First Winter Ascent of Broad Peak

Just before arriving downtown at work I got an email from relentlessly cheery Bob Schelfhout Aubertijn. He’s good at making a climbing-obsessed person’s day. This time he was simply spreading the news: The Polish expedition that has been working on summitting

Broad Peak in the Karakorum did it today, March 5, 2013.

I posted the news on Facebook and Twitter right away. It’s significant because of the other 8,000-meter peaks, only K2 and Nanga Parbat now remain unclimbed in winter. It’s also significant because the Poles once more are the leaders in this space, with only one first winter ascent to these highest of cold mountains to their credit thus far.

Congratulations to Maciej Berbeka, Adam Bielecki, Tomasz Kowalsk and Artur Malek. You’re in the history books. As Bernadette McDonald has pointed out, in Poland the key questions about any mountain are, when was the first ascent and when was the first ascent in winter. Now Broad Peak has a complete answer. Best of luck on the descent to them!

On a personal note, we’ve got a big snow storm coming and I’m really excited, as I consider myself snow-deprived here in Peaklessburg. If we all get the snow day I’m expecting, I’ll pretend I’m in the mountains for minute, sip some wine, spend quality time with the family and pray the power doesn’t go out.

Have a good night.

Updated March 10, 2013: Since posting this, Maciej and Tomek went missing during their the decent. There is no news about either climber.

The Remaining 8,000ers Winter Ascents

Halloween is done. The first snow has already fallen. So now I’m thinking about winter, including skiing, snowshoeing, snowball fights and winter climbing. Oh… and seasonal lagers too.

It also means we can start watching for news of high altitude alpinists going after the virgin winter ascents in the Himalayan 8,000-meter peaks. Four remain, as the Poles have succeeded in tackling Everest (1st highest), Kanchenjunga (3rd), Lhotse (4th), Makalu (5th), Cho Oyo (6th), Dhaulagiri (7th), Manaslu (8th), Annapurna (10th), and Shishapangma (14th).

Gasherbrum II, the world’s 13th highest mountain, is the only winter ascent that wasn’t climbed by the Poles and was the first in the Karakorum Range of the Himalayas. It was topped out on Groundhog Day (February 2, 2011) by an international team, including Simone Moro of Italy, Denis Urubko of Kazakhstan and Cory Richards of Canada.
So that leaves us four to track:

2. K2 (28,250 ft./8,611 m.)

9. Nanga Parbat (26,660 ft./8,125 m.)

11. Gashberbrum I (26,470 ft./8,068 m.)

12. Broad Peak (26,401 ft./8,047 m.)

The challenge of an ascent in winter in the Karakoram means generally colder temperatures, more frequent storms, shorter days with less sunlight. The ice can be brittle. Snow slopes can load and unload regularly as is the cycle of avalanches — which happen with greater frequency in winter storms.

While you don’t need to climb in the winter of these high altitude peaks to be the biggest, baddest climber, it sure helps your reputation. While I wouldn’t try it — and I’m not recommending that you make an attempt — I am going to watch with admiration anybody the tries this winter.

DECEMBER 10, 2011: Here’s an update on the teams heading to make attempts on three of the remaining peaks. .

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The Sought-After First Winter Ascent in the Karakoram Achieved

On February 2, 2011 (Groundhog Day in the states) Simone Moro, of Italy, Denis Urubko of Kazakhstan and Cory Richards of Canada have completed the first winter ascent of 8,000er in the Korakoram Range in Pakistan.  According to Alpinist Newswire and several other sources, they made the climb to Gasherbrum II (26,361 ft./8,035 m.) in a three-day push from basecamp.

Until now, all the 8,000ers that have been sended in winter were accomplished by Polish expeditions.  No one had been able to reach the top of any of Pakistan’s Karakoram 8,000ers in winter.  The fortune of the Moro-Urubko-Richards team no doubt gained a lot from Moro’s previous experience when climbing on the Pole’s other successful expeditions, including up Shishapangma (26,289 ft./8,013 m.) in 2005.

The Poles, lead by Artur Hajzer, continue to work their way up Broad Peak even now.  According to Himalman Ie, the route is still advancing and one alpinist needs medical attention due to lung issues.  Despite slow progress, I am optimistic about the Polish Broad Peak expedition.

A third stab at a Karakoram 8,000er winter ascent is also underway on Gasherbrum I (26,509 ft./8,080 m.) lead by Canadian alpinist Louis Rousseau.  Rouseau’s group appears to be facing the most adversity going into his climb.  Their team is smaller than planned, which could have been a financial set back as well.  Nonetheless, they are in the Karakoram and moving forward.  This attempt, if successful, might have the makings for the story we retell again and again.

In general, these attempts and ascents are signs that the Himalayas are in the second or third phase of mountaineering.  The first phase is always about first ascents of the peak, usually by the easiest and most direct route.  The second phase is usually climbing the mountian by more challenging routes and claiming an early ascent (like the second, third or fourth ascent of the peak).  The third phase involves stunt climbs (please forgive the term), where the climbers will send the mountian in a particular style, in winter, including a ski descent or base jump, for example.  I have just begun thinking about the evolution and trends in the natural flow of exploring so I might amend this in the future.

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Broad Peak and the Sought-After First Winter Ascent in the Karakoram

Broad Peak in the Karakoram on a day the Poles are unlikely to see (By Svy123 2006)

The so-called 8,000ers (peaks above 8,000 meters) have all been climbed, but not all of them have been topped-out in winter.  This is most notable in the Karakoram Range, where five of the world’s highest peaks stand and none of them have had an alpinist arrive on the summit between early December and the beginning of March. 

Right now, a Polish expedition lead by Artur Hajzer is already in the Baltoro region staging its bid for Broad Peak (26,401 ft./ 8,047 m.).  For the 8,000-meter peaks that have been climbed in winter, those seven winter-first ascents were all accomplished by Polish expeditions. 

But Broad Peak, like other Karakoram 8,000ers, has been tried before in winter.  In 2006 and 2007, Italian super alpinist Simone Moro led attempts on Broad Peak in the coldest months, including an unsuccessful 2006 climb, which was almost a solo attempt.  What he said in advance of that trip shows his determination: “I will stay there until end of February; and I didn’t find any photographer or cameraman to come with me. So I will have to do all by myself.”  Ultimately, he climbed with Shaheen Baig.  In 2007, he returned in winter only to be turned back again. 

  
While a Polish expedition attempted Nanga Parbat (26,657 ft./8,125 m.) in the Karakoram winter, also in 2007, most attempts in Pakistan have been aimed at Broad Peak.  This is interesting because it must appear achievable to the climbers over the other four 8,000ers in the region, including Nanga Parbat, K2, and Gasherbrum I and II.  If the winter conditions in the Karakoram are holding the climbers back from the tops of these mountains, then the lowest mountain or one with the most direct lines may be the simplest, which could be Gasherbrum II. 

However, we all choose our targets in climbing and even hiking because of our passion for the trail, route or the romance of the peak.  We tend to obsess over our objective.  The reason for the recent attempts on Broad Peak could be based on Moro’s singular excitement over that goal, and the Hajzer expedition on the Godwin Austin Glacier now may have chosen Broad Peak because of the rich, recent information from Moro’s two seasons of attempts.  I am very curious about why Broad Peak has been so popular and am asking some knowledgeable people – I will let you know what insight they share, if any.

While a Polish expedition attempted Nanga Parbat (26,657 ft./8,125 m.) in the Karakoram winter, also in 2007, most attempts in Pakistan have been aimed at Broad Peak.  This is interesting because it must appear achievable to the climbers over the other four 8,000ers in the region, including Nanga Parbat, K2, and Gasherbrum I and II.  If the winter conditions in the Karakoram are holding the climbers back from the tops of these mountains, then the lowest mountain or one with the most direct lines may be the simplest, which could be Gasherbrum II. 

The so-called 8,000ers (peaks above 8,000 meters) have all been climbed, but not all of them have been topped-out in winter.  This is most notable in the Karakoram Range, where five of the world’s highest peaks stand and none of them have had an alpinist arrive on the summit between early December and the beginning of March. However, we all choose our targets in climbing and even hiking because of our passion for the trail, route or the romance of the peak.  We tend to obsess over our objective.  The reason for the recent attempts on Broad Peak could be based on Moro’s singular excitement over that goal, and the Hajzer expedition on the Godwin Austin Glacier now may have chosen Broad Peak because of the rich, recent information from Moro’s two seasons of attempts.  I am very curious about why Broad Peak has been so popular and am asking some knowledgeable people – I will let you know what insight they share, if any.

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