Winter Climbs 2019: Famous Alpinists Weigh in on Winter K2 Expeditions

While the two teams on K2 sit and wait out a hurricane scheduled to hit the mountain over the next few days, some other climbers have weighed in with their thoughts on the current expeditions. As you know doubt recall, as the second highest peak in the world, K2 remains the only 8000-meter mountain to not be summited during the winter. Considering the conditions there this season, it is starting to look like it could remain that way for at least another year, although winter isn’t over yet and the men are as determined as ever to see things through. Still, with time running short it will be an uphill battle to reach the summit this year.

That is of course just my opinion however and time will tell whether or not either of the two squads will find success. But others who are more knowledgeable and experienced than I am have weighed in on the topic too. In his most recent blog post, Alan Arnette has shared the thoughts of some other top alpinists regarding the chances of a successful winter ascent of K2 this season. Like me, they feel that it is a long shot.

The first to offer his opinion is Denis Urubko, who was part of the Polish expedition that went to K2 last winter. Urubko famously went rogue and attempted a solo summit of the mountain after disagreeing with team leader Krzysztof Wielicki on how best to proceed. Denis also has a very different definition of when winter begins and ends, which comes into play when discussing these matters. Here’s what he had to say:

“It is impossible to go to K2 without significant acclimatization, without a well-prepared road. March 1 is the end of winter and they do not have time. They have no chance of winning the K2 this year. But there will be other expeditions, mountain waiting. I’m tired of these expeditions; but I still have plans for the next 3 years! A new route on Gasherbrum II in summer, in winter Broadpeak and finally K2 in winter. I think to finish my career by K2 winter.”

For once it seems that perhaps Urubko and Wielicki agree, as the Polish climbing legend added his two cents to the discussion:

“I believe that the attempt of truth will begin on the 7,600. When they reach the 7,800 meters and arrive under the Bottle Neck is when the real competition will begin, and I think the referee will be the time.

I think they ‘re a little late if you want to finish by the end of February [ this conversation took place on February 6] … I think you can not try the top from 7,200 meters, it’s too low a height. I do not know if they have time to establish another camp; in winter it is very difficult to start from 7,300 meters to reach the summit at 8,600 meters and return.

For that reason, in my opinion, they have to establish field 4 near the Bottle Neck or bivouac, but for that they have to be very well acclimatized and for that they have to spend two or three nights at 7,300 meters. And, first of all, they have to reach this height.”

Finally, Reinhold Messner –– perhaps the greatest mountaineer of all time –– has shared this thoughts too. Messner says:

”The Russian-Kazakh-Kyrgyz expedition has reached 7,000 meters while the one led by the Basque Alex Txikon, formed by five Sherpas and another Spanish mountaineer [Felix Criado] has reached field 2.” Messner notes that there is no collaboration between the two groups because, in his opinion, the two methods to face the mountain are radically different: “While the first expedition advances with a typically Soviet method, based on many days of sacrifice and work constant, even in adverse conditions, the second moves less and only then can be fast. Txikon tries to reserve as much as possible the energies, physical and mental .“

If you read between the lines here, it seems like from the outside most people aren’t giving the teams much of a chance to succeed this year. Currently the weather forecast says high winds into Friday, with a brief weather window opening through the weekend, before bad weather returns early next week. That should give the climbers time to head up, acclimate to the altitude a bit, and perhaps rebuild and restock some of their high camps. Whether or not they can actually make real progress beyond where they’ve been already remains to be seen, as they’re likely to be back in Base Camp after a short time. That means it will be almost March by the time they start to look for their next chance to go up, which will give them a very limited number of days before winter is officially over.

Like the climbers themselves, we’ll just have to sit and wait to see how things play out.

Kraig Becker