Even for that time of the year, it was a bad season. A Russian team who dared to attempt the first winter climb of K2 were punished by a fatal accident. The hardy Moro/Urubko duo abandoned Nanga Parbat.
But the teams on Gasherbrum 1 would not give up. "An old fox is not easily snared,” the Poles would boast in defiance after being kicked off the mountain by winds reaching up to 100 km/h above 6,000 meters. "One month in BC is nothing" claimed winter veteran Artur Hajzer, leading the Polish team on the normal route.
Going for a new route on the south side Louis Rousseau's mates were equally determined ExWeb's interview with leader Gerfried Goschl made evident.
Goshl was no stranger to mountaineering. He had summited seven 8000ers, one via a new variation and Shisha plus Everest without O2 in a month. He had tried G1 already once in winter, and climbed it entirely this summer to scout the route.
"This time I'm here to finish the project," he told ExplorersWeb from BC, "to complete the first winter ascent, to climb the new route and to make the first ever winter traverse of an 8000er."
"It’s a mixed challenge of survival and mountaineering" Louis Rousseau tried to explain in a commentary interview at ExplorersWeb. "Winter climbing in the Himalayas is one pure, unpredictable adventure, and a very unique way to climb," he said.
The Canadian had joined Goshl on the first G1 winter attempt and now he followed his former team mates Gerfried and Alex Txikon from back home in Quebec.
"I think that the Himalayan pioneers of the 1920’s probably felt a little bit the same: real isolation, bitter cold, hunger, broken equipment, problems to solve, low chances of success, unpredictable weather..," Louis said, "it's like a polar expedition at 8000 meters, where instead of polar bears you have all the usual mountaineering hazards like avalanches, rock and ice fall, crevasses and altitude sickness."
Going for the same trophy the teams on G1 had a Gentlemens' agreement. "If we finally go for the summit, Artur's and my group will try to reach the top on the same day," Austrian Gerfried wrote, "this is something we agreed on long ago."
"Poles back in the winter throne," screamed the March 9 headline.
Fierce winds had forced back some of the climbers at the Japanese Couloir but Adam Bielecki, Janusz Golab and Shaheen Baig managed to reach camp 3. In improving conditions, Adam and Janusz left C3 before midnight and topped out the next morning.
The second of the five Karakoram 8000ers had been climbed in winter. Now only three of the world's fourteen tallest mountains remained.
The joy was shadowed by terrifying news from the south. Reports said the international team had scattered on the mountain in separate climbing teams. Highest up, Gerfried Goeschl, Cedric Hahlen, and Nisar Hussain Sadpara, with no news at all.
First ever to summit Pakistan 8000ers ten times high altitude porter Nisar Hussain had climbed the big 5 in Karakoram several times, always without oxygen. This winter he joined the team as an equal team member. In return his old friend Gerfried would realize his dream; to climb in Nepal.
Swiss mountain guide Cedric Hahlen had climbed K2, Kanchenjunga, and Gasherbrum II East (7772m) via a new route from the Chinese side.
The trio was cream of high altitude mountaineering. But climbs above 5000 meters become a completely different story in winter, Kazakh super-climber Denis Urubko had said.
After managing most of the steep terrain, it is believed that the three mountaineers were trapped on a plateau between 7000m and 7400 meters on March 8. Cold, wind, fatigue and deep snow are a vicious combination on high altitude.
Everything was done to find them. The Sadparas came on a helicopter. Even the Polish Pakistani kitchen staff went up. There was no trace. The three mountaineers were gone.
One summited and the other vanished: the story of Gasherbrum I's first winter climb was carved equally by the two expeditions at ExplorersWeb.
The 2012 award goes to both teams; each in their own way leaving a mark of courage and dreams on one of Himalaya's last historic ascents.
They were strong, brave and broke new frontiers. More importantly, they showed heart and sportsmanship. In 2012 six events made waves at ExplorersWeb. This countdown serves to remember them.
Best of ExplorersWeb Awards 2004-2011
Best of ExplorersWeb 2012 Awards: Christian Bodegren, the great Amazon paddle
Best of ExplorersWeb 2012 Awards: Erden Eruc, a Thousand Miles and One Thousand More
Mazeno Ridge, Nanga Parbat the Hard Way
Best of ExplorersWeb 2012 Awards: Felix Baumgartner, the Man who Fell from Space
Best of ExplorersWeb 2012 Awards: Aleks Gamme, To the Pole and Back
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