The expedition team from Dolma Outdoor Expedition did not succeed in wresting a winter ascent from the K2. The Nepalese climbers led by Nima Gyalzen Sherpa had tried to lead 28-year-old Grace Tseng to the summit of K2. The Taiwanese would have been the first woman to stand on top of the second highest peak in the world in winter.

"Summit attempt aborted. All climbers are safely back at base camp. The expedition is over for this season but will continue in the summer.” This was announced by Everest Today on Monday night. The Nepalese blog relies on statements by the expedition organizer.

The strong team around Nima Gyalzen Sherpa managed to secure the route on K23 to Camp 2 with fixed ropes on February 4rd. Ultimately, however, the team saw no possibility of climbing the 8611 meter high summit from Camp 3 (7300 meters) due to the prevailing weather conditions.

Grace-Tseng-Winter-Expedition-K2-Black-Pyramid
Grace Tseng at the Black Pyramid, a key point in the ascent at 7300 meters.

Paradigm shift in winter high-altitude mountaineering

For a long time, winter mountaineering on the eight-thousanders was reserved for the toughest extreme mountaineers. Among the luminaries of this discipline were and are, for example Jerzy Kukuczka, Maciej Berbeka, Anatoly Boukreev, Simone Moro, Alex Txikon or Denis Urubko.

The fact that organizers now also offer expeditions to the most difficult 8000m peaks in winter heralds a new phase in commercial high-altitude mountaineering. The Taiwanese Grace Tseng is perhaps symbolic of this development, which the journalist Stefan Nestler aptly called "fully supervised winter mountaineering".

grace-tseng-winter-ascent-k2
Grace Tseng has traveled to 192 countries in recent years and has set herself the goal of being the first Taiwanese woman to climb all 14 eight-thousanders. image Grace Tseng

Nima Gyalzen Sherpa's agency Dolma Outdoor Expedition has already managed to take regular guest Grace Tseng to an eight-thousander five times in the last three years (Manaslu, Everest, Lhotse, Dhaulagiri and Kangchenjunga). The recipe for success: an extremely strong and experienced team, sufficient bottled oxygen and the intensive support ratio on the mountain. On the Kangchenjunga, for example, four Sherpas accompanied the Taiwanese woman to the 8586-meter-high summit.

The 14 eight-thousanders and their first ascents in winter

SummitHeightfirst ascentclimbers
Mount Everest8848 meters17. 2. 1980Leszek Cichy (Poland), Krzysztof Wielicki (Poland)
K28611 meters16.1.2021Nirmal Purja, Mingma David Sherpa, Mingma Tenzi Sherpa, Gelje Sherpa, Pem Chiri Sherpa, Dawa Temba Sherpa, Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, Dawa Tenjin Sherpa, Kilu Pemba Sherpa, Sona Sherpa (all Nepal)
Kangchenjunga8586 meters11. 1. 1986Jerzy Kukuczka (Poland), Krzysztof Wielicki (Poland)
Lhotse8516 meters31. 12. 1988Krzysztof Wielicki (Poland)
Makalu8485 meters9. 2. 2009Simone Moro (Italy), Denis Urubko (Kazakhstan)
Cho oyu8201 meters12. 2. 1985Maciej Berbeka (Poland), Maciej Pawlikowski (Poland)
Dhaulagiri8167 meters21. 1. 1985Andrzej Czok (Poland), Jerzy Kukuczka (Poland)
Manaslu8163 meters12. 1. 1984Maciej Berbeka (Poland), Ryszard Gajewski (Poland)
Nanga Parbat8125 meters26. 2. 2016Simone Moro (Italy), Alex Txikon (Spain), Ali Sadpara (Pakistan)
Annapurna8091 meters3. 2. 1987Artur Hajzer (Poland), Jerzy Kukuczka (Poland)
Gasherbrum I8080 meters9. 3. 2012Janusz Golab (Poland), Adam Bielecki (Poland)
Broad peak8051 meters5. 3. 2013Adam Bielecki (Poland), Artur Malek (Poland), Maciej Berbeka (Poland; died on descent), Tomasz Kowalski (Poland; died on descent)
Gasherbrum III8034 meters2. 2. 2011Simone Moro (Italy), Cory Richards (USA), Denis Urubko (Kazakhstan)
Shishapangma8027 meters14. 1. 2005Simone Moro (Italy), Piotr Morawski (Poland)
The 14 eight-thousanders and their first ascents in winter.

