Category Archives: K2

Legendary Alpinist Walter Bonatti Dies of Cancer at 81

22 June 1930 - 13 September 2001

“Every climb I did was about challenging myself, about not knowing if I had what it took to survive. I seldom felt a feeling of great triumph when I made it to the top; that feeling came when I was on the mountain itself and I knew there was nothing that could stop me.”

Climbing legend Walter Bonatti died of cancer last night at the age of 81. Although he stopped climbing at the young age of 35 his iconic ascents of the Grand Capucin, Petite Dru, Gasherbrum IV and others have firmly established him as one of the greatest climbers of all time.

1949 – Fourth ascent of the north face of the Grandes Jorasses.                              1951 – First ascent of the Grand Capucin (with Luciano Ghigo, east face, VII/400m).                                                                                                                                     1953 – First winter ascent of the north face of Cime Ovest di Lavaredo.               1954 – Center of the controversy surrounding the first summit of K2. Survived open bivouac at 8100 meters with freaked out porter.                                                1955 – Epic, solo first ascent of the southwest pillar (Bonatti Pillar) of the Petite Dru.                                                                                                                                                    1956 – first ski traverse of the Alps (1795 km, 73,193m of ascent, 66 days)          1957 – Grand Pilier d’Angle du Mont Blanc.                                                                      1958 – First ascent of 7925-meter Gasherbrum IV (NE ridge w/ Carlo Mauri)     1959 – The Red Pillar of Brouillard.                                                                                      1961 – one of two survivors of a 7-man team’s tragic attempt on the Central Pillar of the Freney of Mont Blanc.                                                                                                   1961 – Rondoy North, Patagonia.                                                                                           ???? – Awarded the French Legion of Honneur.                                                              1963 – First winter ascent of the north face of the Grandes Jorasses.                   1965 – First winter solo of the north face of the Matterhorn.                                  2004 – Awarded the Italian honorific title Cavaliere di Gran Croce.                     2010 – First climber to receive the Piolet d’Or Lifetime Achievement Award.

Bonatti’s book, The Mountains of My Life is a classic in mountaineering literature and tells the story of his most famous climbs. The book includes his description of the controversial first ascent of K2 where Bonatti was intentionally abandoned by his partners Lino Lacedelli and Achille Campagnoni high on K2 after carrying the oxygen that would be the key to the pair’s successful summit. Bonatti refused to drop the high-altitude porter, Amir Mahdi, who had accompanied him in order to descend to safety and the pair heroically survived an open bivouac at 8100 meters on one of the deadliest mountains in the world.

Lacedelli and Campagnoni originally accused Bonatti of using some of the oxygen on the carry thereby jeopardizing their own summit bid and it took 50 years for Bonatti’s version of the events to be verified as the truth. Mahdi has been less fortunate and has still not recovered all his fingers and toes that were lost to frostbite in the ordeal.

“Perhaps the finest alpinist there has ever been.” -Doug Scott

“Bonatti was one of the greatest climbers of all time – the last true Alpinist, an expert in all disciplines. But more importantly Walter was a marvellous, tolerant, loving person.” – Rheinhold Messner

“He was a complex person, and a sensitive one too. K2 always preyed on his mind. But he was also a man of great integrity. And a great gentleman.” -Sir Chris Bonington.

“If in normal conditions it is skill, which counts, in such extreme situations, it is the spirit, which saves.” -Walter Bonatti

Walter Bonatti (far right) on the Italian side of Mont Blanc

Sources: Mountains of My Life by Walter Bonatti, The Guardian, UIAA, Alpinist

Advertisements

Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner Summits K2, Becomes First Woman to Climb All 14 8000-Meter Peaks Without Oxygen

Word just in that Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner (Austria) and Vasiliy Pivtstov (Kazakhstan) reached the summit of K2 at 16:35 Pakistan time (GMT +5). This makes Gerlinde the first woman to summit all 14 8000-meter peaks without supplemental oxygen and the 11th person (3 of which are disputed) to summit all 8000m peaks without O2. Maxut Zumayev (Kazakhstan) and Darek Zaluski (Poland) summitted a few hours later

This is also Vasiliy’s and Maxut’s 14th 8000-meter peak without oxygen which makes them … can you guess? … the 12th and 13th climbers to reach the summit of all 14 8000-meter peaks without oxygen.

Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner

BC = 3800m, C1 = 5350m, Middle Camp = 6100m, C2 = 660m, C3 = 7100m, C4 = 7950m, bivvy = 8300m. Photo: Ralf Dujmovits/National Geographic

The rest of the team includes Gerlinde’s life partner Ralf Dujmovits (Germany) and National Geographic photographer Tommy Heinrich (Argentina/Sweden).

First woman to summit K2

Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner and Ralf Dujmovits.

The team climbed the North Ridge, first climbed in 1982 by a huge seige-style Japanese expedition. Only 20 climbers have reached the summit of K2 via the North Ridge.

Big congratulations to Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, Vasiliy Pivstov, Darek Zaluski, Maxut Zumayev, Ralf Dujmovits and Tommy Heinrich. Huge respect.

Find more info on the Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner blog and on Ralf Dujmovits blog.

First woman to summit all 8000 meter peaks

Photo: Ralf Dujmovits / http://www.amical.de

Team continues upwards, Ericsson skis from 7800 meters

27 July 2010

[Editor’s note: I just found this post in my Drafts folder. Not sure why it never went up but I’d like to post it now for those who might not have seen it.]

K2 summit from our C4. It was this view of the summit, traverse, Bottleneck and Shoulder that made us realize a complete ski descent was possible.

Below Camp 4 – 7800m / 25,590 ft – With the summit of K2 rising above us, so close we feel as though we could have touched it, Frippe locked into his skis and dropped into the massive 45-degree face that stretches from The Shoulder at 8000m to below Camp 3 at 7100m. This big, beautiful face radiates down upon base camp and all the way to Concordia and makes every skier within miles fantasize about arcing fast steep turns across it. Of course, if it were that easy we’d have all seen it in the latest TGR film, but simply putting your boots on at this altitude makes you gasp for air and making two or three turns with a heavy pack would bring most hardcores to tears. I’m here to tell you that after three long, hard days of climbing Fredrik Ericsson earned every one of those awe-inspiring turns.

So before we go any further I should start by thanking our good friend, The Ripper Dave Schipper, for posting our progress live from the mountain. We hope he’ll still have the patience left to deal with our frantic, confused phone calls during one more summit push.

So yeah, assuming you’ve been following along you’ll know we left base camp a few days earlier based on a weather forecast from an acknowledged expert in Austria who pointed us to a sliver of a window on the 27th. The group that charged out of BC on the 24th could hardly have been stronger or more experienced. Out front was Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, an Austrian whose friendly smile and sisterly spirit hides her astonishing strength in the mountains. This is her fourth expedition to K2 and—after summitting Everest this spring without oxygen—if successful, will make her the third woman to summit all 14 of the world’s 8000-meter peaks and more importantly, the first to climb them all without oxygen. Huge respect.

Right behind Gerlinde was Fabrizio Zangrilli, a professional climber and guide for one of the two commercial expeditions attempting K2 this year. On his sixth expedition—four on the Cesen Route—few climbers have more experience on this side of the mountain than Fabrizio.

Of course, Fredrik, The Super Swede, was right up front with Gerlinde and Fabrizio, swapping leads and breaking trail. Just keeping up with those two is a huge feat in itself but to do it while carrying skis and wearing ski boots is a whole other level.

With a perpetual smile on his face, Ralf Duimovits—a highly accomplished German guide and Gerlinde’s life partner—first climbed K2 in 1994. Ralf is the only person on the mountain to have previously summitted K2. If he summits again he’ll be only the fifth person in history to have climbed K2 twice.

Kinga Baranowska arrived with the K2 and Broad Peak Polish Expedition 2010 and hopes to make K2 her eighth 8000-meter summit.

And, me—a bit slower than a lot of climbers but a little faster than most freelance writers. Did I mention devilishly handsome and passively courageous?

So if you’ve kept up with past episodes you’ll know that we battled high winds and driving snow that blasted us full in the face as we moved up the mountain from Base Camp to C2. From C2 to C3 was more of the same although with the benefit that the wind had scoured the snow from the ridge making the surface hard-packed, easy walking.

