Polar Vortex and Winter First Ascents

I just read where someone described a route in Patagonia by claiming it required some “Alaska style groveling.” I now think that I haven’t been outside enough and haven’t climbed often enough because I wanted to know if he needed a partner.

Well, here in most of the United States, most of us will be on our own to deal with this bout of arctic air (from the “polar vortex” phenomena) that has swept over North America. We’re all forced to be a little more self reliant by bundling up, keeping pipes from freezing and dealing with dead car batteries on our own. The utility company cannot help you. It sounds miserable to some, maybe most people, but for this moment we’ll feel alive in the moment and not just on auto pilot cruising through our daily routine.

However, the cold that has come south of the arctic circle is only a taste of the prolonged cold several climbers in three expedition teams are facing on Nanga Parbat, the ninth highest mountain in the world. Of the 14 eight-thousand meter peaks in the Himalayas and Karakorum, only two have not yet been summited in winter:

2. K2 (28,250 ft./8,611 m.)
9. Nanga Parbat (26,660 ft./8,125 m)

The last to “fall” in winter were the eleventh highest mountain, Gasherbrum I (26,470 ft./8,068 m.), as well as the twelfth highest, Broad Peak (26,401 ft./8,047 m.) The story of the Broad Peak ascent was shared in the short movie Cold.

In alpine climbing, what is a matter of official record are the firsts: The first ascent, first ascents by new original routes, and the first winter ascent. There are a lot of these winter objectives to set out on a quest.

Still, others try for firsts that are a little more of a particular challenge; Arctic explorer-turned-mountaineer Lonnie Dupres had tried to get up Denali solo these past three seasons during the height of winter (January, really.) However, based on the latest news available no one has announced plan to try for the top “Big Mac” in the darkest days of the year.

I’ll report on these climbs as I read read the news. For now, stay warm and enjoy feeling alive.

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