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Chicago may have been colder than K2 base camp on Wednesday, but the hardships of the so-called Polar Vortex don’t hold a candle to the Karakoram last week, where rockfall pummeled six climbers heading for K2’s summit and avalanches wiped out an empty camp on Nanga Parbat and sent Italian winter ace Simone Moro home from Manaslu. K2 is the last 8,000-meter peak that hasn’t been climbed in winter, and the two teams currently chasing the prize are getting a first-hand look at why. Three of the seven-member Russian team retreated to base camp after being struck by falling rock in their Camp 1, and Basque climber Alex Txikon’s team fared even worse. Poles Waldemar Kowalewski and Marek Klonowski left the mountain on a Pakistani Army helicopter on Tuesday, victims of falling ice and a pulmonary infection, respectively. They joined Spanish teammates Jon Barredo and Eva Robles, who choppered out Monday after being showered with falling rock near base camp.

On nearby Nanga Parbat, Daniele Nardi and Tom Ballard ascended to Camp 3 only to find it buried under tons of snow. “Tents, our down gear, sleeping bags, food, fuel, and technical equipment were all lost. All that hard work to carry it up here, for nothing,” Ballard reported. He snapped a photo of the sun’s last rays on the Mummery Ridge, then hustled back down to start again, pretty much from scratch. Tough luck, but losing an empty camp beats the alternative, as Moro pointed out after leaving Nepal’s Manaslu (8,163 meters) in a helicopter. As a series of avalanches threatened his base camp, “the aim of reaching my fifth summit in winter was transformed into surviving in this situation,” Moro wrote in a Facebook post accompanied by this fearsomely gorgeous photo above.

“They call me the ‘Winter Maestro’ and I want to honor that nickname. Sometimes giving up is an essential ingredient for future success.”

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