By Adventure Sports (Stefan Nestler)
The “Ice Warriors”, as the Polish winter climbers in the Himalayas and the Karakoram have been called, want to do it again. The last remaining first winter ascent of an eight-thousander is to become a Polish under all circumstances. The state sponsors the prestigious project on K2, with an altitude of 8,611 meters the second highest mountain in the world: the Polish Ministry of Sports and Tourism bears the largest chunk of costs with a cash injection of one million zlotys (almost 240,000 euros). “Because we got the money, we had to follow the idea that it is a national expedition,” expedition leader Krzysztof Wielicki told desnivel.com (see the video below). All climbers of the K2 winter team are Poles – even Denis Urubko, an avid collector of passports: the native Kazakh received the Russian citizenship in 2013 and in addition the Polish one in 2015.
Experts on winter and K2
Expedition leader Wielicki is a pioneer of winter climbing on the highest mountains in the world. In 1980, he scaled with his Polish compatriot Leszek Cichy Mount Everest, it was the first eight-thousander ever climbed in the cold season. Two more first winter ascents followed: in 1986 with Jerzy Kukuczka on Kangchenjunga and in 1988 solo on Lhotse. For the K2 expedition the now 67-year-old has put together a team of ten climbers, which combines more winter expertise than any other expedition before. Including him himself, there are five first winter ascenders of eight-thousanders: Aside from Wielicki, Urubko (Makalu, Gasherbrum II), Adam Bielecki (Gasherbrum I, Broad Peak), Artur Malek (Broad Peak) and Janusz Golab (Gasherbrum I). K2 experience is also abundant in the Polish team: Five of the ten Polish climbers who will set off for Pakistan on 29 December have already reached – in each case in summer – the summit of “Chogori”, how the native Balti call the mountain.
Bottled oxygen only for emergencies
There have been three serious attempts so far to climb K2 in winter, all failed below 8000 meters due to bad weather. Team members of an international expedition, also led by Wielicki, climbed highest in winter 2002/03 on the Chinese north side: Camp 4 at 7,650 meters was the terminal stop for Denis Urubko and Marcin Kaczkan (he is also part of this year’s team) on their summit attempt. This time, Wielicki wants to try it on the Pakistani south side of the mountain via the Cesen route (Southsoutheast Ridge), “but it depends on the conditions”. The Abruzzi Spur (Southeast ridge) is another possibility. Breathings masks are only intended for emergencies. Bottled oxygen “is not necessary, if you are well acclimatized. That’s the key,” Krzysztof told me when we talked at the ISPO trade fair in Munich last February about the upcoming winter expedition to K2.
“Others will score the goals”
He also wants to be on the mountain, but not to climb to the summit. He would not play “the first fiddle” when climbing, said Wielicki on Polish radio. “The goals will be scored by others.” First and foremost, the Pole, who became the fifth person in the world to scale all 14 eight-thousanders, is required in his role of expedition leader. So he will have to make the hard decision who out of his team of top climbers will form the summit team, if the opportunity arises. “Denis Urubko, Janusz Golab and Adam Bielecki have certainly the biggest chances,” said Wielicki in an interview of the Swiss newspaper “Neue Zürcher Zeitung”.
Circle would be closing
Nine of the 13 first winter ascents of eight-thousanders to date were made by exclusive Polish summit teams. Another involved a Polish climber: Piotr Morawski in 2005 with the Italian Simone Moro on Shishapangma. If you turn a blind eye, the first winter ascent of Makalu in 2009 could be included, even though the current Pole Denis Urubko (then successful with Moro) at that time was still Kazakh. After the prestigious first winter ascent of Nanga Parbat in 2016 did not go to the account of Polish climbers, from the point of view of the “Ice Warriors” it is almost a matter of honor that this does not happen again on K2. For veteran Krzysztof Wielicki, the history of the Polish “Ice Warriors” would come full circle: “That would be a nice story. We started with the highest, Everest, and could finish with the second highest, K2.”
P.S.: The Spaniard Alex Txikon wants to announce his plans for this winter on Friday. If I was to bet money, I would do it on an Everest expedition with Simone Moro, Tamara Lunger and Muhammad Ali “Sadpara”. 😉