Bielecki, Urubko, Txikon, Moro Debate, ‘What is Winter?’

The upcoming expedition to Winter Gasherbrum I has stirred the old debate about real winter dates for climbing. Here’s what the most educated experts, the winter climbers themselves say about the matter.

“I [will] start my climb on Dec. 30. The goal is the first winter ascent of Gasherbrum I,” Urubko told ExplorersWeb and also posted on social media.

Since Janusz Golab and Adam Bielecki climbed Gasherbrum I on Mar. 9, 2012 — well before the spring equinox — we asked Bielecki for his point of view. Cordial and positive as always, Bielecki is enthusiastic about Urubko’s upcoming expedition. He doesn’t worry about the validity of his own winter climb.

“I have known Denis for a very long time, I like him, he is my friend, and I am happy that he still has big, ambitious goals,” Adam Bielecki told ExplorersWeb in a video interview.

the climbers shake hands inside a helicopter; Denis looking tired and Adam smiling.

Denis Urubko (left) and Adam Bielecki after rescuing Elisabeth Revol from Winter Nanga Parbat in January 2018. The two were climbing Winter K2 at the time and were airlifted to Nanga Parbat for the rescue. Photo: Denis Urubko

Keep it simple

“The issue about the dates is nothing new,” Bielecki said. “There is a simple and internationally recognized way to define winter: to divide the year into four seasons of three months each based on the movement of the Earth around the sun.”

“Meteorological winter, which sets the season as the three months with the worst weather, will never be widely accepted because it is a complex issue, hard to explain, but most of all because the period with the worst weather depends on the area.

“To follow those criteria, we would need extensive meteorological data and then establish a different winter season in every mountain range. It’s simpler to stick to the regular definition.”

Yet the real importance of winter lies not in the dates, but in the conditions it implies. Not every winter day is the same.

“Alpinism is about improving the style of those who were there before you,” Bielecki said. “The key is to aspire to do it faster, in a lighter style, in worse weather, etc.”

Bielecki in a blue t-Shirt, speaks sitting on a couch at home with a white background.

Adam Bielecki during the Zoom interview. Screenshot: Angela Benavides


He used the Eiger North Face as an example.

“Let’s suppose one person climbs it in March and another climbs it at the beginning of January. Both are winter climbs but I personally would value higher the one done in January. The days are shorter, and the conditions are usually harsher.”

For Bielecki, the real interest in Urubko’s upcoming climb is the goal itself, the style, and the risk.

“I am more than fine with him going to winter GI,” he told ExplorersWeb. “I wish him a safe climb and I also hope he succeeds. Anyway, I don’t think there is a way to take the first winter ascent from us.”

Asked about Urubko’s plans to climb the face alone in winter, the Polish climber said he can only feel the utmost respect for Urubko’s choices.

“Whatever he decides, it is his choice and I am not one to judge,” Bielecki said. “But Denis has broad experience with solo ascents, he knows winter well, and he knows what he is doing.”

Bielecki steps out of the tent to take the picture while urubko folds a rope some meters above.

Adam Bielecki (in green) and Denis Urubko attempt Winter K2. Photo: Adam Bielecki


That is why, he adds, Urubko will have a local climber rope up with him across the treacherous Gasherbrum Glacier.

“That is one of the worst glaciers out there,” Bielecki said. “Trying to cross it alone would be crazy.”

Simone Moro

The Italian winter maestro expresses his perspective even more strongly than Bielecki.

“I keep repeating that astronomical winter is the only true winter…in the northern hemisphere,” he says. “After 22 winter expeditions, I know what I am saying.”

the climbers on a summit, their face completely covered.

Simone Moro (right) and Ali Sadpara on the summit of Winter Nanga Parbat. Photo: Alex Txikon


Moro advocates for a stricter version of astronomical winter: not only the summit, but the entire expedition must take place after the winter solstice. Otherwise, he explains, an expedition could do all the work on the route — fix ropes, set up camps, stock supplies — during milder, sunny days in early December, and leave everything ready for a final push.

Moro insists he has no wish to create controversy, especially around the accomplishments of winter climbers before him. He just wants to adhere to his own rules, even if they make things harder for him.

