How Climbers Reached the Summit of K2 in Winter for the First Time

Team Nimsdai, made up of six climbers, was led by Purja, a former Nepalese soldier and British special forces operator who — after retiring from the military — burst onto the climbing scene in 2019 when he climbed all 14 8,000-meter peaks in six months and six days, shaving more than seven years off the world record.

Purja is Magar, not Sherpa, but he formed a team that included five Sherpa climbers. The team included Geljen Sherpa, who climbed several Himalayan peaks with Purja in 2019, and Mingma David Sherpa, best-known for rescuing 52 climbers from the slopes of Everest in a single season in 2016.

Mingma G, a Sherpa climber who had climbed Everest five times, K2 twice and who had climbed all the world’s 8,000-meter peaks before turning 30, led a separate team of Sherpa climbers.

Together they and a team of local Pakistani porters hauled 70 camp tents, six dining tents and 30 specially designed high-altitude tents on a spectacular weeklong 60-mile trek through the snow to base camp at roughly 17,000 feet. They also packed thousands of meters of rope, dozens of ice screws, rock pitons, supplemental oxygen and kerosene, 360 pounds of meat, and 400 pounds of chocolate, cookies and energy bars.

It had been decided before their arrival that all the climbers at base camp would follow the standard Abruzzi route that winter. On Dec. 26, Purja and his team stuffed their packs with rope, tents, and four days of food, and climbed the 40-degree slope to Camp I at 20,013 feet to begin their first four-day rotation at high altitude, to acclimatize to the conditions. The next day, they moved on to Camp II at 21,982 feet where they pitched tents beneath rock ledges offering meager shelter in the howling wind.

On Dec. 28, Purja’s radio chirped. Team Mingma G were busy fixing lines to the mountainside that all the teams could use during the winter season. And they needed help if they were to finish running lines all the way to Camp III. Four members of Team Nimsdai were too spent and descended to base camp, but Purja and Mingma Tenzi, pushed up to 23,000 feet to lend a hand. By the time everyone had returned to base camp on New Years Eve, Purja had frostbitten fingers, and two Nepali teams had joined forces.

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