Winter Climbs 2020: K2 Team Abruptly Pulls the Plug

A few days back I posted an update on the major winter climbs that are taking place on 8000-meter peaks this season. After providing the latest news from Broad Peak and Everest, I noted that there hadn’t been any updates from K2 in nearly two weeks. That was a bit unusual, although there was no cause for panic. I speculated that poor weather was likely keeping everyone locked in Base Camp and awaiting an opportunity to move up. As it turns out, there was even more than that going on, as ExWeb is currently reporting that the team has completely pulled the plug on the expedition, with most of the squad departing via helicopter after what sounds like a tension-filled few weeks.

According to the report, the entire team has left K2 BC in what is being described as a rescue mission. Some of the support crew, including a local Pakistani climber and the team’s liaison officer are hiking out, which won’t be easy amidst the deep snow and poor conditions. But apparently, the main participants—which includes Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, Gao Li, Tomaz Rotar, and John Snorri—are all exiting on the flight. Beyond that however, ExWeb indicates that Snorri has provided some insights into the team dynamic, which seems to have been strained. He says that Mingma G and Gao Li have both said that they are not fully prepared to take on the mountain, throwing their chances of success into a tailspin.

It has felt that this expedition was somewhat doomed from the start. Back in December, there were still questions about whether or not they would even be going to K2 this season, as a lack of funding kept everyone at home until the last minute. The group didn’t arrive in Pakistan until well into January and they seemed to drag their feet when it cam to making the journey from Skardu to Askole, and then beyond. They didn’t even arrive in Base Camp until January 22, then stopped providing updates on January 24. Now, just a couple of weeks later, they have given up and done home.

This all-but assures that K2 will go unclimbed for another winter. Denis Urubko has said that he and Don Bowie might take a crack at it after he has finished up on Broad Peak, but it was a secondary objective at best. With no ropes already installed on the mountain, and time running out on the winter season, it seems unlikely that they’ll actually give it a serious attempt. The duo has enough on their plate already, having set off for Camp 2 on Broad Peak yesterday, with plans to move up to C3 today. If all goes as planned, they could make a summit push on Friday or Saturday.

Meanwhile, over on Everest, Alex Txikon and his team have moved up to Camp 2, although it hasn’t been easy. High winds have blasted them over the past few days, making it very difficult to make any kind of headway. They’re stashing gear on the mountain right now, and spending some time at altitude to assess their situation. After spending the night at C2 last night, the plan is to remain their today and see if conditions improve. Should that happen, they’ll start work in the route to C3 tomorrow, but if things deteriorate they’ll drop back to BC and await another weather window.

We’ll continue to keep an eye on the proceeding and provide updates as news breaks.