Winter Climbs 2020: Weather Creates Major Problems for Everest Teams

It was another difficult day on Everest yesterday with all three teams currently on the mountain facing serious challenges due to the weather. High winds and heavy snow have made conditions more difficult than anticipated, which is beginning to put into question whether or not anyone will find success on the mountain this year.

We’ll start with an update on German climber Jost Kobusch, who has descended back to Base Camp after spending several days at altitude. On his push upwards, Kobusch was able to make his way as high as 7360 meters (24,146 ft), which he says was above his goal for this rotation. Unfortunately, once he got up that high he had challenges finding a safe route to continue higher and the weather took a turn for the worse, forcing him back to Camp 2. From there, things only further deteriorated as the snow began to fly. In fact, it was snowing so hard that when he headed down to C1 he couldn’t even find his way back to where he had set up camp. The batteries in his GPS were dead too, making it difficult to navigate. Eventually he simply decided to pitch his tent and take shelter, rather than continuing to wander in a blizzard.

Now, Jost is back in BC and most likely planning to head home. He hasn’t outright said that the expedition is over yet, but prior to his most recent push he indicated that it would be his last rotation up the mountain. He has also said that conditions on the West Ridge simply aren’t right this season, which leads me to believe he’s out of time and patience and is preparing to depart Base Camp. We’ll see what happens in the next few days, but it looks like his solo winter attempt on the world’s highest peak may be coming to an end.

Meanwhile, Alex Txikon and his five Nepalese companions reached Camp 2 yesterday and proceeded on to C3 shortly thereafter. Their goal was to get into position for summit push tomorrow or Saturday, but high winds unexpectedly pushed them back to C2.  To make matters worse, 70 cm (27.5 inches) of snow has fallen at Camp 2, burying much of the campsite. The team has had to dig out from those conditions as well while they wait to see if the weather improves.

At the moment, there is no word on the third team on Everest, the so-called “Breathless in Winter” squad, but presumably they are traveling with Txikon and his group. The shift in schedule puts a weekend summit in doubt, although weather conditions are expected to improve in the next day or two. The forecast calls for diminishing winds, which means the teams could go up to C3 tomorrow, then proceed on to C4 on Saturday, with a possible summit on Sunday. That seems like a bit of a long shot right now, but it is possible. Otherwise, the two teams may have to go back to BC to regroup and decide where to go next. Txikon has been in the Himalaya for nearly two months now and may be ready to pull the plug, while the “Breathless” team only planned on being on Everest for a week.

That’s the update for today. Tomorrow should prove very telling for what will happen over the remainder of the season.