Polish veterans have set C1 on Nanga Parbat - but is this a real winter climb?

Posted: Dec 14, 2006 01:29 pm EST

The Polish climbers are working fast on Nanga Parbat two days back they set a provisional C1 above 5000 meters. It's amazing to watch them climb - taking advantage of the internet, the guys have generously involved the whole climbing world in their hard core expedition from the day they began to plan the route.

Too many star explorers will just sit back and jealously guard their fame; secretly hoping nobody will ever come close to their achievements. The Polish veterans instead are like prize fighters and Olympic athletes: They got their gold medal and now they are helping the next generation - by explaining their strategies and setting examples - including those of human values and good sportsmanship.

Everyone is gunning for the Nanga Parbat climbers, and their fast ascent is great news except for the fact that it might be contradicting their own principles; they are working on the route one week before the beginning of calendar winter.

Winter summits and winter climbs

The climbing community worldwide agrees that a winter summit must be achieved within the dates of calendar winter but what about a winter climb? Following strict criteria, the entire climb - or the moment climbers set foot on the route - should be done in winter too.

The Polish team literally reports, we are climbing Nanga in winter. Yet if we stick to that sentence, they are moving too fast.

Monday, the Poles set up ABC at 3800 meters. The following morning, December 12, the team divided in groups, with the goal of setting C1. Artur Hajzer, Darek Zaluski and Jacek Jawieñ left a deposit at 4700m.

A second group of climbers went up as well, but had to turn back after they triggered a small avalanche which reached Pakistani Hassan Sadpara. Three other climbers continued on towards the ridge, and finally set a tent at 5100-5200 meters.

This is not the final location of Camp 1 most probably it will be relocated somewhere nearby, reported leader Krzysztof Wielicki yesterday. [However] putting up the tent was a big success as for the second day of climbing action.

Poles and Simone: A week makes all the difference

Also going for a winter climb in Pakistan is Simone Moro, who will attempt Broad Peak and maybe K2. Simone wants to make sure that his entire climb will take place in real winter so he wont leave Italy until December 24.

In 2004/2005, Simone was equally careful about dates before setting off on his successful winter climb on Shisha. Winter begins on December 21 and we will start our expedition to Shisha only after that date, Simone said back then. Interestingly, leading the expedition was none other than Jan Szulc; one of the current Nanga Parbat team members. Also on the Shisha team was Dariusz Zaluski, currently climbing Nanga as well.

As Shisha's first winter summit was at stake, Simone wanted to highlight the difference between his climb and the solo summit achieved by French Jean Christophe Lafaille. Lafaille had summited the peak some weeks before, on December 11 - and got a winter summit certificate by Chinese authorities.

Milder weather before Christmas?

The climbing community invalidated Lafailles claims of a winter climb. One of the critics was Wielicki - the current Nanga Parbat expedition leader, who has no less than 3 first winter summits on 8000ers. Aside from rules set up by the community, Wielicki also noted his experience that December generally offers pretty good weather:

"My experience tells me and I have taken part in seven winter expeditions to Himalaya and Karakorum that the wind blows very hard in the beginning of November - sometimes already in October but by the end of November it drops until Christmas - when the first, moderate snowfalls arrive and the wind picks up, he said back then.

Wind dropping and little snow fall end November till Christmas - that's the period we are in right now. At Christmas, that's when Simone will fly in.

In a previous report, ExplorersWeb checked average weather data on Everest over the past years. The temperatures (Nov -30, Dec -34, Jan -36, Feb -35, Mar -32) showed that the coldest climbs in Himalaya take place between Mid December to Mid February - pretty consistent with the Calendar winter rules - and Krzysztof's experience. The highest wind speed was noted on February 6, 2004. It is unclear whether these weather patterns might differ in Pakistan Himalaya.

Fernando Garrido: Controversy comes from the 80's

Spaniard Fernando Garrido, the first solo summiteer of a winter 8000er, told ExplorersWeb at the height of the Shisha Pangma controversy, the dubious cases in winter climbs during the eighties were those summits reached on the first days of winter, but after having climbed the mountain during autumn season, he said.

There was some controversy among, most of all, Japanese and Korean climbers, who spent weeks working on Everest since November, and when everything was ready they would wait for December 21 or 22 to launch their summit bids. Even in those cases, the purists would not consider those summits as real winter climbs.

