Denis Urubko: The real winter in Himalaya and Karakorum - what and why I consider as a winter ascent to summits over 8000 meters.

Ed. note: in 2004 French climber Jean-Christophe Lafaille made a solo ascent ofShisha Pangma. It was intended to be the first winter ascent of the mountain, he reached the summit on Dec, 11

Interesting, that some days before it the article about winter climbs in Himalaya was published on ExWeb part 1 and part 2. About "winter borders" between Dec, 22 and March, 21. So, Lafaille's success fell out of winter calendar... But not everybody support such winter borders. Denis Urubko wrote this article. We suggest to discuss...

The difficulties concerning to the definition of Himalaya and Karakorum winter season occupy our attention during many years The statement whats true winter, in many respects, as well as the answer, depend on personal criteria and inquiries. The truth, as they say, disappears in the trifles.

This question and the answer are interest for me too, I reflected on this subject within twenty years. And if I had been asked and involved in the discussion, I think its correct to designate my opinion. Remember, please, that people have the right for the various opinions which are often generated by bias. Therefore, I don't consider myself as the ultimate truth. However, I ask to keep in mind my notes made by the person, whos "in the subject"

Then, well designate the axioms:
1. There are four seasons - winter, spring, summer and fall. We will talk about winter, without forgetting the other periods.

2. About the "heights and areas" I will consider the climbs on peaks higher than 8000 meters. They are in Central Asia in Himalayas and Karakorum regions. Well estimate the approximate altitude of the Base Camp as 5000 meters. All, which is below, are the approaches, its the mountaineering only theoretically (but there are the exceptions, for example, Nanga Parbat, so it is considered as one of the most difficult. But the accomodation in BC is much better. The mountaineering routesthere start from 4300 m, above the Base Camp, and conditions there are very similar with other mountains).

3. Note, that the winter isn't identical in the different mountain regions and at the different heights. Besides, Ill try to represent the "astronomical", "calendar" and "climatic" winter concepts, which are defined by the experts in the different periods.

Let's go!

First, Ive to define the terms of winter. I am not a meteorologist and not the astronomer, my knowledge are limited by the personal experience and the weather reports. However, everybody can have an opinion. The "astronomical" winter concept is out of the sphere of the usual (including sports) humans activity. Astronomers accepted some "counters" for themselves, and I am not going to play in their game.
But the "climatic" winter realizes itself in our life, causes the specifics activity.

The "calendar" winter is conditionally designated by the society, based on the general values of thousand-year experience. Im one of all community. Therefore, I live and climb in CLIMATIC conditions according to the CALENDAR. Both in the winter, and in the summer, it doesnt matter.

The year (365 days), as we remember, divides by four parts.

On what the season depends? From the sun height over the horizon. The shortest day and the longest night are on December 21-22. Therefore, this point can be accepted like the minimum by the amount of heat received from the Sun. But it is not a middle of Climate winter. Because it is clear that the atmosphere, rocks, glaciers, water and the soil possess inertness, accumulate and give out the energy. Therefore the dates, which are equal distanced from the Winter Solstice will differ on "winter conditions". So, December 01 (the beginning of calendar winter) is much closer to the Winter Solstice, than February 28 (29)(the end of calendar winter) - 21 days against 67.

Why I climb in winter? What I hope to get from Winter? Cold and wind, snow, short light day. All of it I hope to find in the Winter expedition.

Light period length. On December 01 the active part of the day is much shorter, than on February 28 (29). It adds difficulties to winter ascensions, of course!

The winds. Therere the different Hurricanes. Ive caught some in October on Shishapangma days, when I flew like a balloon. There were hurricanes and in the spring too. On the contrary, there were calm periods on Makalu in February, like the gift from heavens. Therefore it is difficult to define the winter period according to winds. Simply, I will note that in December, January and February they are much stronger, than in other seasons.

Makalu 2008. The weather's ideal. But Huragan is awful!

Makalu 2009. The brutal Huragan at 7300 storms, tearing off from a slope. (a) Simone Moro

Makalu 2009. That's ideal weather during the summit bid at 7400

The temperature. As well as in the previous case, it can be cold also during the "summer" period, and warmer also in the winter. However, in general, of course, the temperature is much lower in December, January and February, than in other season.

Makalu 2009. It can be very comfortable in BC in winter too.

Snow. You shouldn't take it as the index. Generally, an amount of precipitation is much bigger in the SUMMER. On the contrary, in December and January it is easier to move on 8000ers. Snowfalls are rare, and the snow is simply blown from the surface by the winds. Its no snow. So it is possible to define the winter as "the absence of the snow", and its, of course, the positive factor in mountains, facilitating the climbs.

The different situation is in the valleys. On the heights lower than 5000 m the quantity of snow increases by spring. Once in February we made the five days-way down the Barun valley in the snow till the belt. It takes only one day for that trip in the normal conditions. However, such conditions are below 5000 m. Above this level therere practically no snow till spring (March). Remembering that climbing "route" begins above the Base camp, it is possible to consider a factor of lack of snow, as the positive for winter. And, especially with the help of modern heli BC destination... mmm!

