While the winter climbing season in the Himalaya and the Karakoram was not without drama, it came to a frustrating close for both expeditions still hoping to eke out their original goals. Last week, the Spaniard Alex Txikon abandoned his efforts to climb Everest in winter, and today came word that the Polish K2 expedition— which sought to make the first winter ascent of the only 8,000-meter peak still unclimbed in winter—was curtailing operations.
On the Polish Winter Himalaism Facebook Page the expedition leader Krzysztof Wielicki announced, “Based on a deep analysis of the situation in agreement with the team I decided today to end the mountain action on K2.”
Adam Bielecki and Janusz Gołąb’s report from their final reconnaissance up the Abruzzi Spur—the route via which the team hoped to reach the summit—was disheartening. Though the expedition had already established Camps 1, 2 and 3 along the route, and though Bielecki had been up to 7,400 meters on a previous outing, conditions were extremely poor. After more than 80 inches of snow kept all the climbers tent bound in Base Camp for the previous eight days, Wielicki wrote, “It turns out that on the road to C1 all ropes are blocked [likely buried or frozen in ice], the tent at the base is damaged, there is also a high likelihood of destruction of C1, C2 and C3.”
Between poor conditions on the route, high avalanche danger on the upper snow slopes, and only a short weather window on the horizon around March 11, the decision to call it a day was the most prudent. “The priority of the expedition is the safety of the participants,” Wielicki concluded, and the objective dangers on the mountain combined with pressure of trying to force a summit before the end of winter would have compromised that priority.
Bielecki said that the Polish climbers should be home in about 15 days—more information about the expedition sure to come then.
The K2 expedition was the last of the three major winter 8,000er expeditions this year. At the end of January, Elisabeth Revol and Tomek Mackiewicz made the second-ever winter ascent of Nanga Parbat before things turned disastrous. Mackiewicz became snowblind and hypoxic. Revol left him at 7,280 meters. She was rescued two days later by members of the K2 expedition, Adam Bielecki and Denis Urubko. Mackiewicz died on the mountain. The third winter expedition was Alex Txikon and the Pakistani Ali Sadpara’s on Everest. On February 28, Txikon reported on Facebook, “After a great deal of thought and doing everything in our power to pursue our dream, we complete the expedition of 2018 to the winter Everest without artificial oxygen. It’s not easy moments, but I know it’s the best decision.”