On Broad Peak, Italian Simone Moro with Pakistani climbers Shaheen Baig and Quadrat Ali have been thrown back by bad conditions in the past two years.
This past winter, Polish veteran climber Artur Hajzer, fellow Robert Szymczak and Canadian Don Bowie decided to give it a try.
The team is joined
Polish climbers are winter kings in Himalaya. Broad Peak expedition leader Artur has five 8000ers under his belt, three of them climbed via new routes; and the first winter climb on the deadly Annapurna. He was with the Polish Nanga Parbat winter attempt two years ago, which included Szymczak as expedition Doc.
Among the rescuers was Canadian Don Bowie, originally a team member in the Annapurna climb. Don had left the expedition but returned for the rescue; an attempt that turned out too late. This sad meeting between Don and Robert later led to Bowie’s becoming the third member of the recent BP winter expedition.
Regroups and outcomes
Facing unwanted company on Broad Peak; Simone Moro hooked up with Kazakh Denis Urubko for the last virgin winter 8000er outside Pakistan: Makalu. Against all odds, the two climbers made it (with Simone bagging his second winter virgin 8000er) while over in Pakistan, Artur, Robert and Don fought a prolonged battle against the brutal elements until finally forced to give up.
One triumph and one defeat; theirs were the only serious winter attempts this season. Here goes ExWeb’s debrief with Broad Peak expedition leader Artur Hajzer.
ExWeb: You guys really stuck it out – 75 days in the freezer. Any battle wounds today?
Artur: Robert and I are 100% OK. Don injured his knee and suffered frostbite to his nose, although I’m not sure how he’s doing now – last I saw him was on February 24th. Among our Pakistani friends only Amin is 100% OK. Taqi got knee problems and became snowblind. Ali had frostnips while Quadrat got really serious frostbite and was under doctor’s treatment.
ExWeb: The climb looks bad in the post-expedition movie; icy and steep slopes. How big is the snow-texture difference compared to summer season?
Artur: The shape of the entire mountain is completely different compared to summer – it becomes a lot more icy, with many spots of water-ice and less snow. The game becomes very different from a technical standpoint and cannot be compared to summer. It’s hard and dangerous🙂.
On the other hand there was plenty of snow in leeward places, such as for instance on the way to lower C1. These spots instead offered an avalanche hazard.
ExWeb: You seemed a bit grumpy on New Year – how come🙂
Artur: I was just joking. (Ed note: in a New Year’s video Artur is seen crammed between the men in a frigid high camp, telling the camera he just wants to be back in BC).
ExWeb: On Christmas you did a wild variety of prayers (as seen in another movie) and Don read from the Bible, is that even legal in Pakistan🙂
Artur: Before the expedition every woman asked me for Don’s phone number, but when it became public that he is a man of the Bible, all the girls came running back to me. So I am happy with that film🙂 .
The situation in Pakistan is difficult – we could feel it – less people on the streets; many of them disappointed or scared even. There were almost daily terrorist incidents and hijackings. It would not surprise me if Karakoram is closed for a climbing in near future. Our Pakistani climbers were unhappy with this situation as well.
ExWeb: What was the whole mountaineering experience like compared to what you had expected and your previous winter climbs?
Artur: It was exactly as we had expected. Nepal is a different story that can’t be compared – it’s warmer with longer and better weather windows.
Compared to Nanga Parbat two years ago, the Baltoro region was cloudier and we had more days of poor visibility. While we could see Nanga’s top all the time back then, this year we only managed to see BP summit during 8-10 days. K2 had only one day of good weather and it was hardly possible to see the summit.
Comparing to my other winter expeditions (3 of them), I have to say that the conditions in BC were completely different – much more difficult.
ExWeb: Judging from the summit push video, the weather truly sucked in camp 3. How cold was it with the wind at that altitude?
Artur: We can only guess as we had no thermometers. The forecast said 30 below plus the wind which we estimated at around 80 km/h, or maybe 90 km/h – but who knows?
What we really felt was that our lives were in danger. We could not take long to set the tent up; we had to get in asap just to survive – it was a serious situation – close to our limits.
It took 15 minutes to place a pole into the tent’s entry channel and another 15 minutes to push it along the channels and secure it into the end. We then quickly put Doctor Robert inside to keep the tent floor on the ground, until Don and I managed to place the other pole in the opposite corner.
The tent came into position and shape, but we did not manage to fix all the poles so we just got inside and left it partly undone. That’s how we spent the night; holding the tent in place with our bodies, and our harnesses still clipped to the fixed rope.
On a platform below our Pakistani friends told the same story; and that’s when Quadrat got his frostbite.
I know today that we set our C3 in the wrong location; it should have been higher up where it’s less windy – but we had not managed to move it there earlier. It could also have been placed lower, below the serac, but who knew that the wind would be so strong? At least we know now, should we come back, not to put C3 there again.
ExWeb: What finally made you to call the expedition off?
Artur: It was not me. It was my wife who called this expedition off🙂.
ExWeb: How did the logistics work out – you had to wait a while for a resupply?
Artur: Logistic was simply perfect; for the first time in my life nothing was lacking. I can say only good things about ATP Asharaf Aman Agency and his partners Naikman Karim and Essar Karim. ATP sent 80 porters to BC already in September/October (we sent a cargo to Pakistan in August), so we had enough food, fuel, equipment, etc. Nothing was lost and everything was well calculated.
We were well accommodated, and transferred by plane from Islamabad over Skardu and to BC without problems. The chopper was on time. The Pakistani climbers employed by ATP were good as well. Except for a broken gas heater in a mess tent all worked fine. We ordered a resupply just in case – but could survive without it.
