Alex Txikon: Winter K2 is only an option – and not my first

Alex Txikon has changed his misty Basque Country homeland for the sunny south of Spain. He is spending some relaxing days climbing El Chorro crags and considering his options. He’s been a regular in the winter Himalaya since 2011, and this year will be no exception. But the exact location of his upcoming goal has become a bit of a mystery among local and specialized press.

“Everest might seem the first option,” he told ExplorersWeb yesterday. ”I’ve already launched two attempts in consecutive years, and perhaps I should assume the third time’s lucky. Besides, last year we worked so hard. In about two weeks, we had equipped the Khumbu Icefall, fixed ropes up to 7,800m and bagged the second winter ascent of Pumori. We know the mountain, we know we can do it, and everything was just looking great. But then we heard that the outfitter 7Summits, with whom we worked in previous years, is gearing up to launch a commercial expedition to Everest – this winter! As they explained, they already have five clients. And well, honestly, the perspective of having a commercial expedition on the mountain has put me off.”

Alex Txikon winter Everest

Alex Txikon on his latest attempt at winter Everest, 2018.

EW: Is it because you want to climb a peak with no other teams around?

AT: Not exactly. In fact, other teams in BC are a good thing. Somewhere as tough as a winter 8000ers, all hands are needed and thus collaboration among expeditioners is always an added value. But a commercial team is a different story.  It’s the absolute solitude which makes winter Everest so unique and its climb so challenging so, with all respects, I’d rather look somewhere else for my next winter expedition.

EW: According to Pakistan media, you’ve applied for (and got) a permit for winter K2. Can you confirm you’re going?

AT: Well, I have indeed asked for a permit. But that doesn’t mean I am going. After I discarded Everest, I started considering options. My first choice was Kangchenjunga, but logistics in winter are proving extremely difficult – and expensive, due to the peak’s isolation. Then, there’s Makalu, maybe Manaslu… and, of course, K2.

I have not yet made up my mind, but K2 climbing permits must be obtained three months in advance. On the other hand, they come at a very small cost compared to summer season, and especially compared to Nepalese 8000’ers. Therefore I opted for paying now, and making a final decision later, although it may mean a much larger investment, particularly regarding porters, since their fees more than triple at the start of winter season. For instance, I am aware that 400 porters set off towards BC on Tuesday [October 16] and I can state that none of them was working for me.

EW: But since K2 is the one and only unclimbed winter 8000’er, why are you still considering alternatives? It seems like the obvious choice. You have the permit already paid for and there’s a strong expedition – the Russian-Kazakh-Kyrguyz team – with whom you could work. What are the drawbacks?

AT: Organizational issues are much easier for me in Nepal, especially since I am not likely to gather a large team with me. For the moment, there is just me and another Spanish climber I’ve teamed up with previously. No one else has confirmed. I’ve read on some media that our K2 team was supposed to comprise five members but, honestly, I do not know where that figure comes from, because I never mentioned a number to Pakistan authorities.

In addition to logistics, let’s admit that the chances of success on Nepal’s 8000’ers are higher than on K2. That mountain is still unclimbed in winter for a reason.

Born in Lemoa (Bizkaia, Basque Country),  Alex Txikon is the youngest of 13 siblings. He started hiking at 3 years old and, at just 21, he reached the summit of his first 8000’er: Broad Peak (8,051m) in Pakistan. Since 2011, he has participated in Himalayan expeditions every winter. In 2016, he achieved the first winter summit of Nanga Parbat, via the Kinshofer route, together with Ali Sadpara and Simone Moro.