Winter Climbs 2020: Broad Peak Summit Push Turned Back and More

While I was away at the Winter Outdoor Retailer show this past week, the winter expeditions to 8000 meter peaks continued to unfold. With February now upon us, those teams are beginning to hear the clock ticking, with lots of work still ahead. But there is still some time left to find success, although as always with a winter ascent, patience will be key.

The biggest news of the week came from Broad Peak, where Denis Urubko, Don Bowie, and Lotta Hintsa have made the most progress, yet also came up short of their goals. The trio launched a summit bid late in the week, with Urubko reaching as high as 7650 meters (25,098 ft).

That highpoint came after he spent the night sleeping inside a crevasse to take shelter from high winds and cold temperatures, while teammates Bowie and Hintsa put up a tent below. But the next day as he proceeded upwards, the Russian-Polish (by way of Kazakstan) climber encountered deep snow and dangerous crevasses, without any rope to help him safely pass. It was about then that he decided that discretion was the better part of valor and turned back.

The three climbers then met up in Camp 3 and descended back to Base Camp where they are now resting and contemplating their next move. My guess is that they’ll recover their strength, wait for another weather window, and launch another summit bid. Although this time, it could well be their final attempt on the mountain.

Over on Everest, German climber Jost Kobusch attempted to climb back up to Camp 1 at the end of last week as well, only to find that much of the work he had previously put in was destroyed. An avalanche took out his fixed ropes, leaving them tattered or completely swept away.

This turned out to be a blessing in disguise however, as on his way up he unknowingly injured his foot. Upon return to BC he discovered that it was swollen, sore, and very difficult to walk on. In a Facebook post, Kobusch says that had he reached C1, he may not have been able to get back down again.

He’s currently resting in Base Camp, where he’s hoping his foot will recover enough to give him another shot at the mountain. As a reminder, he’s attempting a solo, unsupported, winter ascent of Everest along the West Ridge, without oxygen no less. In other words, the expedition is a long shot to say the least.

After summiting Ama Dablam last week, Alex Txikon and company have arrived on Everest as well and have begun working the standard route to the summit. That includes finding a route through the dreaded Khumbu Icefall, which has claimed one of the team members already.

Earlier today, while installing ladders over the crevasses, one of the ice bridges collapsed, sending a climber falling down 12 meters (39 feet) and injuring some ribs. He’s being airlifted back to Kathmandu and is heading home, reducing the strength of the squad some. Their goal is to summit Everest without using supplemental oxygen in winter, which is a tough undertaking in and of itself.

It also appears that Alex and his team could be setting the route through the icefall without the use of the Icefall Doctors, the specialized team of Sherpas who typically handle that work. For now, they’re still in BC and establishing that route, with a lot of work to be done in the days ahead.

Finally, the international team of climbers led by Mingma G on K2 have not posted an updated in nearly two weeks. Presumably the group is doing fine and making very slow progress, but it is a bit odd to have not heard anything.

My best guess is that there simply isn’t much to report. If poor weather is restricting them to Base Camp, they’ve likely made little headway. It is possible that they’ve been installing fixed ropes and shuttling gear, but just haven’t had much else to say. For now, we’ll sit and wait for an update to learn more about their progress.

That’s it for today. More news as it is warranted.

Kraig Becker