Courtesy by “thesummiters.com”
Denis Urubko, an esteemed figure in the mountaineering realm, ignited fervor among enthusiasts by expressing his desire to conquer Gasherbrum I during the winter season. His announcement, made at a small mountain club in northern Spain, swiftly echoed across social media and news outlets, heralding the possibility of an impending expedition. However, Urubko’s personal stance, when approached directly, bore a tone of uncertainty.
Acknowledging financial constraints, Urubko openly admitted, “I was sharing a wish with the public, but nothing is confirmed. I still have no money.” The realization that the expedition’s fruition depended on securing necessary funds left Urubko potentially making a pivotal decision at the eleventh hour.
Summer Trials: Denis Urubko and Pipi Cardell’s Attempt
The previous summer saw Urubko and his partner, Pipi Cardell, embark on an ambitious journey attempting a new route on Gasherbrum I. Their strategy involved an initial summiting of the peak’s normal route for acclimatization followed by two alpine-style pushes up a new route. Despite their meticulous planning, unfavorable weather conditions proved to be formidable adversaries, compelling them to retreat first from 6,400 meters and then again from 6,750 meters.
Known for his minimalist approach, Urubko typically undertakes expeditions with just one partner, employing a pure alpine style. While logistical arrangements aren’t a significant concern for this seasoned mountaineer, financial constraints often pose substantial challenges for smaller teams dedicated to ambitious alpinism. In today’s sponsorship landscape, where social media impact often outweighs the pursuit of pure alpine excellence, securing funding remains an ongoing hurdle. Adding to these challenges are recent decisions by Pakistan’s authorities, further complicating the situation.
Policy Shifts: Impact of New Fees on Winter Ascents
A recent policy shift by the Gilgit-Baltistan government eliminated winter discounts for permits to peaks above 6,500 meters. Previously, these discounts, which could reach up to 95%, incentivized winter mountaineering expeditions. However, the removal of these discounts renders the costs comparable to those incurred during the summer season, significantly altering the financial dynamics for winter ascents in Pakistan.
Under the revised regulations, Pakistan now imposes substantial fees for peak permits during winter. Notably, K2 demands a group fee of $12,000, while the other four 8,000-meter peaks—Nanga Parbat, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum I, and Gasherbrum II—require a fee of $9,500. The group fee accommodates up to seven members, with additional climbers incurring a $3,000 charge each. These fees have surged by over 75% since 2020, and while speculations hint at further increases in 2024, no official announcement has been made yet.
The Winter Conundrum: Defining the Season
Denis Urubko holds a distinctive perspective regarding the definition of “winter” in mountaineering. While Poland’s Adam Bielecki and Janusz Golab completed the first winter ascent of Gasherbrum I on March 9, 2012, Urubko subscribes to meteorological winter, considering it from December 1 to the end of February, as the defining period for winter climbs. According to his interpretation, Bielecki and Golab’s climb occurred during early spring.
The Quiet Season Ahead: A Lull in Winter Ascent Plans
A glimpse into the upcoming winter mountaineering calendar for 2024 in Pakistan reveals a striking quietude concerning peaks above 6,500 meters. Ali Saltoro of Alpine Adventure Guides Pakistan disclosed that there hasn’t been a single application for winter expeditions on such peaks. Foreseeably, the forthcoming months anticipate minimal activity, with expectations only of a few backcountry skiers.
However, amidst this quietude, certain climbers like Maciej Kimel from Poland are planning expeditions in Pakistan. Kimel aims to undertake a second winter attempt on Trango Tower, accompanied by Michal Krol, provided their plans align seamlessly.
Urubko’s Past Endeavors: Navigating Winter Challenges
Urubko’s ingenuity became evident in his previous exploits, where he navigated financial constraints adeptly. During the winter of 2022-23, he opted for a different permit while scaling a new route on Koshar Gang, a 6,400-meter peak near Skardu. Collaborating with Anton Kravchenko, Andrew Shlyapnikov, and Max Berngard, Urubko availed a permit that involved a $50 trekking fee and an additional $150 environmental fee. This alternative permit structure provided a more feasible option for pursuing winter ascents on lower-altitude peaks.
Denis Urubko’s aspiration to conquer Gasherbrum I in the harsh embrace of winter embodies the unyielding spirit of mountaineers. The financial challenges and policy alterations may cast shadows, yet the allure of the summit persists. As the mountaineering community anticipates the unfolding of Urubko’s journey, it stands as a testament to the resilience and determination inherent in the pursuit of conquering nature’s most formidable heights.