Winter K2: Urubko scouts the eastern face, sets up Camp 2

Denis Urubko of the winter K2 expedition reports back on their progress over the last week.

Over the last 2 days Denis has checked in with the Russian Climb team to provide some new information on the team’s progress towards a winter ascent of K2. We pass on these latest updates with thanks to Elena Laletina and our friends at Russian Climb for the translation.

Denis Urubko

I’ve been eyeing a winter K2 expedition for a long time, looking at both the challenges and the opportunities presented by the mountain.

Based on my experiences on previous winter climbs I know that the greatest problem is the wind. The wind penetrates everything, it tears a person off the surface and doesn’t allow them to work. Even in a bivouac there is no opportunity to relax. When the tent shakes, along with everybody inside, snow falls from the tent to the sleeping bag and gets underneath it, creating damp, and eventually freezing everything. Any trip out of the tent, such as to the toilet, requires a long recovery period.

The result of the severe wind is that the slopes are left naked, covered in black ice. This in turn increases the danger from rockfalls, ropes from previous expeditions age faster, you encounter hard ice in places that are snowy trails in summer, the difficulty of choosing sites for the tent is much greater… I could go on! Therefore, on K2 in winter, any attempt to climb the North or South Face is destined to encounter incredible difficulties compared to during the summer season. In winter on the western side the storm rages from November to March, it is a reliable guard, expelling EVERYBODY from the mountain.

K2’s eastern side is interesting because the mountain shelters the climbers from the prevailing westerly winds. In the summer there is a great risk from avalanches. However, in winter, minimal snow cover makes very good conditions for the climb. Movement and belay organization become easier, there are sites for the tents, there is the possibility of spending nights in the cracks and organising snow caves if required.

“We have to look to the east face” I begged Wielicki two months before the expedition.

“We have to look east” I said to Golob on the way to Base Camp.

“We have to look at the east face!” I shouted upon seeing Bielecki’s heavily bandaged face. He had been hit by a falling stone at the beginning of the Basque route, but miraculously he was saved from a more severe fate.

So, after that dinner the guys were more interested. The next morning, on Feb 08, I got Wielicki’s permission to launch a reconnaissance of the east face. He appointed one of the Pakistani porters as my assistant.

“Take your crampons and the harness Fazar” I said. At seven o’clock in the morning we would start, a quick run, look, take some pictures, and after a dinner we would return to the Base camp.

This Pakistani guy impressed me immediately with his optimism and endurance. So we had an easy conversation on the way to the east face. On Feb 9 the weather was fine, the sun was warm. Fazar is 44, like me. He has four children and has completed many climbs on the Pakistani eight-thousanders. Carefully tied with a rope, we went through the icefall, skirted avalanche trays from K2’s “roof”, and at 10:00 stopped right in front of the east face.

I enthusiastically threw up my hands. It was a thing of beauty, set vertically. The Face is broken by several buttresses, one of which, the right, is the cause of my optimism. The rest of K2 floated above us in wisps of light fog. It was a blast!

“Look! Do you see IT?!” I was asking Fazar. He laughed indulgently. I gave him a bit of the snack I had grabbed.

“However, I’m not hungry! What about you?”

“Why would I be?” Fazar was laconic. “We will have lunch at base camp.”

Indeed! Running the glacier in such a familiar way meant that by 13:00 we had already received soup plates from the cook’s hands.

That’s a short February adventure. And now, going forward, the Abruzzi ridge, as you will officially hear in our news.

Denis reports on the first push to the Abruzzi Ridge

At my request, and according to the decision of our expedition leader, I set off on the route to the Abruzzi ridge. The task was to inspect the old fixed ropes there, look at sites for Camp 2 and Camp 3, and to continue to acclimatize. I went solo due to bad weather.

In the evening twilight I arrived to ABC, at the beginning of the route. The previous day Pakistani high-altitude porters, alongside Janusz and Maciej, had already broken the trail and set up the tent.

Early the next morning, on Feb 12 at 07:00, I started to climb the couloir. I went with an ice axe over an ice board, and then on the left edge of the couloir to Camp 1. From there I radioed to Base Camp that everything looked normal, there were good old fixed ropes. Therefore I left the 120m rope which I had brought at the station, deciding that I didn’t need it.

In 2003, I was here several times. But not to the top. My memories of the place were strong. Next the route goes on to hard ice and loose rocky steps. In some places the stations were set a couple of meters above the surface, in summer the trail is raised higher because of the volume of snow.

I had to work hard, digging out the ropes from the ice. My shoulders are tired. It is important not to cut haphazardly, but rather carefully, in order not to damage the rope, on which you are hanging. In total I’ve “chopped” about a hundred meters.

The rocky steps were interspersed with ice gullies. The wind blew in gusts, but did not fell me. At 12:00 I was at an altitude of about 6,400m or 6,500m. Again I radioed to Base Camp that everything was okay. I realized that the band of strong wind is higher than I had thought, and here I was still slightly protected by rocks on the left. I saw a good site for the tent to my side and just below me, so I decided to stay here.

And I was very glad when I had securely set up the tent. I melted water and ate cold meat snacks. I have food and gas for three days. In the morning I planned to continue to Camp 3, as had been agreed with the expedition leader.

So I was very surprised when Wielicki ordered me to descend to the Base Camp. It was a pity to give up the unfinished work. The place where I was stuck for the night, is good enough (in my opinion) for a winter Camp 2.

The night has passed, not without worry, but safely. It was much worse another 100m higher, judging by the eerie hum. After knocking the tent and crushing a few stones, I put on crampons and at 6:00 on Feb 13 I began the descent. At 07:45 I met Marcin, Peter, Amin and Fazar at the ABC tent. They were going up. I changed in to “simpler” clothing and ran down to Base Camp, where I arrived by 10:00.

On February 20, according to the weather forecast, there will be a suitable day for the summit bid…

Oops!

Exweb would once again like to thank Denis for the regular updates and Elena at Russian Climb for passing on his words.

Previous / Links:

Winter K2: Bielecki hit by a rock; Urubko back in action

Interview: Denis Urbko on winter ascent of K2

Nanga Parbat: Happy and unhappy end

Russian Climb

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