Makalu 2008. The route is very simple!

Kamchatka, 1992. Kluchevskaya climb. There're a lot of deep snow in the forest.

Lenin peak. 2004. The risk of avalanches in summer.

Now I will sort my subjective opinions. Especially, because I have enough of them.

There's an opinion, that on personal climbers observations the mountains look better at the beginning of December, than later during the ascension. I will answer, that from the valley they continue to look also beautifully and silently also in February. Simply, in December climbers look at admire panoramas, are fresh and positively adjusted to perceive any details. And they saw the "kitchen" from inside later.

Gasherbrum II. 2011. The mount is very nice from the BC.

The Nepal and Pakistan governments give the Winter climbing permits for 8000ers since December, 01. Locals know better, what weather is there, dont they? Having lived in heart of Asia (Kazakhstan) during twenty years, I can tell that December 01 weather is worse than February 28 (29). There is more cold, wet, windy, etc. - winter. Kazakhstan is much closer to the area interesting for us (Himalaya, Karakorum), than Europe, America or Africa, from where many climbers estimate the weather, trying to impose the opinion.

Gasherbrum II. 2011. Very deep snow at 6000, like in summer. (a) Simone Moro

2005. There're no snow on Mramornaya's slope in winter.

Here it s possible to mention the system of definition of Winter climbs in Kazakhstan and Russia - for the Championships and digit requirements. Because of a "northern" geography of Altai and Kamchatka mountains, additional dates were added to the classic winter period. But! from both ends of winter. For example, from November 15 to March 15. And its uncorrect to refuse the Soviet mountaineering School in the literacy.

At the personal prejudiced relation, it is easily to think that exactly THIS, YOUR ascension took place in the most difficult, the worst conditions on the mountain. However, its more ethically to perceive other people success as the climb in same difficult, as yours conditions. Therefore I will honestly tell that our Makalu climb in the winter 2009 was rather quiet - we successfully appeared in the right place in the right time.

Elbrus. 2015. No snow in upper part of the route, only hard firn.

The moral and ethical component of a question is also interesting. Why there were different doubts with interpretations of the Winter Period? If look at the table, you can see that "astronomical" winter concept cut the climbs made by Japanese, the Frenchman and Slovaks. But add Italian and the Polish first climbs..

Winter climbs on 8000ers

1980, Feb, 17 Everest, 8848 LeszekChichy and Krzysztof Wielicki (Poland)

1980 Jan, 12 Manaslu 8156 Maciej BerbekaandRyszard Gajewski (Poland)

1982 Dec, 13 Dhaulagiri 8167 Akio Koidzumi (Japan) and Nima Vangchu (Nepal)

1985 Jan, 21 Dhaulagiri 8167 Andrzej Czok and Jerzy Kukuczka (Poland)

1985 Feb, 12 Cho Oyu 8201 Maciej Berbeka and Maciej Pawlikowski (Poland)

1985 Feb, 15 Cho Oyu 8201 Andrzej Heinrich and Jerzy Kukuczka(Poland)

1985 Dec, 5 Cho Oyu 8201 Becik Dusan and Stejskal Jaromir (Slovakia)

1986 Jan, 11 Kangchenjunga 8586 Jerzy Kukuczka and Krzysztof Wielicki (Poland)

1987 Dec, 20 Annapurna 8091 KobayashiI Toshiyuki, Saegusa Teruo, Saito Yasuhira
Yamada Noboru (Japan)

1987 Feb, 3 Annapurna 8091 Artur Hajzer and Jerzy Kukuczka (Poland)

1988 Dec, 31 Lhotse 8516 Krzysztof Wielicki (Poland)

1988 Feb, 6 Cho Oyu 8201 Manuel Gonzalez, Manuel Morales and Manuel Salazar (Spane)

1989 Dec, 20 Yalung Kang 8505 Kyo-Sup Jin (KOrea) and Ang Dawa and Tsering Tshemba (Nepal)

1993 Feb, 8 Cho Oyu 8201 Fernando Guerra (Spane)

1993 Feb, 10 Cho Oyu 8201 Miguel Angel Sanchez (Argentina) and Marianne Chapuisart (Swiss)

1993 Dec, 18 Everest, 8848 Fumiaki Goto and Hydeji Nazuka (Japan)

1993 Dec, 20 Everest, 8848 Shinsuke Ezuka and Osamu Tanabe (Japan)

1993 Dec, 22 Everest, 8848, Yoshio Ogata and Ryushi Hoshino (Japan)

1994 Jan, 26Cho Oyu 8201 Juanjo Garra and Jordi Magrina (Spane)

1995 Dec, 8 Manaslu 8156 Yuri Moiseev, Anatoly Boukreev, Alexander Baimakhanov, Shavhat Gataulin, Dmitry Sobolev, Oleg Malikov, Dmitry Muravjev and Vladimir Suviga (Kazakhstan)

