With no fewer than five winter attempts on his belt, Artur Hjzer of the Polish Gasherbrum-1 winter expedition is one of the most experienced climbers pitching for the first winter ascent of the 8,080m peak in the bleak and hazardous Karakorum. The team has completed their acclimatisation drills and are now set for the summit push on Sunday, February 26. Pakistan-explorer.com had a chance to talk to the renowned climber from his Base Camp.
Question: How are you guys feeling? It's been over a month there, how are team spirits?
Hajzer: We are well. I am lucky to have two very good partners: Janusz Golab (a seasoned big wall winter climber,) and Adam Bielecki (my summit partner from Makalu). They are both self-motivated, technically skilled climbers. Agnieszka Bielecka is providing good support in Base Camp and further up. The team spirit is therefore very good, and I am really optimistic about the expedition's next steps on the mountain. One month is too short to lose motivation and hope, especially for me - as you know I am used to stay in BC for up to 3 months.
Question: How is everyone's health? You had a pretty tough descent from C3...
Hajzer: Our third camp (assuming it still exists), is not high enough (7,040 m) so the plan is to move it higher up - at least to 7200m. For the summit bid we will probably go in a team of 4 (us 3 Poles and Shaheen Baig). We want to climb traditionally, from one camp to the other. We will probably be forced to climb up to 7000 m in bad weather conditions in order to take advantage of the best possible conditions for the summit day. In winter, it is very rare to get more than two consecutive days of acceptable weather for a summit push.
Question: As a highly experienced team leader - what are you proud of, about your team's performance? What do you reckon is the hardest part of a winter 8000er expedition?
Hajzer: There are quite a few things I'm proud of in this expedition. The most important being:
- Our good logistics
- Our timing strategy (not starting too early)
- Our equipment (until now, without fault)
- The support of Polish Alpine Association, and our strategic sponsor Orlen (Polish oil company)
- The perfect BC cooperation with Gerfried's International Team.
Question: Any thoughts about the other winter teams who were forced to abandon this season?
Hajzer: The news about the death of the Russian team member took us by surprise and was very depressing. It made our climbing much more difficult.
Moreover, I was not exactly elated to have so many expeditions in Karakorum this winter, mainly because it creates a competition factor, which I don't like at all. With only two expeditions left in the range, much of this pressure is gone.
Simone and Denis make such a fantastic and strong team, which has had a lot of successes, so I think that one retreat this winter won't make a big difference for them. I might add that Nanga Parbat is an incredible difficult winter goal for a 2-people team. I was impressed when I knew they were going to give it a try. I would like to remind as well that our mountain of choice this winter was Broad Peak, but since Simone declared last winter (during our last days of BP expedition 2011), that he would have liked to go there, we left it free for him. Now, I would like to state that the Polish Alpine Association will attempt to climb Broad Peak in winter 2012/2013.
Regarding the Polish climbers on Nanga Parbat, they are not associated with Polish Alpine Assoc. and are neither known among the Polish climbing community. I am not aware of their skills and experience, so I would rather avoid commenting on them.
Question: Speaking of Russians, some have said that the Russians are the only ones capable of bagging winter K2. Do you agree? How about you guys?
Hajzer: It seems that, with modern technology, K2 is a mountain impossible to climb in winter without oxygen. Of course, it is our dream to do it, and we plan to attempt climbing K2 in winter someday, but not within the next 3-4 years. Unless, that is, Denis Urubko decides to change his nationality and become a Pole! Simone is also invited to do so.
Seriously speaking though: I think that Russians have the same problem as Polish - they lack a next generation of talented high altitude climbers.
The 49-year-old Hajzer has conquered six 8000ers, with three of them from a new route. He has participated in five winter expeditions to the Himalayas and Karakorums. He also conquered 8,091m Annapurna for the first time in winters and also Makalu 8,463m without the use of supplementary oxygen.
The GII summiteers were a dream team, and now they are back for more. With four winter firsts, only late Polish legend Kukuczka is ahead of Italian Simone Moro. Russian-born Denis Urubko is probably the greatest active mountaineer today. Legendary weather-guru Karl Gabl is back at the weather maps.
So how is it going on Nanga Parbat and what does Denis think about his country-men on K2? Yesterday Denis Urubko was called on Nanga Parbat for an interview.
Question: Why did you guys decide for a different route?
Denis: In winter, climbing above 5000 meters becomes a completely different ascent. The Kinshoffer couloir is too difficult and icy, while the snow conditions on the north-west slope are normal. We like to work it in light style, meter by meter.
Question: How is it going, any vibrations from the mountain yet?
Denis: Few people have been on the north cwm of the Diamir glacier before so for lack of information we have had to truly discover it, like real explorers. Every step is new and interesting. We are searching for a route and a new chance every day.
