'Bigger than winning World Cup': Nepali climber on first winter ascent of K2

Nepali climbers who were the first to scale K2, the world's second tallest peak, in winter, cheer upon their arrival from the mountain, at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal January 26, 2021. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar

KATHMANDU (Reuters) - A team of Nepali climbers that made the first winter summit of K2, the world’s second tallest peak, arrived back in the country to a heroes' welcome on Tuesday from crowds of well-wishers.

The 10 men, who climbed the 8,611 metre (28,251 foot) K2 peak on Jan. 16, attributed their success to team spirit and a resolve to raise their country’s pride.

The mountain, that straddles the Pakistan-China border, was first climbed in 1954 but had never been summitted in the winter.

"We succeeded in our effort because we worked as a team," Nirmal Purja, the climbing leader, said at a public function to welcome them back. "If we unite we conquer ... if we are divided we fall," he added.

He said the K2 ascent was a huge achievement for all climbers to celebrate. "It is bigger than winning the World Cup."

Purja, 37, also holds the record of climbing the world's 14 highest mountains in the shortest time of six months and one week.

Fans and families placed colourful Buddhist prayer scarves on the climbers' shoulders on their arrival at Nepal’s only international airport in Kathmandu.

"With the success, we made our country proud even by risking our own lives," Purja told reporters at the airport, before they were driven around the temple-studded city in an open truck.

All except one of the group are Sherpas, an ethnic group known for their climbing skills more commonly known as support workers for foreign expeditions.

(This story corrects headline to reflect climber said 'Bigger' not 'Better')

(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Editing by Alasdair Pal and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

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