Polish mountaineers end attempt to climb K2 in winter

K2 mountainImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption K2’s nickname is The Savage Mountain because it is so difficult to climb

Polish climbers who were hoping to be the first to climb the world’s second-highest peak in winter have been forced to cancel.

Heavy snow damaged camps and equipment on K2, a peak that only around 300 people have managed to climb.

Calling off the climb, the team leader said safety was the priority.

The cancellation follows a dramatic split among the group, when one climber tried to make it to the summit alone in what was dubbed a “suicidal” attempt.

The team arrived in Pakistan late last year in order to prepare for the climb.

Why has the climb been cancelled?

Temperatures on the peak regularly drop to -55C (-67F) in the winter.

On Monday, team leader Krzysztof Wielicki announced the cancellation of the expedition on Facebook after learning of heavy snowfall near the top of the mountain, which has blocked ropes and damaged tents on the route.

The snowfall had covered ropes left on the mountain by earlier climbers, and damaged the first camp en route – and likely three more further on.

Moreover, bad weather forecast for the next few days and the threat of avalanches due to the thick snow meant further difficulties for the climbers if they had pushed ahead.

“Based on a deep analysis of the situation in agreement with the team I decided today to end the mountain action on K2,” Mr Wielicki wrote.

“The priority of the expedition is the safety of its participants.”

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The mountaineering team, photographed at the airport in Warsaw before flying off to Pakistan

Mr Wielicki, who was the first person to scale Mount Everest in the winter back in 1980, had planned to direct the climb from base camp.

What was the split among the climbers?

The decision to call off the attempt on K2 is the latest drama in the Polish expedition.

In late February, one of the climbers in the team set off to make the ascent alone.

Denis Urubko had grown frustrated with the expedition after a series of delays – including when he and fellow climber Adam Bielecki from the team pulled off an audacious overnight rescue of French climber Elisabeth Revol from nearby Nanga Parabat mountain back in January.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Denis Urubko attempted to climb the mountain alone

The 44-year-old then set off alone on 25 February. Expedition spokesman Michal Leksinski said he thought Mr Urubko wanted to reach the top of K2 in February so his effort would definitely count as a winter climb.

Although Mr Urubko is known as an expert Himalayan climber, Pakistani climber Mirza Ali Baig called the decision “completely suicidal”.

Mr Urubko called off the attempt after spending one night out in the severe weather at the height of 7,200 metres.

What is K2?

K2, also called Chogori, is the second highest peak in the world after Mount Everest.

The mountain lies on the China-Pakistan border, and is the tallest mountain in the Karakoram range.

It is one of only 14 mountains on Earth higher than 8,000m (26,247ft) tall, and is the only one which has never before been climbed in the winter.

Known as the Savage Mountain for the difficulty of the climb, only 300 climbers have reached the summit, while 77 have died in the attempt.

The first people to climb K2, back in 1954, were there as an Italian team.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption K2’s local name Chogori means the “king of mountains”


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