Monthly Archives: July 2010

Trey and Fredrik back at Base Camp

Just a short update from Fredrik and Trey: They are back at Base Camp all safe and strong. They will be ready for a second try as soon as the weather allows (earliest in 5-6 days). A post will be up soon!

Ski K2 – summit push daily updates

Monday 26Jul10

I just got a call from Trey. They are at 7800m or about 200m short of their day’s goal. Apparently there was very little snow covering the crumbly steep rock between three and camp four so the going was more technical, exhausting and slow than they had hoped. When there is nicely consolidated snow or even hard packed, almost ice, it allows efficient steps to be places because the snow supports the weight of the climber as they step up. When a thin layer of snow covers rock, especially loose rock, it is hard to see where to place your foot and tiresome regaining your balance as your footing crumbles under the weight of your step.

Trey’s voice conveyed exhaustion and insignificant, but evident breathlessness. After a brief pause he delivered the difficult news that they were no longer in a safe situation to attempt the summit tomorrow. The summit push would have begun at 10:00 PM tonight and last through the following day. But the terrain kept their pace slow and they ended up camping at least an hour below the usual camp four. Having arrived at 8:00 PM it would certainly take several hours to dig out tent platforms, grab a few minutes rest and brew enough snow to cook tonight and hydrate for tomorrow’s huge efforts. They had simply run out of time.

The weather was windy all day but it has subsided and they will enjoy a beautiful full moon tonight at 7800m.

‘I am totally wasted…” were Trey’s first words over the time-delayed satellite connection. ‘It took us 12 hours to cover the ground that should have taken us eight,.. and we are still at least an hour from the shoulder. The snow cover was thin and the climbing became technical because all the snow was scoured off by the wind…. We don’t have time to brew up and begin our summit push by 10:00…. So we are not going to the summit….’ Trey has some amazing endurance aptitude and is capable of suffering a great deal. To hear him use superlatives in his description – I knew it was real.

We discussed a few snow issues and recon options they were considering for tomorrow but the meat of the conversation was over when he told me they were not going to attempt the summit. Its hard to explain the mix of feelings accompanied with the decision to retreat. It is the knowledge that every bit your survival is in your hands and the odds are unclear at best – that the ‘never give up’ attitude has little relevance here. Always present is the possibility that the season may afford another summit try and that things will go better then. But noone knows.

How do you rev down the most prominent focus in your life? Doubt lingers differently between the time before the decision is made and after. There is a constant question of whether it was the right call…. Then these entrepid climbers look for the opportunity to do it again at the next weather break. It has been said more than once that climbing big peaks is primarily a mental game. I’d say so.

If there is recon done up to the saddle tomorrow (8000m or camp 4) it may delay their return by as much as a night but most likely they will be back in base camp by the evening of the 27th.

Over and out,

David Schipper

Ski K2 – summit push daily updates

Sunday 25 july 10

Today’s call came from 7100 meters elevation or camp three. Trey and Frippe sounded solid, coherent and motivated. Our conversation was brief to save satellite phone costs but they gave me the low down on their day’s climbing.

The route from camp two, a snow filled ledge about 3 feet wide, to camp three starts with a short steep section around some rocks then follows an unrelentingly long ridge to the steep slopes of camp three. The wind blew at about 60 kph or just this side of being too strong to stand up for most of the day. The temperature was manageable but both climbers opted to wear their warmest 8000m gear to fend off the wind chill.

As they neared their day’s objective, the wind eased off. With any luck they were afforded the stunning view down to base camp, across to Broad Peak and past Concordia to the haunting slopes of Chogolisa. Most conversation about (rightfully so) K2 revolve around the challenges of climbing this peak but the views are truly magical.

At this point our climbers have gone from 5000m at base camp to 7100m at camp three. Tomorrow they will move from three to camp four to gain the coveted altitude of 8000m, with about 600m remaining to the summit. With any luck the winds will not have deterred the Abruzzi Route teams and there will be enough strong climbers to help make the summit as a team. It isn’t possible to see from Trey and Frippe’s route to the Abruzzi so they will not know until tomorrow’s arrival at the convergence the two routes, the ‘Shoulder’ , how things are going on the Abruzzi.

