K2 once again lived up to its reputation as The Savage Mountain when on Tuesday, 23 June, Italian Michele Fait tragically perished on the mountain’s lower slopes. Fait and his partner Fredrik Ericsson, a Chamonix resident, were skiing down from above Camp 2 on K2’s Cesen Route when Fait fell and slid 1000 meters to his death.
Ericsson, who was descending with Fait when the accident happened, was able to reach the body around 20 minutes later but was too late to help. He began the arduous task of lowering the body however, due to risky avalanche conditions, the recovery was aborted until the next morning.
Ericsson and Fait were on a mission to become the first to ski K2. Although there have been a handful of attempts – most notably by Hans Kammerlander who began skiing from the summit in July 2001 but gave up after a few hundred meters due to poor conditions – there has never been a complete ski descent of K2.
The team experienced an initial setback when the Ministry of Tourism inexplicably denied a trekking permit for Laila Peak (6069m), which the team planned to acclimatize on. Undaunted, Ericsson and Fait proceeded directly to K2, an arduous journey which included a hair-raising 4×4 trip from Skardu to Askole and seven days of heavy trekking up the Baltoro and Godwin-Austen Glaciers.
On fredrikericsson.com, Ericsson reported that by 14 June the team had reached Base Camp. The report from 18 June states that although Fait was having difficulty acclimatizing, the pair had climbed to 6000m and established a tenuous Camp 1 (“two of the corners in the air”).
Attesting to the team’s strength and the relative good weather, Ericsson and Fait were able to establish Camp 2 at 6350 and had climbed to 6450m on the Cesen Route within 10 days of arriving at Base Camp. A fact that’s even more astonishing when you consider the pair were climbing in ski boots, carrying skis and were not using supplemental oxygen, guides, or high altitude porters.
299 climbers have stood atop K2 since the mountain was first summitted by Italians Achille Compagnonie and Lino Lacadelli in a controversial 1954 expedition led by Ardito Desio. At least 77 people have died trying.
Michele Fait was an experienced ski mountaineer and has climbed/skied on Shishapangma (8012m) in 2004, Gasherbrum 2 (8035m) in 2005, and K2 where he reached 8300m in 2007. Heartfelt sympathy goes out to his family and friends.