The world’s second highest mountain, K2, had its first winter ascent on Saturday. That’s a big deal and the climb’s importance is something that many Bow Valley residents will understand. K2 is 8,611 metres high, which puts it about 200 metres less than Everest, but it’s considered a far more technical and dangerous. Of the 14 8,000-metre peaks, it was the only one yet to be climbed in winter, with or without supplementary oxygen.
On Jan. 16, 10 Nepalese mountaineers left high camp at 1 a.m. and reached the summit at 5 p.m. after having stopped 10 metres below, so that they could all reach the top together. No individual was listed as first. The all-Sherpa team included: Nirmal Purja, Gelje Sherpa, Mingma David Sherpa, Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, Sona Sherpa, Mingma Tenzi Sherpa, Pem Chhiri Sherpa, Dawa Temba Sherpa, Kili Pemba Sherpa and Dawa Tenjing Sherpa.
Mingma Gyalje said before leaving Nepal: “For all the other 8000ers summited in winter, no Shepra was with them, so this is an opportunity for Sherpa to demonstrate their strength. Besides alpinists, all the climbers take help from Sherpa to fulfill their dreams of 8000m peaks. I have helped several foreign climbers to get to the summit of different 8000ers. I was a little surprised to see no Sherpa on winter first ascent. So, this climb is for all the Sherpa community who are so known because of our friends and clients from different foreign countries.”
K2 is known as the Savage Mountain after George Bell, a climber on the 1953 American Expedition, told reporters “It’s a savage mountain that tries to kill you.” Of the five highest mountains in the world, K2 is the deadliest; approximately one person dies on the mountain for every four who reach the summit. On the same day as the summit, a climber from Spain part of another expedition, Sergi Mingote, fell to his death.
Only four Canadians have reached the summit of K2: Jim Haberl and Dan Culver in 1993, Andrew Evans (no supplemental oxygen) in 2000 and Don Bowie in 2007. Hopefully the 2021 Banff Mountain Festival will be allowed because there will surely be a big celebration for this historic ascent.
There were at least two ice climbers rescued this past weekend. One climber was airlifted from Grotto Canyon after taking a fall on Hers WI4 or His WI4. Another climber was rescued in the northern Rockies after taking a lead fall.
The first rule in ice climbing is never take a lead fall. If you get pumped out or scared, clip into your ice tool to place a screw. Ice climbing falls are far more dangerous than falling in the gym or on a sport climb. Your crampons, screws and tools can leave nasty wounds or get stuck in the ice on the way down and break bones.
I expect we’ll see a record number of people in the mountains this year, and with that will come more historic moments and gut-wrenching tragedies. Play safe out there.