Winter Climbs 2020: Teams Heading to K2, Gasherbrum I, and Everest

While the rest of us were enjoying a holiday break over the past couple of weeks, the climbing teams heading to 8000-meter mountains this winter were very busy indeed. Now that January is officially upon us, ushering in a new decade no less, those squads are either settling into their respective Base Camps or are in transit and preparing for the start of their expeditions.

The next two months promise to be incredibly interesting, with some very high-profile climbers embarking on some incredibly difficult expeditions across the Himalaya and the Karakoram.

Arguably the most interesting of all of the winter expeditions will take place on K2. That’s where Mingma Gyalje Sherpa and his team — consisting of Gao Li, Tomaz Rotar, John Snorri, Tamting Sherpa , Pasang Namgel Sherpa, and Kili Pempa Sherpa, will attempt the first winter ascent of that peak. As you probably already know, K2 is the last 8000-meter mountain to go unclimbed during that season and this squad is hoping to be the first to accomplish that feat.

For much of the fall, it looked like this expedition wouldn’t get off the ground, mostly due to a lack of funding. But at the last minute, the team found the cash they needed to move forward and the group is now gathering in Islamabad.

Mingma G, who will attempt the mountain without bottled oxygen, is expected to arrive there tomorrow and they’ll soon be on their way to BC. Expect them to arrive on the mountain sometime next week at the earliest, as even the trek to K2 takes some time. You can follow updates to their progress here.

Broad Peak—K2’s neighbor—will also see a winter attempt this year. In fact, Denis Urubko, Don Bowie, and Lotta Hintsa are already in BC and have started their acclimatization rotations. Urubko and Bowie have both shuttled gear up to Camp 1 and have spent the night there in preparation for a future summit push, weather permitting. So far, things seem to be going according to plan with solid progress and decent weather, at least by winter Karakoram standards.

The other major expedition taking place in Pakistan this winter is Simone Moro and Tamara Lunger’s attempt to complete the Gasherbrum Traverse. There plan is to summit GI, then descend to Gasherbrum-La, before continuing along the ridge up to GII. That route has only been done one other time and never in winter, so this is quite an ambitious project too.

The duo are in Pakistan but have had slow progress, thanks in part because of flights being cancelled last week, resulting in a very long bus ride to Skardu, their starting point for the expedition. Despite those setbacks however, the two climbers are no on Gasherbrum I and are exploring the route. They report cold temperatures, lots of snow, and winds exceeding 130 km/h (80 mph).

Not all of the winter action is taking place in Pakistan. There are two teams heading to Everest his winter as well, including Alex Txikon who will attempt that mountain without bottled oxygen. This will be the Spaniard’s third attempt at this climb over the past four years, with Alex taking last winter off from Everest to give K2 a go instead. He’s expected to arrive in Nepal tomorrow and will warm up with an ascent of Ama Dablam before traveling to Everest Base Camp.

German climber Jost Kobusch may be undertaking the most difficult of all of the winter expeditions this season. He’ll also be attempting an Everest climb, but he’ll make his ascent along the very difficult and seldom visited West Ridge.

To make things more challenging, he’s giving that route a go solo, without oxygen, and without Sherpa support. If he succeeds—and that’s a very big “if”—it will be one of the most impressive feats of mountaineering ever. Taking the West Ridge does allow him to avoid the Khumbu Icefall however, although it presents some big challenges of its own.

In preparation for this climb, Kobusch has been climbing in the Himalaya throughout the autumn, so he is well acclimated already. He is also on Everest now and has been exploring the route over the past few days. As usual, the weather will dictate his schedule.

The stage is set on these major peaks and the teams are now settling into place. I’ll post more updates moving forward as there is news to share. It should be an interesting winter expedition season to say the least.

Kraig Becker