“I never touch a mountain before Dec. 21,” he notes on Instagram.

the climbers in winter clothes on a partially sunny day at Manaslu's Base Camp, the ground covered in a layer of snow.

Simone Moro and Alex Txikon at their arrival in Manaslu on Dec. 27, 2022. Photo: Simone Moro/Instagram


Simone Moro has climbed extensively with Denis Urubko. Together, they achieved the first winter summits of Makalu and Gasherbrum II. Afterwards, as Moro told ExplorersWeb in a 2017 interview, their friendship deteriorated.

“I can’t accept Denis saying that the Polish Broad Peak and G1 winter ascents are not winter climbs because they [summited] in the first days of March,” Moro said at the time. “This is so disrespectful to those who gave [Urubko] Polish nationality, those who invited him and paid for his participation on the K2 winter expedition, and to Berbeka and Heizer, who died during those two successful frozen climbs.”

Everest upper sections and summit, nearly completely dry in a bluebird day with no sign of wind.

Simone Moro posted this image of a sunny, dry Everest on Dec. 19, 2022, to demonstrate that conditions can be excellent in December. Photo. Simone Moro/Instagram


Alex Txikon: Mild Decembers

Currently on Annapurna, Alex Txikon of Spain has also spoken out recently about winter definitions.

“Honestly, since my first winter attempt in 2010-11, I have noticed that weather conditions are much better through December,” he wrote. “The harsher conditions start in January and go through February.”

In March, conditions usually improve gradually, according to Txikon.

The clibmer in winter parka looks at the sunset from the gate of his tent,.

Alex Txikon at Camp 1 on winter Annapurna on Dec.24, 2023. Photo: @navamuel.andres


“In my opinion, it would be good [for] Himalayan winter climbers to open a constructive, not destructive, ethical debate about what is a winter expedition, in which all voices were taken into account.”

Urubko — No way

None of the previous arguments will make Denis Urubko change his mind. He is absolutely sure that the only proper definition of winter is the meteorological one. He accepts no other options.

“There is only one winter, the coldest trimester according to meteorologists, which goes from Dec. 1 to Feb. 28 (or 29),” Urubko confirmed to Desnivel earlier this week. “All other versions are ‘pseudo-winters’ or ‘games played with words.'”

Close shot of urubko holding two ice axes.

Denis Urubko. Photo: M.J. Cardell


In an interview with ExplorersWeb last year, Urubko also mentioned some rules he sticks to on his winter expeditions. No airlifts to lower altitudes and warm places during the expedition, for example.

“[Others] may climb as they please, but that is not for me,” he said. “My rules should be pure, should embrace winter conditions, cold included. One must concentrate and be completely involved in the adventure from beginning to end.”

Consensus and excellence

Debate can be positive, as Alex Txikon suggests, but perhaps useless as climbers are not keen to change their points of view.

It may not even be necessary. Modern expeditions, including winter expeditions, take less time than those in the era of the Polish winter warriors. Over the last few years, all teams have tacitly reached a consensus about winter climbing in the Himalaya. They all complete their projects between Dec. 21 and the end of February, thus climbing within both winter definitions. Even Urubko will set off for Pakistan on Dec. 29.

As Bielecki suggests, winter climbing goes beyond dates and focuses on improving the style compared to previous ascents. That includes the latest winter attempts on Nanga Parbat’s Rupal face and Dhaulagiri by David Goettler and Herve Barmasse. This pair opt for shorter (usually January) expeditions and aim for light, independent alpine-style ascents.

From that point of view, Urubko’s upcoming G1 climb is the culmination of excellence. He will proceed on his own (except for the glacier), in the undisputed dead of the Karakoram winter. Its winter is even harder than Nepal’s, as the jet stream winds are stronger at altitude.

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides graduated university in journalism and specializes in high-altitude mountaineering and expedition news. She has been writing about climbing and mountaineering, adventure and outdoor sports for 20+ years.

Prior to that, Angela Benavides spent time at/worked at a number of local and international media. She is also experienced in outdoor-sport consultancy for sponsoring corporations, press manager and communication executive, and a published author.