The 2020 winter climbing season on the big 8000 meter peaks is over. After a long and difficult few months, the grind came to an end today as the three remaining teams have called off their expeditions. What started off as a season full of promise ended up with exactly zero summits across Everest, K2, Broad Peak, and the Gasherbrums, reminding us that nothing is a sure thing while climbing during the coldest, harshest time of the year.
Throughout the winter we’ve been keeping a close eye on both Jost Kobusch and Alex Txikon, the two men who were driving the climbing ambitions on Mt. Everest this season. Kobusch had set a very ambitious goal of summiting the world’s highest peak without oxygen or Sherpa support along the seldom-climbed West Ridge. He even arrived in the Khumbu back in the autumn to allow himself plenty of time to acclimate before the arrival of winter. All of that preparation served him well, giving him the opportunity to reach as high as 7300 meters (23,950 ft) just a few days back. Sadly, that wasn’t enough to get him anywhere near the top, and now that he’s out of time, he’s preparing to leave Base Camp for home.
The young German arrived back in BC yesterday after a harrowing descent in bad weather. Fortunately, he was able to make it down in one piece, but with his permit set to expire tomorrow, an injured foot, and ongoing stomach ailments, Jost has decided that it is time to leave for home. All in all, the season was a difficult one, but he proved to be a strong and determined climber. Something tells me why probably haven’t heard the last from him.
While we already knew that Kobusch was heading back to BC yesterday, there was still hope that there would be summits on Everest this season thanks to Txikon and his companions. The Spaniard had been on the mountain since late January after he and his team made a winter ascent of Ama Dablam as a tune up. Over the past few weeks however, two of his European teammates were forced to abandon the expedition after suffering illness and injury. That left Alex with several Sherpa climbers to press on, but it looked liked their strength was dwindling.
Late last week, a third team arrived on Everest consisting of four very experienced and strong Sherpas. Led by Tashi Lakpa Sherpa, the so-called “Breathless in Winter” squad consisted of Pasang Nurbu Sherpa, Mingtemba Sherpa and Halung Dorchi Sherpa. This team ended up joining forces with Txikon’s group to make a summit push starting at the beginning of the week. But the predicted improvements in the weather never materialized and the group arrived at Camp 1 to find heavy snow falling. That created all kind of challenges as they went up to Camp 2 and even higher. Breaking trail in fresh snow was extremely difficult and the loose powder was creating slides and avalanches. This led to unstable conditions that were so treacherous that the group decided to call of their summit bid as well and return to Base Camp this morning.
Upon arriving back in BC, Alex checked in on Facebook as safe, although it sounds like it was another very scary descent. With his permit also set to expire tomorrow, it now appears that both he and the “Breathless” team will depart Everest in another day or so and head for home. Once again, the winter season has just been too difficult and unrelenting, keeping every major expedition from finding success. In the end, the winter 2020 season is likely to be looked back upon as one that included some truly audacious plans, with none of them coming to fruition.
We’ll continue to monitor what is happening in the Himalaya and Karakoram moving forward, but it looks like it’s about to get very quiet. That won’t last particularly long however, as April 1 will bring the start of the spring climbing season. That’s the busiest time of the year on Everest and other major mountains, so it won’t be long until we have plenty more to talk about again.
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