In the meantime, over on The Abruzzi Ridge, the crew that had planned to meet us on The Shoulder for a combined summit push had arrived at their C2 to find all but one of their tents either blown away or shredded. The Italians, Giuseppe and Sergio, immediately descended while nine other climbers bivvied below House’s Chimney in three tents in what sounds like truly miserable conditions.

Back on the Cesen, Frippe and I were super excited about moving from C3 to C4—a push that would take us from 7100m (23, 294 ft) to 8000m (26, 247 ft) in one long day. To climb that much at such a high altitude we reasoned the route must go straight up with no side variations and be fairly straightforward climbing. Gerlinde and Ralf told us to expect eight hours. I knew that with this crew it would be anything but leisurely and began to worry about the extra 140 meters (459 ft) of rope and gear in my pack for fixing The Bottleneck higher up.

Sure enough, the next morning as we were breaking down our tent, Gerlinde and Ralf blew past as if they were shot from a cannon. Several minutes later we dropped in behind them with Fabrizio and Kinga not far behind.

Trey Cook above Camp 3 (7100m).

The climbing turned out to be sustained 45-degree climbing over snow and loose rock with old, badly damaged fixed ropes and sketchy anchors that kept everyone honest. Straight out of the gate I was feeling a high-gravity day and passed our tent to Frippe who added it to his already heavy pack. I also passed 60 meters of rope to Fabrizio who carried it for the next three pitches until I had eaten a bit and was feeling stronger—lifesaver. The wind still blew like crazy but the sun came out for the first time in several days which made everyone feel a whole lot better. Until it went down.

Gerlinde, Ralf, Fabrizio and Kinga between C3 and C4. All smiles after the sun came out.

From the back of the line Fabrizio shouted over the wind for a halt. “It’s still 250 meters (820 ft) to The Shoulder and it’s going to be dark soon.”

Our summit push that would ideally have started at 10:00 or 11:00 that night had relied on us reaching The Shoulder early enough to pitch our tents, brew up and rest for a few hours before starting for the summit. Clearly, that dog would not be huntin’ on this push. And since there was no place to pitch tents on the rocky face we were climbing, and going down was not an option, the decision was made to continue.

An hour and a half later, just as it got completely dark, we all pulled up to a small shelf in the face about 100 meters (328 ft) below The Shoulder and started hacking tent platforms out of the ice. The wind that was forecast to have dropped still screamed and to be quite honest, after 12 hours of climbing I was completely wasted and happy not to hear any discussion about a summit push that night. However, judging by the strong effort the Super Swede made in chopping out the platform I have no doubt that he would have gone for it if any of our crew had suggested it. As it were, our window never really materialized and with snow, wind and limited viz forecast for the next few days Frippe had to settle for an epic ski descent of close to 3000 meters (9842 ft). Darn the luck.

Fredrik Ericsson skiing below The Shoulder. Rock solid with a heavy pack at 7800m.

We’re back in BC now sitting out bad weather days that has kept us from charging batteries and updating the blog. On his way down Frippe found that the wind and snow had changed conditions dramatically–much less snow, way more exposed rock–since his last descent from C3 less than two weeks ago. This makes us wonder if the route will hold until we can get back up again. If not, Frippe’s ultimate goal of skiing a complete line from the summit of K2 to base camp will not be possible and all our efforts over the past two months will have been for nothing. However, the snow in the forecast will surely make a difference and if we can just get lucky with a window sooner rather than later…

But for now, we wait. August is notoriously unkind to K2 climbers and all we can do is hope for the best and be patient. So not easy. The weather in northern Pakistan this summer has been the worst in 20 years with torrential rainfall killing more than 300 people and hundreds of thousands losing land and property.

The Koreans have packed up and left as have the Italians: Giuseppe, Sergio and the guy who never said anything. On the other hand, two experienced Kazakhs have just arrived, already acclimatized from climbing in the Tien Shan range, and we’re hoping they’ll be a strong addition to our team. The two Americans, Dave and Adam, are making solid progress but have yet to spend a night in C3 so are still a day behind the current summit group. The Poles have flights scheduled for the 17th and will need a window soon if they want to make it. Frippe and I are intent on staying until we get the job done but we’re down to our last jar of Nutella. The two of us can suffer through a lot but running out of Nutella? Now that’s a game changer.

/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 http://www.FredrikEricsson.com.

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

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.

Foul weather forces tough decision at Camp 1

Camp 1 on the Cesen Route.

