Arguably the biggest prize in mountaineering right now is the first winter ascent of K2. The world’s second highest peak is the only 8000-meter mountain that remains unclimbed during the coldest, harshest season of them all. As a result, over the past few years we’ve seen a steady stream of teams go to the mountain during the winter in an effort to claim this major feat. So far, they’ve all been turned back without even getting so much as a sniff of the summit. Now, it has been announced that one of the squads that had hoped to have another go at the mountain this year is delaying its plans until 2020 instead.
ExWeb is reporting that the Polish team that had a go at a winter ascent of K2 in 2017-2018 has decided to postpone its second go around with the mountain. Team leader Piotr Tomala says that they are now looking ahead to the 2020-2021 season instead in order to get better prepared for the challenges. He indicates that some members of the team lack the experience necessary to truly take on K2, so they’ll spend this winter honing their skills and gaining that experience instead. Some of the climbers on the squad are also reportedly recovering from injuries as well, so this will provide them with the time they need to get back to health.
As Tomala points out in the article, the goal isn’t to just reach Base Camp. They want to actually make a legitimate go at the summit and his feelings are that this plan gives them the best opportunity to do just that. By delaying a year, the Poles will be stronger, more experienced, and presumably better funded as well.
Of course, they also run the risk of someone else claiming the summit first. Who that might be remains to be seen, as so far no other teams have officially declared their intentions of returning to K2 this coming winter. The most obvious alpinist to potentially do that would be Alex Txikon, who spent the better part of two and a half months on the mountain this past winer. ExWeb has also floated the idea that Kazakh-turned-Polish climber Denis Urubko could have designs on a winter K2 expedition as well, but he has yet to announce his plans. Urubko was part of the Polish team in 2017, but famously had a falling out with the leadership, made a failed solo summit bid, then promptly left the team upon returning to Base Camp. It’s safe to say that he has probably worn out his welcome with the Poles and won’t be invited back.
With the spring climbing season in the Himalaya still in full swing, its hard to look ahead to the winter season on K2. At this point however, I’d be surprised if there wasn’t at least one or two teams in the Karakoram this year having a go at the first winter ascent. We’ll just have to wait to see who actually announces their plans later in the year.
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