1998 Dec, 6 Manaslu 8156 Young-Seok Park (Korea)

2002 Dec, 3 Cho Oyu 8201 Alberto Inurrategi (Spane) and Jon Beloki

2004 Dec, 11 Shishapangma 8013 Jean-Christophe Lafaille (France)

2005 Jan, 14 Shishapangma 8013 Simone Moro (Italy) and Piotr Morawski (Poland)

2009 Feb, 9 Makalu 8481 Denis Urubko (Kazakhstan) and Simone Moro (Italy)

2011 Feb, 2 Gasherbrum II 8035 Denis Urubko (Kazakhstan), Simone Moro (Italy), Cory Richards (USA)

2016 Feb, 26 Nanga Parbat 8125 Alex Txikon (Spain), Ali Sadpara (Pakistan), Simone Moro (Italy)

8000ers climbs, made in March

2012 9 Gasherbrum I 8080 Adam Bielecki and Janusz Golab ( Poland)

2013 5 Broad peak 8051 Adam Bielecki, Maciej Berbeka, Artur Malek, Tomasz Kowalski.(Poland)

Sport rules in mountaineering should be the common. If the winter for all people is since December 01 till February 28 (29), the climbers should better follow the general settings. And not to try to become the astronomers, who, due to the scientific point of view, are not interested in climatic (weather) conditions on Earth. In this context the "astronomical" year is only naked abstraction which doesn't have a real embodiment for terrestrial conditions.

Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. Every period differs in the features. March 01 is close to severe winter conditions, however (forgive for an excess mention) its already the spring. On December 01 on Everest top there can be quite good conditions... or cant be. But its the winter.
Therefore I will designate the hard dates, the borders like the normal person who accepts the four seasons. I will consider the Winter period in the Himalayas and Karakorum from December 01 till February 28 (29).

Gasherbrum II. 2011. The base should be hidden from a wind.

Thats pity to see the well known climbers who try to pull "a blanket of achievements" on the ascensions which are dropping out of Winter. I don't want to condemn them, I am respectful to success of the expeditions. But the smile due to their excessive ambitions remains always. For example, if in the summer on 8000 m somebody catch the incredibly difficult cold conditions (I caught till -40C), he shouldn't demand to consider the climb as winter.

We should respect the achievements of other athletes. And if Slovaks were on Cho Oyu top on December 5 , the community can't refuse such remarkable success. You shouldn't try "to draw for ears" a winter blanket to the other party, proving that December is fall, and March is not spring. Lets do the contrary! Let's rejoice our colleaguess success by every possible way. Because we have enough success too.

So, I need WINTER which coincides with the standard calendar, but not "astronomical" insinuations.

Makalu 2009. Destination of the beginning of the climbing route by heli. If somebody use heli to reach some point ON the route - it's ANOTHER style.

If the expedition began in August, and the climber reached the top on December 01, it was a winter climb. Other person has the right, for example, to acclimatize in hyperbaric chamber or till 7000m in the Southern hemisphere, and then to arrive to the Himalayas by own helicopter, and to climb from Cho Oyu bottom to the top in one day February 28 (29). And such climb will be true winter too.

The famous mountaineer Krzysztof Wielicki (who suppports mountaineering winter in the "astronomical" borders) has his specific opinion: the climb can be made in certain terms, but it is necessary to speak about the expedition style and summit bid style. I agree that mention of Style is important, and suggest all of you to argue on this subject. About the expeditions which began before the Winter period, and those which finished later. With oxygen, or without it. With fixed ropes or without. With helicopters help on the way to BC or walking on the foot. By ship round Africa or by plane straight in Kathmandu... In this section it is interesting to see the athletes using heating of boots and mittens on batteries or chemical elements. Why the admirers of purity of style condemn the artificial oxygen, but approve the external energy in feet and hands? It is possible to make warm climb though at -70C with thermo protection on batteries (technologies allow), and to consider it winter. I don't mind! But what style will it be?

Ive to write that the mountaineering develops, as well as other sports. Therefore, Tensings and Hillary's Great climb during the usual season, as well as conquest of winter Everest by Poles Chichy and Wielicki were breakthrough for the time. Both defined the Era, provided the real aims for the future. The everything was different in those days, and I admire the greatness of the people making the mountaineering History in those conditions. But the present time dictates the other obligations for us.

Makalu 2009. Urubko on the top. The wind was weaker there than on the slope.

Therefore I will live and climb in CLIMATIC conditions according to the CALENDAR. In the winter since December 01 till Februaryev 28 (29). Without additional oxygen and different heaters - without pacifier and a hot-water pad, simply. In terms which I consider honest, clear and correct.
Also I wish all of you to be healthy and happy.

Denis Urubko