Historic first winter ascent of K2 completed by all-Nepali team

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O n 16 January 2021, an all-Nepali team held hands and sang Nepal’s national anthem as they took their final steps together towards the summit of  K2. In the historic moment that they reached the summit, they achieved what mountaineers have been attempting since the late 1980s – to summit the ‘savage mountain’ in winter. It was the last of the world’s 8000m peaks to be climbed in winter.

The 10-man summit party consisted of members from three teams: Mingma Gyalje Sherpa’s team – Mingma G (an IFMGA/UIAGM certified mountain guide), Kilu Pemba Sherpa, and Dawa Tenjing Sherpa; Nims Purja’s team – Nims (ex Gurkha and British Special Forces), Gelje Sherpa, Mingma David Sherpa, Mingma Tenzi Sherpa, Dawa Temba Sherpa and Pem Chhiri Sherpa; and one Sherpa from the large Seven Summits Treks commercial team – Sona Sherpa.

While most teammembers had used supplemental oxygen for their ascents, the high-profile Nirmal ‘Nims’ Purja – known for completing the 14 8000ers in just over six months – did so without oxygen.

The team got lucky with a weather window (albeit short), but it was not by chance that fixed lines were in place up to 7600m, or that the team had the physical and mental strength to take advantage of this window. They’d also overcome a streak of bad luck when Camp 2 was destroyed by high winds.  In a downbeat post on January 10th, Nims said: “Our team reached Camp 2 today and it was a wreckage site. We found that both our tents and all equipment that we had left here for the summit plan are all destroyed and swept away by the wind. We have lost everything including all our kit: sleeping bags, mattresses, heated shoe insoles, summit gloves/mittens, summit base layers, paragliding equipment, cooking equipment etc. I am devastated to be breaking this news. Now, I have to reassess and replan everything.”

This post left observers wondering if the climb would go on. It did… and the Nepali team summited just six days later.

Before the team even arrived back to base camp, some people were already questioning the use of oxygen and style of the ascent, but most offered congratulations and accepted it for what it was – a well-deserved achievement that will make the history books.

Sir Chris Bonington posted, “Huge congratulations to the Nepali team who have just made the first winter ascent of K2, most difficult of all the 8000m peaks,” and called it an “amazing achievement.”

Reinhold Messner, who was supportive of Nims throughout his record-breaking ‘Project Possible’, was also quick to congratulate the team on their K2 summit.

Simone Moro, from Manaslu, said: “I sincerely congratulate the Nepalese team. And I express my point of view, based on what I have read and based on the fact that I have been doing winter ascents at high altitude for almost 30 years. It is not by chance that I am writing while I am engaged in winter climbing at Manaslu and not from the couch. No style kills a different kind of alpinism. One can always evolve and there is always room for better styles and ethics.”
He went on to suggest that those who think they can do better, should leave their keyboards behind and go do it, and continued, “Today the Sherpas have rightly received a well-deserved place in history as they have helped hundreds and thousands of mountaineers and their ascents for decades.”

Indeed, it’s fitting that the last of the winter 8000ers – and most highly-prized – should be achieved by Nepali mountaineers who are increasingly making cutting-edge ascents themselves, having provided the backbone for Western-led expeditions for decades.


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