Camp 1 – 5900m / 19,357 ft

We awoke to the sound of driving wind and blowing snow battering the walls of the tent. It wasn’t the kind of storm that made you start scratching out a will on the side of your water bottle but unzipping the tent door a crack and getting blasted by spindrift did make us second guess our plan to make a move to Camp 2.
We’d left base camp the day before at 6 a.m. on an absolutely splitter day—cold and clear, not a breath of wind. We followed the Koreans’ path across the glacier towards their Advanced Base Camp on the Abruzzi Spur but hung a left after crossing the South Face avy plain and before we reached the ice field. This took us to the base of the south-southeast spur also known as the Cesen Route after Tomo Cesen soloed it in 1986. There are also a handful of climbers who refer to the route as the Basque Route but it’s unclear whether this is because they question the veracity of Cesen’s achievement or because it was a Basque team that was the first to climb the route to the summit. Then again, if you ask Andy Parkin he’ll tell you that his crew climbed it before any of those guys but didn’t claim it because they didn’t reach the summit either. As Andy points out, “You can work a route all y’like but if you don’t reach the top it’s not your route, is it?” All philosophical discussion aside, Frippe calls it the Cesen and I met Tomo in Chamonix a coupla of years ago and he seems like a nice enough guy so for this story let’s call it the Cesen Route, shall we? (comments anyone?)

Trey climbing towards Camp 1 on the Cesen Route.

So the Cesen is a bit more difficult than the Abruzzi, which, on a mountain like K2, is reason enough that the Abruzzi gets 80% of the traffic. But the Cesen is also the only line on the mountain that a skier will look at and envision a complete descent from summit to base. Which, of course, is why we’re here, crouched inside our tent, wondering whether we should roll the dice and continue up or gather our toys and run home in time for dinner.

Many climbers invest thousands of well-spent dollars to procure daily, customized weather forecasts from meteorologists who specialize in weather reports from climbers. Arguably, their services have changed the high-alpine climbing game more than any other technical development in the past 30 years, dramatically reducing death and injury by giving climbers a more accurate picture of when to charge and when to kick back and enjoy the decadent luxuries of a Baltoro base camp.

But we don’t have that kind of budget and are instead using a forecast straight from the heart of the Interweb with an accuracy (on this trip, anyway) of about 50/50, which is about what you’d get from looking at the sky and flipping a coin.

Fredrik descending from Camp 1 on the Cesen Route.

Once we’d battled our way outside and shoveled out the tent the mountain actually looked like it might have a chance of clearing. However, our forecast predicted snow starting up that afternoon and continuing through the next day. Decision time. Since we were only at C1 and it’s still early in the game we decided to pull our chips and head for the door. If our instincts were right we’d be back up the mountain in a couple of days with a weather window that would allow us a shot at Camp 2. There really wasn’t anything to lose.

As we battened down the hatches on C1, the weather gradually worsened and by the time Frippe had locked into his skis, we were engulfed by fog. What he had hoped would be a fun shred down the 40-45 degree slopes back to the base of the route turned out to be a slow, route-finding mission. It was a mission that, in the end, would validate our conservative decision.

/Trey Cook

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.

Sunset on Broad Peak seen from Camp 1.

The long and winding road to K2 base camp

K2 Base Camp – 5020m/16,470 ft

Small man, big mountain. Fredrik approaching The Savage Mountain.

I’m just about to fall asleep when I hear a sharp crack from the ice directly beneath me. I’m not a huge fan of crevasses and a something like this would normally send me flying from the tent like I was shot from a cannon. But tonight I’m just so happy to be here and so dog tired that I simply wrap my big down bag around me and fall asleep. After all we’ve been through to get here if the Earth wants to open up and swallow me whole then tonight she’s lucky because it’s perhaps the only time she’ll get me without a struggle.

When Fredrik and I finally arrived here at the foot of K2 we dropped our packs and high-fived as if we’d summitted. We may not have a cook tent, medical bag, food, fuel or a stove but we finally made it and we couldn’t be happier.

The whole ordeal started when we left Hushe bound for K2 via Gondogoro-la with a quick side trip to try to climb and ski Laila Peak along the way. Hushe is where the road ends and the trekking begins but we were unable to find enough porters to carry all our climbing and ski gear, food, fuel and other equipment needed for a three-month expedition. So we left most of the food and fuel at Hushe with the plan that it would be brought along on a subsequent carry. Too easy, right?

