Winter K2: Urubko Breaks from Team, Ascends Alone

The K2 winter expedition continues to be beset by drama. Over the weekend news has emerged that Denis Urubko has broken off from the team and is headed for the summit alone.

— Update 2/26/18 —

Denis Urubko has decided to leave Winter Expedition on K2. This decision was accepted by the participants of the expedition, who did not see any further possibility of cooperation with Denis after after his unsuccessful solo summit attempt.

—Update 2/26/18—

Urubko was unsuccessful in his summit attempt and has safely descended to BC as of this update.

The Polish team, led by Krzystof Wielicki, had not planned to attempt a summit push for another two weeks. Wielicki likes to employ a “siege” strategy for winter climbs, with the team slowly building a series of fixed ropes and multiple high altitude camps to aid an eventual summit push. Urubko’s abrupt decision to set off solo has clearly surprised him.

“What Denis has done is very selfish. I don’t understand him, our plan was for the team to attack the summit in the early part of March” Wielicki told Nat Geo this weekend.

The tension has been building during the course of the expedition. Urubko has been critical of team decisions on his blog, and had pushed to use a different route rather than the Abruzzi Ridge as per Wielicki’s instructions. However Urubko’s decision to set off alone seems to be driven, predominantly, by his much publicized views on what constitutes “true” winter.

The latest drama came to a head on Friday night. Urubko asked Bielecki, perhaps the second strongest climber in the team, to come with him for a summit attempt before February 28th. The date is important as it marks the end of what Urubko views as the winter period (and is defined as such by mountaineering organizations in Nepal and Pakistan). Wielecki prefers to use the official meteorological definition on winter, allowing the team to make the ascent any time prior to March 20th.

This difference in opinion seems to have caused the ultimate fracture of the team. After Bielecki had refused to join Urubko, stating that both he, and the team, were not yet prepared for a summit push, Urubko reportedly stormed out of the meeting. After breakfast the next morning he packed up and headed off up the mountain alone, without informing Wielecki and without a radio. Urubko clearly believes he has no choice but to set off now in order to complete the climb before the 28th, and his sudden decision has been met with a mixed response from the team. As the strongest climber in the group there seems to be a reluctance to be too critical of his decision, yet the decision will have a major impact on the rest of the expedition members, as Wielecki explains, “we must now focus the whole team on helping Denis, no matter what happens on the summit we want to get him back down alive.” They have dispatched climbers to follow Urubko and ensure they are in position to aid him from the upper camps if required.

Speaking back in December about the winter K2 winter expedition, Simone Moro was asked about the addition of Urubko to the team. Having climbed Gasherbrum II with Urubko in 2011, Simone was generous in his praise for Urubko’s climbing ability, but warned that he would need to be “managed properly to prevent him taking stupid or fatal risks”. It remains to be seen if Urubko’s decision to push for the summit alone best demonstrates his individual brilliance as an alpinist, or a potentially fatal risk.

Previous / Links:

Interview: Denis Urubko on Winter K2

Interview: Simone Moro on Winter K2

Interview: Denis Urubko Describes Current Conditions on K2

Winter K2: Urubko Scouts the Eastern Face, Sets Up Camp 2