Winter K2: It’s a Go for Mingma’s team!

Right when most assumed that his expedition was cancelled, Mingma Gyalje Sherpa (Mingma G for short) and his multinational team have confirmed their plans for Winter K2. Outfitted by Apricot Tours, the climbing permit was issued on December 19 and the expedition’s gear reached Islamabad on Christmas Eve.

As previously announced, Mingma G will lead Iceland’s John Snorri and China’s Gao Li, as well as last-minute member Tomaz Rotar of Slovenia. All three entered the 8,000m world quite recently, but according to their resumes, they have taken it seriously. Snorri climbed K2 and Broad Peak in 2019 and made it to the summit of Manaslu (or at least close to it) last fall. Gao Li climbed Manaslu in 2016, Everest in 2017 and in 2019, he linked Lhotse and Makalu. Rotar has gone straight for the three tallest: Everest, K2 and Kangchenjunga in the last three years. They did all their climbs on supplementary O2, and nothing suggests that they will proceed differently this time, although to be fair, nothing is confirmed yet. Mingma G, however, has stated that he’d like to try it without gas.

An employee with Apricot Tours receives the Winter K2 expedition cargo at Islamabad airport.


Interestingly enough, the strongest members of the team are Nepalese: Tamting Sherpa, Pasang Namgel Sherpa and Kili Pempa Sherpa have worked with foreign expeditions for years. Tamting holds an impressive resume of nearly 50 expeditions to 8,000m and other major peaks, including nine Everest summits in nine attempts. Pasang has eight Everest summits, and a number of other 8,000’ers. In Pakistan, however, he’s climbed only Gasherbrum II and has yet to face K2 for the first time. Kili Pemba scoops his mates as far as multiple Everests are concerned: He has 11.

Their resumes represent a typical Sherpa guide’s career, which starts from 6,000m trekking peaks and graduates to Cho Oyu, Shishapangma and Everest. In Kili Pemba’s case, for instance, his Everest climbs followed a slow progression to higher and higher camps, until his first Big-E summit in 2003. Since then, he rarely ended his Everest forays lower than 8,848m. For all these men, winter K2 would be a definite professional leap in their careers.

As for the expedition leader, Mingma G has summited 13 of the 14 8,000’ers (with only Shishapangma to go). He has done Everest five times and K2 twice. He also has participated in three first ascents of 6,000m peaks in Nepal. On one of them (Chobuje 6,686m), he soloed its west ridge. Moreover, Mingma G is a certified IFMGA/UIAGM mountain guide and runs his own expedition company, Imagine Nepal.

Sarbaz Khan, no-O2 K2 summiter, will be key in the upcoming winter K2 expedition. Photo: Apricot Tours


Even more impressive is the climbing history of the expedition’s local Hunza guide, Sarbaz Khan — K2, Nanga Parbat, Broad Peak, Manaslu and Lhotse (first Pakistani), all without supplementary oxygen. He summited all those peaks on his first attempt, except for K2, which took him two tries. As a member of the first team to ascend Nanga Parbat in autumn, he is also familiar with off-season climbs.

This is probably not the Dream Team that some envision on winter K2. Adam Bielecki is recovering from an injury, Denis Urubko is at Broad Peak (although who knows what Urubko will ultimately do), Simone Moro has chosen the Gasherbrums and Alex Txikon is heading for Everest this winter.

However, the current team gearing up to face the savage mountain in winter is quite an accurate reflection of climbing on the Himalayan giants nowadays: On the one hand, wealthy clients happy to use all available resources to achieve their ambitions, and on the other, increasingly professional local climbers, who have shed their high-altitude porter roles, gained their place as full guides and now — with their unmatched experience and advantages at altitude — have rightly stepped forward to attempt real firsts.


Related story:

Who is Really Going for Winter K2?