Winter ascents of 8,000m peaks, commentary. Katia Lafaille, wife of the renowned Jean Christophe Lafaille, recently reported about the excellent achievement of her husband on Shishapangma, which took place on December 11. Much to my surprise the information called it the first winter ascent of Shishapangma. But winter begins on December 21 in our hemisphere. There is a need to distinguish between the season written on a permit and the real nature of the winter season in the mountains. The first one is an administrative decision only. It is possible to make the real winter ascent while breaking administrative rules, for example on February 28, after the administrative date. Simply speaking: no clerk can determine the real season of the year.
The formal point of view: The Nepal Ministry of Tourism established December 1 as the beginning date for winter mountain action (here understood as the day of establishing Base Camp) and February 15 as the day when Base Camp should be left. This last condition was a mere administrative reason. As we were informed in 1979 (before the Polish Everest winter expedition) the choice of the middle of February as the end of the winter season came because Sherpas wanted enough time to rest before the beginning of the spring expeditions.
The climatic point of view: From my personal experience—and I have participated in seven winter expeditions to the Himalaya and Karakoram—stronger winds set in at the beginning of November or some years at the end of October. At the end of November the winds quiet down and this relative silence continues to about Christmas (of course in high places winds are often strong anyway). The first snowfalls, usually moderate, follow at about Christmas (sometimes this snowfall is the last one until early spring snowstorms). Real winter winds strengthen after these Christmas snowfalls. Therefore, I think that Lafaille had rather excellent fall conditions rather than real winter ones.
Krzysztof Wielieki, Poland (translated by Grzegorz Glazek)