The Asian early birds and the tough Poles

Such was the case of Japanese Jasuo Kato, who summited Everest on December 27, 1982 (died on descent); and South Korean Young-Ho Heo, who reached the summit of Everest on December 22, 1987.

The critical purists in this case were, among others, Polish climbers. They refused to consider a summit reached out of calendar winter as a winter summit. Moreover, their own winter first ascents were all done well in the middle of the season, mostly in January and February.

Those summits were reached after weeks of enduring the hardest winter. The only earlier first winter summit achieved by a Polish climber back then, took place on December 31, 1988 on Lhotse. The climber; Krzysztof Wielicki.

Lafaille learnt the lesson too

Following the controversy surrounding his climb on Shisha, Lafaille stuck to the rules of winter climbing the very next year - on Makalu last winter.

JC set a BC and stayed there until the beginning of calendar winter. Only then did he start his acclimatization climb up, before launching a definitive summit bid, which would be his last. The solo French climber vanished above 7000 meters. His body was never recovered.

(Ed note: ExplorersWeb has contacted the Polish Nanga Parbat expedition and Simone Moro for comments to this story. We will publish their inputs as they arrive.)

The astronomical calendar shows that the beginning of winter 2006 is marked by the winter solstice, which will take place at 0:22 am on December 22 (check calendar on the left).

Polish climbers have all the first winter ascents on Himalayan 8000ers, most achieved in the eighties.

8000ers winter climb history:

The first 8000er climbed in winter was Everest. Krzysztof Wielicki and Leszek Cichy summited on February 17, 1980. They were members in a team led by Andrzej Zawada.

January 12,1984 Maciej Berbeka and Ryszard Gajewski accomplished the first winter summit on Manaslu. The leader of the Zakopane expedition was Lech Korniszewski.

January 21, 1985 Andrzej Czok and Jerzy Kukuczka summited Dhaulagiri, as members in an expedition organized by Gliwicki Klub Wysokogórski (Gliwice Highmountain Club) and lead by Adam Bilczewski. This was the first true winter climb on Dhaula three years before Japanese Akio Koizumi and Sherpa Nima Wangchu had reached the summit on December 13 (before calendar winter).

February 12, 1985 Maciej Berbeka and Maciej Pawlikowski were the first to summit Cho Oyu in winter. They were part of a Polish-Canadian expedition led by Andrzej Zawada. Three days later, Zygmunt Heinrich and Jerzy Kukuczka repeated the route.

Krzysztof Wielicki achieved his second first winter ascent on an 8000er on January 11, 1986. The peak was Kangchenjunga, and he topped out with Jerzy Kukuczka. The leader of the Gliwicki Klub Wysokogórski (Gliwice Highmountain Club) expedition was Adam Machnik.

Artur Hajzer and Jerzy Kukuczka made the first winter summit of Annapurna on February 3, 1987. Kukuczka was the expedition leader.

In 1988 finally, Krzysztof Wielicki reached alone the summit of Lhotse on New Year's Eve, December 31. It was Lhotses first winter summit and Wielickis third similar achievement. The leader of the Polish-Belgian expedition was Andrzej Zawada.

17 years went by before a new first winter ascent was a fact: On January 14, 2005, Polish Piotr Morawski and Italian Simone Moro summited Shisha Pangma. The expedition leader was Jan Szulc.

The latest attempt for a first winter ascent on a 8000er was done last year by Jean-Christophe Lafaille. Lafaille attempted Makalu solo, but disappeared on his summit push, apparently without reaching the summit.

None of the Pakistans 8000ers (K2, Nanga Parbat, Broad Peak, GI, and GII) have been summited in winter. In Nepal, only Makalu still remains unclimbed in winter. This year, Pakistans government has reduced the winter climbing fee to a nominal 5%.


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The polish team led by Krzysztof Wielicki - in the image - reached Base Camp at 3800m, on Saturday evening (click to enlarge).
File image of Simone, courtesy of Simone Moro.
"Nanga Parbat remains wrapped in clouds. All images sent live over Contact 4.0 courtesy of team/HiMountain (click to enlarge).
The astronomical calendar shows the beginning of winter 2006 is marked by the winter solstice, which will take place at 0:22 am on December 22. Solstice and equinox tables courtesy of Simone Moro.
Image of the late Jean Christophe Lafaille courtesy of Mountain.ru (click to enlarge).

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