Winter Climbs 2020: Bad Weather and Dangerous Conditions

So begins the grind. The 2020 winter climbing season has been underway for several weeks now, with a number of teams arriving on various mountains following the start of the New Year. As happens every year, they arrive with a lot of energy, excitement, hope, and enthusiasm, often amidst good weather early on. But eventually reality sets in. It gets cold, the snow starts to fly, and the dangers of avalanches and hypothermia begin to set in. We’ve now entered that phase for most of the winter climbing teams, who currently facing their biggest challenge of all, having to be patient and opportunistic in their approach.

We’ll start with an update from Broad Peak, where Denis Urubko, Don Bowie, and Lotta Hintsa are making slow, but steady progress. Earlier today, Urubko checked in with his home team to let them know he had arrived in Camp 2 at 6400 meters (20,997 ft) where he was enjoying tea in the tent. HIs teammates weren’t far behind and were scheduled to join him shortly. That means that they’ve fixed the ropes to C2 and established their campsite there and are likely preparing to spend the night as part of their acclimatization. They’ve spent the better part of the past week working on that route, while also waiting out bad weather. The forecast is good for now, but is expected to change over the weekend, with high winds and snow on the horizon. If possible, they’ll probably spend two nights at C2, inspect the route up to Camp 3, and then descend back to Base Camp before the change in weather comes. So far, they seem happy with their progress.

Nearby on K2, Base Camp still remains empty. The team of Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, Gao Li, Tomaz Rotar, John Snorri, Tamting Sherpa , Pasang Namgel Sherpa, and Kili Pempa Sherpa set out from Askole on Wednesday of this week, with four dozen porters helping them to carry their gear and supplies. The trek to BC will take minimum of a week to complete, particularly with such a large group, so not much else to report at this point. I’d expect them to arrive in BC late next week and begin getting settled as soon as possible. By then, there will be less than two months to in the season, and the clock will be ticking.

Simone Moro and Tamara Lunger have checked in from Gasherbrum I, where they were waiting out poor conditions earlier in the week. The had opened a route up the mountain, but heavy snow filled it back in again, forcing them to break trail for a second time. While doing so, Moro found himself nearly caught up in shifting snows that were sliding down the side of the mountain. He says that this “snow detachment” wasn’t large in size, but it would have been fatal had he not avoided it. Fortunately, no one was injured and both Simone and Tamara are fine, but will be proceeding with caution for awhile.

Jumping over to Nepal, Alex Txikon has arrived in the Khumbu Valley, with his squad now starting to arrive on Ama Dablam. Their ultimate goal is to make a no-oxygen summit on Everest, but they’ll tune up on the lower mountain first. Expect them to take a few weeks accomplishing that task, before trekking to Everest to start their climb there. The goal is to acclimatize on the easier, less-dangerous Ama Dablam first, then arrive in EBC much more prepared to tackle that peak.

Speaking of Everest, German climber Jost Kobusch has returned to Base Camp after heading up to Camp 1 along the West Ridge a few days back. His plan is to spend a few days resting then return to C1 and contuse to scout the route and prepare for his ambitious ascent. Kobusch hopes to not only summit the world’s highest peak in winter, but do so solo and without oxygen. To make things even tougher, the West Ridge is a seldom climbed route that is extremely difficult as well. So far, Kobusch, who acclimatized in the Khumbu throughout the autumn, is in good spirits and is feeling great.

That’s an update on where the major winter teams stand heading into the weekend. As usual, the weather will dictate where they go from here and progress is likely to remain slow. Technically, winter lasts until March 20, so they have plenty of time still remaining provided they get the proper windows they need to proceed. More to come soon.

Kraig Becker