Winter Climbs 2020: Txikon Begins Summit Push on Everest

The winter climbing season in the Himalaya is quickly coming to a head. After weeks of preparation, planning, and acclimatization, it now appears that the entire season will come down to the next few days, and whether or not the weather will cooperate with the teams. Right now, the conditions look like they could be conducive to a successful summit push, but high winds over the next few days will ultimately determine the success or failure.

Spanish climber Alex Txikon has left Base Camp today and his heading up the mountain. He takes five Sherpas with him on this push, which is likely to be his last for this year. As a reminder, Txikon has spent three of the past four winters on Everest in an attempt to make a no-oxygen summit during that season. This could be his best chance yet, as a potential weather window is aligning with all of the preparation and work that he and his team have put in. It has come at a price however, as two of his European climbing partners have been evacuated from the mountain due to injury and illness, and even now several of the Sherpas are sick too. This prompted some reinforcements to be flown in from Kathmandu yesterday to help bolster the squad, but those late arrivals will only be able to provide a minimal amount of support.

The current forecast says that the high winds currently buffeting the summit are expected to die down on February 28. That could provide a window to the top of Everest for several days, which Txikon and his team hope to take advantage of. Today, they’ll move up to Camp 1 and then slowly make their way up to Camp 4 over the next few days, where they hope to launch the final push on Friday or Saturday of this week. If all goes well, they could potentially bag the summit on one of those days and be back in BC before the end of the weekend.

They won’t be the only ones who will be making a summit push over the next few days however. The all-star team of Sherpas that arrived in BC yesterday, led by Tashi Lakpa Sherpa of Seven Summit Treks, also left Base Camp for Camp 2 today. They also plan to summit by Friday or Saturday and be off the mountain by Sunday. All of that is contingent on the weather of course, but the squad has allocated one extra day just in case the weather forecasts prove to be inaccurate. Still, they’ve given themselves a very narrow weather window, although if successful they’ll set a record for the fastest climb of Everest in winter. Taski Lakpa says he’ll also be climbing without oxygen, although it is unclear if the entire team is taking that approach.

Finally, German climber Jost Kobusch hasn’t posted an update on his progress in several days now, but his GPS tracker has shown that he has climbed as high as 7300 meters (23,950 ft) in his bid to summit Everest along the West Ridge. Currently, he has descended back down to Camp 2 and appears to be resting there, although it is unclear if he will attempt to go back up the mountain or now plans to return to Base Camp. Kobusch has said that this would be his last attempt to find a safe route to the top as he has attempted a solo, unsupported, no-oxygen ascent along one of the most difficult routes that Everest has to offer.

The next few days should prove highly interesting. Whether or not there will be any successful summits remains to be seen, but this will probably close out the winter climbing season at long last. With March nearly upon us, it will soon be time to turn our attention to the impending spring climbing season, which will really start to ramp up on another month’s time.

Kraig Becker