Last week we shared the news of the historic first winter ascent of K2, which ended decades of frustration on the world’s second highest peak. That feat—which many felt was the last great “first” in mountaineering—was accomplished by a team of ten Nepali mountaineers, led by the indomitable Mingma G and Nims Purja.
In the days since that incredible triumph, the climbers have all descended the mountain safely and left Base Camp altogether to start their journey home. The team’s return to civilization has also provided more insights into their climb, including a video from the summit and the news that purja made the ascent without the use of bottled oxygen.
Summit Video of a Team United
When news of the successful summit on K2 first made its way out to the world, we learned that the faster members of the team, who neared the summit ahead of their companions, waited a few meters below the top so that they could all complete the ascent together. In the video above—which chronicles the final steps to the top of the mountain—we see the Sherpa climbers linked arm and arm as they near their goal, displaying a high level of unity, cooperation, and dedication in the process.
The clip itself is only a minute in length and includes portraits of each member of the summit team. But it is the opening 40+ seconds that are the most impressive, showing the entire squad marching up a snow-covered slope while singing the Nepali national anthem. One they stand on the top of the mountain itself, they unsurprisingly break out in celebration.
For many members of the the group this climb held even more importance than just completing the first winter ascent. It also brought validation and much-deserved recognition to Nepali mountaineers, who have been the backbone of the Himalayan climbing community for decades. This expedition showed the world that these Sherpas were no longer just porters shuttling gear for wealthy western climbers but are now groundbreaking alpinists in their own right.
Nims Summits Without Bottled Oxygen
One of the more remarkable revelations to come out over the past week is the news that Nims Purja completed his climb without the use of bottled oxygen. That is something that can be incredibly difficult at the height of summer, when the conditions are at their best. To so in the winter, when a lack of oxygen only makes you feel colder, is a stunning accomplishment to say the least.
The news that Nims climbed the mountain without oxygen should silence some of the critics and doubters. Purja himself was the subject of ridicule by a few alpinists back in 2019, even as he completed one of the most remarkable feats in the history of mountaineering. That was when Nims managed to climb all 14 of the world’s 8000-meter peaks in just eight months time. The previous record was well over seven years, yet Purja’s accomplishment was downplayed because he used bottled oxygen on most of those expeditions.
Before the Sherpas even reached the summit of K2—which mind you had never been climbed in winter before—they were already being criticized for not attempting to reach the summit by the “fairest means possible.” Amongst purist, that means always climbing without oxygen and even limited support. Considering all previous challengers had been turned back, you can understand why the Nepali mountaineers were looking to maximize their chances at success in any way that they could.
Other Climbers are Still on the Hill
Despite the fact that the first winter ascent of K2 has now been achieved, several climbing teams remain on the mountain. Chief amongst them is Icelandic climber John Snorri and his partners Muhammad Ali Sadpara, and his son Sajid. The trio went up to Camp 2 a few days back with the goal of reaching at least C3. But high winds forced them to retreat and they are currently in BC recovering and waiting out the weather. They hope to get at least one more crack at the summit before the winter season ends. Considering they were the first to arrive on the mountain in early December, they’re no doubt already starting to dream of home.
Tamara Lunger is also still in the Karakoram and is hoping to get a crack at K2’s summit. She is one of the most experienced winter climbers in the world, having spent time with Simone Moro on Nanga Parbat, Manaslu, and the Gasherbrums. She’s currently in Base Camp and waiting for the next weather window too.
The Seven Summit Treks squad remains on the mountain as well, also biding their time. But with their strongest climbers already taking part of the record-setting summit push there are few left amongst them who have a serious shot at topping out. I would expect they’ll depart for home in the days ahead, barring some major shift in weather.
Meanwhile, Romanian climber Alex Gavan has pulled the plug on his winter K2 attempt. Like many of us, Gavan was reportedly stunned by the death of Sergi Mingote last week and decided it was best to leave rather than climb with a heavy heart. He has already departed Base Camp is making his way back home.
Whether or not anyone else will stand on K2’s loft summit this year remains to be seen, but it has already been an incredible season to watch unfold.
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