Winter Climbing Homecoming: Alex Txikon to attempt Everest without Bottled Oxygen

The Basque climber aims for the penultimate winter-climbing trophy: the winter ascent of Everest without bottled oxygen.

Winter climbing in high Asia was considered a mythical delusion before Poles summited the highest mountain on February 17, 1980. “If it were not Everest, we would have given up!” Leszek Cichy and Krzysztof Wielicki announced winter warriors’ arrival in Himalayas. It was a time when seeking permit to climb an 8000ers in winter was a big task in itself.

Poles reigned the winter climbing arena until early twentieth century when Italian maestro Simone Moro became the ultimate torch-bearer of winter ascents. Alex Txikon, the power machine from Basque who shared Nanga Parbat ascent with Moro, is now aiming for the penultimate winter-climbing trophy: the winter ascent of Everest without bottled oxygen [preceded, obviously, by the highly-cherished, still-awaited first winter ascent of K2].

No Everest Ascent without Bottled Oxygen

Everest has never been climbed in full winter [between Dec 21st and March 20th] since Cichy and Wielicki and still awaits the first winter ascent without bottled oxygen. There have been few expeditions where climbers reached the top in winter, but they all started well before Dec 22nd.

“The [winter] season is officially from December 1st to January 31st, though the calendar winter season starts on December 21st – a date when the majority of successful expeditions have already reached the summit. The beginning of December has stable, clear weather, in fact more of an extension of the post monsoon period, though the winds are higher and the temperatures colder. Also, the Nepalese government allows winter expeditions to reach Base Camp and even establish a Camp I (though not man it) before December 1st. Thus the winter season is not as unattractive as it at first appears.” Brian Hall commented in Alpine Journal 1985.

Explorersweb examined the challenges of winter climbing in “The BAD chart” series a decade ago. The article concludes that “According to the chart the lines jam up and things starts to get really bad during December, worsen slightly in January and stay bad during February. November is drier and warmer than the winter period and March is warmer and less windy.

The two most important factors for bad winter weather are cold temperatures and high winds. The extreme winds start already in October and run through February. Temperatures drop constantly during the autumn until Dec 21, when they reach bottom levels.

Temperatures stay low for just over two months until February 28; when Everest starts to warm up again. It is probably no coincidence that the weather charts show winter starting at the exact same date as the winter solstice (darkest day of the year), and the official beginning of winter according to the calendar.”

Team and Itinerary

Alex Txikon and Ali Sadpara were exceptional on Nanga Parbat. They had almost achieved the long-pending winter ascent twice in two attempts. But the mountaineer from Sadpara will not be part of Txikon’s team this year. His winter Everest companions are “Carlos Rubio (28), alpinist, climber and extreme skier of great talent; Aitor Bárez (40), director and producer of the movie we will record and Pablo Magister (27), camera, mountaineer and Drone pilot.”

Besides, five Sherpa have been hired to fixed route through Khumbu Icefall. Apparently, they will be on normal route via South Col. The team will arrive in Kathmandu on Christmas day.

Alex Txikon

The Spanish climber has summited 11 eight-thousanders so far, including Nanga Parbat in winter 2016. He had previously attempted Nanga Parbat in 2015 and was part of two GI winter expeditions [2011 and 2012].