ExWeb Winter Himalaya final: The rules, the weather and the history

Posted: Dec 12, 2008 03:33 pm EST

(MountEverest.net/K2Climb.net) Today marks the end of the ExplorersWeb Himalaya winter specials; next week the real action begins with updates from climbers.

Chances are your head is spinning with all the data thrown at you, so here goes a wrap-up of the most important facts to keep in mind as this amazing winter season kicks off. <cutoff>

<b>The winter climbs</b>

Up until now 8 out of all 14 eight-thousanders have been winter climbed. In Nepal, only Makalu remains while in Pakistan, all five 8000er summits are yet untouched by man in winter.

In an eight-year marathon during the eighties; Polish winter firsts revolutionized Himalayan climbing in the following order:

1980, Everest: Leszek Cichy.
1984, Manaslu: Maciej Berbeka and Ryszard Gajewski.
1985, Cho Oyu: Maciej Berbeka and Maciej Pawlikowski.
1985, Dhaulagiri: Andrzej Czok and Jerzy Kukuczka.
1986, Kangchenjunga: Jerzy Kukuczka and Krzysztof Wielicki.
1987, Annapurna: Jerzy Kukuczka and Artur Hajzer.
1988, Lhotse: Krzysztof Wielicki.

A void followed the Polish grand-slams until 2005 when two men bagged number 8, Shisha Pangma, on January 14. Italian Simone Moro became the first, and still only, non-Polish climber to bag a winter virgin in Himalaya. His partner on summit was Polish Piotr Morawski.

Although not first ascents, there have been five other calendar winter summits since 1988 (Everest by Japan and Cho Oyu mainly by Spaniards). Swiss Marianne Chapuisart is the only Himalaya winter "calendar girl" (Cho Oyu). The last of the "non-first" winter ascents took place in 1994 (Cho Oyu) - indicating the high difficulty and weak appeal of the endeavor on most mountaineers.

<b>The Calendar</b>

According mountaineers' tradition, all true winter summits must take place within the calendar winter. A stricter norm says that the entire climb must start and end during the period.

The world almanac and actual weather conditions support this rule. Whereas Nepal and Chinas winter permits start December 1st; the worlds seasonal calendar has winter beginning on December 21st and ending March 21.

The world's calendar is based upon the length of the Earth's revolution around the Sun (and hence called a solar calendar). While the Earth is actually nearer the sun in January than in June; it is its axis that causes all the variety of our climate. Winter solstice is when, because of the earth's tilt, your hemisphere is leaning farthest away from the sun, and therefore: the daylight is the shortest and the sun has its lowest arc in the sky.

In the northern hemisphere, the Winter Solstice is the day of the year (near December 22) when the Sun is farthest south and it's around that day, that classic winter climbs kick-off.

<b>The cold</b>

<i>"...the night was extremely cold; we stopped at 7700m because it was 3 p.m. and the shadow came upon us. Our feet started to freeze again. Had we continued...we would have had to make a bivy in extreme conditions, risking to die or to lose our feet and hands,"</i> dispatched Simone Moro from his first Shisha winter attempt.

A Spanish team of veteran climbers attempting Broad Peak in winter said that just to get to BC was a long, frozen walk from hell.

On Everest, the coldest temperature of the year lands on December 21 (which correlates to the darkest day of the year -winter solstice) at an average of -37C (-35F) on the summit. From that day until Feb 28 the summit temperature never rises above -33C (-27F). The coldest forecasted summit temperature was -41ºC (-42F).

The information below is compiled from 868 Everest forecasts made 2002-2004 by AdventureWeather:

Coldest monthly average temperature Everest Summit:
July -18
Aug -18
Sep -21
Oct -27
Nov -30
Dec -34
Jan -36
Feb -35
Mar -32
Apr -25
May -20
Jun -18

<b>The wind</b>

<i>"It was an inferno,"</i> reported Luca about Makalu BC mid January, 2008. <i>"It's as if we had set our tent on a railroad track, with a new train arriving every minute; passing us by just one meter at the last moment..." </i> read a sms from Denis Urubko to RussianClimb. Karl Gabl in Innsbruck had forecasted -40C/F at the 8000 meter level. Worse; the jet stream sat over Nepal Himalaya with hurricane force wind over 120 km/h (33 ms/75 mph).