By the time, we had made our attempt on Laila and were ready to move on to K2 the missing gear still had not shown up although the 19 porters needed to get us and our existing gear to Huspang camp had. Again, we were reassured that our missing gear would follow right along behind us so under a darkening sky we set off for Huspang. Sure enough as soon as we had entered the middle of the glacier the clouds dropped and we found ourselves in a whiteout with a light snow falling, post-holing to our knees with a line of 19 porters behind us wearing standard-issue white plastic sneakers with holes in their socks.

Porters preparing to cross the glacier on the way to Huspang.

Huspang Camp

Needless to say it took us a bit longer than anticipated but we finally arrived at a snow-covered Huspang for what we thought would be a short night before crossing the Gondogoro-la the next day. That was until a big man with green teeth told us that the fixed ropes the porters would require to cross the la had been avalanched. Then the porters demanded a rest day to dry their socks. So we made a plan to join the Gondogoro Safety Team (ol’ Green Teeth as it were) the next day to refix the ropes so that we could leave the following day. Why not.

What was planned for a 5am start turned out to be more like 6am as Green Teeth drank tea and scanned the heavens for any kind of sign that would cancel our mission. As the day dawned ever more clear we reluctantly left Hushpang. What was supposed to have taken 1.5 hours to get to the base of the ropes took us (primarily Fredric and I) three hours of breaking trail through deep snow while Green Teeth guided from behind. By the time we reached the ropes around 9 a.m. the sun was blazing. True to form the Safety Team deemed the avalanche risk too high to continue and called for a retreat. After the difficult approach I was tired, I was hot and after learning that all this was for nothing I was now fuming. Nice days are hard to come by in the Karakorum and if we didn’t fix the route that day we’d be wasting a gorgeous day and pushing our plans back yet another day. At this rate we’d never reach K2. In the end, Fredrik’s cool mountain sense intervened and agreed the avy risk was too high now but that we could return at midnight when conditions were more stable. The porters could follow two hours behind us which would give us time to fix the ropes. To me, this idea sounded like the recipe for junkshow soup but I had no better plan of my own and had to agree.

That afternoon we all sat at Huspang and watched in awe as an endless deluge of avalanches ripped down the faces of the mountains surrounding us. It was absolutely amazing and a strong reminder that progress in the mountains is dictated by the mountains themselves and deadlines and schedules are best left at home.

That night we were up at 11:00, packed up, fed and ready to roll by midnight only to find out that two of our porters, apparently decided the avalanches, the deep snow and the thousand-meter pass (3,281 ft) ahead of them wasn’t worth the 27 dollars a day they were being paid, and snuck off during the night. Go figure. With the Safety Team waiting on us we now had to repack our gear so that we could leave one 20-kilo (44 lbs) bag at Huspang which would be gathered up as our trailing gear caught up with us. Which would, of course, be any day now.

A quick reshuffling of gear placed all non-essential climbing gear—books, extra clothing, meds, shampoo—into the abandoned barrel and the remaining gear into our own packs. By midnight we were on the trail with the Safety Team following us into the cold, clear night.

After crossing six different avalanche debris paths that had crossed our trail since the previous day we made the base of the route in two hours. Actually, Frippe made it in 1.5 hours and the rest of us made it in two.

After a bit of searching we found the fixed lines still intact and it was just a matter of chopping the ropes and kicking steps out of 1000 meters (3,281 ft) of hardened avy debris. As we reached halfway we saw the lights from the porters’ headlamps in the distance. Proving that the Safety Team were far from the ignorant slackers I had pinned them for, the first of the porters reached us just as we reached the top of the la. Ol’ Green Teeth knew exactly what he was doing and had his timing down within minutes.

Gondogoro-la

Porters crossing Gondogoro La with K2 in the background.

