A Group Of Polish Mountaineers Are Now At Base Camp — Preparing To Attempt The First Ever Accent Of K2 In Winter — The World’s 2nd Tallest & Most Lethal Mountain
As many of us shiver in the coldest weather to date in 2017, a group of Polish mountaineers landed in Pakistan this weekend, and are preparing to climb the world’s second tallest, and most lethal mountain — in the dead of winter. This expedition….isn’t for the faint of heart, as the saying goes.. K2 reaches its peak at 28,252 feet — just 800 feet or so shy of Mount Everest at around 29,029 feet….Mount Everest’s exact height is in dispute and new measurements are planned in 2018. While K2 may be a little less taller than Everest, K2 is a much more technically difficult, and dangerous climb.
Known as the Savage mountain — for every 100 climbers who have attempted to ascend K2 — 29 have died. That same ratio for Mount Everest is just 4 deaths for every 100 climbers. And, the number of climbers who have successfully summited K2, numbers in the low 300s, while some 4,000 climbers have reached the top of Everest. An Italian mountaineering team was the first to successfully summit K2 — but, in the summertime/July 1954.
Nepal’s Annapurna Massif (26,545ft) is the most lethal climb/summit for mountaineers, claiming 61 lives with less than 200 successful summits.
K2 has never been summited in winter.
Now, a Polish mountaineering team may be on the verge of making mountaineering history. An article posted December 30, 2017 on the website, The Nation, notes that a group of 10 Polish climbers “is committed,” to successfully summitting K2 in 65 days (and on/before March 18, 2018). The team successfully arrived at base-camp in Pakistan this weekend (after Christmas).
The planning for this extremely dangerous expedition has been ongoing for more than a year. Michael Powell had a feature article in the May 9, 2017 New York Times, which I recommend for those of you who want more detail on the expedition. Mr. Powell wrote that “these men will hike through knee-deep snow, to a base camp at 18,645 feet, surpassing all but one mountain in the United States. Atop K2’s near-vertical slopes,” he adds, “glacial icefalls dislodge car-size chunks of ice; while, winds at the summit can reach hurricane strength, and temperatures can fall as low as -80 degrees Fahrenheit.” What’s more, he notes, “climbers could wait two months in their tents, in the hopes the gales relent for a few days. They have no margin for error; K2 normally kills those trapped on its flanks,” he warns.
But, if any group of climbers can summit K2 in winter, this particular group may be the ones. “For reasons of history and culture,” Mr. Powell notes, “Polish climbers are the most audacious, and the greatest climbers of the Himalayas in winter. They are prisoners of their dreams.”
Janusz Golab, 49 years old, whom Mr. Powell describes as “a long-limbed lion of a climber [a ‘Lion in Winter?’, I couldn’t resist] with curly hair that goes here and there like an ethereal nimbus,” and one of the four climbers who will be charged with making it to the top of K2. The four will have to make that final push [from 26K feet] to the summit [28K feet] without using an oxygen bottle/supply. Mr. Golab is a father, has a girlfriend, has a love for life; and most importantly, is a very skilled and successful mountaineer who is in the prime of his climbing career Mr. Golab notes. “It so happens, he enjoys [potentially] deadly challenges,”he adds.
And, K2 certainly fits that criteria. “There’s so much to unpack about this climb to the most hostile tip of the planet, a mountain that is 28,251 feet high; and, sits in the Karakoram range on the border of Pakistan and China,” Mr. Powell wrote. “There are technical and strategic challenges; and, the task of picking a team in the [highly] individualistic [and competitive] world of high-altitude climbing.”
Brendan Leonard, writing July 26, 2013 on the website, Mountaineering.com, described “two technical sections [on K2], ‘House’s Chimney,’ and, The Black Pyramid.’ Once safely past those [two challenges], climbers must navigate the narrow Bottleneck couloir, [and] force themselves underneath a set of massive seracs.” A serac is a block or column of glacial ice. Mr. Leonard notes that “in 2008, part of the [one of the] serac[‘s] collapsed, cutting fixed ropes, and avalanching onto the [their] route, which made navigating the Bottleneck more technical [and dangerous] for the parties who had climbed above it. “In the single worst day in K2’s [climbing] history,” Mr. Leonard wrote, “11 climbers died. But, the worst climbing disaster in K2 history occurred in July/August, 1986, when 13 climbers lost their lives. Five of the 13 climbers died as a result of a severe storm between August 6-10, while eight others died in various accidents/incidents in the weeks prior to August 6.
To successfully summit a mountain as challenging as K2, not only requires a great individual effort, it also requires great leadership, planning, and oversight. Mr. Leonard writes that “the blue-eyed Krzysztof Wielicki, who at 67, is among the most accomplished Himalayan climbers alive, will lead the K2 expedition. He has climbed three Himalayan peaks in winter, including Everest,” Mr. Leonard noted; and, Wielicki is “renowned for his solo accents of the Himalayan peaks. His stamina is unmatched,” Mr. Leonard wrote; but, “as expedition leaders must — he will remain at base — camp during [his team’s] the ascent of K2.” Of note. Mr. Wielicki was the first climber to successfully summit Everest in winter, some four decades ago.
If all goes well, Mr. Wielicki’s goal is to have his team successfully summit K2 this winter; and, before March 18, 2018.
So, you think you are cold? I cannot fathom how cold it is going to be, in the winter, and near the top of the world on K2. I wish we could bottle and replicate the bravery, confidence, daring-do, and the physical and mental stamina that is required — even to undertake such an endeavor…much less be successful. But maybe, that would be too much, of a ‘good thing,’ and not necessarily a net plus in over-abundance. Because these character traits are exceptional, and rare, we can better appreciate them — when we witness them firsthand, as in this case. Whether it was Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier, or Neil Armstrong being the first human to set foot on the Moon in 1969, or Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay being the first to successfully summit Mount Everest in May, 1953, humankind has an incurable and insatiable desire to push the limits of their very being; and, as William Shatner used to say at the opening of Star Trek — “Go Where No One Has Gone Before.”
If these guys succeed, they will truly be…..‘the Lions In Winter.” If you would like to follow their progress, go to K2.net. Godspeed to the Polish climbers. RCP, fortunascorner.com