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ExWeb series: The meaning of winter in 8000+ climbing
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Nov 16, 2004 13: 53 EST
Winter is approaching Himalaya and Simone Moro, Piotr Morawski, Jacek Jawien, Dariusz Zaluski and Jan Szulc are leaving only 2 weeks from now for another winter attempt of Shisha.

Recently we ran a series about Karakorum winter climbs, including facts and statistics. Questions arrived. What’s a calendar winter? What’s a “real” winter climb? Is it true that no one has stood atop an 8000er in winter since 1988?

So here goes a follow up on the Karakorum series: The meaning of winter in 8000er climbing.

Today part 1: What’s a winter?

What makes a winter expedition a winter expedition? Does it need to snow 9 out of 10 days and be miserably cold? Is a winter ascent in December as good as a winter ascent in February?

Well, there’s two ways of looking at it – one is the world calendar, and the other is Nepal and China’s permit schedule. The world’s seasonal calendar has winter beginning on December 21st, whereas Nepal and China’s permit winter season start is on December 1st.

The Japanese team who ascended Everest on December 16, 1983 is no less as badass as the Japanese team that summited Everest on December 22, 1993. If you’re climbing 8000m peaks in the winter, you are one tough cookie.

But only the latter will count as a strict winter climb. Why? Well, this is where the Calendar enters!

The shortest day of the year

Classic winter climbs are those made within the “calendar winter,” from December 21 to March 21. Even though there have been early December expeditions climbing in full winter conditions, strictly speaking they have counted as autumn climbs.

The world's calendar is based upon the length of the Earth's revolution around the Sun (and hence called a solar calendar). The Earth is actually nearer the sun in January than it is in June. What causes the seasons is something completely different. The Earth leans slightly on its axis like a spinning top frozen in one off-kilter position.

This planetary pose is what causes all the variety of our climate; since it determines how many hours and minutes each hemisphere receives precious sunlight. Winter solstice is when, because of the earth's tilt, your hemisphere is leaning farthest away from the sun, and therefore: the daylight is the shortest and the sun has its lowest arc in the sky. In the northern hemisphere, the Winter solstice is day of the year (near December 22) when the Sun is farthest south.

And it's around that exact oh-so-cold day, that Simone and the guys plan to begin their climb.

Japanese very-late-autumn-climb to Dhaula

If it were not for the strict dates in which seasons are set, Polish wouldn’t have the exclusivity on winter ‘firsts’. Japanese Akio Koizumi and Nepalese Nima Wangchu climbed Dhaulagiri on December 13, 1982, three years before the official ’first’ by Polish Kukuczka and Czok.

Winter conditions, wilder adventures

The last calendar-winter first summit on an 8000er was made by Krzysztof Wielicki. Polish, of course. He summited Lhotse solo on New Year’s Eve, 1988.

Note however that this was the last first ascent of an 8000er in winter.

There have been other winter climbs since, and for that matter, 'late autumn' - climbs. Each an amazing adventure in wild, high, solitary and extremely cold mountains - no matter what the Calendar said!

Tomorrow: Who did what in winter Himalaya since 1988.

Image of the -dry- Everest-Nuptse-Lhotse group (Ama Dablam far right) in winter 2002, courtesy of Project Himalaya.

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