Nepalese team makes first successful winter ascent of K2 – The Guardian

A team of Sherpas has accomplished one of the most coveted achievements in mountaineering: the first winter ascent of K2, the world’s second tallest mountain, and the only one of the world’s 14 peaks over 8,000 metres high never to have been climbed during the winter season.

Ten Sherpas, prominent among them Nirmal Purja, a former Gurkha and UK special forces member who had previously climbed all 14 8,000-metre-plus peaks in just over six months, summited K2 in Pakistan on Saturday. They left their high camp at 1am for their summit attempt via the Abruzzi Spur in temperatures as cold as -40C but with low wind and in brilliant sunshine.

K2 was first climbed 66 years ago by Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli; there had been six previous attempts in winter on the mountain, none of them successful.

In the world of high altitude climbing, so long dominated by western climbers and expeditions who have relied on Sherpas to assist them, the ascent – and by such a large team – marks an extraordinary achievement for Nepali mountaineering.

The team finally reached the summit at 5pm local time, waiting until they were all assembled before singing the Nepali national anthem and descending.

K2 was the last 8,000m peak awaiting a winter ascent after Nanga Parbat was climbed in 2016. Winter ascents of the world’s very highest mountains are at best extremely rare, and the technical and weather challenges on K2 have beaten determined attempts by some of the world’s strongest Himalayan climbers.

In a statement from the summit Purja said: “What a journey. I’m humbled to say that as a team, we have summited the magnificent K2 in extreme winter conditions.

“We set out to make the impossible possible and we are honoured to be sharing this moment, not only with the Nepalese climbing community but with communities all across the world.

“Mother nature always has bigger things to say and standing on the summit, witness to the sheer force of her extremities, we are proud to have been a part of history for humankind and to show that collaboration, teamwork and a positive mental attitude can push limits to what we feel might be possible.”

A winter ascent of the 8,611-metre K2 had been considered by many to be an impossible task due to the inclement weather conditions. Attempts on K2 are normally made in July or August, during the warmest periods – and only 280 people have reached its summit in comparison with 3,681 who have made it to the top of Everest. Climbers have been interested in climbing K2 in winter since the mid-1980s, not long after the first winter ascent of Everest.

Before the successful ascent on Saturday, Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, one of the summit team, underlined the importance to the Sherpa community of making the first winter ascent. “For all the other 8,000ers summited in winter, no Sherpa was with them, so this is an opportunity for Sherpa to demonstrate their strength,” he said.

“Besides alpinists, all the climbers take help from Sherpa to fulfil their dreams of 8,000-metre peaks. I have helped several foreign climbers to get to the summit of different 8,000ers. I was a little surprised to see no Sherpa on winter first ascent. So this climb is for all the Sherpa community who are so known because of our friends and clients from different foreign countries.”

The team took advantage of a brief weather window on the mountain, which is infamous for the heavy winds that hit it, especially during the winter months, to climb to a high camp at 7,350 metres from where they launched their summit attempt.

The ascent was quickly hailed as a historic achievement. “It’s done,” tweeted the Karakoram Club, an online community celebrating the area in the Himalayas where K2 is located. “The history books have been rewritten.”

Mountaineer Steve Razzetti tweeted: “Mountaineering history is being made as I post this. The Sherpa climbing team are above the Bottleneck and heading for the summit in perfect winter conditions.”

Alan Arnette, who has long chronicled Himlalayan ascents, put the climb into a historical perspective in the US climbing magazine Rock and Ice.

“That this latest holy grail of mountaineering should fall to a Sherpa and Nepali team is a clarion sign that the scales of high-altitude mountaineering are shifting.

“Ever since Maurice Herzog and Louis Lachenal made the first ascent of Annapurna in 1950, becoming the first humans to stand astride the summit of an 8,000-meter peak, climbing the world’s 14 highest mountains has been an imperialist and colonialist enterprise.

“The Sherpa have been the backbone of that enterprise – portering supplies, tending camp, fixing ropes – but reaped none of the glory or benefits.”

As news of the successful summit emerged it was also reported that a Spanish climber had died on the mountain.

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Nepalese team makes first successful winter ascent of K2 – The Guardian

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