Demanding winter season

Various expeditions tried this winter to defy the harsh conditions and wrestle an ascent from one of the 8000m giants. However, most of them were thwarted by the persistent snowfall, the strong high-altitude winds and the lack of a good weather window.

David Gottler, Herve Barmasse, mike arnold and Square Ali decided on Nanga Parbat on January 23 to call off the expedition. A little later also threw Simone Moro, Iñaki AlvarezOswald Rodrigo Pereira and Alex Txikon the towel in the completely snowed-in base camp at the foot of Manaslu.

jost-kobusch-everest-alone
Before the last ascent of this year's winter season on Everest: Jost Kobusch presents the latest weather forecast. image Daniel Hug, Terragraphy

The German solo alpinist Jost Kobusch still lingers on Everest. Until recently, he was hoping for a suitable weather window. “The jet stream appears to be decreasing somewhat, but high wind speeds are still prevailing. I'm still on the rise again," Kobusch wrote on February 24.

"If the risk is too high, then there's no shame in just getting off again. But it would be a shame to leave the gear on the mountain.”

Jost Kobusch

The only chance left is that he gets higher than last time. It is important to the German not to leave any traces on the mountain. "If the risk is too high, then there's no shame in just getting off again. But it would be a shame to leave the gear on the mountain. That would be pollution.”

Jost Kobusch in a technical passage at 6400 meters

If the live tracking on Kobusch's website is correct, the soloist managed to climb again to a height of 6464 meters. In the early afternoon of February 28, he was again at 5277 meters above sea level, descending towards Gorak Shep.

"Believe me, it was definitely exciting enough climbing the hard ice backwards and in the dark under high wind speeds."

Jost Kobusch

On Monday evening, the official confirmation followed with a little delay: "Today I decided not to move up," says Kobusch. To continue under these conditions makes little sense. At the last minute, the weather report had predicted even higher speeds, which would have involved too much risk if we climbed alone. 

The route is and will remain technical, emphasizes Kobusch: "Believe me, it was definitely exciting enough to climb the hard ice backwards and down in the dark in high wind speeds."

Jost-Kobusch-Everest going it alone
Plenty of bare ice: the strong winds made life difficult for Jost Kobusch in many respects. image Daniel Hug, Terragraphy

Last chance at Cho Oyu

The two expeditions of Gelje Sherpa sowie von Mingma Dorchi Sherpa. Both teams are trying to get on the south side of the Cho oyu to open up a new route that is also suitable for commercial expeditions.

Gelje Sherpa Cho Oyu Summit Trial
On February 21, Gelje Sherpa expedition team launched a summit attempt. In view of the increasingly strong high-altitude winds, they had to turn back at 7600 meters. image Gelje Sherpa

The Nepalese side of the mountain is much more challenging and also more prone to avalanches than the Tibetan side, from where the expeditions usually start. In return, the Nepalese expedition providers would no longer be exposed to the whims of China when it comes to issuing permits.

"We all know it's going to be tough, but we don't want to pass up the opportunity to try this winter."

Gelje Sherpa

Gelje Sherpa wrote on February 27, after a few days without an internet connection, that the whole team is in camp 2, waiting for a next window for a summit attempt. "We all know it's going to be tough, but we don't want to pass up the opportunity to try this winter," said the expedition leader.

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Credits cover photo: Grace Tseng