First International Winter Expedition to K2 – part 1.

A WINTER EXPEDITION TO K2
By Andrzej Zawada
All photos copyright Andrzej Zawada
[Translated by Ingeborg Duubrawn-Cochlin]

K2 – Chogori

Historically, expeditions to the highest peaks are attempted in summer or early summer. However, Andrzej Zawada, a noted Polish climber, is considered a pioneer of winter climbing in high mountain regions. In the winter of 1987/88 he organized and led the first International Winter Expedition to K2 with climbers from Poland, Canada, and Great Britain. [In 1980, as leader of a Polish Expedition, he had already achieved the ultimate record of putting his Polish climbers on the top of Mt. Everest for the first time in winter]. This is an account of the winter attempt to scale the mighty K2.

After conquering Everest in winter for the first time in 1980, what goal could be more challenging than an attempt on K2 in winter? In reality, even a casual review of the enormous problems involved in such a project is enough reason to be discouraged; a very long trek to the base camp, the enormous, technical difficulties on the mountain, the lack of information on conditions in winter, the problems in obtaining permission and, raising the money to fund such a complex mountaineering operation.

I was able find partners in Canada to join me on such an expedition and they were able to raise enough finances to cover the heavy expenses involved. Jaques Olek, a Polish compatriot who had been living in Montreal for many years, put all his time and energy into this part of the venture. In February 1983, we both went to Baltoro on reconnaissance after which we were in a better position to draw up definite plans and a budget for our expedition.

Obtaining permission for the climb proved to be an even more difficult task. The Pakistani authorities were experiencing the same uncertainty and indecision over allowing climbing in the winter season as the Nepalese had done over our Everest expedition. With great patience, time and time again, we wrote yet more letters and statements in support of our application trying to persuade the authorities that the time had come to open up the Karakoram region to winter expeditions as had already been done in Nepal.

Finally as a result of all our efforts, permission was granted for our expedition. However, two of the conditions imposed were obviously directed at climbers from the West: the high rate charged for a winter climb and the ruling that valley porters could only be asked to carry the same weight as the high altitude porters. We anticipated that we would need about 14 tons of baggage for a full winter expedition; under these new regulations, we would require 700 porters, an additional expense which even the wealthiest expedition would find impossible to fund.

The only solution to the problem was to transport the baggage in the autumn and leave it at the base camp under the supervision of a special auxiliary team for the three months until December 21, the official beginning of the winter season, when the main team of climbers would arrive. We would not have been able to make these arrangements without the energetic assistance of the highest level from the Polish and Canadian ambassadors.

At the same time as our Canadian partners realized that they would not be able to meet all the financial demands of such an expedition, the main sponsor of our equipment, Karrimor, expressed their willingness to introduce climbers from Great Britain into the expedition. So we declared to expand the team to include these British climbers. The expedition then became a joint Polish Canadian British partnership with ten climbers from Poland, five from Canada and four from Great Britain.

The auxiliary team together with Andrzej Zawada and Nasir Sabir, the expedition agent and the liaison officer for the first stage, arrived in Fajo at the beginning of October. The porters for the caravan were selected in very hot sunny weather, but winter arrived suddenly within a few days with very heavy snowstorms. The older people in Askole could not remember similar freak weather.

I was already back in Europe when I heard the news that the caravan was trapped in Urdukas. If this continued, it certainly meant the end of the expedition. Jaques and I were prepared for the worst when we heard from Islamabad that the President of Pakistan had put his military helicopters at the disposal of the expedition. Several helicopter flights and an additional fifty to sixty porters operating between Urdukas and Base Camp could still rescue the situation. The personal equipment for the sixty extra porters was delivered promptly and the costs shared between the three countries involved.

At the beginning of December, the actual climbers of the winter team flew to Islamabad. Before leaving for our destination, we were received in audience by the President of Pakistan, General Zia ul Haq, who once again promised to help us in any way he could.

The winter team consisted of the following climbers: Andrzej Zawada the leader , Maciej Berbeka, Eugeniusz Chrobak, Leszek Cichy, Miroslaw Dasal, Miroslaw Gardzielewski, Zygnmunt A. Heinrich, Bogdan Jankowski, Paweł Kubalski, Aleks Lwow, Maciej Pawlikowski, Michał Tokarzewski the doctor, and Krzysztof Wielicki from Poland; Jaques Olek { deputy leader}, Pierre Bergeron, Jean-Pierre Danvoye, Jean-Francois Gagnon, Stuart Hutchison, Bernard Mailbot and Yves Tessier from Canada; John Barry, Roger Mear, Jon Tuinker and Mike Woolridge from Great Britain.

The climbing team was accompanied by ski trekking groups from England and Canada. The liaison officer was Ashraf Aman {like Nasir Sabir, he too had reached the summit of K2 on a previous occasion}.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: