Mt. K2 is just second to Everest but has a higher fatality rate than Everest. It is named Savage Peak, thanks to its nature of killing people who dare to climb it.
As the second most dangerous mountain among the 8,000m+, this peak lies between the borders of China and Pakistan, mainly towards the north where Everest is located.
No matter the season, the weather on K2 is generally unfavorable. And if you summit Mt k2 in winter, the situation up there will worsen more than in other seasons and be more challenging.
Mt k2 is just second to Mt. Annapurna I in death rate. Annapurna is one which is known to have the highest fatality rate so far. This being said, Mt k2 has a fatality rate of 25 % and is reported to kill every one climber for every four climbers to the summit. There are many reasons why K2 remained the only 8000m unclimbed mountain in Winter and the least climbed mountain.
Read below to learn about all the K2 winter attempts and whether anyone has climbed K2 in winter. Also, learn about the first successful winter attempt in 2021, the winter season, and more.
The Challenge of Climbing K2 in Winter
Mountaineering is not easy as it presents many challenges for climbers to reach the top of the peak. This is why only some with professional training and great experience can overcome the obstacles.
But what are the challenges, especially in winter, make peaks like K2 so hard or almost impossible to climb?
Extreme Cold Temperature: Mt Everest saw its first winter ascend in 1980, but k2 is so dangerous that its winter ascend has long been marked as tough to conquer. This being said, the climbers have attempted winter climbs only around six times till now.
K2 is the worst place on earth in terms of weather, where the cold temperatures present one of the main challenges of mountaineering with temperatures below -65. In such freezing temperatures, even losing one of your gloves can bring catastrophic consequences, leading to frostbite in a minute or two.
And if your skin touches the ice axe while climbing, there is a high possibility of your skin getting ripped off during winter scends. Many other challenges can force the climbers to descend the mountain.
High-Speed Winds: Wind around the k2 in winter is another great challenge. It is a natural killer and the major factor differentiating the k2 summer season from winter.
K2 is located far north in the Karakoram range, and in winter, it experiences a more robust jet stream here. Hurricane forces around the K2 peak are possible in winter, instantly blowing many climbers off the cliff. This may be why k2 took so long to summit in winter compared to other 8,000ers and Everest.
Lack Of Snow: Another challenge that makes winter summits for climbers almost impossible is the lack of snow while climbing.
The wind around the K2 is the most brutal, with wind speed exceeding 200 kph. And the peak presents many challenges with its world’s steepest slopes and daylights that only last a few hours in winter here.
The strong winds in K2 blow off most of the snow in winter months, only leaving behind a bare rock and ice to climb for mountaineers. This makes the climbing more technical and slowing, worsening the situation and causing brutal cold.
In addition, there is also low barometric pressure here, which means less oxygen is available for climbers.
Climbing K2 in Winter Is Dangerous
K2 is unfavorable all the time of the year and more deadly in the winter season. And even in the favorable months, Mt K2 remains a savage mountain that still allures mountains from the world for generations.
The winter months in k2 make mountains taller due to frequent snowfall and presents many challenges and dangers for climbers. This being said, many mountaineers have attempted since 1987/88, but none have made it to the top in the winter months.
In addition, the dangerous mountain’s sheerness of the slopes, other routes, and exposure get more technically challenging in winter to climb safely. Therefore, the weather is one of the main reasons why the K2 summit is so complex and often called the mountaineer’s mountain.
The climate in the winter months presents a strong wind with hurricane force. Also, the highest temperature that will ever get during winter in K2 is no more than -15 degrees. The surrounding air temperature in k2 gets below -65 degrees, and low barometric pressure means low oxygen and a high altitude sickness risk. Therefore there is no room for the slightest mistake during the summit in winter as it would cause the most catastrophic consequences for mountainers.
The First Successful Winter Ascent of K2
Mt K2 was considered impossible to climb in winter until 10 Nepalese sherpas conquered it. They were the first very mountaineer to reach the peak of k2 in winter successfully on 16 January 2021.
The team led by Nirmal Purja, a former Gurkha and UK special forces member, accomplished the most prestigious achievement in mountaineering. Moreover, they claimed to be the Mountaineers who reached the world’s second peak, k2, in winter, breaking the record for the only 8000 peaks that never have been climbed in winter months. They faced the worse during their climb, like navigating the Bottleneck pass(death zone), escaping the avalanches and rockfalls, escaping harrowing ice debris, etc.
Sherpas are known to be natural-born mountaineers who know the mountain like the back of their hands. They have been famed for reaching high peaks like Everest without much difficulty for centuries, and now they claim to be the person to complete their winter summit of K2.
The first persons to climb the k2 were Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni 66 years ago. There have been some successful climbs in other seasons, but with only six attempts, the winter climbs never became successful.
The world of mountaineering has long been dominated by Western climbers who relied on sherpas to assist them up to the peak. And the successful ascend of such a large mountaineering team on k2 peak is an extraordinary achievement. The team reached the k2 peak at 5 pm local time.
Other Notable Winter Expeditions on K2
K2 Peak remained the only mountain climbed in winter before it finally happened in 2021. Many climbers have attempted to reach the peak with its challenging conditions, and some of the other winter expeditions on k2 are as follows.
The First Climb Between- 1987-1988
The first ever winter attempt to Mt K2 was made between 1987-1988 by a 24-man team led by a mountaineering legend named Andrzej Zawada. Among the 24 members were 13 Poles mountaineers, 7 Canadians, and 4 Brits who flew to Pakistan during the first week of December and reached its base camp on Christmas day.
They spent three months in the base camp but only had ten days of good weather with a favorable climate. There were many challenges, but despite all, Jon Tinker, Maciej Berbeka, Maciej Pawlikowski, and Krzysztof Wielicki set up camp one at 6100 m on January 5th. A few days later, Cichy and Wielicki set camp two at 6700m.
They did not reach camp three because stormy weather and hurricane winds raged during their climb, which lasted till the next day. Due to this, they descend to the mountain. Since the first attempt, no climbers have reached higher than 7,650 meters.
The second attempt in 2002-2003
The second attempt to reach the peak in winter was made again in December 2002. The team was led by Krzysztof Wielicki and the mountaineers from different countries- Uzbekistan, Georgia, Poland, and Kazakhstan.
They planned to ascend via the North Ridge and reached the base camp on December 30th. Moreover, Denis Denis Urubko and Vasiliy Pivtsov made it up to base camp one by January 5th and camp two on January 20th.
Later three of the climbers climbed down the mountain heavily impacted the expedition’s success ratio. But the remaining team continued their ascend and established camps 3 (7300m) and 4 (7650m) via North Ridge. After waiting for favorable weather conditions, the team started to summit K2 peak on February 21st. But one of their members suffered from cerebral edema, so they had to descend back down the mountain, ending their expedition there.
An attempt by Kazahkstan in 2018
Another team of climbers attempted to reach the peak in winter before the successful attempt in 2021. A Russian-Kazakh Kyrgyz team attempted in December 2018.
The team was led by the successful climber of all 14 of the 8000-meter peaks named Vassily Pivtsov. Other group members include the mountaineers like Roman Abildaev, Eugeny Glazynov from Russia, Vitaly Akimov, Mikhail Danichkin, Vitaly Akimov, and Ildar Gabbasov. Unfortunately, they had to end their expedition to bad weather conditions and poor visibility.
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No matter the situation, one thing is certain here despite all the challenging conditions and higher fatality rates, there will always be brave climbers to summit the peak in winter or any season. They are the ones who are willing to risk their lives just to reach the peak that has long been considered impossible by many.