Winter Climbs 2020: Everest Teams Join Forces — For Now

The next few days promise to be interesting ones on the South Side of Mt. Everest in Nepal. That’s where two teams have now launched a summit bid, while a lone solo climber looks to be ending his expedition at long last. With the month of February moving along at a rapid pace, it now seems that we are at the crux of the winter season, with the current summit push most likely being the last for everyone involved. As is usual on the world’s highest peak, the weather will ultimately decide the fate of the climbers, who are moving up to hopefully take advantage of a break in the forecast.

If you’ve been following the winter climbing season on the big 8000-meter peaks, you already know that Alex Txikon has been on the mountain for weeks now. It is his third attempt to summit Everest in winter without the use of bottled oxygen and this may be his best opportunity yet. His squad has been working hard since mid-January, when they arrived in Base Camp after first summiting Ama Dablam as an acclimatization tune-up. Now, after more than month in BC, he and the five Nepalese climbers are ready to have a go at the summit.

Earlier in the week however, Txikon’s team got quite a surprise when a team of four strong Sherpa climbers arrived in BC late in the season. The so-called “Breathless in Winter” squad consists of Seven Summit Treks CEO Tashi Lakpa Sherpa, along with Pasang Nurbu Sherpa, Mingtemba Sherpa and Halung Dorchi Sherpa. The four men hope to set a speed record for ascending Everest in winter, with the hopes of reaching the summit by Saturday and returning to Base Camp by Sunday. Their arrival brought a strong continent of climbers to the mountain, but one that I’m told had it’s own agenda, which doesn’t necessarily include working with Txikon’s team.

Yesterday, the two squads left Base Camp and started up the mountain, but quickly ran into some challenges. The route through the Khumbu Icefall is extremely unstable and required some repairs, with Txikon’s team installing a new ladder or two to secure the path through this very dangerous section of the climb. Meanwhile, the late-comers to the mountain found their climb to be slowed by the heavy packs that they wore, as they only just now shuttling gear up the slopes. As it turns out, both teams ended up joining forces and came together in Camp 1 for what was surely a long and cold night. All nine men ended up squeezing into two tents, where they huddled together for warmth. They didn’t even have sleeping pads to rest on, as they are all cached in Camp 2, where the group had expected to be at the end of the day yesterday.

Today, both teams will proceed up together to C2 and then possibly press on. Whether or not they continue to cooperate with one another after that remains to be seen. Txikon has said that his route runs to the left of the traditional South Col route, because it is bit shorter and safer at this point of the season. The four newcomers may stick to the more tried-and-true path however, as it is the one that they are most familiar with. The goal today is to get safely into Camp 2 and possibly proceed up to Camp 3 depending on conditions. The plan to summit on Friday or Saturday remains the objective as well.

As these two squads launch their summit bids, it now appears that Jost Kobusch’s expedition may be coming to an end. He has yet to post an update on his status, but his satellite tracker shows him descending back to Camp 1 yesterday and he is expected back in BC today. Prior to launching his most recent rotation, the young German has said this would be his final go. It appears that he reached as high as 7300 meters (23,950 ft) but was likely turned back by dangerous conditions. You’ll recall, Kobusch’s ambitious goals included climbing Everest in winter, solo and without oxygen, along the seldom-used West Ridge. That’s a herculean task to say the least. For now, we’ll hope he gets back to Base Camp and one piece, then wait for an announcement regarding his plans.

Look for another update tomorrow with more information on the current status of all of these teams.