K2: Plans for the Final Summit Push

Climbers on K2 have spent the day hunkered down in Camp 3 because of rising winds. The wind came as no surprise. Leader Nima Gyalzen says that it shouldn’t affect Thursday’s summit push.

Tomorrow, some will proceed to Camp 4, fixing as they go. Then they return for the night to Camp 3, from which the final summit push begins.

ExplorersWeb spoke with Sakahwat Hussain Sakhi, managing director of local outfitter Summit Karakoram. He is in constant contact with Base Camp and with Gyalzen on the mountain. Sakhi explained the team’s next moves.

Only six going up

Only six climbers will take part in the summit push. Joining Nima Gyalzen and sole client Grace Tseng are Chhiring Sherpa, Dawa Sherpa, Furi Sherpa, and Ningma Dorje Tamang. The other two members of the expedition will remain in Base Camp.

Grace Tseng is trying to become the first female K2 winter summiter and is one final push away. Photo: Grace Tseng


As for Tseng, she has counted on Gyalzen and his Nepal-based Dolma Outdoor to climb five 8,000’ers in the last two years. As she did on Kangchenjunga, she hired the entire expedition. All the Sherpas traveled from Nepal to Pakistan on her behalf.

Despite her lack of experience and strong dependence on O2 and her guides, the young Taiwanese has endured weeks of privation in the harsh Karakoram winter. Her project seemed way too ambitious when the expedition reached the Baltoro Glacier, after weeks of delay because of various visa problems. But now she’s within one decent weather window of the summit of K2 in winter.

Camp 3 is at its usual summer location on the Shoulder, at around 7,300m, above the Black Pyramid. This is a significant improvement compared to the C3 of some of the commercial clients who attempted K2 last winter. Back then, many of them were in a “lower” Camp 3. This meant an extremely long and arguably unrealistic summit push.

Climbers at the Black Pyramid on the way to Camp 3 the previous winter. Photo: Elia Saikaly

Camp 4: a key

If all goes according to plan, part of the team will fix the route as high as possible tomorrow. They will then return to Camp 3 for the night. Tseng will likely remain in C3 for one more day. The use of oxygen spares the climbers further rotations up and down the steep Abruzzi Spur.

Crucially, the fixing team will also establish a Camp 4, even though the climbers don’t usually sleep there. Typically, it’s at 8,000m, at the base of the Bottleneck.

“It will be useful both for the ascent and the descent,” Sakhi explained. “It gives a place to rest, melt snow for water, have some food, etc.”

A refuge at 8,000m stocked with supplies could have meant the difference between life and death last year for the three climbers who ventured beyond Camp 3 on the second summit push. John Snorri, Ali Sadpara, and Juan Pablo Mohr never made it back. Their bodies were found during summer expeditions to K2, not far above the location of Camp 4. Valentyn Sypavin, who found Mohr’s remains, believes that a tent at Camp 4 might have saved at least Mohr’s life.

Location of the bodies of Ali Sadpara (lower) and John Snorri, from Camp 4. Photo: Valentyn Sypavin


For the final push, the team plans to start climbing on the evening of February 24. They’ll continue through the night and all the next morning. The exact departure time depends on the weather.

Although everyone will be on O2, it will be a long, hard journey, especially those in front, breaking trail and fixing ropes.

“They want to fix their own ropes, they do not want to use the old ropes still in place,” Sakhi told ExplorersWeb. Ropes fixed last summer or even last winter aren’t as reliable, especially on ice and snow, which describes K2’s Abruzzi Route above Camp 3.

Gelje Sherpa (currently on Cho Oyu) approaches the Bottleneck on K2 in winter 2021. Photo: Mingma David Sherpa