Winter Climbs 2019: It’s Over on K2

The dream of completing the first winter ascent of K2 will remain just that for another season. The mountain, which is the only 8000-meter peak yet to be climbed in winter, has confounded some of the world’s top alpinists, with its summit remaining squarely out of reach. 2019 has been no different in this regard, and now with the first day of spring just a few days away, the last remaining team in the Karakoram has called it quits.

Last week when we checked in with Alex Txikon and his squad they had launched a summit push with hopes of a last-minute dash to the top of K2. The weather at the time wasn’t great, but the forecast called for a two-day window that included a drop in windspeed which may have given them just enough time to complete an ascent under the wire.

The hope was to push to the top yesterday or today and be back in Base Camp before winter ends on Wednesday. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen as the winds continued to blow unabated, keeping visibility extremely low and preventing the team from going any higher than Camp 3. Now, they’ve all returned to BC and are preparing to go home.

With the team preparing to depart, the stage is set for yet another big season on K2 next year. A Polish team is already preparing to return in 2020 to give a winter ascent a go and famed mountaineer Denis Urubko has indicated that he might be back in the future too. Whether or not Txikon returns remains to be seen, but it is clear that the last remaining 8000-meter peak to be climbed in winter is quickly becoming the biggest prize in high altitude mountaineering.

Despite a series of high profile attempts in recent years, it is important to point out that no one has really gotten all that close to the summit during the winter months. The weather is incredibly difficult to deal with at that time of the year, and a mountain that is already challenging to climb during the best of conditions becomes all that much more difficult and dangerous when you throw in extreme temperatures, high winds, and plenty of snow. For the first winter ascent to take place, things are going to have to come together in perfect fashion, starting with Mother Nature cooperating a bit more.

We’ve followed the teams on K2 very closely all season long and it has been a tough winter for a number of reasons. Before we turn our attention to the spring climbing season in the Himalaya soon, I just want to salute all of the climbers who braved the Karakoram this winter. Hopefully they’ll be back to give the “Savage Mountain” another go soon.