The K2, a giant never conquered in the Himalayan winter

In a little over ten years, all was said. Begun in 1950 with the ascent of the Anapurna by the French pair Herzog-Lachenal, the conquest of the fourteen 8,000 m in spring or autumn, the two most favorable slots, ended in 1964.

And yet, the case could have been carried out more quickly without the Chinese obstruction on the youngest, the Shishapangma (in Tibetan territory, recently conquered), in order to give time to the Chinese climbers to plant the red flag first at the top. .

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But winter is a whole different story in the Himalayas and it wasn’t until 1980, 37 years after it was conquered in the spring in 1953 by Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norgay, for Everest to be conquered in winter.

The Himalayan Matterhorn

Forty years later, the conquest of the 14 rooftops of the world in winter is still not complete. One summit, the K2, the second highest and one of the most technically difficult, still resists. “K2 is the last myth still standing, the last man’s step on the roof of the world, enthuses the Himalayan guide François Damilano, also a filmmaker and who recently dedicated a film to him (1). K2 is beautiful, wild and dangerous, romantic. It is a pyramid of rock and ice that we often compare to the Matterhorn in our Alps. “

The only 8,000 ever conquered in winter, the K2 attracts the best mountaineers in the world, tired of the very high-altitude trek that Everest has become, with its dozens of daily customers hanging on fixed ropes permanently installed. Much further north than the great 8000 classics, in an almost desert region, it has long remained hidden from the world. Hidden by clouds and protected by a very special weather situation, with extremely violent winds.

“It’s the hardest, because the further away from the equator, the greater the difficulty in breathing at altitude. However, the K2 has almost eight degrees of latitude of difference with the others ”, explained in 2019, during a conference at the Piolets d’or (the biggest mountaineering festival in the world), Michał Pyka, the weatherman of the last winter attempt in 2018, led by a heavy Polish team.

The adventure ended in another failure, despite a final solo outing by the famous Denis Urubko, one of the last high-altitude troublemakers, at 7,600 m, still very far from the official 8,611 m from the summit.

This famous expedition – it was interrupted when the two team leaders left K2 to help the Frenchwoman Élisabeth Revol in distress on a neighboring mountain – should be resumed in comparable conditions, at the beginning of 2022. But without Denis Urubko who announced his retirement.

Narrow weather window

It may be too late, because three teams are already at work to try the adventure in January or February 2021. “There are two small teams, a Nepalese and a Pakistani, who will attempt the ascent in alpine style, that is to say without resorting to heavy logistics, without fixed rope, or oxygen, explains Rodolphe Popier, a Himalayan enthusiast working for ascension certification bodies. If either of the two is successful, it will truly be a huge achievement. “

He believes that this is unlikely but possible, especially with the immense progress of the weather forecast which almost certainly makes it possible to enter a favorable window, even a narrow one. “All it takes is a fluke of weather… In that case, it’s likely that the fittest men from the two small expeditions will team up at the last moment for the ultimate assault. “

But mountain lovers, like Rodolphe Popier, or journalist-editor Charlie Buffet, author of “The madness of K2” in 2004, feared that the armada set up by the Nepalese agency Sevent Summit, a juggernaut of high-altitude tourism, would whisper politeness to them.

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Led by Chhang Dawa Sherpa, a Nepalese who hung the fourteen 8,000 from his buttonhole, it is led by several renowned European mountaineers. They will try to lead clients to the top, including a 19-year-old Briton, with the help of fifteen very high level sherpas who will try to equip the mountain from top to bottom.

« The sherpas will do everything: install the ropes, go back and forth to carry the equipment and oxygen …, regrets Rodolphe Popier. It’s a vision of commercial mountaineering quite similar to the one we know at Everest and which has become much less interesting. “


Polish masters

While K2 remains the only undefeated in winter, the last success in this season, in the Himalayas, dates back to February 2016, on Nanga Parbat. Almost all of the men who overcame the Himalayan winter were trained in Poland, a leading nation in this field. The first to tackle these summits in winter, in the 1980s, the Poles made almost all of the first thirteen climbs. The Italian Simone Moro and the Russian Denis Urubko (who recently acquired Polish nationality) are among the few to have questioned this virtual monopoly.



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