Sometime late October, the wind suddenly shoots up and the summit of Everest becomes the windiest place on Earth.

From late autumn (app. Oct 20) until end of January there are almost constant hurricane force winds (more than 3 out of 4 days) at the summit. The highest forecasted wind speed, 78 m/s (175miles/hour) on Everest was on February 6, 2004. This is well above the 156 miles/hour threshold for a Category 5 Hurricane.

<b>The chill</b>

Add oxygen depravation to this kind of cold and wind and you'll find close to impossible climbing conditions - even for the absolute elite of climbers.

Applying the National Weather Service wind chill index, during January the average wind chill drops to -70C (-90F), giving a winter average frostbite time of 30 minutes in BC and less than 5 minutes close to the summit.

This makes Everest (and other Himalaya 8000ers) summit not only the tallest, but also among the coldest places on earth to humans - if not the coldest.

The official record for the coldest Northern Hemisphere temperature is -67.8C (-90F) in Siberia and the lowest temperature ever recorded on earth was -89C (129F) in the Russian Base Vostok in Antarctica. None of these data include the wind chill factor, but at sea level these kind of cold temperatures generally occur during calm conditions.

<b>The bad chart and the seasons</b>

Early October and all of November are very dry, followed by a slight monthly increase in snowfall over the winter months. The low humidity level (and lower risk of avalanche) is one of the few (only) positive factors for a Himalayan winter expedition.

The meaning of winter in 8000+ climbing is to pick the toughest season of them all - to begin the climb, and make the summit in the harshest conditions possible. Examining Everest winter wind speeds, temperatures, chill factor and humidity - and adding one more factor dark hours - in the ultimate Everest BAD chart the lines jam up and things starts to get really bad during December winter solstice, worsen slightly in January and stay bad during February.

Below is ExplorersWebs definition of 6 distinct weather seasons for Everest and the surrounding 8000ers.

June 7 - Sep 30
Summer: Very Wet, Calm, Warm
Oct 1 Oct 20
Autumn Window: Dry, Calm, Warm
Oct 21 Dec 20
Autumn: Very Dry, Very Windy, Cold, Dark
Dec 21 Feb 28
Winter: Dry, Very Windy, Very Cold, Dark
March 1 May 19
Spring: Dry, Windy, Cold
May 20 June 6
Spring Window: Dry, Calm, Warm

ExplorersWeb acknowledges climbs as winter when:
A. The summit was reached between Dec 21 and Feb 28.
B. The climb started after Dec 1.

<i>This season, Polish Artur Hajzer will lead Robert Szymczak and Canadian Don Bowie on Broad Peak. A second Polish team led by Jacek Teler will attempt Nanga Parbat. Italian Simone Moro and Kazakh Denis Urubko will attempt Makalu. These three ascents would mark the first winter climbs of the peaks. In Nepal Jan Krabec, Milan Wlasák, and Pavel Krupièka hope to bag a Manaslu winter first for the Czech Republic.

Winter History of the upcoming first winter attempts:

(By Simone Moro)

The first winter attempt on Makalu was done in 1980 by Renato Casarotto and Mario Curnis who reached 7400 meters. In 1985/86, Reinhold Messner managed to get to the couloir leading to Makalu La pass. The expedition was filmed and subject to controversy after a French mountaineer died and his body was pushed into a crevasse.

In 1987/88, six Polish and two American climbers led by Andrzej Machnik walked for two weeks to the mountain with four porters. Setting up BC on December 10, bad weather aborted also this expedition at 7400 meters on January 28, 1988.

Ten years later, in 1998, Polish Krzysztof Wielicki arrived with Anna Czerwiñska, Ryszard Pawlowski and Belgian Ingrid Bayens. "We chose the classic route through Makalu La, which appeared difficult due to its length," Krzysztof said. "We got lost in a blizzard, and mid-January we had enough of it. It was however a great school in Himalaya climbing."

Wielicki made another failed winter attempt on Makalu in 2000/2001 - the last before Jean-Christophe Lafaille's ill-fated 2005/06 climb and the 2007/08 Kazakh/Italian attempt which ended February 3d this year.

