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Winter Expedition Rundown: K2, Everest, Broad Peak

The 2020 winter season is seeing several major expeditions in Nepal and Pakistan. From Jost Kobusch working on the first solo, unsupported, sans-supplemental oxygen winter ascent of Everest to Denis Urubko and Don Bowie attempting Broad Peak, a host of big alpinists are battling a host of big mountains.

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Jost Kobusch

Jost Kobusch climbing technical rock to reach Lho La, Everest. Photo: Daniel Hug.

The youngest person to summit Ama Dablam (6,812 m) in winter, German wunderkind Jost Kobusch also made the first ascent of Nangpai Gossum II (7,296 meters), at the time the fourth highest unclimbed peak on earth, alone and unsupported. Now the 27-year-old is shooting to complete a winter ascent of Everest (8,848 m), solo, unsupported and without oxygen. If successful, the peak will be his second 8,000-meter summit (he climbed Annapurna [8,091 m] alone in 2016).

He is attempting to summit via the seldom-climbed West Ridge and Hornbein Couloir, which he feels is much safer for a solo alpinist, avoiding the notorious Khumbu Icefall. In an interview with Rock & Ice prior to his expedition, he explained his decision: “[The West Ridge] has really good exposure to winds, which you benefit from. It will be pretty windy on the lower parts, but therefore it will be pretty icy, so not too much deep snow and I can move pretty fast.”

Rock & Ice also talked with Kobusch from his Camp I at the Lho La col (6,000 m) earlier this week via WhatsApp. He rope-soloed and fixed lines on the initial three rock pitches, estimating them to be about 6b+ (5.11a), and then traversed onto the glacier with WI 4 climbing up to the col. “I was hoping to have established Camp II by now,” he said. “Still, I’m on schedule for a possible summit push in early February.”

[Also Read Jost Kobusch To Attempt Everest’s West Ridge, Solo, In Winter]

Kobusch noted that his personal goal at this point was simply to reach the West Shoulder and to learn as much as possible for future attempts. “Conditions are very dry, rocky, with lots of hard ice,” he said. “Camp II will be challenging to place. It will need to be well-protected from rockfall, icefall, and the enormous amount of wind.”

In his messages, Kobusch said his tent was being ripped apart from the high winds and that he was planning a brief descent from Lho La until conditions improved. Nevertheless, he remained optimistic. “I’m a child on the biggest playground on earth,” he said.

Kobusch is currently back at Base Camp, according to his tracker. To follow his progress, see his website.

Antarctica, Ama Dablam and Everest

Alex Txikon and team

Txikon at Everest in winter 2018. Photo: Alex Txikon.

Fresh off a stint putting up a pair of new routes on peaks at the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula, the Basque alpinist and his team are currently working on Ama Dablam (6,812 m). The team constructed an igloo at Base Camp to keep out the bitter cold, a trick Txikon learned on a failed winter K2 (8,611 m) bid last year. Most of the team is now set up at camp 1 (5,400 m), despite tremendous winds which have blown away three tents and a portion of their gear. Txikon and another member fixed the route to camp 2 on the morning of January 22.

Txikon made the first winter ascent of Nanga Parbat (8,126 m) with Simone Moro and Ali Sadpara in 2016, and is a veteran of numerous winter ascents and expeditions. Several members of the expedition drove by car from Spain to Nepal, a journey of nearly 10,000 miles. Txikon’s team was also accompanied on the approach by three disabled youth mountaineers, Juan Alejandro Martínez, José Urbano and Jesús Bermúdez, and their coaches, members of the Amiab Group, a nonprofit supporting the inclusion of physically and mentally disabled persons. The trio have currently trekked on to Kala Pattar (5,300 m) on Everest.

[Also Read Everest In Winter, Redux: Alex Txikon Heading Back For Round Two]

The full team currently at Ama Dablam is large: Pasang Sherpa, Chhepal Sherpa, Oscar Cardo, Jonatan García, Ramón Portilla, Félix Criado, Sergio Pérez, Francisco Miguel Fernández, Alejandro Albacete, David Javega, Jesús Morales, José
Manuel Zapata and Francisco Hurtado.

Txikon hopes for a summit on Ama Dablam by the end of January, and his team is planning a winter ascent of Everest via the Southeast Ridge immediately following. To follow Txikon’s progress, see his website.

Cheppal Sherpa on Ama Dablam. Photo: Alex Txikon.

Broad Peak, K2

Alex Txikon Denis Urubko, Don Bowie and Lotta Hintsa

Star alpinists Denis Urubko and Don Bowie are currently attempting a winter ascent of Broad Peak (8,047 m) along with Finnish model Lotta Hintsa, who will not summit but is supporting the team. If successful, it will be the first winter ascent of Broad by meteorological standards. Meteorological winter is December 1 to February 29. Astronomical winter lasts between the winter solstice and spring equinox (December 22 to March 20). Thus some alpinists, Urubko included, feel that a true winter ascent should take place before March 1. By his definition, the generally accepted first winter ascent of Broad Peak in March 2013 is invalid as a winter ascent.

Also Read

Denis Urubko Climbs New Route On Gasherbrum II, Solo

Urubko Goes Rogue On Winter K2 Expedition

Bowie and Urubko reached Camp II this week, then continued on to tag 6,650 meters, pushing on through brutally cold temperatures (-52℃). All team members are currently back at Base Camp preparing for another push.

After Broad, they plan to take a shot at the legendary K2 as well, the last remaining 8,000-meter unclimbed in winter. In Alan Arnette’s article last year on the possibility of K2 in winter, he discussed a suggested plan of action involving acclimatization on the safer, more predictable Broad Peak before a three day blitz of K2 during a solid weather window, which seems to be exactly what Urubko and Bowie are in position to do.

To follow their progress, check Bowie’s Instagram.


Mingma Gyalje Sherpa and team

The Nepalese alpinist Mingma Gyalje Sherpa is leading the team of John Snorri (Iceland), Gao Li (China), and Tomaž Rotar (Slovenia), in an assault on K2 along with three Sherpas, Tamting, Pasang Namgel and Kili Pempa. Despite initial issues with financing, the expedition moved forward and reached Broad Peak’s Base Camp on the 21st. They are en-route to K2 Base Camp now.

[Also Read K2 In Winter: Can It Ever Be Done?]

The 33-year-old Mingma has conquered 13 of the 14 8,000-meter peaks (Shishapangma is the sole outlier), and will climb without supplemental oxygen on K2. A staggering 83 8000-meter summits are held between himself and the three other Sherpas. The other team members are less experienced in winter, but Snorri has climbed K2 with Mingma, plus Lhotse and Manaslu. Gao Li has summits of Manaslu and Everest, as well as a linkup of Lhotse and Makalu. Rotar holds summits of Everest, K2 and Kanchenjunga.

The team’s local Hunza guide, Sarbaz Khan, was a member of the first team to summit Nanga Parbat in fall, and notably has topped five 8,000-meter peaks without supplementary oxygen, including K2.

Follow Mingma on Facebook for his updates.

In other news, Hungarian Zoltán Szlankó is reportedly attempting an Ama Dablam winter ascent with Alex Goldfarb (USA). Meanwhile, a Polish team led by Piotr Tomala is gunning for the first winter summit of Pakistan’s Batura Sar (7,795 m). This team is reportedly using Sar as prep for a winter K2 bid in winter 2020-2021. They left for a four day trek to their planned Base Camp at 4,200 meters on Tuesday. Only one winter attempt has been made at Batura Sar nearly 40 years ago, in 1981. Check the expedition’s Facebook page here.