Wednesday, January 30, 2013

History of Winter Climbing Broad Peak

Broad Peak was named so by one of the first explorers in the region, Sir Martin Conway. He described the ridge as ".. a fine breadth of mountain splendour...a huge Breithorn, as it were, filing the space between K2 and the hidden Gasherbrum." The mountain is at times also referred as Faichen Kangri. This winter, 62yrs old Polish veteran Krzysztof Wielicki, leads the nation’s fourth winter expedition to Broad Peak. Traditionally, first and the most successful attempt to the mountain was made by Poles in 1987-88, when Maciej Berbeka, who is also a member of current expedition, reached 8035m high Foresummit and misjudged it as being Main summit. There have been total six expeditions to Broad Peak in winter.

1. Polish Rush to Broad Peak Foresummit 19(87)-88
After getting Everest winter-climbed in 1980, the Poles’ fantasy to summit K2 in winter was understandable but winter circumstances in Karakoram were largely unknown. In February 1983, Andrzej Zawada and Jaques Olek went to Baltoro Glacier to observe the winter conditions. The reconnaissance enabled them in planning a winter expedition to K2. In winter 1987-88, Zawada lead the first expedition to K2 that included mountaineers from Britain, Canada and Poland. By the end of February, having reached only 7000m, the chances of success on K2 started looking bleak. It was then that Aleksander Lvov proposed a solo attempt on Broad Peak; Zawada didn’t agree. But when Maciej Berbeka expressed that he too would like to join Lvov for the climb, Zawada had to approve the suggestion. Luckily, the permit was arranged within one day.
The assault on Broad Peak began on 3rd March in pure alpine style. Berbeka and Lvov were loaded with everything they needed to go atop the mountain. Climb started with quick altitude gain. Next three nights, they were bivouacking at 6000m, 6500m and 7300m.  Last one being just under summit dome provided launching pad for summit push. On 6th March, both started progressing strongly and rapidly towards summit. Weather had been good and base camp team observed the duo’s progress throughout the day.  But at 1530hrs, Lvov aborted the mission due to exhaustion and turned back from col; Berbeka continued towards summit.
I am on the summit; the wind is blowing very hard. If I do not reach the tent before nightfall I shall bivouac in a snow hole.” Berbeka was not visible from BC due to flattened ridge and reduced visibility due to clouds and darkness. He spent that night in a snow cave and descended to 7300m bivouac next day. From there Berbeka and Lvov climbed down with the help of fellow climbers who went up for assistance. Maciej Berbeka and the whole expedition celebrated the first-winter-ascent but later experts analyzed the summit photo and stated that point reached was 8035m Rocky Summit (Foresummit) of Broad Peak. It was definitely a fine display of great climbing in extreme conditions but unfortunately the ambiguous terrain stopped Berbeka from claiming first winter ascent of Broad Peak by merely 16 meter altitude gain and around one kilometer walk.

2.Spanish Winter Expedition 2002-03
No one attempted Karakoram eight thousanders in winter for fifteen years after first K2/Broad Peak expedition. While there were five expeditions to Nanga Parbat alone during this period. Nonetheless in winter 2002-03, teams returned to K2 and Broad Peak; one each. Spanish Juanito Oiarzabal lead a team of five Spanish and one Italian, Silvio Mondinelli, with the motto of ‘At the Edge of Impossible’ to Broad Peak. Base camp was established by end-January without facing many problems but February brought extended sequences of bad weather. On 3rd February, C1 was established at 5800m and team reached 6100m before returning to BC to spend forecasted snowy and windy days.
Once hurricane days were over, they returned to C1 site to discover that one of their tents wasn't there (it was thwarted by fierce wind). Luckily, they managed to spot it during descent and retrieved essential apparatus from it. During this good weather window C2 was also sat up. Hurricane-like winds arrived again and stayed there till 20th. On 21st February, team went up again to check condition of higher camps and they were surprised to see that all tents of C1 were blown away. On their way back, some critical equipment was found laying around C1 which motivated the team to stay in BC and wait for a possible weather window to go up again. But weather never improved and eventually expedition was called over around the start of March.

