Daily life, the simple things: lighting the stove, holding a spoon (hopefully not metal), and endlessly brushing the frost from sleeping bags will all be challenging on Winter K2. Mingma G.’s video as shared on fb is 26 seconds of very harsh reality as to what life is really like this year.
There isn’t much of a smile in that video, and the incessantly flapping tent isn’t a good backdrop for a good nights sleep.
As heroic as attempts on K2 may be right now, there is a very brutal, harsh reality and dangers in winter that push the human animal to the limit. Climbers aren’t meant to be that high, and choosing to go in winter exacerbates all the simple tasks to herculean levels. Staying motivated when your sense of touch is numb, your ears are flapping, breathe is rasping and coffee goes cold in an instant, makes even tent life rather grim. Then add in the need to actually climb, and acclimatise as well.
There have already been some reports of frostbite higher on the mountain – not unexpected considering the need to fix ropes, where wearing gloves is virtually essential. Those oversized mittens lining the racks at mountain stores may look warm, but actually climbing in them is pretty much impossible.
Following an Antarctic season, Dr Chris Imray and I compiled what we had learned in a frostbite guide – and putting on the mittens, or at the very least, a pair of the strangely shaped Lobster Gloves, can certainly help. But woe to actually clipping a carabiner with those on. Which means wearing them up the ropes on K2 is pretty unlikely.
Any exposed skin will also be frozen very quickly. And toes, even with the new double boots which can handle temperatures down to an estimated minus 70 f. could well be pushed past their limits.
For readers of mountain literature, the famous tomb by Art Davidson, Minus 148 Degrees, First Winter Ascent of Mt. Mckinley, touches on the real challenges of altitude in winter. A great read if you really want to feel the cold.
When I made a rather ill-fated attempt at an Everest winter solo, following an early foray to Shishipangma, in Winter, even my Sherpa’s were complaining that Advanced Base Camp in Tibet was colder than the South Col, 1,000 meters higher, in the regular season.
At some point winter conditions: a mix of the temperature, the wind and the every increasing altitude as you climb higher, become exponential. A little colder, a little windier and a little higher and another step just suddenly becomes a lot more dangerous.
With all the people on K2 this year, there will also be little respite from others, usually a very welcome change from the regular seasons. Would there be anything worse than sub-sub zero temperatures, high winds, and being stuck in a line?
There is one amazing, unmatched advantage, that hopefully all the climbers will take pause for. The winter air, the clear atmosphere, the intense blue of the sky and the wind-whipped froth of the clouds will provide views and moments of intense clarity that are simply not as vibrant any other time of the year. We just may not see much of that, as pausing for a photo could well be impossible.