It was one of the last great challenges in mountaineering: in winter to climb K2, 8,611 meters, the second highest peak in the world. He has just been successfully relieved on January 16 by a team of nine Nepalese – Sherpas – led by Nirmal Purja alias Nims Dai, also Nepalese, former member of the British special forces. ” The impossible has become possible! said on his Instagram account Nims Dai, 37, who in 2019 climbed the 14 highest mountains in the world in seven months. We are proud to have been part of human history and to show that collaboration, teamwork and a positive mental attitude pushes the boundaries of what we think is possible. “
Nims Dai’s Instagram account
In -40 degrees, after three weeks of bitter struggle with the elements, climbers reached the Pakistani summit at 5 p.m. local time. Of course, the mountaineers took bottled oxygen to help themselves, a practice equated by some to doping, but the feat remains all the same.
To understand what is exceptional about this ascent, you have to imagine this mountain, reputed to be much more formidable than Everest, 8,850 meters, the highest peak in the world. Listen to what Greg Child, an Australian mountaineer who climbed it in 1990, says:
“ K2 is a test, a geological personification of anxiety. Climbing it is a constant confrontation with the fear of death. ” The Himalayas in winter: “We had to open the tents a little, otherwise they froze inside”
Since its conquest by the Italians in 1954, some 87 climbers have lost their lives on the flanks of this perfect pyramid of gneiss and shale known as “The wild mountain”. A few hours after the Nepalese exploit, Sergi Mingote, a Spaniard belonging to another expedition, was killed on his way back down to the base camp.
The “bottleneck” test
However, it is when approaching the summit, when the body and mind in lack of oxygen let go, that all the difficulties are concentrated. First of all, there is the terrifying “chimney”, fifty meters of ultra-steep wall of ice and rock. Then the “bottleneck”, or bottleneck, feared by any self-respecting climber: a narrow ultra-steep corridor above which are suspended huge blocks of ice ready to give way. In August 2008, eleven people died there in two days, victims of multiple avalanches. Add to that the terrible winter in the Karakoram, the massif which closes the Himalayan range to the west. Supersonic winds blow there up to 200 km / hour and large depressions from the Atlantic and the Mediterranean hit the peaks, causing impressive snowfall.
Elisabeth Revol: “My relatives tried to hold me back, but I felt I had to climb”
The epic of the Nepalese is part of the tradition of winter Himalayanism, an extreme discipline invented by the Poles in 1980. That year, the country, then under communist rule, distinguished itself by sending to the cold season about twenty men attacking Everest. The performance earned the “ice warriors”, the nickname they were given at the time, to be congratulated by the Pope himself.
The Poles, masters of winter
The Poles remained masters of the Himalayas in winter for years, chaining seven of the fourteen peaks over 8,000 meters until the fall of the Berlin Wall. Other nationalities (Kazakh, Italian, American, Spanish, Nepalese) have since invited themselves to the race, leaving at the end of 2020 only one obstacle overcome in winter: the K2. In 2018, the young guard of Polish mountaineering broke their teeth there during a major national expedition. Among its members was Adam Bielecki, mountaineering prodigy, who had turned away from K2 to go to the rescue of the Frenchwoman Elisabeth Revol, in perdition on Nanga Parbat, a nearby mountain. If today, the young man salutes, like the whole community of climbers, the prowess of the Nepalese, he remains convinced, along with a number of purists, that there is still a challenge to be taken up: to climb K2 in winter … but without oxygen. Is it humanly possible? Many doubt it.