Nepal team claim first winter ascent of Pakistan’s K2

In this file photo taken on August 14, 2019, porters set up tents at the Concordia camping site in front of K2 summit (centre) in the Karakoram range of Pakistan’s mountain northern Gilgit region. — AFP pic
In this file photo taken on August 14, 2019, porters set up tents at the Concordia camping site in front of K2 summit (centre) in the Karakoram range of Pakistan’s mountain northern Gilgit region. — AFP pic

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ISLAMABAD, Jan 16 — A team of Nepali climbers today made history after becoming the first to summit Pakistan’s K2 in winter, singing their country’s national anthem as they reached the top.

Dozens of mountaineers have been competing over the past few weeks to summit the world’s second highest mountain, the last peak above 8,000 metres to be topped in wintertime.

“WE DID IT” tweeted Seven Summit Treks — a trekking company leading one of the expeditions.

“The Karakorum’s ‘Savage Mountain’ been summited in most dangerous season: winter. Nepalese climbers finally reached the summit of Mt K2 this afternoon at 17:00 local time.”

Since the maiden attempt in 1987-1988, just a handful of winter expeditions have been tried on the storied 8,611-metre mountain in the Karakoram range along the Chinese border. 

None had got higher than 7,650 metres until today when the good conditions allowed the climbers to push ahead.

This winter an unprecedented four teams totalling around 60 climbers converged on the mountain, more than all the previous expeditions put together.

The 10 Nepali climbers had earlier been spread across the different teams, but formed a new group in order to claim the feat in Nepal’s name.

Known as the “savage mountain”, winds can blow at more than 200 kilometres per hour and temperatures drop to minus 60 degrees Celsius.

Despite being renowned for their climbing aptitude, there has never before been a Nepali climber on the first winter ascent of a peak over 8,000 metres.

Nimsdai Purja, one of the triumphant climbers, described it as 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,” wrote Purja in a social media post.

“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.”

At least one of the climbers, Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, had planned to reach the summit without using oxygen.

He had attempted the record last winter, after already ascending 13 of the world’s 14 peaks over 8,000 metres, but was forced to give up.

Speaking to AFP ahead of the expedition in December, he said the record books for winter summits feature Polish, Italian and Spanish names but none from Nepal.

“This is a good chance for us to write Nepal’s name,” he said.

“I’d be happy seeing my country’s flag on the list for winter. That’s one of my biggest dreams now.”

‘Savage mountain’

One of the final technical difficulties to be overcome by the group was the dreaded “bottleneck”, a narrow and steep passage where 11 people were killed in August 2008 in K2’s worst known tragedy.

Lockdowns and travel bans sparked by the coronavirus pandemic meant the summer climbing season last year was a bust in most of the popular climbing destinations in the region, such as Nepal.

With Pakistan’s borders open and few other places to go, four teams with around 60 climbers and sherpas between them arrived in the country in recent weeks with their sights set on being the first to conquer K2 in the winter.

Unlike Mount Everest, which has been topped by thousands of climbers young and old, K2 is a much lonelier place.

Many climbers have died trying to reach the summit, while others were killed on the dangerous descent.

Northern Pakistan is home to some of the world’s tallest mountains, including K2 in the territory of Gilgit-Baltistan. 

Nestled between the western end of the Himalayas, the Hindu Kush mountains and the Karakoram range, Gilgit-Baltistan has 18 of the world’s 50 highest peaks. — AFP

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