Sona Sherpa on K2 first winter summitimage

Expeditions

Jan 16, 2021

Nepalese Team First to Summit K2 in Winter

A team of 10 Nepalese climbers including Nirmal "Nims" Purja reached the summit of K2 at approximately 5pm local time, completing one of the last great challenges in mountaineering.

WRITTEN BY

Owen Clarke

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A team of ten Nepalese climbers and Sherpas have made the first-ever winter summit of K2 at approximately 5pm local time on January 16th, 2021, making their mark on mountaineering history with the last remaining winter ascent of an 8,000-metre peak.

Seven Summits Treks Base Camp leader Chhang Dawa Sherpa said in a Facebook post, “WE DID IT.. Nepalese Climbers finally reached the summit of Mt. K2 (Chhogori 8611m), this afternoon at 16:58 local time.” He listed the ten climbers as:

a. Nirmal Purja
b. Gelje Sherpa
c. Mingma David Sherpa
d. Mingma Gyalje Sherpa
e. Sona Sherpa
f. Mingma Tenzi Sherpa
g. Pem Chhiri Sherpa
h. Dawa Temba Sherpa
i. Kili Pemba Sherpa
j. Dawa Tenjing Sherpa

One of the world’s deadliest mountains, the Karakorum’s indomitable K2, saw a host of challengers take up the torch this winter season. 50+ mountaineers from around the world had been attempting to be among the first to summit the 8,611-metre (28,251-foot) peak before March closes out the winter season, navigating the logistical hazards of the COVID-19 pandemic in the process. 

The lofty summit, the world’s second highest, remained the last of the 14 8,000-metre peaks which hadn’t seen a successful winter expedition, and the prize loomed large in the eyes of many in the mountaineering community for decades.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Mingma G (@mingma.g)

The K2 Winter 2021 roster included a laundry list of famous (and infamous) names in alpinism, with figures like Nirmal “Nims” Purja among them. The 37-year-old Nepalese all-star holds the world record for speed climbing the 8,000-metre summits, after tackling them all during a 189-day blitz in 2019. 

From Alan Arnette:

There are four main teams on K2 this winter:

  • Mingma Gyalje Sherpa: 3 people, all Sherpas
  • Nims Purja: Nims plus six Nepalis/Sherpas in support, One client looking to experience BC and perhaps C1
  • John Snorri Sigurjonsson with Muhammad Ali Sadpara and son: a three-person independent team
  • Seven Summits Treks (SST): 50+ person commercial team with over 20 clients with various experience on 8000-meter winter climbs.

As 8,000-metre peaks come, K2 is perhaps the deadliest of them all. It remained the only one not summited in winter, and holds above a 20% fatality rate. Winter temps fall below -60C and wind speed can reach above 170kmh. 

The independent Nepalese / Sherpa teams all finally decided to team up together and head for the summit as a single Nepalese party, and waited for each other ten meters below the summit before heading to the top together.

Nepalese climbers from the Sherpa community have traditionally formed a backbone of support for Himalayan climbing, as high-altitude porters, guides and often doing the hard and dangerous work of fixing ropes and setting camps for paying Western clients on commercial expeditions, such as on Everest. Today’s achievement is a rare and well-deserved moment in the spotlight for the nation and community.


Also on the mountain, all reportedly attempting to summit non-ox, were Sergi Mingote, Juan Pablo Mohr, Alex Gavan, Tamara Lunger, Magdalena Gorzkowska, and Mattia Conte, among others, as clients of the SST commercial team. According to a Facebook post by Chhang Dawa Sherpa, not long before the news of the successful summit broke, Spanish mountaineer Sergi Mingote died in a fall while descending from Camp 1 to Advanced Base Camp.

Until today, fewer than 30 people had ever summited an 8,000-metre peak in winter. Nearly twice that number were attempting to summit what was arguably the most difficult 8,000-metre peak of all, and all at the same time to boot. Though several of those on the mountain have taken part in previous winter 8,000er expeditions, only one of the prospective climbers holds credit of a previous 8,000-metre winter summit, Pakistani Muhammad Ali Sadpara (first winter ascent of Nanga Parbat in 2016 with Alex Txikon and Simone Moro). Tamara Lunger was also present on this expedition, but extreme fatigue and vomiting cut her short a scant 100 metres from the top. Both Mingma Gyalje and Sigurjonsson were present for last year’s winter K2 attempt, meanwhile, and Mingma had summited all save one of the 14 8,000ers while Chhang Dawa Sherpa (SST Team Leader) was the second Nepalese to complete them all.

K2 Winter Expedition 2020-21
K2, 8611m, second-highest mountain in the world, as seen during the Winter expedition of 2020-21. Photo Credit: Chhang Dawa Sherpa, SST Leader.


On the other side of the spectrum, controversial “explorer” Colin O’Brady had also booked himself as a client on the large Seven Summits Treks bid, and had been widely posting on social media about his “Impossible Summit” with his “partner” Dr. Jon Kedrowski. They’re both SST clients, along with over 20 others (including some of the above names) and are part of a 50+ person team overall. To hear O’Brady tell it, though, it would appear as though he and Kedrowski are on the mountain alone. His wife, Jenna Besaw, recently tweeted that O’Brady definitively “
is not being guided.” The American previously achieved notoriety for his “unassisted, unsupported solo crossing of Antarctica,” which was later outed as neither technically unassisted nor a true full crossing of the continent, as was outlined in The Outdoor Journal, backed by interviews with several well-known polar explorers, including Borge Ousland, Eric Larsen, Mike Horn, and others. O’Brady has since campaigned other “Impossible” tasks, such as “The Impossible Row,” a man-powered row across the Drake Passage.

Irishman Noel Hanna was another SST client with a wealth of previous experience, including nine Everest summits, a K2 summit, and a few first ascents, including the FA of the highly technical Burke Kange (6,942m) in 2017. “All good,” Hanna had previously told The Outdoor Journal. “One rotation done, so just waiting on weather window for second rotation, but winds very strong. Weather looking good around next Wednesday, but it’s too far away to decide.” 

Some figures in the community have called into question the integrity of a commercial outfit sending 20+ clients (some, like O’Brady, with minimal experience), into the deadliest 8,000er in winter, and it’s hard not to see their point. Mishap had already struck the mountain, with Polish climber Waldemar Kowalewski evacuated from Base Camp after a hernia. It was originally thought to have developed during a load-carrying trip to Advanced Base Camp but was actually a pre-existing condition.

Deteriorating weather had stymied all previous attempts on the summit, until a very rare weather window opened up and permitted the Nepalese team to head back up the mountain. 

All ten climbers from the summit party have now safely descended to Camp 3. “We will descend back to base camp tomorrow,” said Mingma G

Also in the region, a team of Zoltán Szlankó and Alex Goldfarb are attempting a winter climb of Broad Peak (8,047m). Meanwhile, Simone Moro, Alex Txikon, and Iñaki Alvarez are hoping for a summit of Manaslu (8,163m). Neither team has reached their respective mountain yet.


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