ExWeb Karakoram Exclusive: Wielicki's Analysis of Current Winter Season

Posted: Feb 09, 2011 04:19 pm EST

(By Angela Benavides) Will the recent Gasherbrum II winter victory prove a Karakoram dream mile - considered impossible until broken and then followed by many in short time? Cast your vote in the new poll, but first - check out the following analysis by living winter legend Krzysztof Wielicki.

2011 may end up a very significant year for Himalayan winter climbing. The first Karakoram giant (GII) has been topped out in winter and more milestones could be ahead with a small team shooting for a new route on GI and the Polish winter veterans on Broad Peak.

Back home in Warsaw, 14x8000er summiteer and winter Himalaya expert Krzysztof Wielicki is watching the efforts with great interest. Few know the harsh winter Himalayan giants, including K2, like he does. So how did the GII champs do? Should they be compared to the Broad Peak team? And what are the chances for the guys on G1? Exweb's Angela Benavides asked Wielicki for his input on this season's climbs. Here goes.

Commentary on the current Winter Karakoram climbing season
By Krzysztof Wielicki

I. The Weather

I am intently following the events taking place in the Karakoram this winter. First of all, I am very surprised about the weather. I havent't seen anything of the kind in winter Karakoram for the last 6-8 years. Usually the jet-stream is noticeable from the end of December through March, but this year the wind came very late: precisely on February 2 in the afternoon! Meteorologist Karl Gabl was also amazed at such weather!

Importance of weather forecast

An accurate forecast is a key factor [as Simone Moro stated], especially in winter - but not the only key. Indeed, Simone and team took the risk to climb in bad weather until 6,800m because they had been informed that conditions would later improve enough to let them push for the summit. Artur told me that by the time Simone and team summited, in BP's Base Camp there was only -5ºC and no wind! In this sense, not only the forecast, but the means of communication are revolutionary!

Nevertheless, the guys were also lucky. As you know, their descent in the storm was anything but easy.

II. Climbing styles

Simone, Denis and Cory, specially the first two, are very good - very experienced and strong Himalaya climbers. The team got power enough to climb without any extra support such as a larger group or high-altitude porters. On Broad Peak, Artur Hajzer is leading a team of mainly young climbers, not as experienced as the GII team. We can't compare both teams' styles, because the goals are different as well. Our target [as Polish winter veterans] is to build a new generation strong winter climbers - in a certain way, our age has passed, and so we are trying to rebuild our position as "climbing power nation" with the next shift.

A tribute to 1988 Broad Peak climbers

Please, remember this: February 1988, during our attempt to climb K2 in winter, Zawada sent a small team comprising Alexander Lwow and Maciej Berbeka to climb Broad Peak. They climbed in genuine alpine style up to 7,200m. Alex stopped there, but Maciej continued until the top of Rocky Summit (8025m?) - just by mistake - because he really believed that was the main summit! On descent, he made a bivouac in a crevasse and then joined Alex, who had stayed put and waited for his mate in a tent. I and two other climbers went up to assist them down. At the time, the feat was a remarkable achievement in Karakoram winter climbing!

III. The new route planned on GI

A new route in winter Karakoram is a brave idea! Gerfried, Louis and Alex are very strong, but I am concerned about this weird winter we're having.

Winters are usually dry and windy, so that the mountains' slopes look swept and covered only by grey ice. In such conditions, avalanches are not a problem. However, lack of wind this season has kept loads of snow on the peaks, picturing a completely different situation. They will have to be extremely careful on GI, particularly on the upper sections. On the other hand, I completely understand that they refused to follow the Japanese Couloir - it is so dangerous this winter in the current conditions!

The arrival of the jet-stream may be also concerning, although they must be very motivated after Simone & Co's success. Whatever they decide though, I wish them good luck.

IV. Comparing own past and present

As to compare current situation with my own experience - how could I? We climbed without any forecast back then. We just followed an "Inshallah" philosophy. So - please, do not compare expeditions in the 80s and nowadays.

All I can do is trying to check on current expeditions, and in that sense I can say that Simone and Denis (sorry, I do not know Cory, though I am sure he's a very brave guy) are ambitious and driven. I am happy that they have followed the Polish ideas of Himalayan winter climbing. Otherwise, I cross my fingers for all the ongoing winter teams.

V. Differences between Pakistan and Nepal

Sure, winter is harder in Pakistan than in Nepal. Since Karakoram is located further north, it may be under the influence on cold, continental air currents - I think.

The fact is, back in 1987/88 during our first attempt on winter K2, 65 out of the 85 days that we spent in BC were stormy days.

VI. A final thought

I am very happy to see that not only Polish climbers are involved in winter Himalayan climbing. Every new winter ascent gets me more and more convinced that we were the pioneers of a new Himalayan climbing style: the winter ascents.


Krzysztof Wielicki

Before last week, 9 out of all 14 eight-thousanders have been winter climbed: all located in Nepal and Tibet. The remaining five, located in Pakistan, had rejected the few attempts until this year when Italian Simone Moro, Kazakh Denis Urubko and American Cory Richards made history from the summit of Gasherbrum II on February 2nd.

Simone had already changed winter climbing history back in 2005, by summiting Shisha Pangma; before that date, all first winter accents had been made by Polish climbers. Over only eight years in the eighties, their feats revolutionized Himalayan climbing.

First out was Leszek Cichy on Everest in 1980. Then came Maciej Berbeka and Ryszard Gajewski on Manaslu in 1984. In 1985 Maciej Berbeka and Maciej Pawlikowski bagged Cho Oyu.

That same year (1985) Andrzej Czok and Jerzy Kukuczka took Dhaulagiri. The following year (1986), Kukuczka came back for Kangchenjunga together with Krzysztof Wielicki.

In 1987, Kukuczka returned again, this time with Artur Hajzer, to accomplish the first winter climb of Annapurna. Krzysztof Wielicki summited Lhotse solo on New years Eve in 1988 and that was the last time someone set foot on a summit higher than 8000 m during winter - before the Italian/Polish combo Simone Moro and Piotr Morawski summited Shisha Pangma in January 2005 bagging number 8 of the 14.

Karakoram is even harsher than Nepal/Tibet in winter. Before 2011, closest to a Karakoram success was Polish Maciej Berbeka (Manaslu winter 84, Cho Oyu winter 85) who solo climbed to Broad Peak's central summit. A Spanish TV team also attempting BP said that just to get to BC was a long, frozen walk from hell.

Note on winter firsts: At AdventureStats, Simone Moro is the first climber to achieve three winter firsts on 8000ers, since all his expeditions were completed within strict winter calendar dates. Indeed, Krzysztof Wielicki had stepped first on three winter summits before - Everest in 1980, Kangchenjunga in 1986 and Lhotse in 1989. However, two of Wielicki's successful winter expedition started before the beginning of calendar winter.

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14x8000er summiteer and winter Himalayan climbing expert, Krzysztof Wielicki.
courtesy HiMountain.eu
L/R: Denis Urubko, Simone Moro and Cory Richards on top of winter GII.
Image by Cory Richards courtesy TNF, SOURCE
Krzysztof Wielicki led a Polish team on winter Nanga Parbat in 2006/07. The team's C1 in image.
"The GI team will have to be extremely careful, particularly on the upper sections," warns Krzysztof.
courtesy ABC Winter GI team

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