It has been over 20 years since the first climbers attempted K2 in winter. Since then, a host of expeditions have made the attempt, with no-one climbing above Camp 4 (7950 metres, 26,075 feet). With violent and changeable weather, high altitude and the need to endure incessant cold, the challenges are exponential compared to an ascent in the summer season.
The Sherpas who were reported to be on the summit today included: Mingma G., Kilu Pemba Sherpa and Dawa Tenzing Sherpa. Seven Summits Treks had a lone member in Sona Sherpa, and Nims Purja’s team included Pem Chhiri Sherpa, Dawa Temba Sherpa, Mingma Tenzi Sherpa, Gelje Sherpa and Mingma Gyabu Sherpa (David).
Not surprisingly, it was an all Nepali team, the majority of them Sherpas, a group of people, who ever since Tenzing Norgay’s first ascent of Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary, have excelled at high altitude climbing.
And a rarity certainly in the highly competive world of climbing, Dawa reported from Base Camp:
It’s done almostNepalese Team planned to stop 10m below the summit, form a group ( all 10 climbers) and get the summit together!- Dawa from Basecamp
The Nepalis were able to combat the two primary challenges, with their innate adaptability to acclimatize and and climb fast, enabling them to move quickly up the mountain, take advantage of a single day of good weather, and reach the summit late in the afternoon local time on 16 January, 2021.
Perhaps more remarkably, despite winter traditionally being a time of pressures that make climbing without oxygen even more challenging, some were attempting to summit without it.
If they started around 1 a.m. as planned, and summited about 5 p.m., that makes for a very long day – 16 hours at altitude anywhere would be incredibly challenging. And of course now they need to get down, in the dark. The short climbing hours of a winter night are just another added difficulty.
The climb has certainly not been without challenges. Medical conditions have forced the evacuation of four climbers from Base Camp, rockfall has hit and injured a number of climbers on the mountain and cases of frostbite have been reported.
After years of western expeditions dominating the record books, deservedly or not, it is certainly welcoming to see this magnificent achievement and last great challenge of the high peaks in winter, fall to the Nepalis.
With the climbers on the top now, here’s to a quick and safe journey back down the mountain to a bit more warmth and comfort below. I’m slightly vested in their safe climb and return as Pem Chirri Sherpa and I will be guiding together on Everest in just a few months time.