Question: We know Simone tries his best to be single with the mountain, so how do you cope with the neighbors?
Denis: What can we do? We were decided to come here and we neither can nor want to stop anyone else. So it's all good.
They are doing their thing and we are doing ours.
Question: Are you in touch with the other teams in Pakistan?
Denis: Yes, Simone is texting and calling with the G1 expeditions. We are in touch with our friends on K2 by e-mail. They support us in their replies.
Question: Last time K2 was attempted in winter you were on the team. How do you feel about the current Russian attempt there?
Denis: I'm very happy that a strong expedition like the Russians took on this challenge. I wish them success and safe return. Because if they can't do it I don't think K2 will be winter climbed in a long time.
Question: Why didn't you make it back then and would you like to try again?
Denis: Climbing Nanga Parbat in light style with Simone has become more interesting to me. It goes beyond winter, we planned to open a new route which is my favorite challenge on the 8000ers.
Question: Biggest difficulty on the peak awaiting the Russians according to you?
Denis: I'm thinking it will be the lack of weather openings in the highest parts of the route. The hurricane-force winds up
there are incredible and it's important to be ready for one short summit push.
Question: How cold is this year compared to last?
Denis: Nanga Parbat base camp is much warmer than was Gasherbrum II BC. We are camped on bare ground with bushes around. But there is no difference above 5000 meters. It's about the same as K2 in 2003 and Makalu in 2009.
Question: You've been at 6600 meters already. What's your game plan from now?
Denis: We'll approach 7300 meters on the shoulder in the next step. We might stop just below for wind protection and hope to do summit push from there. It could work via the Buhl ridge from 1953 and to the top.
Question: Biggest worry right now?
Denis: Too long wait for a good weather forecast.
Simone Moro and Denis Urubko make an excellent team in the Himalayas: they did the first winter climbs on Makalu and GII together and are currently trying to acheive it once again on Nanga Parbat.
Russian-born, naturalized Kazakh Denis Urubko completed the 14x8000ers w/o O2 in 2009. He made two first winters climbs on 8000ers, developed new routes on Broad Peak, Cho Oyu and Manaslu, and forged many other new lines on lower peaks.
In 2003 Denis made a winter attempt on K2 led by legendary winter climber Polish Krzysztof Wielicki. Denis was selected for the final summit attempt as one in a team of two but had to abort the climb high up to rescue his mate. He left his ice axe at the turning point, around C4, hoping to one day come back for it. After the rescue Denis wanted to try again but the expedition was finally called off by the expedition leader.
In 2007 Denis returned to K2 with a friend and summited the peak via the North Pillar in its latest summit yet.
Italian Simone Moro is the first climber to climb three virgin 8000ers in calendar winter. The mountaineer has many new routes and spectacular climbs, including on Everest, to his name. Moreover, he is a skilled skyjumper and licensed helicopter pilot.
Denis Urubko is sponsored by The North Face .
While the Russians will be attempting the first successful ascent of the Savage K-2, another team of highly ambitious and renowned climbers will be locked in a fierce battle to summit Gasherbrum 1, the 11th highest mountain in the world. This will also be the first successful attempt of the dreaded peak in case the team is able to reach the peak in the dead of winters. Gerfried Goschl, one of the accomplished mountaineers in the world, will be leading the team including Darek Zaluski, Nisar Hussain, Cedric Hahlen, Alex Txikon and Carlos Suarez and will be treading on a new route on the 8,080 metre peak. Here is the details of the latest interview with the team leader Goschl who confided the latest intricate details of the mission.
Question: Are you going for the same line you tried last year?
Goschl: Yes, the same route we attempted last winter on the steep south face of G1. I’ve been checking this (rather logical) line for eight years and know it by heart by now. I’m absolutely positive that this is the most direct route between BC and summit.
Question: What does it look like, in terms of difficulty?
Goschl: It’s quite technical and demanding up to 6800 meters. Upon reaching a ridge, we’ll have to down climb some meters, but not too much. The route actually gets easier in the upper sections. Looking down on it from the G1 summit this summer, it was exactly like I had imagined. I’m so looking forward to be back again soon on this fantastic face!
Question: What are your plans for the descent?
Goschl: Well, some of us are planning to traverse down to the north side of the mountain, and descend via the normal route – thus achieving a first ascent+traverse.
Question: The "ABC Team" has doubled up. Did you headhunt for the new members or did they come to you?
Goschl: In fact last winter showed us that the job needed on such a steep face was too exhausting for only three climbers. After Louis quit the upcoming attempt, Alex and I looked for the right people to share our project.
Question: Will you be working as one single team under your leadership, or do you have different objectives within the expedition? How will you share the work?
