Winter Climbs 2020: Kobusch Launches Summit Push, Txikon in BC, Urubko Retiring?

It has been an eventful week in the Himalaya and Karakoram, where the winter mountaineering expeditions on 8000 meter peaks continue despite some difficult conditions. After the start of what looked like an exciting and interesting season, we’re now down to just two active expedition teams, with one of those squads biding its time and waiting for better weather, while the other has launched a final summit bid.

We’ll start our updates from Everest, which is of course where the two remaining teams currently reside. While I’ve been traveling over the past few days, there has been a few developments on the world’s highest peak, including German climbers Jost Kobusch launching what appears to be his final attempt to summit the mountain in winter. You’ll recall that the 28-year old is hoping to make a solo ascent of Everest along the difficult and seldom-climbed West Ridge, without oxygen no less. In his latest update, Jost says that his “plan C” route has more challenges than he first expected. None of the routes have panned out so far, as he has spent the better part of the past month and a half exploring various potential paths up the mountain, mostly to no avail. He is currently in Camp 1 however and will explore one more potentially way to the top. After that, it seems Kobusch may be ready to call it quits and head home. For reference sake, he’s been in the Himalaya since last fall preparing for this expedition and has already spent more than four months in Nepal acclimatizing and peak bagging. Still, it will likely take a minor miracle for him to overcome Everest this time out.

Meanwhile, Spanish climber Alex Txikon and his team are back in Base Camp and waiting for better weather. They’re attempting a winter summit along the standard South Col route, but have experienced some high winds and poor conditions in recent days. Earlier in the week they spent five days high on the slopes of the mountain, but were forced down when the weather took a turn for the worse. That was a good rotation in terms of acclimatization, but it also saw one of the team members take ill and have to be airlifted back to Kathmandu. That’s the second climber who had to leave the squad, which means the group isn’t as strong as it once was. Still, Txikon and his Sherpa friends are fairly well acclimated at this point and could get a real shot at the summit provided the weather cooperates.

As noted earlier in the week, Denis Urubko had a close call on Broad Peak and decided to call it quits on his attempt to climb that mountain in winter. At the time, we only knew that he had survived an avalanche and had a close call with a malfunctioning rope, but the details in his report were a bit sketchy. Now, ExWeb has the full story, which not only includes Urubko getting swept down the mountain for 100 meters, but him also dusting himself off and resuming the climb. Even when the rope broke, dropping him another 15 meters (49 ft), he simply installed another rope and kept going. Unfortunately, bad weather caught up with him above 7500 meters (24,606 ft), forcing him to at last turn back. He was able to turn around and return to Bc safely however, where he later received word that he would be evacuated by helicopter thanks to some friends in high places. This saved him a tiring walk out and was perceived as a great honor for the mountaineer, who felt the flight wasn’t necessary but was a nice luxury for sure. He’s now heading home with this big expedition behind him.

The real question now is, whether or not he is retiring from 8000-meter peaks as he said that he would. In my previous report on the end of his expedition, I mentioned the possibility that this might happen. In a dispatch from the Karakoram, Denis has said that he is now on a diet as he gets ready to begin his second act as a rock climber. He wants to take on some seriously challenging routes and says that this will now be the focus of his athletic endeavors, moving away from the dangerous big mountain expeditions. Whether or not he holds true to that promise remains to be seen, but at the age of 46—and now married—he seems ready to move into a new phase of his career.

Finally, one expedition that we haven’t reported on much this winter is the Polish squad’s attempt on Batura Sar, a 7795-meter (25,574 ft) peak in Pakistan that is highly technical and challenging. The team, which is led by climber Piotr Tomala, is there as a tune up for a winter attempt on K2 next season, has been battling tough conditions, including a week-long storm that kept them tent bound. Now, they’re heading back up the mountain to reestablish their Camp 1 and continue fixing ropes to what will eventually be C2. While a summit on this mountain would be good, their goal is to get experience for next year and so far they are getting plenty of that.

That’s the current state of affairs on the major winter expeditions. More to come soon I’m sure.

Kraig Becker