, bringing supplies and a trusted crew with him. His climbing partners from Spain have left Madrid and will soon join them in the Karakoram. They are still a number of days from reaching K2 as well, but will likely not be far behind the other K2 team. If all goes according to plan, they should be setting up camp on the mountain sometime next week.

Italian alpinist Daniele Nardi and climbing partner Tom Ballard from the U.K. wasted no time in launching their attempt on Nanga Parbat this winter. The two men arrived in the Karakoram over the holiday break and have already settled into Base Camp. On New Years Eve, Nardi and Ballard set off for an acclimation climb up to Camp 1, shuttling gear and supplies to that point on the mountain. There have been no updates since that point, but presumably everything is going as expected so far.

In Nepal, Simone Moro is on his way to Mera Peak to begin his acclimation before a winter attempt on Manaslu. So far, he and his support team have been trekking through the Khumbu region in the shadow of Everest, making good time in the cold and snowy conditions. They hope to reach BC on Mera tomorrow, but don’t expect to spend much time there. They could summit as early as Friday or Saturday, weather permitting. After that, it’s on to the main event on Manaslu, which Moro will attempt in alpine style.

Finally, Lonnie Dupre leaves for Alaska today to launch his attempt at a solo climb on Mt. Hunter. According to the countdown clock on his website, he’s scheduled to begin the expedition early next week, weather permitting of course. Winter in Alaska has the uncanny ability to prevent travel and delay plans, particularly when an aircraft is involved. Dupre will be flying out on a bush plane to a drop off point near Hunter, which he’ll the ski to Base Camp before he begins the climb. As with his previous solo winter climbs on Denali, he is expected to climb in alpine style and use snow caves as shelters along the way.

As you can see, most of these winter climbing expeditions are now just starting to ramp up. We’ll keep a close eye on them in the days ahead to see how things unfold. We could potentially have the first winter ascent of K2 this season, although the other climbs are no less ambitious and worthy of attention too. It should be an interesting couple of months ahead.

Kraig Becker