ISLAMABAD (Feb 26): A Russian-Polish mountaineer has launched the first solo attempt to summit K2 — the world’s second-highest peak — during winter, in what fellow climbers described as a reckless decision.
Denis Urubko, 44, was part of a team of Polish mountaineers attempting to be the first to scale the 8,611-meter (28,251 feet) K2 in winter, but broke away from the group after a series of disagreements.
The climber left behind his team at base camp on Saturday (Feb 24), with sources close to the expedition citing his increasing frustration at his fellow climbers’ pace.
An acrimonious split in a team resulted in Urubko abandoning his companions and striking out for the summit alone.
Urubko left his tent and walked out of Base Camp without telling the other team members; apparently determined to scale the world’s second-highest peak, known as the Savage Mountain, on his own.
His actions have triggered a furious debate among mountaineers, with some urging him on to glory and others accusing him of having put personal ambition before team unity.
“He was trying to persuade the team to push for the summit in February,” a porter accompanying the group told AFP Sunday, adding Urubko argued that conditions in March would make a summit difficult.
“He has had a heated debate with the team leader and left for the summit without saying a word,” the porter added on condition of anonymity.
The Polish team confirmed the incident, saying Urubko left camp two without a radio after refusing to speak to the expedition leader.
One climber described a solo attempt in winter as “completely suicidal”.
Expedition spokesman Michal Leksinski said he thought Urubko wanted to reach the top this month so his effort would definitely count as a winter climb.
Leksinski said he trusted his colleague to turn back if he had to, rather than endanger himself or the team. He believes the next 48 hours are critical.
Urubko reportedly left without a radio, after refusing to discuss his plans.
“He was trying to persuade the team to push for the summit in February,” a porter with the group told AFP news agency.
“He has had a heated debate with the team leader and left for the summit without saying a word.”
Professional mountaineers have expressed dismay at the climber’s decision.
Sources said the latest incident followed mounting dissatisfaction after Urubko became upset when the team abandoned a planned route to the peak earlier this month.
Fellow mountaineers expressed concerns over Urubko’s attempt to summit K2 alone, in what is largely considered one of the world’s most difficult climbs.
Karim Shah, an experienced mountaineer and friend of Urubko, described the attempt as “very risky”.
“He is known as the ‘Himalayan expert’ among the mountaineering community… but his decision is not correct and does not suit someone of his stature,” added Shah.
Urubko made headlines across the world in January when he and three other team members were flown by helicopter from K2 to the 8,126m Nanga Parbat in — nicknamed Killer Mountain — where they performed an audacious night-time rescue and saved a French mountaineer.
K2, the pinnacle of the Karakoram range, is the only peak above 8,000m never climbed in winter. It has a higher fatality-to-summit rate than Everest, and is known as the Savage Mountain due to its fiendish conditions.
It’s steepness challenges even the world’s most accomplished climbers. Avalanches are an ever-present risk, and in winter temperatures can fall to -50C, accompanied by winds of up to 200km/hr (124mph).
Following the rescue, Urubko returned to K2 to join the effort to become the first team to summit the peak in the winter.
“For reasons of history and culture, Polish climbers are among the world’s most audacious,” wrote Michael Powell in New York Times last year.
The Poles mastered the dominant expedition style a half-century ago. It requires a willingness to subsume ego in the collective. If team numbers 10 climbers, six will take the role of worker bees, laying pitons and ropes and tents at camps higher on the mountain, he added.
—Additional input from AFP, BBC, NYT