A small Polish expedition has been successful in making the first winter ascent of Gasherbrum I (8,068m), only the second of the five Karakoram 8,000ers to be climbed in the calendar winter season.
On the 8th March Adam Bielecki, Janusz Golab and Pakistan high-altitude mountaineer Shaheen Baig reached Camp 3 (7,040m) on the Normal Route in early afternoon, with the forecast promising a clear night and relatively light winds.
Leaving in the middle of the night, Bielecki and Golab reached the summit at 8:30am on the 9th, and at the time of writing were descending, hoping to reach Camp 2 (6,450m), where team leader Artur Hajzer is waiting.
The four Poles (the fourth, Agnieszka Bielecka, operated base camp) reached base camp (5,030m on the Gasherbrum Glacier) on the 21st January in a temperature of -20°C, having walked from Askole.
On the 12th February Bielecki, Golab and another Pakistan climber, Ali Sadpara, established Camp 3, hoping to go to the summit next day. However, the wind increased, they endured a difficult night, and the next day had no option but to descend.
This proved arduous, and all climbers suffered various degrees of superficial frostbite, enough to put Sadpara out of action.
A second attempt in late February failed on reaching the Japanese Couloir at 6,650m due to unmanageable winds.
Expedition leader Hajzer is a legendary high-altitude mountaineer, having climbed with the great Jerzy Kukuczka and made the first winter ascent of Annapurna.
Bielecki is relatively young, though last year climbed Makalu and when 17 became the youngest person to climb Khan Tengri (6,995m) alone.
Golab is one of the most famous of Polish alpinists and was very active in the 1990s, most often with Jacek Fluder, when he made the first winter ascent (second overall) of Manitua, and the second ascent of Extreme Dream, both on the Grandes Jorasses. Later, he would put up a new route on the West Face of the Petit Dru.
Further afield he made the first winter ascent of Arch Wall on the Troll Wall, and climbed in Greenland and Alaska. His most notable route in the Himalaya was a new big wall line on the huge face of India's Kedar Dome. However, while he had obviously proven his worth in the harshest of winter conditions, he'd not previously climbed an 8,000er.
In 2004 Golab attempted a new route in 2004 on the North Face of Khan Tengri with regular partner Grzegorz Skorek. The pair was forced to retreat and during the descent Skorek was killed. Golab badly injured his leg while making a lone escape from the face.