Pakistan’s rugged Karakorums may have denied a 8000er ascent this year but all has not gone in vain. Alex Txikon and Jose Fernandez have recorded the first winter ascent of the Laila Peak, when they finally made it to the summit of the 6,097m high in the late hours of February 18th.
Laila Peak is considered as the “most beautiful mountain in the world” and is well known in the climbing circles for its distinct spear shaped peak and is often the prime destination of the climbers and snowboarders in summers. Located in the Hushe valley near Gondogoro Glacier, Laila Peak has allowed only seven people in all to climb all the way to the peak while many aspiring mountaineers have either snowboarded their way down or retreated due to unstable snow at the peak.
Alex and his partner narrated their story later, regarding it as the toughest mission they have ever come across in their otherwise stellar climbing career. “We made it back to the Camp-2 at eight and a half hours and a little light from the five and a half or quarter to six. It’s been very very hard. We are exhausted. Joseph has three fingers touched and I can hardly move. It was very very hard but we are very pleased and proud of the work we have completed, with the feel of having come to one of the most beautiful and challenging summits of our lives”. said Jose.
The team made their summit push on February 11th but had to return to Base Camp due to deteriorating weather and increasing wind speeds. They made their second attempt on 18th and started their push from Camp-2. However, this time around, Ramon Portilla decided to stay back in Base Camp due to severe frostbite and Juanjo San Sebastian also stayed back due to his aching knee joint. Alex and Jose faced some of the most difficult challenges just before making it to the top where the temperatures dropped to a painful -35 Celsius and wind speed soared to 60km/h, piercing through their gear.
Their summit push began in the early hours but difficult weather conditions and piercing wind speeds did not allow them to reach the summit until late in the afternoon. “We arrived at four in the afternoon. It has been hard. It has been very windy, in many areas there was lot of snow and there was very difficult stretches from the technical standpoint. We had to do twelve long more than 80m. The final stretch was very infernal. The last two, we have done with snow above the chest. We got to where we could move. The GPS showed us at an altitude of 6,100m”.
The successful winter ascent of the Laila peak marks this year’s first and probably the only winter ascent in the deadly Karakorums of Pakistan.