Winter Climbs 2020: It’s Over on Broad Peak, Another Climber Airlifted From Everest

The past few days have been incredibly difficult ones for the winter mountaineering teams on Everest and Broad Peak. Both mountains have seen poor weather conditions over the past week, but the conditions had improved enough to allow the teams to go on the move. But by the time the weekend was over, one expedition was finished for good, while another saw a serious blow to its chances of success.

We’ll start with an update from Broad Peak, where Denis Urubko had hoped to make one final summit push before the porters arrived to dismantle his camp in a few days. After losing his climbing partners to illness, Urubko was going it alone on the mountain, knowing full well that clock was ticking against him. Base Camp is expected to be taken apart and shipped back to Skardu on February 20 and he himself had set a drop-dead date of March 1, no matter the circumstances. With that in mind, over the weekend Denis launched a summit bid with the hopes of reaching the top completely on his own. Unfortunately, things didn’t go quite as planned and from the sounds of things Urubko is lucky to have gotten down alive.

According to his Facebook page, Denis encountered wind speeds in excess of 70-80 km/h (43-49 mph), which as you would expect made things extremely difficult. Worse yet, he was caught up in an avalanche that sent him tumbling down hill for 100 meters, breaking a fixed rope in the process. When that rope snapped, he fell another 50 meters, but avoided dropping into a crevasse. Urubko says “I fought, despite everything. Is enough!”

In other words, he gave it his all, but the mountain is too dangerous and it is time to go home. He is now safely back in Base Camp and preparing to leave Broad Peak behind, possibly for good. Urubko has said that he is nearing retirement from big and dangerous 8000-meter expeditions and there is a chance that this could be his last one. We’ll have to wait to see if that holds true, but considering his harrowing experience on BP, who could blame him?

Jumping over to Mt. Everest in Nepal, the teams there are facing their own set of challenges. After the high winds abated on the mountain last week, Alex Txikon and his team headed up for more acclimatization and rope fixing. Unfortunately, this has led to a bit of difficult news for this squad as well, as it was announced that Óscar Cardo—one of the strongest members of the team—had to be airlifted from Camp 2 after developing pulmonary edema. He is reportedly safe back in Kathmandu and already improving, but his loss is a severe blow to the effort to scale the world’s highest mountain in winter without oxygen. A few weeks back, another member of the team also had to be airlifted back to Kathmandu after suffering injuries falling into a crevasse. In this war of attrition, the mountain is currently winning, although the battle isn’t over quite yet. Txikon is making his third attempt at a winter ascent and isn’t likely to go home just yet.

Finally, German climber Jost Kobusch is in Camp 1 after climbing higher on the West Ridge to scout possible routes. In a Facebook post he says that he has found one that is possible, although it is extremely difficult and dangerous. Kobusch describes it as filled with hard blue ice and challenging climbing where any wrong move could prove fatal. From the sounds of things, he will continue to scout and look for a safer way to the top, although that won’t easy considering the scope of his ambitions. The 27-year old hopes to summit along a seldom used and extremely hard route, solo and without oxygen. Under the best of circumstances, that’s a tall order. In the winter, it is almost impossible.

That’s the update heading into the new week. I’ll continue to monitor the progress on Everest closely as the season continues to evolve.

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