Adventure medic would like to congratulate the ten-man Nepali team on the remarkable first winter ascent of K2 on 16th January 2021; an ascent that has been famously known as ‘the last great mountaineering challenge’.
At 17:00 on the 16th of January, the first winter ascent was claimed by an all-Nepali team; lead by Mingma Gyalje Sherpa and Nirmal Purja Pun Magar. Mingma Sherpa is an IFMGA guide who has previously ascended 22 8000m peaks. Purja, known as Nims, holds the record for ascending all 14 8000m peaks in six months and six days, smashing the previous 1987 record of seven years 11 months and six days. In total their ten-person team have ascended 100 8000m peaks between them – which made for a highly experienced, dedicated and formidable team. This, combined with fortunate weather windows and forgivable ground conditions built the foundations for their success.
K2 stands at 8611m on the China-Pakistan Border. In 1953 George Bell described it as a “savage mountain that tries to kill you”.1 The Himalayan Database indicates a staggering 9159 people have summited Everest successfully and 295 have tragically died attempting it. Odds on K2 are even more stark however; of the 367 people who have successfully stood on its summit, 86 did not return home. Considering that K2 is the last 8000m peak to be climbed in winter, you are right to be in awe of the team’s achievement. There are many reasons for this; temperatures can reach -65 degrees Celsius, strong winds increase risk of frostbite and remove snow from the mountain leaving exposed rock which necessitates technical ascents. In light of the terrifying death statistics on K2 attempts to date, it is clear that both the team’s pre-expedition and on-mountain preparation of fixed lines, robust camps, efficient use of oxygen; as well as teamwork and camaraderie led them to summit and ensured their safe return to basecamp.
Despite these obvious unpredictable dangers, over 60 hopeful mountaineers have descended on K2 already this year, with four teams each seeking a winter summit.1 Sadly, the mountain has continued to live up to its deadly reputation; experienced Spanish mountaineer Sergio Mingote fell 600m on return to base camp from an acclimation trek in early January 2021. Rescue teams were mobilised but he did not recover from his injuries. Fellow K2 climber Tamara Lunger has paid tribute to him stating, “Not only have all of us lost a great and strong mountaineer, but I had found and so soon lost a wonderful friend, with a big heart so positive, happy and full of love for the mountains, others, and life.”
Many expedition medics are acutely aware of these risks of high altitude mountaineering and the medical support needed for such endeavours. However, we also know of the strength, experience and invaluable support local porters and guides provide on any expedition. Crucially; this isn’t just a victory for the first winter ascent of an >8000m mountain, but a success for representatives of a strong, proud and unified Nepalese nation who have supported generations of International climbers on their own ascents. It is now the time for this community to claim a summit of their own and step firmly into the spotlight.
- Arnette Alan, A Nepali Team Just Made the First Winter Ascent on K2. Outside
Accessed at https://www.outsideonline.com/2420319/k2-first-winter-ascent
Published 16/1/21. [Accessed on 17/1/21].
- Nepali climbers make history with winter summit of K2 mountain – BBC. Accessed at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-55684149. Published 16/1/21. [Accessed on 17/1/21].
- Wilkinson Freddie, Climbing Mount Everest, explained. National Geographic
Accessed at https://www.nationalgeographic.co.uk/2019/02/climbing-mount-everest-explained
Published 9/4/19. Updated 5/11/20. [Accessed on 17/1/21].
- Bisharat Adrian, Climbers Attempt ‘Impossible’ K2 Winter Ascent. National Geographic
Accessed at https://www.nationalgeographic.co.uk/travel-and-adventure/2019/02/climbers-attempt-impossible-k2-winter-ascent Published 1/2/19. Updated 5/11/20. [Accessed on 17/1/21].
- Benavides Angela, Saddest News from K2: Sergi Mingote Dies in Fall. Published 16/1/21
Accessed at https://explorersweb.com/2021/01/16/saddest-news-from-k2-sergi-mingote-dies-in-fall/ [Accessed 17/1/21]