Winter Climbs 2019: Weather Windows Open on K2 and Nanga Parbat

For the past two weeks the teams on K2 and Nanga Parbat have been able to do little more than sit and wait. Poor weather has kept them stranded in Base Camp, waiting for conditions to improve, with little to do but watch the sky. Now, at long last, things are starting to improve, but the forecast isn’t looking promising for next week which means they have to take advantage of calmer weather while they can.

The two teams on K2 have both been waiting out a storm that brought hurricane force winds to the world’s second highest peak. Gale forces at the summit reportedly reached as much as 210 km/h (130 mph), while in BC things got very gusty too. To combat the situation, the Spanish/Polish team led by Alex Txikon built snow walls around their igloos with the hopes of keeping the winds out. Meanwhile, their companions on the Russian/Kazakh/Kyrgyzstanian squad led by Vassiliy Pivtsov had to wait it out in traditional tents, which were blown around mightily in the winds.

Now that things have improved however, the two teams are about to go back on the move. The Russian-led team hopes to return to Camp 3 to see what is left of it. They deposited supplies and gear at 7150 meters (23,458 ft) –– just below the Black Pyramid –– before the storms hit, but now they’ll probably have to dig out their equipment and ropes. Meanwhile, Txikon and company haven’t gone much above Camp 1 as of yet, preferring to conserve their energy thus far. They hope to return to that spot, and possibly push on to C2 while the weather holds out.

Unfortunately, this particular window isn’t expected to last too long. The forecast says that high winds are expected to return by next Tuesday, which could keep the teams in BC for a few days again. If so, it could be early March before they can go on the move, leaving them about three weeks to wrap up the first winter ascent of K2 before the season ends.

Meanwhile, over on Nanga Parbat things haven’t been much better for Daniele Nardi and Tom Ballard. They’ve also been stuck in BC for more than two weeks waiting to take a shot at the Mummery Rib. The forecast on that mountain is set to improve too, potentially giving them the shot they need to make a summit bid. Nardi and Ballard arrived on Nanga Parbat earlier than the K2 teams and should be ahead of them in terms of acclimation. Whether or not they’re ready for an attempt on the summit remains to be seen, as they may feel they need one more round of acclimatization before proceeding.

Ultimately, it will be the weather that dictates just how far and fast any of these teams will be able to go during these upcoming weather windows. The snow deposited higher up the slopes of K2 and Nanga Parbat will slow progress and could bring avalanche dangers. It seems unlikely that this short weather window will allow for much progress, but we’ll see how these talented climbers take advantage of the time they are given.

More updates next week.

Kraig Becker