Russian Team Aims To Climb K2 - In Winter

Reaching the summit of K2 in summer is one of the mountaineering's most deadly and difficult challenges.  Now a team of Russians is attempting what no other has yet achieved - scaling the world's second-highest peak in winter.

The 15 climbers will endure temperatures plunging more than 50 below zero and winds of up to 40 mph as they inch up the stuffing giant pyramid that straddles Pakistan and China.  The assault is expected to take 21/2 months.

"This is only possible for a Russian team," said Victor Kozlov, affable leader of the expedition, whose members established a new route on K2 in 2007.  "God willing, we can make it," he said this week in Pakistani capital, ahead of his journey to the Karakoram range in the far north of the country.
Winter ascents of the world's 14 highest mountains are some of the most prized achievements left in climbing.

The "eight-thousanders," as they're known because they all top 8,000 meters (5 miles), were all conquered in summertime long ago.  Amid a crowded field where each year hundreds pay about $80,000 to be guided up Mount Everest, the world's tallest mountain, winter ascents can help a climber stand out and get his or her name in the  history books.

Winter climbers have been summiting the 14 one by one the past decades, starting with Everest, but peaks of the Karakorum remained unconquered.  The range is farther north than the Himalayas, where Everest located, and thus sees harsher winters.  K2 is the northernmost peak of the lot.  Teams attempted winter ascents in the Karakorum 16 times in recent years.  The first success came this year, when a three-member team, including American Cory Richards, summited Gasherbrum II.  That left only four peaks, three of them in the Karakorum and one nearby in the Himalayas.  "If they make it up K2 in winter, it will be huge," said Billi Bierling, a mountaineering journalist with three "eight thousanders" to her name, including Everest.

Elite mountaineers thrive on first ascents, new routes on established peaks and climbing in the "purest style" possible.  That typically means no porter assistance high up on the slopes, no oxygen bottles or no reliance on fixed ropes left by other parties.

The Russians, who will start their ascent around Christmas, are not using oxygen and will have porters at base camp only.  Their gear and food - including three freshly slaughtered yaks and, according to Kozlov, a little vodka - is being flown in by Pakistani army helicopters charging more then $7,000 an hour.  Winter climbing means less daylight and temperatures about twice as cold as summer, making frostbite more of a danger. Living conditions at base camp are more miserable, winds are more vicious, there is more snow, greater avalanche risk and climbers need more food and equipment to stay alive.  The one plus: "The mountains are less crowded," Bierling said.

By the mid 1960s, all the world's tallest 14 mountains had seen summer ascents.

*Article by Chris Brummitt - Associated Press


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