(Ed note: Last year, Simone Moro reported a less smooth situation. Among serious delays with paperwok and transportation, parts of his expedition gear from a previous expedition stored with the outfitter had vanished.)
ExWeb: What were the biggest difficulties of the expedition in general, you figure?
Artur: The wind was our biggest enemy. Technical difficulties were an important factor too.
Wind and low temperatures are not the only difference compared to summer climbs: if the fixed rope brakes, the climber has no chance of survival. Because of the water ice, his body will fall to the base of the mountain. This factor had an important influence on the climbers psyche and their motivation to fight further.
ExWeb: What would you do different next time?
Artur: Next time I will sit by my computer at my office and follow the Russians making K-2🙂.
If I return, I’ll bring more alcohol with me. We only had 2 bottles and I agree with Victor Kozlov (whom Robert met in Islamabad) that it was far from enough. I see now that we were too trained, too athletic, too sterile, and in the end not relaxed enough. In winter in general, you just have to have much bigger balls.
ExWeb: Pros and cons with regards to gear?
Artur: The gear was perfect. We had 1500 meters of 4,5 mm Dynema rope and 1000 meters of 6 mm Dynema rope. The 4,5 mm ropes did the fixing process very fast.
We had the foot heat system that worked perfectly. Our tents, Yeti’s Residence, were designed by me for winter expeditions and worked very well, in fact I have to say they are the best in the world (in my opinion). And these gloves are not bad either. Virtually frostbite proof while easy to work with.
ExWeb: How was the food?
Artur: BC food was perfect and came in great variety – chicken with rice one day and rice with chicken the next. You could also get mutton with pasta or pasta with mutton🙂.
Food for high camps was good too, but nothing beat a chicken from the Pakistani tent!
ExWeb: Did you feel demoralized/criticized when news on the Makalu success arrived?
Artur: Not at all. Polish climbers (including me) did such winter climbs in Nepal (even in light style) more than 20 years ago so it’s nothing special ;-))).
Seriously speaking: the message had no big influence on us in BC, we managed to stay out of the “competition factor.” Simone and Denis motivated us to continue the winter “mission” in general; Simone is the best ambassador of our past and future winter climbs in the western part of the world. (Ed note: Himalaya winter climbs almost vanished for decades before the Polish issued a “manifesto” for younger generations to take them up again.)
From our own Polish Makalu winter attempt we knew well that Simone’s and Denis’s climb was something great. Yet as Simone knows in turn; it’s no accident that none of the Pakistani 8000 meters peaks have yet been winter climbed. Both Simone’s and our expedition were supported by Karl Gabl’s weather forecasts (we were in touch with Karl almost daily, and almost count him the 8th member of our expedition). Gabl said that the winter average temperature is 10 degree lower in Karakoram than in Nepal Himalayas.
ExWeb: Will you try again?
Artur: I am quite close to the conclusion that it will be impossible to climb 8000 meters peak in Pakistan in the nearest years. So I’m not sure if I’ll try again, but I want to.
ExWeb: Your top three most important advice for other aspiring 8000+ winter wannabes?
Artur: my advice is as follows:
– Unless you are in Denis Urubko’s shape, don’t even try.
– Agree and accept that you could die.
– Train your mind, accept high risk, and climb against weather forecasts.
ExWeb: Any other reflections/main lessons from the climb?
On Broad Peak, our forecasts would say “next week will be better” and “don’t go now.” The reports showed terrible figures such as 160km/h wind or 40 below temperatures on the summit. It demotivated our whole team. The weather forecast is an element stopping progress in winter climbing – better not to look at it too much😉.
ExWeb: Summit or not, it clearly was a great adventure. Any regrets at all? And how much weight did you lose?
Artur: I didn’t lose any weight at all. We ate too much.
ExWeb: You’re closing in on 60, what does you comrades at home think about your lifestyle?
Artur: I’m not sure if I understand the question. I told you many times: I am 46 years old. I am not closing in on 60!!!!!!!! (Ed note: just kidding Artur :))
Our Pakistani climbers were extremely fast. Noticing that I could keep up (more or less) they would tell me in camp, “OLD IS GOLD” – f***…it was not really funny🙂 My comrades are happy because I don’t drink and smoke🙂.
ExWeb: Future plans?
ExWeb: Dog walking or the next BP winter expedition.
Artur Hajzer has summited five eightthousanders: 3 of them via new routes. He also achieved the first winter climb on Annapurna.
Dr. Robert Szymczak has been in expeditions to Kyrgyzstan, Nepal and Pakistan. He is a medical doctor specializing in high altitude medicine. He is also a member of the International Society for Mountain Medicine. Robert attempted winter Nanga Parbat in 2006/07, summited Dhaulagiri last spring with Artur and volunteered as member of the international team who tried to rescue Iñaki Ochoa de Olza on Annapurna’s south face.
Don Bowie also played a key role in Iñaki’s rescue attempt on Annapurna. 2008 marked Don’s 4th season climbing in the Himalayas, with previous expeditions to Broad Peak, Cho Oyu, K2, and the South Face/East Ridge of Annapurna in 2006 and 2008. A Canadian by birth, Don now lives in Telluride Colorado and Bishop, California.
** Previous story :
*** Related Links :
– 2007 Winter Nanga Parbat: It’s over – http://www.mounteverest.net/news.php?id=15523
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Filed under: Climbers, Karakoram, Travel, winter expedition Tagged: | Artur Hajzer, Baltoro, Broad Peak, Camp 1, Climbers, Don Bowie, high altitude, HiMountain, Ice Warriors, Karakoram, Pakistan, Polish climbers, Travel, winter expedition