Tomorrow’s forecast is for moderate winds and temperatures with some clouds. The terrain is steep snow but if it remains scoured and consolidated the altitude alone will be the challenge. Rolf and Gerlinde, Fabrizio, and Kinga are camping at camp three with our boys and plan to move to four tomorrow.

Pakistan is about 10 hours ahead of the US (Central Time) and 3 hours ahead of Chamonix and Sweden. The best time to cheer for the summit from Texas will start at 2:00 PM on the 26th (assuming a midnight departure on the 27th) and the best time in Chamonix and Sweden will start at 9:00 PM on the 26th. Pretty much from here out send everything positive their direction possible.

All the best amigos, DS

Camp 2 – summit push daily updates

Trey and I have been climbing together since 1991 and were together on his last attempt on K2 in 2007, on the same route. Here is what he said on his call today:

It took them seven hours for move the 1200m elevation from base camp to camp 2. After 3 days of heavy snow at base camp and reported strong winds up high, the route was surprisingly free of dangerous snow build up and was scoured down to hard, great climbing snow. Still the princess of alpine climbing seldom concedes all and provided a strong ‘ refreshing’ wind from the summit.

Its typically a good strategy to skip camp one on the summit push because it was established early on the acclimatization schedule. As climber’s bodies adapt to less oxygen and are able to perform at higher altitudes the night saved at camp 1 will shorten the summit push – needing less days to be up high.

Tomorrow’s efforts will bring them from camp 2’s elevation of 6350m up to 7100m and the steep slopes of camp 3. As we spoke Trey said three others I knew were with them: Fabrizio Zangrilli, a German couple I remember from 2077 named Rolf and Gerlinde, and a Polish gal named King I have not met. Excellent company at those altitudes!

During our brief call I was reminded of how difficult it is to survive at that altitude. Trey’s conversation showed shortness of breath and his mental acuity was not dangerously compromised but definitely altered. There was constant coughing in the back ground.

After tomorrow’s trip to camp 3 they will move to camp 4 located on the relatively flat terrain of the lower shoulder and the likelihood of meeting several climbers taking advantage of the same weather window on the Abruzzi Route. Mark your calendar for July 27 as the day they will move from the highest camp, to the summit.

David Schipper

Why?

Fredrik Ericsson climbing towards camp 3 at 7100m. Photo: Tommy Heinrich

18 July 2010
K2 Base Camp – 5050m / 16,568 ft
“Dead man in Camp 2. Bulgarian.” Lakpa’s news was such a surprise we had a
hard time believing it. For one thing the last three days of warm sunny
days and nights without a breath of wind couldn’t have been more perfect.
Base camp had been a virtual ghost town with all climbers taking advantage
of the good fortune to move up the mountain. No, it couldn’t be true. I
didn’t even know there was a Bulgarian in base camp. But you don’t argue
with a woman who tells you she’s a lama.
Just the day before Frippe and I had been descending from Camp 3 at 7100m
(23,294 ft). My frostbitten fingers were warm and snug in the warmest
8000-meter mittens money can buy and Frippe was skiing the route for the
first time in clear visibility. Stopping to chat with other climbers on
the route and filming Frippe as he made turns in the warm sun gave me the
feeling of being on a peak in the Alps rather than the cold, isolated K2
of our previous trips. So much so I wouldn’t have been surprised if a
monoskier with stretch pants and a helmet cam had skied down behind him.
K2 was revealing her softer side but it was a face I knew better than to
grow too fond of.
Base camp is a small community and news travels fast. It seems as though
Petar Unzhiev arrived in BC less than a week ago, parking up with the ATP
crew whose permit he was on. Like every other climber he saw the
extraordinary good weather and couldn’t resist getting up the mountain.
Within three days of arriving in base camp, Petar, along with his HAP went
directly to Camp 1 on the Abruzzi rather than making the usual stop at
advanced base camp. The next day, instead of following the normal rules of
acclimatization and returning to the lower elevation of base camp the team
climbed to camp 2 at about 6700m (21,982 ft) where others on the route
reported that Petar began experiencing problems. However, they assumed the
HAP was watching out for him. That night, those whose tents were pitched
next to Petar’s heard labored breathing—not uncommon at 7000 meters
(22,966 ft) where the air pressure is less than half that at sea level.
Again, they assumed the HAP that they believed to be in the tent with
Petar would call for help if needed. As it turns out, after pitching the
tent and brewing up, the HAP had returned to base camp without telling any
of the others at C2.
It is believed that Petar most likely died from high altitude cerebral
edema, or HACE. As explained in the three high-altitude medical books that
he had with him, but apparently hadn’t gotten around to reading, HACE is a
swelling of the brain commonly caused by climbing too high too fast.
Petar’s death is a tragic loss yet Frippe and I are already planning our
next trip up the mountain. If the weather cooperates, we’ll leave base
camp on the 24th and hopefully make our summit push on the 27th. There has
been heavy snowfall and strong winds up high over the last two days which
is cause for concern and may push our plans back a day or two. In any
case, I can already imagine the sanctimonious outrage in forums and
message boards across the ‘net labeling us foolish, selfish, irresponsible
and suicidal.
Some of the accusations are fair—selfish, for sure—however most are not,
and as a person who is heading back up the same mountain that just killed
Petar perhaps I can provide some insight into what makes us want to put
ourselves at such risk.
While there’s certainly no question that this is a dangerous game we’re
playing, there’s nobody here with a death wish. Quite the contrary, you
could say that Frippe and I have a life wish meaning we want to squeeze
every bit of life out of every second of every day. And there’s just no
way we can do that if we’re not living, right?
For sure it’s sad when people die but it’s something that’s going to
happen to every single one of us. In the end, all that really matters is
what you do with the time between the day you were born and that
inevitable day of departure. Which is why we’re here. Many people see
mountains like K2 and are paralyzed by fear. “You can’t go up there; you
might get hurt or even die!” On the other hand there are others, like us,
who see big mountains and are empowered by the massive challenge, the
thrill of the adventure and the possibility we see in the impossible. To
act on this empowerment is to live, to turn our backs on it is to suffer a
slow, agonizing death.
In attempting to make the first ski descent of K2, without supplementary
oxygen, without Sherpa or HAP support, climbing in good style with respect
and admiration for the power and beauty of the mountain, Fredrik has the
chance to do something truly extraordinary in his life and I’m not simply
talking about the first descent. I’m talking about the incredibly rare
opportunity this man has to pursue his wildest, most heartfelt dream. Is
that worth the risk? In the end, there is only one person whose answer to
that question matters.
/Trey Cook
Postscript: Petar’s death is a sad loss and our thoughts and prayers go
out to his family. We hope in time they take solace in knowing that he
died doing something he loved in one of the most beautiful places on
Earth. As one climber told us after he came down from Camp 2, “It looks as
though he died peacefully. It looks as though he died … happy.”
The Ski K2 Expedition would not be possible without the visionary support
of: Dynastar, Tierra, Osprey, Hestra, Scarpa, Grivel, adidas Eyewear,
Primus, Brunton, Exped, ATK Race, Ortovox, Garmin, Honey Stinger and
Jamtport.
To learn more of Fredrik Ericsson’s past expeditions and about his quest
to ski the world’s three highest mountains check out
www.FredrikEricsson.com.

Fredrik Ericsson skiing Photo: Tommy Heinrich

Big lines and frozen fingers – Ericsson prepares for summit push.

Fredrik skiing from camp 3.

Base of Cesen Route – 5100 m / 16,732 ft

Frippe’s voice over radio static, “I’m leaving Camp 2 now. I’ll leave the radio on. Watch for me.”

From the avalanche plain at the bottom of the route I looked through the 20x lens of the video camera, straining to pick up any sort of movement, even a ridgeline feature through the blowing clouds. Nothing but the occasional glimpse of dark rock on flat white but never a clear view of the steep rock band that Frippe was trying to find his way through. The same rock band that he’d downclimbed a week earlier, emerging with the conviction that the snow was just deep enough between the tightly spaced rocks to ski through. But a lot had changed since his last trip and there was no guarantee the snowpack was the same. Even worse, the clouds and wind had blown in overnight ending a 4-day run of sunny skies, obscuring the route and changing the snow conditions from soft to wildly variable. An error in judgment at this point could easily result in a 1000-meter tomahawk. The avalanche plain I was parked up on certainly wasn’t the best place to be but I’d rather be there than in Frippe’s boots, that’s for sure.

Three days earlier, Frippe had headed back up the route, climbing solo while I hung back at BC to see whether my frostbitten fingers decided to either heal up or fall off. After I thawed them out the dull grey skin halfway to the first knuckle on the last three fingers of my right hand looked as though it could go either way. Luckily there was no shortage of expert opinion around base camp.

The Polish doctor who thawed me out prescribed 250mg of aspirin and an hour in the Gamow bag, a compression chamber that simulates the air pressure, and regenerative effects, of lower—2103 meters (6,899 ft) to be precise—altitude.

To be honest, I think the Gamow exercise was more for the good doctor’s entertainment than for my own treatment but at that point I was open to just about anything that didn’t require scalpels or bone saws.

Trey inside the Gamow bag, big entertainment at base camp.

Fabrizio and Chris from Field Tours happened to be visiting from Broad Peak and knowing the two carry a load of alpine experience with them I showed them the hand, asked what they’d do if it was attached to the end of their own arm.

“Got insurance?”

“Yes.”

“First chopper out.”

“What? You mean to, like, Skardu?”

“No. I mean to, like, home.”

“Hmmm… I think I’ll give ‘em a day or two and see.”

“Your fingers, man, but if you want to stay then hit the antibiotics. Amoxicilline if you’ve got it. Cipro will work but what you really want is a ‘cilline.”

Right then. One five-day course of Amoxicilline coming up.

Of course, it wasn’t long before word spread through the porter underground. Muna, Armand and Abbas’s cousin were the first to stop round.

“Pee pee.”

“No. No problems there. Problem with frozen fingers. Frostbite.”

“Pee pee on fingers.”

“Oh.”

Now I don’t know about most of you out there but I’ve done a pretty good job of avoiding peeing on my fingers for most of my 48 years and while I was open to suggestions on anything that would get me back up the mountain I thought I might have to draw the line at this one. Unfortunately, our ‘rest’ area happened to be in full view of the porters’ peanut gallery and the first time I returned without a dripping hand it was made known to me that this was not an option. There would be a post-relief inspection following all future ablutions.

Still looking for solid advice I called Frippe’s friend, Sven Christjar, a Norwegian physician and mountain guide based in Hemsedal, Norway.

“Blisters?”

“No.”

“Good. Without seeing it it’s impossible for me to say for sure but it sounds like Level 1 frostbite, not too severe. Take 300mg of aspirin a day, clean, bandage and keep warm. I assume you’re going back up so before you go, identify and eliminate the cause of the problem.”

Now that’s what I wanted to hear. Go the Viking doctor.

So I sit out three splitter days, take the antibiotics and the aspirin, pee on my fingers and watch the color slowly but surely return. I’ve decided to make a tentative foray back up the mountain wearing my killer 8000m mittens all the way from base camp and never, ever taking off the insulated trigger mitt liner that I’ve been wearing around base camp. I’ve also thrown half a dozen hand warmers into my pack. If that doesn’t work I’ll throw in the towel and descend. Game over.

But in the meantime I’ve got Frippe somewhere in the clouds attempting the impossible. “I’m leaving C2. Watch me.”

But due to the clouds I can’t watch anything except listen to the radio and hope for the best. Frippe is totally on his own. I scan the whiteout with the video camera, seeing nothing until finally I hear his voice on the radio—calm, cool, collected. “I’m through the rock band. Better than I thought. I’m on my way down.”

Down on the avy plain in the shadow of The Savage Mountain I punch the air and dance in circles. Frippe has unlocked two of the three major cruxes of the ski descent—a massive achievement and a major step towards the goal of skiing from the summit to base camp. The most difficult challenges—the narrow 60-degree couloir at 8300 meters (27,230 ft) known as The Bottleneck and, of course, just making it to the summit, a challenge that some of the world’s best mountaineers have failed to meet and that has taken the lives of many others—lie ahead but at this point I couldn’t be happier.

Back in base camp, we celebrate by scanning the weather forecasts and looking for a window. We’ve decided to pass on a far-from-ideal calm period on the 17th due to its 50 kph (31 mph) winds. We’re betting instead on a longer, better window forecast for the 23rd to the 25th. It’s a big gamble betting on a window 10 days away but after a lot of discussion we feel it’s our best chance.

In the meantime, we’ll head up for one last acclimatization trip, which will give me my second night at 7000 meters (22,966 ft) and Frippe his fourth. We’ll also see how my damaged fingers adapt: if all goes well, I’ll be ready for a summit push. If not, then my dream of climbing K2 is finished and Frippe’s quest to ski from the summit to base camp will be in jeopardy.

/Trey Cook

The Ski K2 Expedition would not be possible without the visionary support of: Dynastar, Tierra, Osprey, Hestra, Scarpa, Grivel, adidas Eyewear, Primus, Brunton, Exped, ATK Race, Ortovox, Garmin, Honey Stinger and Jamtport.

To learn more of Fredrik Ericsson’s past expeditions and about his quest to ski the world’s three highest mountains check out
www.FredrikEricsson.com.

Action and consequence at 7000 meters

Fredrik Ericsson at 6900 meters approaching a cloud covered C3.

Camp 3 – 7000m / 22,966 ft

8:00 a.m., -20 F, winds gusting over 60 kph (37 mph). Despite my 8000m down jacket and neoprene facemask I’m chilled to the bone and my hands are blocks of ice. I need to get moving. Frippe locks into his skis and edges confidently into the maelstrom, dropping straight into unexplored terrain. I’ll admit right here and now that I’m terrified for him.

We’d trudged outta camp two days earlier spurred by a meager window with two days of sun punctuated by a day of snow followed by another sunny day. OK, more of a peephole than a window but our camp supplies still hadn’t shown up and we were sick of eating leftover trekking food over a box in a borrowed cook tent. In addition, our previous forecasts had been just a hair more reliable than reading tea leaves and the tea, like the rest of our BC supplies, were starting to dry up. Our days were numbered so our plan was to gun straight to C2. It would be a long day but the Super Swede is on point like I’ve never seen before and I was feeling strong enough to hang tight, drafting in his boot pack.

We drifted out of BC at around 6 a.m. beneath a cloudy sky with a few promising blue patches and within a couple of hours we were down to base layers and wishing I hadn’t left my lip cheese in my softshell pants when I’d made the switch to stretch Gore-Tex Pro Shell. I’m convinced those softshells are the best thing to happen to mountaineering since Pop Tarts but I’d made the switch to Gore-Tex in anticipation of extreme winds over 6000m (19,685 ft)—a decision I would not regret.

On this, our third trip, we burned an hour off our original time to C1. In the five hours it took us to climb 650m (2132 ft) to C1 the wind had begun blow a hoolie. We pulled our hoods up and tiptoed through the next five hours, traversing a snow-covered rock band before entering the steep couloir leading to C2. This is the couloir that came close to taking me out in 2007 with a massive slide, wet as cement, that ripped through minutes before I was ready to unclip and start the long, slow grind up. It’s filled with nothing but dark, festering mojo for me and it takes every ounce of grit I have in my skinny west Texas body to turn the corner and step into that thing every time I hit it. The upside is that the minute I’m at the top is a high point that I look forward to each time with unbridled enthusiasm. It’s hard to explain but fear and the ability to move through it is a twisted but elemental part of the climbing equation for a lot of folk. Maybe it’s the same reason people go to haunted houses. Me personally, I can’t go near those things. They scare the hell outta me.

The next morning at C2 the blowing snow made us question our plan to move up to C3 but knowing nobody ever gets anywhere by kicking back in their eiderdown bags, we pulled on our 8000m down jackets, broke camp and headed up knowing that if things got worse we could either dig in or turn tail and run. Sure enough, the higher we headed up the snowy rock ridge the more the wind and blowing snow increased. After about seven hours of relentless pummeling I have to admit that I was beginning to lose sight of the joy and just as I was about to ask for the sat phone so that I could call my mama to come pick me up and get me the hell out of there we spotted a big black wall through a break in the clouds that indicated ground zero for camp 3. I pulled on my face mask and we pushed on through the screaming wind but every step we took closer to the wall it seemed to move further into the racing clouds. Hard ice ridgelines, waist deep powder, rock and ice graveyards with no shelter whatsoever—fun, fun, fun. We finally crawled to the base of the tower 10 hours after leaving C2 and were, let’s say, ever-so-slightly disappointed to not find an even halfway decent tent platform. The ragged remains of shredded tents frozen on top of other shredded tents littered the base of the wall and made the place feel like some kind of post-apocalyptic campground. All that was missing was a zombie campground manager to assign us a spot especially reserved for fleshy westerners. But no such host appeared and dog tired, we selected the least worst spot and started hacking away at the ice and within an hour we were crowding inside our tiny tent with two legs hanging in the air and plenty of space inside for at least one-and-a-half average-size pre-teens. On the other hand, it was just so nice to be out of the wind that we didn’t care. We’d spend the night there and move the tent up to a better location when we reccied the route up to C4 on the next day.

