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Everything in life is possible armed only with a determined approach and positive mindset.
Into the impossible once more.
The greatest, the hardest, the last.
There are countless reasons why K2 still remains the only 8000m peak unclimbed during the winter season. Even in the most favourable summer climbing conditions K2 quickly gained the reputation as ‘Savage Mountain’ which has clearly contributed to the mountain’s strong allure for generations of mountaineers.
Winter brings with it a whole different level of danger and challenge. Numerous teams have attempted since 1987/88, but all have fallen short. Not only do the sheerness of the slopes and overall exposure create a technically challenging climb, weather is always the great opponent on K2 all year round. Summit winds reach hurricane force, still-air temperatures are well below -65 degrees and the winter’s low barometric pressure means even less oxygen – so the margins of error are almost non-existent, the smallest mistake can have catastrophic consequences.
For generations, since Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary became the first to climb Mount Everest, in 1953, Sherpa people have worked as guides, facilitators and collaborators on countless historic mountaineering feats. Yet they have often been rendered invisible by the global lens and have seldom received their due. Hillary was knighted by Queen Elizabeth after the Everest triumph. Norgay was not. And none have been credited with first ascents in Nepal.
Yet experienced Alpinists know that Sherpa people are among the strongest mountaineers and are unparalleled at altitude because they were born and raised in thin air.
The impossible is made possible!
Team Nimsdai, made up of six climbers, was led by Purja, a former Nepalese soldier and British special forces operator who — after retiring from the military — burst onto the climbing scene in 2019 when he climbed all 14 8,000-meter peaks in six months and six days, shaving more than seven years off the world record.
Purja is Magar, not Sherpa, but he formed a team that included five Sherpa climbers. The team included Geljen Sherpa, who climbed several Himalayan peaks with Purja in 2019, and Mingma David Sherpa, best known for rescuing 52 climbers from the slopes of Everest in a single season in 2016.
Mingma G, a Sherpa climber who had climbed Everest five times, K2 twice and who had climbed all the world’s 8,000-meter peaks before turning 30, led a separate team of Sherpa climbers.
Together they and a team of local Pakistani porters hauled 70 camp tents, six dining tents and 30 specially designed high-altitude tents on a spectacular weeklong 60-mile trek through the snow to base camp at roughly 17,000 feet. They also packed thousands of meters of rope, dozens of ice screws, rock pitons, supplemental oxygen and kerosene, 360 pounds of meat, and 400 pounds of chocolate, cookies and energy bars.
It had been decided before their arrival that all the climbers at base camp would follow the standard Abruzzi route that winter. On Dec. 26, Purja and his team stuffed their packs with rope, tents and four days of food, and climbed the 40-degree slope to Camp I at 20,013 feet to begin their first four-day rotation at high altitude, to acclimatize to the conditions. The next day, they moved on to Camp II at 21,982 feet where they pitched tents beneath rock ledges offering meager shelter in the howling wind.
On Dec. 28, Purja’s radio chirped. Team Mingma G was busy fixing lines to the mountainside that all the teams could use during the winter season. And team members needed help if they were to finish running lines all the way to Camp III. Four members of Team Nimsdai were too spent and descended to base camp, but Purja and Mingma Tenzi pushed up to 23,000 feet to lend a hand. By the time everyone had returned to base camp on New Year’s Eve, Purja had frostbitten fingers and two Nepali teams had joined forces.
That’s when the weather turned fierce. Beginning on Jan. 5, winds roared down the K2 slopes at speeds up to 60 miles per hour, for days. As his tent rattled, Purja worried about damage at Camp II, but he couldn’t assess the situation until the weather cleared on Jan. 10.
When they arrived, they discovered that their tents, stocked with all their cooking gear, sleeping bags, mattresses and lifesaving technical clothing — including heated insoles, gloves and base layers — had disappeared. Was it buried in snow? Blown off the mountain? It didn’t matter, it was gone.
But Purja treats his mountaineering expeditions as he would a mission in the military. “There is a backup plan for a backup plan for a backup plan,” he said. He and the team returned to base camp and began packing up their replacement gear. “We plan for the worst and we hope for the best.”
Finally, a weather window opened on Jan. 13 and the 10 Nepalese climbers set off from base camp for their first attempt at the summit. Each of them carried over 70 pounds of gear on their climb back up to Camp II, where they spent the night.
The next day they traversed a section known as the Black Pyramid, a gantlet of exposed, vertical rock, and a deep chasm in the ice known as the House Chimney. They scrambled up the rock and used a ladder to cross the chasm, and less than an hour later they were back on a 40-degree glacial slope.
The crunch of their crampons digging into the ice marked their steady progress to Camp III, at over 24,000 feet. After making camp they continued fixing lines up to Camp IV at 25,000 feet before descending to Camp III to get some much needed sleep.
They didn’t move again until 2:30 a.m. local time on Saturday. When they unzipped their tents, the domed sky blazed with starlight, but the cold was otherworldly. It was minus-76 degrees Fahrenheit and the cold cut through four layers of clothing, sapping their strength. Then the wind kicked up, blowing snow into their eyes, frosting their eyelashes and eyebrows.
“My body became numb,” Mingma G said from base camp on Monday. “I wanted to abandon the expedition. Others made up their minds to quit too.”
Purja urged them all to continue.
“We all had that common pride, a common goal,” Purja said. “This was for Nepal.” The men took shelter at Camp IV before dawn to rest and warm up. And when the wind died and the sun finally rose, morale brightened. “We’d gone through the pain barrier, and the sun gave us power,” Purja said.
By 3 p.m. they’d cleared the Bottleneck. Threaded together, strung out like prayer beads, they made the slow march over the shoulder toward the top of K2.
With about 30 feet to spare, the men grouped up, stood shoulder to shoulder and continued as one. They would enter the record books together. Singing the Nepali national anthem, they stepped up to the summit just before 5 p.m. and enjoyed the wintry view nobody had seen before.
The mountains of the Karakoram rose like sharks’ teeth, above a deep river valley, glazed with ice and dressed for winter. But even that beauty paled in comparison to the feeling of pride and unity that swelled within and that was pervasive and palpable among the men.
“It was a proud moment,” Mingma G said. “All of our mountains were first summited by foreigners. That’s why we were desperate to summit K2 this winter.”
K2 Winter – History made for mankind, History made for Nepal !
History made on K2
At 17:00 hrs local time Nimsdai and team summited K2, teaming up with Mingma G and team and a member from SST, Sona Sherpa.
A very special moment. The whole team waited 10m below the summit to form a group then stepped onto the summit together whilst singing our Nepalese National Anthem. We are proud to have been a part of history for humankind and to show that collaboration, teamwork and a positive mental attitude can push limits to what we feel might be possible.
Summiting team members:
1. Nimsdai Purja
2. Mingma David Sherpa (Team Nimsdai)
3. Mingma Tenzi Sherpa (Team Nimsdai)
4. Geljen Sherpa (Team Nimsdai)
5. Pem Chiri Sherpa (Team Nimsdai)
6. Dawa Temba Sherpa (Team Nimsdai)
7. Mingma G Sherpa
8. Dawa Tenjin Sherpa (Team Mingma G)
9. Kilu Pemba Sherpa (Team Mingma G)
10. Sona Sherpa (SST)
– Nimsdai, 2021
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