Goschl: We will all work as one team on the south face. I plan to divide the work in two small groups fixing the route up to 6800 meters as fast as possible. We all will climb together from there, especially on the summit push.
Question: The new additions are Polish Darek Zaluski, Spanish Carlos Suarez, Nisar Hussain from Pakistan and Swiss Cedric Hahlen. Tell us more about them?
Goschl: Well, Darek has got five 8000ers – latest, K2 north pillar this summer. He is also a professional cameraman and, typically for that generation of Polish mountaineers, highly experienced in winter climbing. Darek Carlos is well known in Spain for doing "crazy" things such as bold climb+BASE jumps. He is a strong technical climber and also has experience from a 8000er-summit (Cho Oyu).
is our man, especially to film a documentary about the climb.
Since we first knew each other in 2003 Nisar has been a close friend of mine. He has been personal HAP (high altitude porter) for my team members on Nanga Parbat, G2 and K2. Nisar climbed all 8000ers in Pakistan several times, always without artificial oxygen, and he set a new record last summer as the first to summit Pakistan 8000ers ten times (1xK2, 1xNP, 1xBP, 4xG2, 3xG1). No doubt he is the strongest climber in Pakistan. Of course he climbs for money (as do all HAPs) most of the time but it’s also his passion. This winter for the first time Nissar will join a team not because of salary but because he wants to be part of the project. He knows G1 very, very well! Down the road we’ll try to bring him as member in our Nepal expeditions since it’s his biggest dream. Cedric is an ambitious young mountain guide from Switzerland who already climbed K2, Kanch, BP foresummit and Gasherbrum II East (7772m, new route from Chinese side). What else would he need to be on the team?
Question: Which lessons from last winter will you apply this year?
Goschl: We now know that we need the best possible gear to fix the route. For instance, dealing with ice hard as rock last year made us bring high quality ice screws this time. An earlier start will allow more time before the end of the winter. Finally, we’re now six instead of three, which hopefully will result in faster work on the lower part of the route.
Again we trust our friend and agent Muhammad Ali and his agency Adventure Pakistan for the logistics. I must say he did a great job for us the entire year. Our BC is already set up, fully supplied and waiting!
Question: You mentioned a documentary on the climb. Does that mean more cool video files such as the ones you uploaded last year?
Goschl: The funds from an Austrian TV network producing a documentary about the project actually allowed us to include Darek in the expedition. But of course you’ll still get interesting video clips!
Question: There are 5 teams scheduled this winter on three Pakistan 8000ers. Does this signal increased interest in winter Himalaya, and why is that do you think?
Goschl: For a small group of climbers, a winter climb provides the hardest conditions, but also fascinating moments and lots of fun. I am sure that all 8000ers will be climbed in winter ten years from now. So, if you wanna be part of history you better join now! That’s what I’m doing.
Question: This is your second winter attempt on a summit you bagged this summer – won’t that affect your motivation?
Goschl: Right after the winter expedition I decided to climb G1 in summer with three goals in mind: To acclimate for K2; to get to know intimately every step to the GI summit on the normal route on the north side; and to take a good lookat our planned winter route down the south face. (It also proved a great adventure with good friends and a big success. I wanted to prepare for the really “mad” upcoming winter project. I want to climb G1 in winter, via a new route and make the first traverse of any 8000er in winter (south to north). Nobody has had such an incredible idea before. For me, personally, this project is so incredibly interesting in itself, that I really don’t care if I’ve been on the summit before. Moreover, to have summited already gives me a psychological advantage when I stand up there in winter. Knowing the route down to the north side might help to take such an overwhelmingly hard step.
My view is that if you don’t really believe in your project, in the possibility of succeeding on it –you don’t go for the same 8000er three times a year, least of all in winter!
Gerfried Göschl (39) lives in Liezen, Austria with his wife and two daughters. He initiated, organized and led several big expeditions for the Austrian Alpine Club (OeAV). His first 8000er summits were Cho Oyu (2002) and GII (2003). In 2005 he summited Shisha Pangma’s main summit and Everest without O2 within a month. In 2007 he attempted a Broad Peak/K2 double header – he summited Broad, but failed to reach K2’s top due to deep snow and high risk of avalanche.In 2009 Gerfried led a team up a new variation line on Nanga Parbat, but suffered the loss of mate Wolfgang Koblinger.
Through autumn 2010, he collected more than €20,000 for his family’s relief organization in Pakistan’s Northern areas near Besham, together with his father Rainer Göschl and climbing mates Günther Unterberger, Hans Goger and brother Rainer Wolfgang Göschl (they collaborate through charity lectures). With the donations they provided the first crucial help to the local flood victims. 2011 was a busy year for Gerfried who, after the winter attempt, ended up summiting GI in
summer; then he attempted again K2. He is currently preparing for his second attempt on winter GII via a new route, leading an international team.