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Opinion | Nepalis Reach K2 Summit, a First in Winter

The leader of the other Nepali team, Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, or Mingma G. as he’s known, is a quieter soul. His father had lost fingers to frostbite after tying the laces of his client’s boots on Everest. Mingma G. made a name for himself soloing a new route up a 21,932-foot peak he could see from the window of his home in the Rolwaling Valley of Nepal. He has stood on top of Everest five times and K2 twice.

While Purja managed to secure the lucrative backing of Red Bull for his K2 project, the GoFundMe campaign that Mingma G. posted on his Facebook page raised less than $8,000 of a $47,500 goal.

The Nepalis were not alone in attempting K2. Some 25 foreign mountaineers joined them in base camp. They spanned the spectrum of experience from professional alpinists to commercial clients paying a premium for Sherpa support. All wanted to be the first to reach the summit in winter.

Yet last Saturday, when 10 mountaineers left Camp 4 on the Abruzzi Ridge in minus-70 degree Fahrenheit weather and pushed toward K2’s summit, every one of them was Nepali. The teams led by Purja and Mingma G. combined forces, and were reinforced by an additional Sherpa from another expedition. They climbed the last few feet together while singing the national anthem of Nepal.

Alan Arnette, a chronicler of Himalayan climbing who made it to the top of K2 in the summer of 2014, told me that past winter attempts failed because of “lack of teamwork, lack of leadership and lack of focus. And some bad luck when it comes to the weather.” The Nepalis, on the other hand, got lucky with the weather, avoided avalanches, worked together and, he added, “were determined to show the world that Nepali climbers were amongst the best.”

Purja put it this way in a phone call the other day from Pakistan: “We united to make the impossible possible together. Let’s talk about unselfishness and making the greatest feat in the name of everyone because everyone deserves the equal credit.”

So much for what had been that most privileged, egocentric and colonial of pursuits. Let’s cheer the summiteers.

Freddie Wilkinson is a writer and climbing guide. He has made numerous first ascents of steep, technical routes in the mountains of Alaska, Patagonia, Asia and Antarctica.

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