Winter K2: A Two-Day Window for Climbers

8000ers Winter 8000ers
Basque (Spanish) Alex Txikon on winter K2
Bundled against the wind, Alex Txikon makes a last-minute summit push. Photo: Alex Txikon

“Camp 2 here, Camp 2 here, already in the tents at 6,600 metres,” reported Alex Txikon earlier today on the radio. Seizing a break in the wind at 6 a.m., the climbers left their cozy tents, strapped on crampons and proceeded up.

After two-and-a half hours, they reached Camp 2. “The plan was to continue up, but the wind was too strong,” Txikon said at the time. Gelgen Sherpa was not feeling well and returned to Base Camp. High winds buffeted the mountain, which was also wrapped in cloud. The climbers in Camp 2 patiently waited — up or down? Finally, some good news:

“We expect winds to drop down to less than 30 kph between 7,000 and 8,000m tomorrow, with a similar situation on Sunday, maybe with a bit less of sun,” their Base Camp team told them over the radio. The same forecast warned that conditions will worsen on Monday and Tuesday. This weekend could be their last chance to summit.

Below, a video of the team discussing the summit push just before departure:

Although the weather briefly favours the climbers, serious obstacles remain. So far, they have climbed no higher than about Camp 2. They didn’t manage to reach Camp 3, unlike the Kazakh-Russian-Kyrgyz team, which fixed ropes up to 7,500m.

It is unknown whether this Eastern Team left ropes or gear behind as they retreated. The Spanish-Nepali group will have to venture into unknown terrain, possibly with no tracked trail or ropes, and with no previous acclimatization over 7,000m.

Moreover, the crux passages on the Abruzzi Spur lie on the mountain’s upper sections. Cold, wind, deep powder and the unassessed risk of avalanches make this steep, technical lungbuster even more difficult.

ExplorersWeb’s sister site, K2Climb.net, has published details on this Abruzzi Spur route, admittedly in summer conditions:

The Abruzzi Spur (South East Ridge)

First climbed by the Italians in 1954, this is the closest to a “normal” route on K2, but is still very difficult and statistically the most dangerous. The route starts with approximately 1,000m of climbing on loose scree (bring a helmet!) with significant danger of rocks falling from Camp 1 and above.

C1 6,050m (20,000 ft)

C1 is exposed but relatively secure, with little or no history of avalanche danger. The climb to C2 includes a 50m off-width crack called House’s Chimney, which is currently a spider’s web of old ropes.

C2 6,700m (22,000 ft)

C2 is sheltered by a large rock, but can get extremely windy and cold. C2 to C3 is the most technical section of the climb, with approximately 400m of vertical and near-vertical climbing on mixed rock and ice in a region known as the Black Pyramid.

C3 7,200m (23,500 ft)

At the top of the Black Pyramid, C3 is traditionally placed on the Shoulder. Although this is more horizontal terrain (approx. 30 degree snow fields), it is prone to avalanches and extremely high winds funneling between K2 and Broad Peak. Consider stashing camp equipment just below in the Black Pyramid; many climbers are forced to descend when they discover that C3 has been destroyed by avalanches. C3 to C4 is a long snow slog up the Shoulder, typically accomplished without fixed lines.

The primary danger in this area is the collapse of large sections of the Shoulder (you can sometimes feel the slope settling under you). Fixed lines are not going to protect you from the huge avalanches that happen when a section of the Shoulder rips, so you’re better off traveling fast and light.

C4 7,600m (25,000 ft)

C4, at anywhere from 7,600 to 7,900m on the Shoulder, is still a solid 16-22 hours from the summit, so you should start brewing immediately. Don’t spend too much energy building a platform; you won’t have time to sleep anyhow.

Summit 8,611m (28,250ft)

Most climbers leave between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m. for the summit. Consider bringing a thin line (4-5mm) for the Bottleneck, a 100m narrow couloir at 8,300m that is 80-90 degrees. If it is windswept and cold, the ice in this couloir can create extremely challenging, sustained climbing. At least 10 of the climbers who have died on K2 lost their lives in the Bottleneck.

Recent stories:

K2 Summit Push is On

Txikon’s Last Chance for Winter K2

About the Author

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides

Sport journalist, published author and communication consultant. Feeling back home at ExplorersWeb after five years exploring distant professional ranges.

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3 Comments on "Winter K2: A Two-Day Window for Climbers"

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Damien Francois
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Wish you well, guys. But it sounds a bit like Russian Roulette…

Jennifer Poland
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Push onward Alex😍

Jennifer Poland
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You guys can make it