3.Simone Moro's First Attemp 2006-07
By end 2006, Italian Simone Moro was the only non-Polish to accomplish first winter ascent of an eight-thousander (Shishapangma in 2004-05). That winter Simone planned to try his skills in Karakoram. His primary objective was to climb Broad Peak but thanks to climbing fees reduced to 5%, he obtained a permit for K2 as well. Though his usual climbing partners (like Denis or Piotr) couldn’t join him due to personal reasons, Pakistani mountaineer Shaheen Baig’s company meant that he wasn't all alone in the bitter Karakoram winter.
Kickoff of expedition couldn't been worse, when Simone Moro had to stay in Skardu for ten days, awaiting a helicopter flight to BC. After finally arriving in BC on 16th January, Simone and Shaheen made quick progress. They utilized every possible weather opening and established camps at 5600m and 6400m without any major problem. Tents and mandatory gear was also deposited at 7200m by the end of January for a summit push. All they needed at that point was good weather for 3 to 4 days but it didn't happen. Simone and Shaheen tried to exploit two partial weather windows to go up and earn them a summit push chance but failed. On 15th February they had to turn back from C2 in deteriorating weather. On later occasion, they went up to find C3 flattened and had to turn back to spend a night in C2. They climbed 2500 meters up and 700 down within 13hrs that day. Weather deteriorated next day and summit push wasn't possible. Expedition was called over by end-February but Simone Moro can rightly claim, "We can honestly say we did our best".

4.Simone Moro's Second Attemp 2007-08
After the luckless expedition of preceding winter, Simone Moro returned to Broad Peak again in 2007-08. This time Simone and Shaheen were joined by another Pakistani climber Qudrat Ali. Although Italian Leonhard Werth was also expected to be part of team but he left the expedition in Skardu. Fortune wasn't on Simone's side again. Team met early setback when gear that was stored in tour agency’s warehouse was temporarily misplaced and helicopter flights to BC were repeatedly cancelled. Base camp was reached on 28th January; 12 days later than previous year. Team made quick progress establishing ABC, C1 and C2 within 5 days. Afterwards it was almost a repetition of previous winter - long periods of hurricane winds, snow and BC temperatures reaching 40 degrees below zero Celsius. They utilized the tiny weather window available around 20th February to reach C3 spot.
Team made a desperate attempt for summit push on 26th February but was pushed back to BC by winds exceeding 120Km/h. They made another push to summit on 8th March in good weather but without success. Simone and Shaheen had to turn back from 7800m obeying their cutoff time of 2pm (Qudrat stopped a little lower). They needed at least two more hours to reach the top and summit at 4pm would surely have been  suicidal.

5. Second Polish Expedition 2008-09
In winter 2008-09, an expedition lead by Artur Hajzer with fellow Pole Robert Szymczak and Canadian Don Bowie made an unsuccessful attempt on the mountain. Considering Polish tradition, team for this attempt was unusually small but inclusion of three Pakistani mountaineers Qudrat, Amin and Ali added the essential strength. Just like Simone Moro, this team too made quick progress once they arrived in base camp. C3 at 7000m was ready by 9th January for the summit push. History repeated itself; the necessary weather window to go beyond C3 never arrived. An attempt to earn a summit push chance on 17th February was thwarted at C3 by hurricane-like winds. Qudrat suffered frostbite on several fingers.
70 days of extreme winter and yet summit chances being almost nonexistent, the team agreed to call it off on 23rd February. Don, Ali and Amin went up to dismantle camps and retrieve their gear. Amin had to stay at C2 due to cold while Don and Ali went up to spend night in C3, hoping that they might get a chance for summit push if weather was tolerable. But 24th February was a usual stormy day on Broad Peak.

6. Third Polish Expedition 2010-11
Artur Hajzer returned to Broad Peak with a bigger (and purely Polish) team, in winter 2011. Team’s arrival in Pakistan and departure to the mountain was divided in two phases. Four members trekked to BC reaching there on 10th January. They established BC, C1 and were enroute to C2 when Artur himself with Robert Szymczak and three other climbers flew in helicopter to BC on 18th January. Altitude and harsh weather showed it’s signs when Arkadiusz Grzadziel had to be heli-evacuated from BC with symptoms of pulmonary embolism. Hurricane winds and extreme cold hindered team’s progress through out February. An attempt to establish C3 and make a summit push on 15th February ended at 7200m, the C3 spot, due to extreme cold and fierce wind. Another desperate attempt on 8th March ended similarly due to hypothermia and exhaustion.
In last attempt, Robert Szymczak and Ali Sadpara reached 7830m in bad weather, poor visibility and high winds on 16th March, but were unable to find passage through a crevasse (ropes they had were already consumed below). Expedition was called off after that exhausting summit push.

Note: Fourth Polish winter expedition to Broad Peak (2012-13) is currently in progress.