Heavy snow forces Polish climbers to call off historic winter ascent of K2

WARSAW (Reuters) - Polish climbers said on Monday heavy snow and ominous weather forecasts had forced them to call off their attempt to climb the world’s second highest peak, K2, in winter - one of last remaining big feats in mountaineering.

Slideshow ( 4 images )

The team had spent about two months in base camp, getting ready to make the first ascent the mountain on the Pakistan-China border during the months when temperatures there regularly fall as low as -55 Celsius (-67 Fahrenheit).

But expedition leader Krzysztof Wielicki said he had studied the situation, talked to the team and decided to cancel the trip.

“The priority of the expedition is the safety of its participants,” said Wielicki, who made the first winter ascent of the world’s highest peak, Everest, nearly four decades ago.

Wielicki, who had planned to direct the bid from base camp, said heavy snowfall in the upper parts of the 8,611-metre (28,251-ft) peak had covered ropes left earlier by the climbers, and damaged the first camp and most likely the other three.

Without functioning camps and weather forecasts showing only a short spell of adequate weather in the coming days, climbers would not have been able to acclimatize at 7,200 meters.

K2 in the Karakorum mountain range is notorious for high winds, steep and icy slopes and high fatality rates among climbers.

It was first scaled by Italians in 1954, but no one has scaled it in winter.

Team member Marek Chmielarski, said they would probably try again next winter.

“With the experience we have gained here I think that next time we are going to the summit,” he told Polish state television.

In January, the climbers rescued French mountaineer Elisabeth Revol who was stuck on the slopes of Pakistan’s second-highest peak, the 8,126-metre Nanga Parbat.

Reporting by Marcin Goettig; Editing by Andrew Heavens