Two international teams have just landed at the K2 Base Camp on Godwin Austin glacier in attempts to reach the top of the great rock for the first time in winters. Denis Urubko aka the ‘Snow Leopard’ known for his magnanimous winter profile and incredible rescue operations over the years probably classify him as one of the top mountaineers of present era. He is accompanied by big burly Don Bowie and adorable Lotta Hintsa. Bowie remains, if not the top, one of the best climbers from Canada and boasts of a sterling profile for climbing the Karakorums.
Meanwhile, Mingma Gayle Sherpa, Chairman of the Seven Summit Treks Nepal, has launched his bid for the K2 Winter. Jon Snorri from Iceland will be his Sidekick during the attempt. Sadly though, this is all going to go in vain and while we wish the teams the very best for their attempts, we may have some strong reasons to bolster our standpoint.
1- Climate Change and Karakorums’ viciously changing weather cycle
By the end of the current weather spell, as on January 9th, 2020, Baltoro has been peppered with tons of white misery. Most of the northern areas in Pakistan have received unprecedented record snowfall during this spell and more is in line in a couple of days. Denis and his team while reaching the Broad Peak Base Camp disclosed that the temperature drop in the morning has been a mind boggling -40 Celsius with considerable wind speeds literally making it impossible to venture outdoors.
According to the weather reports, the deadly Jet stream has already started pounding the top of the 8000ers in the Karakorums reaching wind speeds of 240km/h. From a layman’s perspective this wind speed is equivalent to a full scale tornado with the capacity to swivel a small car. As the expeditions progress into late January and deep into February, the intensity of the Jet stream is likely to increase spinning things out of control.
2- Lack of logistically viable team
Denis and Mingma’s teams undoubtedly come with tons of experience where both expedition leaders have multiple 8000ers to their credits. Denis knows more about K2 in winters than probably anyone else but he must also be aware of the fact that K2 in winters requires huge logistics support rather than individual spitfire attempt. The biggest siege to date in terms of logistics happened in 2012 when the Russian giants gathered around the K2 and tons of gear and supplies were airlifted to the Base Camp.
Arguably, some of the team members were ideal candidates to step on top of K2. The expedition was called off when Vitaly Gorelik succumbed to hypothermia and pneumonia and could not be airlifted due to bad weather. Strong logistics support has been the long disturbing question for Krzysztof Wielicki who has organized numerous expeditions in Karakorums and Himalayas to scale the 8000ers in winters. The primary reason he has not been able to launch an attempt this year has been the lack of funds for such a mammoth logistical challenge.
3- Denis – a loose Canon Ball
For those who have climbed with him to those who have written and read about him to those who know the inside stories from the Base Camps, Denis Urubko is hardly a team player and is known for his impatience for inaction. What happened at the Polish camp last year left many baffled for his inadequacy to follow instructions. During many of his expeditions with Simone Moro on Nanga, both climbers regularly broke into arguments as Denis hated to stay put during bad weather days and insisted on venturing out and setting camps, something to which Simone disagreed. On K2, this temperament can put the entire expedition in jeopardy risking life and resulting in tragedy which is so very common on this mountain.
4- Mingma – a stranger to Karakorum Winters
He has done all fourteen 8000ers, has taken numerous commercial climbers to the top of the world, remains one of the most sought after high altitude guide in the world, but he is faced with a serious shortcoming. Mingma has not seen the angry Karakorums in winters. He has been facing financial constraints meaning he has limited time to initiate and conclude the expedition. He does not have the luxury to sit out the bad weather for months. He insists on attempting the climb with no supplementary Oxygen that too with just one climbing partner. In other words, his chances of standing on top are zero to none.
How it can be done!
Not everything is as bleak as it may seem. In the given present scenario, there is perhaps a way that this giant unforgiving rock can finally be tamed. Denis and Mingma join hands to take it down working in rotation, conventionally, altruistically and patiently. Team members tasked with setting up high camps, fixing ropes, hauling supplies and facilitating the summit push whenever the time is right. Although none of the teams have disclosed there chosen routes to the top but lessons learned from the previous expeditions, both teams are likely to take up Abruzzi Spur as the possible route. Scheduling such collaboration can also be challenging as Denis and his team aims to climb Broad Peak before launching their attempt for K2.