<b>Broad Peak</b>
(By Rodrigo Granzotto Peron)

Polish Andrzej Zawada and Jacques Olek researched the Baltoro Glacier in winter 1983; concluding that winter conditions were much more severe than in the Everest region.

In February 1988 Polish Maciej Berbeka reached the Foresummit by the normal route on Broad Peak; the most successful winter climb yet on the mountain. Very strong winds blowing from the real summit prevented further ascent.

In 2003 Spanish Juanito Oiarzabal, Juan Vallejo, Mikel Zabalza, Losu Bereziartu and Italian Silvio Mondinelli reached 6500m on the normal route, before the destruction of Camp II (February 9th) and Camp I (February 20th).

In 2007 Simone Moro and Pakistan Shaheen Baig called off due to snow and wind after reaching 6800 meters. In 2008 Simone returned with Shaheen and Pakistan Quadrat Ali. Messed up logistics (the climbers arrived BC February 2nd) and high winds aborted the expedition in early March after reaching 7800 meters on the normal route.

<b>Nanga Parbat</b>
(By Rodrigo Granzotto Peron)

Up to now, eight expeditions have attempted Nanga Parbat in winter (or near winter) - and failed.

The first winter attempt on Nanga Parbat was done in 1988/89 by a Polish team under the leadership of Maciej Berbeka. Bad conditions halted the summit bid at 6800 meters.

Berbeka was back in 1990/91. After failing again on the Messner Route (6800 meters), he decided to try the long Schell Route. The team gave up at 6600 meters.

In 1995/96 a Polish team led by Maciej Pawlowski, made a serious attempt to 7850m on Diamir Flank (Kinshofer Route). The two climbers that reached the highest point Zbigniew Trzmiel and Krzysztof Pankiewicz suffered frostbites and were rescued by helicopter from 3900m.

In 1996/97 UK Victor Saunders showed up with Danish/Swedish Rafael Jensen and Pakistan Ghulam Hassan to attempt the Kinshofer Route. The trio gave up already in early December.

In 1997/98 Andrzej Zawada, 69 years old at the time, commanded a team of Polish stars that included Ryszard Pawlowski, Jerzy Natkanski and Dariusz Zaluski. The chosen route was Kinshofer on Diamir Flank. After an initially fast progress problems began to accumulate. Camp I was destroyed; BC was wrecked two days later and two weeks after Pawlowski broke his leg. The expedition was canceled at last.

In 2004/2005 the Kinshofer Route on Diamir Flank was attempted again - this time by Austrian brothers Gerfried Goschl and Rainer Wolfgang Goschl, along with Pakistan Hasil Shah and Mehrban Shah. A number of problems, deep snow and high winds forced a premature cancellation also of their expedition.

In 2006/2007 Krzysztof Wielicki arrived with a strong and experienced team (Jan Szulc, Artur Hajzer, Krzysztof Tarasewicz, Dariusz Zaluski and others) to climb the Schell Route on the Rupal Flank. They were defeated at 6800 meters by knee-deep snow and hurricane winds.

In 2007 Italian dark horse Simone La Terra challenged the Kinshofer Route accompanied by Pakistan Mehrban Karim. It was over already at 6000 meters when high winds flattened the kitchen-tent, damaging all gear and blowing away provisions.

While there were 8 cold expeditions on Nanga Parbat; only three took place in real winter - the 1st, the 3rd and the 5th - all Polish. The others were partial winter or late autumn attempts. The highest point reached to this day was 7850m, by the 3rd expedition led by Maciej Pawlowski.</i>

#Mountaineering #Mountaineering #feature

Everest Bad Chart a relative comparison of key weather factors (click to enlarge).
7-day average detail of base camp and summit temperatures on Everest. Period November to Feb. Data "BaseCamp" is at Pressure (hPa) 495 or app. 6100m of altitude. "Summit" is at Pressure (hPa) 346 or app. 8750m of altitude. The information was compiled from 868 forecasts from May 1 2002 to Nov 1 2004, based on forecasts by the super-computer at ECMWF. Copyright ExplorersWeb.

Visit our new website