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First Winter Ascent of an 8000m Peak in Pakistan

The Gasherbrum-Broad Peak group seen from high on K2 to the north. (A) Gasherbrum I (B) Gasherbrum II (C) Gasherbrum III (D) Gasherbrum IV (E) Broad Peak Central (F) Broad Peak Central Foresummit (G) Broad Peak Main. (Photo) K2 Shared Summits Expedition

In a three-day push from base camp, Simone Moro, Cory Richards and Denis Urubko completed the first winter ascent of Gasherbrum II. On February 2 the team reached the summit of Gasherbrum II (8035m) in the remote Karakoram Range in northwest Pakistan.

“It has been very hard, but the three of us feel well,” Simone reported from the summit. The team left their 6900m camp at 3 a.m. and reached the summit around 11:30 a.m. As weather conditions continue to deteriorate, they hope to descend to Camp 2 or 1 by this evening, before returning to base camp tomorrow.

Gasherbrum II is the thirteenth tallest peak in the world. The standard route follows the southwest ridge, relatively safe from avalanche and icefall hazards. GII is considered one of the easiest of all the 8000m peaks.

Despite poor weather and relentless cold, the team launched their summit bid early Sunday morning in anticipation of a weather window forecasted for Tuesday and Wednesday. They reached Camp 1 Sunday night, and continued to Camp 2 on Monday. The weather, though still windy, began to improve and on Tuesday the team climbed to 7100 meters to establish their final camp.

The climb marks Simone Moro’s third winter first on an 8000-meter peak. He was the first non-Pole to join the winter 8000m club when he climbed Shisha Pangma with Piotr Morawski in 2005. Moro then attempted Broad Peak over two consecutive winters, but after being shut down on both attempts he diverted his attention to Makalu in 2009, where he succeeded with current teammate, Denis Urubko.

The team is not alone this winter in the Karakoram, two other teams are attempting nearby peaks. On Broad Peak (8047m), a Polish team is working towards the summit, despite the evacuation of expedition member Arkadiusz Grzadziel due to pulmonary edema. Gasherbrum I is also being attempted, though the Canadian and Austrian team has only reached base camp after an eight-day trek up the Baltoro Glacier (for images of the Baltoro see Fabiano Ventura’s photo essay in Alpinist 32).

Of the fourteen 8000m peaks, the five that have not been climbed in winter are all in Pakistan. The Polish took the first seven winter firsts on an eight-year marathon in the 1980s. Due to its remote location and notoriously atrocious weather, the Karakoram has resisted a winter ascent until now. Alex Txikon, a member of the Gasherbrum I team currently at base camp, said of the climb, “Simone has spent three winters here and I think he has fought a lot, we are super happy for him… if anyone deserved it, it was him.”