After the success report of the first winter ascent of K2 by a team of ten, another detail about the ascent follows. The shooting star of high altitude mountaineering, Nirmal Purja, reached the summit of K2 without artificial oxygen.

On Saturday, January 16, 2021, ten Nepalese mountain climbers wrote alpine history. For the first time they managed to climb the second highest mountain in the world, K2, in winter. After the initial hymn of praise for the performance of the ten alpinists, more and more critical voices expressed themselves about the ascent.

Unwritten law: winter ascents without artificial oxygen

On all previous winter ascents, with the exception of Mount Everest, bottled oxygen has not been used. This was an unwritten law among alpinists. After the success of the Nepalese expedition and a picture of a Sherpa with an oxygen mask on the summit of K2, voices quickly raised who were critical of the expedition.

But now one of the expedition participants is dropping a bomb: Nirmal Purja communicates on his website that he would have committed K2 without artificial oxygen. Here is an excerpt from his statement.

Statement from Nirmal Purja

The K2 winter climb was a huge challenge. I firmly believe that performance of this caliber is never possible if no overarching goal is pursued and only serves to glorify oneself.

I have always known what my mind and body are capable of. To put it clearly: In my previous ventures I carried artificial oxygen with me from an altitude of 8 meters and was satisfied with my performance without oxygen up to an altitude of 000 meters. This practice on previous expeditions was a personal choice and I had my own reasons and ethos.

This practice on previous expeditions was a personal choice and I had my own reasons and ethos.

With the K2, it was a difficult task to make this decision whether to climb with or without additional oxygen. Due to the weather conditions and the time frame, I hadn't acclimatized sufficiently. I could only sleep at the height of Camp 2 (6.600 m). Ideally, climbers have to sleep or at least advance to Camp 4 before making their way to the summit. Lack of acclimatization, developing frostbite on first rotation, and slowing down other team members that endanger everyone's safety were the main uncertainties associated with it.

The safety of my team was and is my top priority. So far I have led 20 successful expeditions and all my team members have returned home exactly as they left the house, that is, without losing fingers or toes.

This time I took a calculated risk and proceeded without supplemental oxygen.

This time I took a calculated risk and proceeded without supplemental oxygen. My confidence, knowledge of the strength, skills and experience of my body climbing the 14 8000m allowed me to keep up with the rest of the team members and still lead.

Job done. K2 committed in winter without artificial oxygen.

There are many ascents in which alpinists boast of having reached the summit without oxygen. But they followed our prepared routes and used fixed ropes that we had prepared. Some of these protagonists belong to the innermost circle of the alpinist community. So what's fair?

Personally, it has never been and still isn't a big deal to me. As an ex-member of a British special forces unit, I did all sorts of things but didn't make a big fuss about what we did. It's a personal choice. Nature and mountains are there for everyone.

A podcast about the former member of a British special unit and today's alpinist Nirmal Purja.

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Credits: Cover picture Gelje Sherpa