Booksmarks | Alpine Rising

Enjoy an excerpt from "Alpine Rising: Sherpas, Baltis, and the Triumph of Local Climbers in the Greater Ranges" by Bernadette McDonald.
Mountaineers Books Mountaineers Books
March 06, 2024
Booksmarks | Alpine Rising
The Nepali team that made the first winter ascent of K2. Photo courtesy of the Mingma G Collection.

On the morning of January 15, Mingma G, Mingma David, Mingma Tenzi, and Sona began fixing lines up toward Camp 4.

Mingma G described what happened next: “We followed the way to Camp 4 the same way we do in summer.” But this wasn’t summer. At this point, Mingma G was fixing and the others were assisting. After fixing 400 meters of rope, they were approaching the steep wall below Camp 4 when a problem arose: “We found a big crevasse, which was impossible to cross… We tried more on the right side, still the same. Then we descended back a little and tried to find a way on the left side — again it was the same so we descended all the way back to just above Camp 3.” This was a devastating situation since they essentially had to start all over again. Using what was left of the beautiful day, they persevered and fixed a completely new line up to Camp 4. Luckily, a serac had collapsed over part of the gaping crevasse, providing a tentative bridge. Exhausted from breaking trail and fixing lines, Mingma G stepped aside while Mingma Tenzi took over the lead.

At around 4 p.m. they arrived at Camp 4, the route fully equipped below them. “Our first reaction was winter K2 will be ours, and we hugged each other because we knew we would make the summit next day,” Mingma G said. Their efforts had been immense. The route from Camp 3 to Camp 4 usually takes two to three hours; they had taken eight. Still, he was elated. “We talked a little bit about our luck and hard work before descending. Whenever we are on the mountain, we pray to the mountain for our safety and we also pray for her to accept us. The Goddess K2 accepted us this time.” They rushed down to Camp 3 andbegan preparing for the summit bid, which would begin in a matter of hours. The forecast for January 16 was even better than expected, so instead of starting at 11 p.m., their original plan, they felt comfortable delaying the start to 1 a.m.

Camp 3 began stirring at midnight. After the usual ordeal of lighting the stoves, boiling water, double- and triple-checking the contents of their packs, and then stuffing their feet into their high-altitude boots, they emerged from the tents, one by one. Nimsdai, Kili, Dawa Tenjin, Sona, Dawa Temba, and Mingma Tenzi left first. Mingma G came to the sad realization that his previous day’s efforts had so exhausted him that he didn’t feel strong enough to climb without oxygen. Disappointed, he fiddled with his oxygen regulator, which didn’t fit properly. He eventually found a spare regulator but chilled his fingers dangerously in the process of attaching it. By the time he was finally ready to start up, the others were already nearing Camp 4. It didn’t look like a promising summit day for Mingma G.

He left Camp 3 with Mingma David, Pem Chhiri, and Gelje. They reached Camp 4 two hours later and were shocked at the chilling effects of the wind. When Mingma G stopped for a few moments on the upper side of a crevasse while waiting for Mingma David, he became so cold he considered turning around. “I almost gave up there because I was worried to lose my toes.”

He checked his watch. It was 5 a.m. In another hour the sun would appear above the horizon, so he decided to continue, at least until dawn. At the same moment that he felt the first warming rays of the sun, the wind miraculously dropped. The four climbers stopped to soak up the rays and warm themselves before climbing up to the Bottleneck. The heat from the sun had given them extra energy and hope.

The first group was fixing lines up the Bottleneck, Mingma Tenzi leading the way. Mingma G’s group climbed toward them, finally catching up before the traverse. Nimsdai urged them on: “We all had that common pride, a common goal. This was for Nepal.” When they reached the small plateau 200 meters below the summit, they stopped to brew some tea. After resting a bit, Mingma Tenzi resumed fixing. They were still four hours from the summit.

They planned to stop around 10 meters from the top and continue as a group to the highest point. “We all started moving together and our 360 GoPro was on,” Mingma G said. “We then started moving towards the summit singing the National Anthem. This was my third time summiting on K2 but this time it was connected with the pride of the nation… It was a thrilling moment. I had tears in my eyes and my body was shaking itself, bearing goosebumps. No member in the team can explain the moment we had there.”

The ten Nepali climbers stepped onto the summit at 4:43 p.m., January 16, 2021. First winter ascent of K2.

Alpine Rising is available for purchase at our Seattle Program Center Bookstore, online at, and everywhere books are sold. Join us in welcoming author Bernadette McDonald to the Seattle Program Center for a talk on March 14 at 7pm as part of our BeWild Speaker Series. Tickets are available at

This article originally appeared in our spring 2024 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our magazine archive.