History of Winter Climbing Everest

History of winter attempts on Himalayan peaks is a little more convoluted than their Karakoram counterparts. Firstly, because Nepal government issued winter permits valid from December 1st. Also, initial expeditions weren’t as careful about calendar seasons, as they are today. Nonetheless, it’s important to isolate calendar winter ascents from rest of the group.

“The [winter] season is officially from 1st December to 31st January, though the calendar winter season starts on 21 December - a date when the majority of successful expeditions have already reached the summit. The beginning of December has stable, clear weather, in fact more of an extension of the post monsoon period, though the winds are higher and the temperatures colder. Also, the Nepalese government allows winter expeditions to reach Base Camp and even establish a Camp I (though not man it) before 1st December. Thus the winter season is not as unattractive as it at first appears.” Brian Hall noted in his report about winter 1984 season. [Alpine Journal 1985]

Here’s an overview of Everest’s winter climbing history. [Click to enlarge]

A) Calendar Winter
There have been just two ‘pure’ calendar winter expeditions to Everest. The first one in 1980 when Poles reached the summit and second in 2017 when Spanish-Nepalese team turned back from 8000m.

Polish Winter Expedition 1980
After years of practice in Tatra Mountains, first winter ascent of a 7000er [Noshaq 7492m in 1973] and a late autumn expedition to Lhotse [reaching 8250m on Dec 25th], Polish team led by Andrzej Zawada finally received permission to climb Everest in late 1979.  They reached Base Camp at the end of December and managed to set up first three camps on the mountain by mid-January. However, continued bad weather slowed the progressed to South Col and C4 wasn’t established until February 11th.

After a couple of failed summit attempts by fellow climbers, Krzystof Wielicki and Leszek Cichy launched the summit-bid from C4 on Feb 17th. They reached the top at around 2PM; and the rest is history. The two climbers used bottled oxygen on final day of climb.

Almost Winter – Spanish Climber 1993
Spanish climber Fernando Garrido Velasco wanted to summit Everest alone in winter. Nonetheless, he used the route prepared by a British expedition and was helped by Sherpa in lower sections of climb.

Garrido reached BC on Dec 18th and went up the icefall on 20th. However, he turned back due to lack of acclimatization. In next rotation, a member of expedition Ang Tshering Sherpa fell into a crevasse at around 6300m and died.

Garrido made a summit attempt at the end of January. He reached C2 on 27th and bivouacked at 7300m on February 1st. However, the conditions remained unfavourable and the attempt was abandoned on 5th. He managed to reach around 7700m on February 3rd.

Spanish-Nepalese Team 2017
Alex Txikon reached summit of Nanga Parbat in winter 2016. He followed it up with an Everest attempt in 2017. He was joined by Carlos Rubio and eleven Sherpa. The team reached BC at the start of January and established three camps later that month. On February 4th, Chhitjee Nurbu, Phurba, Nuri and Pemba Thinduk set up C4.

Alex Txikon launched first summit push in second week of February. He and Sherpa team reached C4 on 13th but strong wind forced them to retreat. Txikon planned another attempt at the start of March but the summit window didn’t materialize.

B) Non Calendar Winter Expeditions 

i. High-Point in Winter
There are 21 Expeditions which arrived at BC before Dec 21st – mainly at the end of November. However, they did climb a certain part of mountain in calendar winter season.
08 out of aforementioned 21 teams reached their highest point before start of calendar winter. Although, these expeditions concluded after Dec 21st/22nd cut-over date.

Ang Rita’s No O2 Success
Ang Rita Sherpa was part of 1987 Korean expedition. He summited Everest without using bottled oxygen on Dec 22, 1987. The team reached Base Camp at the end of November and readied route all the way to C4 by December 19th.

ii) Late Autumn
There are six expeditions which started and ended before the calendar winter season.

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