However, our nightly radio call wit Abbas, adventure chef and prince of the Baltoro, told us differently. The most recent weather report circulating around base camp claimed that our little one day of snowfall had been upgraded into a huge storm moving in the next afternoon and lasting through the next several days. We had desperately wanted two nights here at 7000m (22,966 ft) for our acclimatization and the chance to scout what would be a long, heavy push to our camp 4 at 8000m (26,247 ft) on The Shoulder. However, a storm at 7000m is nothing to take lightly so we both agreed to gather our toys and run for home.

The next morning saw severe cold and high winds but ok visibility that gradually diminished as we broke down the tent. Although the clouds were blowing in and visibility was dropping Frippe was determined to scout the ridge below C3 for a passage. I was less than enthusiastic. My hands were blocks of ice from breaking camp and even though I had my 8000m down jacket on I was freezing. All I could think of was getting out of there. Frippe threw his skis down, locked in and yelled something to me across the wind about meeting me below. I watched my partner disappear into the blowing clouds at 7000m into unknown terrain and thought to myself, ‘OK, now we’re pushing it. This is what skiing K2 is all about.’ We’d been totally alone on this route since the first day we’d set foot on it. If anything went wrong our options would be extremely limited. My comfort was in knowing the Super Swede was rock solid in the mountains and his decisions erred to the conservative. Or at least as conservative as a person who wants to ski the world’s baddest 8000m peak can get.

Half an hour later I was rappelling over blue ice littered with rocks when I heard a voice and looked over to see Frippe standing on the ridgeline to my left. “Can I get through here?” he shouted across the wind.

“Yeah, a couple of steps across the rocks and you’re back on snow.”

Three minutes later and the first of three cruxes had been solved. It was an incredibly exciting moment for us, and a big step in the realization of the dream to ski K2. But due to the growing storm the celebration would have to wait.

A nice surprise was awaiting our return to base camp. Our waylaid supplies had shown up and while we were gone Abbas, adventure chef and prince of the Baltoro, had set up our mess tent, kitchen tent and toilet tent, all comparative luxuries when you’re sitting out hurricane force winds as we’re doing now. I’m nursing three frostbitten fingers and Frippe is thinking the thin line of snow he had to downclimb below C2 has enough snow in it to ski. The Polish are planning to head up the Cesen Route tomorrow which means we’ll no longer be alone on the route and Gerlinde and Ralf are thinking they’ll head up the day after. Although it’s been nice to have the route to ourselves it will be reassuring to know that we’ll now have some backup if things go sideways.

Over on the Abruzzi the Koreans have sent their high-altitude porters home causing a minor political upheaval in base camp. They will now rely on George’s Sherpas to fix lines, set camps and haul their oxygen bottles up the route. They along with the Italians and Laila from Iran all hope to reach C2 when the storm clears. As for us, we’ll take a well-needed break, see what which direction this frostbite goes and look for a 4-day window that will allow us to charge up to C4 and hopefully make a summit attempt. Waiting, watching, fueling up, futzing with electronics… oh, the joys of base camp.

/Trey Cook

The Ski K2 Expedition would not be possible without the visionary support of: Dynastar, Tierra, Osprey, Hestra, Scarpa, Grivel, Adidas Eyewear, Primus, Brunton, Exped, ATK Race, Ortovox, Garmin, Honey Stinger and Jamtport.

To learn more of Fredrik Ericsson’s past expeditions and about his quest to ski the world’s three highest mountains check out www.FredrikEricsson.com.

Trey Cook negotiating a technical section between C2 and C3.

Fredrik Ericsson skiing virgin terrain at 6700 meters.