If you haven’t already figured it out, la means ‘pass’ in Balti and topping out on the 5500m (18,045 ft) Gondogoro-la is worthy of a post by itself. Trekking from south to north you ascend the la with an amazing view of Masherbrum on your left and as you crest the saddle you are suddenly face-to-face with four 8000-meter peaks—K2, Broad Peak, Gasherbrum II and Gasherbrum I—as well as Gasherbrums III and IV which are just a hair below 8000m (26,247 ft). This area of the Karakorum mountains is the highest concentration of 8000m peaks in the world and seeing them from this altitude is a mind-blowing experience. We took advantage of the splitter morning weather to hang out at the top of the la for several hours taking pictures, eating a bite and generally just basking in the awesomeness of it all.

View of Gasherbrums IV, III, II from the Gondogoro La.

Ali Camp

The descent from the la down the Vigne glacier was straightforward and we arrived at Ali Camp around noon, tired and happy after a magical night and day in the mountains. We were energized by the surroundings and with the thought of being just one day out of K2 base camp.

However, as we met with the porters to discuss the next day’s plan we learned that they weren’t as quite as excited to reach K2 as we were. They informed us that the next day they would only be going as far as Concordia, a relatively easy 3-hour, downhill open glacier walk. I say ‘relatively’ because you have to remember they’re wearing plastic sneakers with holey socks and carrying 30 kilo (66 lbs) loads on a glacier above 4000m (13,123 ft) . However, the trek to Concordia hardly constitutes a full day and it was only another four hours up the Godwin-Austen glacier to base camp. By leaving early we could easily be there before noon leaving them plenty of time to return to ‘porter party central’ at Concordia for the night. But they couldn’t be persuaded. Despite the rest day at Huspang, they told us they were too tired to make it all the way to K2 and that Concordia would be the next day’s final destination.

However, what the porters didn’t realize was that this was not Fredrik Ericsson’s first rodeo. Following his passion to ski 8000m peaks, Ericsson has navigated himself through a porter crisis or two. Like the time on Kangchenjunga when half the porters bailed as soon as they reached the glacier and the other half left when it started snowing. No, Fredrik has had enough experience in the porter game to know how to keep the ball rolling and after all the reasoning he could manage he was finally forced to show his hand.

“We go all the way to K2 or no tips for anyone.”

The tent fell silent and we left them to consider the options.

By the time we left Ali Camp at 2 a.m.—the early start was so that we could catch the snow when it was frozen hard and before the sun softened it into a slushy quagmire—a decision still hadn’t been made. We wouldn’t know the outcome until we reached Concordia. Despite the looming showdown, it was an amazing night, total silence except for the crunch of boots on hard snow and our own heavy breathing as we followed the line of headlamps as they moved down the Vigne glacier, miniscule points beneath a galaxy of stars on a moonless night. Falling stars and flashes of light on the horizon that in west Texas we know of as the miracle of heat lightning. Here, near Kashmir and the disputed border with India, it might simply be the beginning of nuclear holocaust.

Concordia

We arrived at Concordia by 5 a.m. with an icy wind blowing in our faces. The Baltoro Cleanup crew welcomed us into their warm tent and thrust steaming cups of milk tea and fresh chapatis (Pakistani flour tortillas) into our hands—hospitality to strangers is a fundamentals of Islamic culture.

The porters dropped their loads and in no time a cook tent of their own had gone up with a stove fired up inside. It looked as though they were settling in.

The bitter wind shook the tent as we sipped tea and spoke with Raza, the personable leader of the Baltoro cleanup crew, about their efforts to educate both climbers and porters about the horrific pollution of the Baltoro glacier. In the past few weeks the crew had removed 1200 kilos (2,646 lbs)of garbage from the glacier and by the end of the summer he anticipated 22,000 kilos (48,502 lbs) would have to be carried out after a long-needed cleanup of K2, Broad Peak and Gasherbrum base camps. Learn more about their efforts at ev-k2-cnr.com.

Soon enough Fredrik and I stood to leave, thanked the crew for their hospitality and wished them luck in their valiant endeavor. We’d had time to rest and warm up but if we were going to make it to K2 then it was time to get moving. As Ericsson exited the tent the porters outside rushed into their own cook tent and we could hear an ‘enthusiastic’ discussion inside. Before long, several of the younger porters emerged and began breaking down the cook tent. K2 here we come!

Fredrik leaving Concordia with Mitre Peak in the background.

K2 Base Camp

So here we are at K2 BC gearing up for our first trip up the mountain tomorrow. We’ll try to reach Camp 1 and perhaps spend a few nights there acclimatizing and scoping the route. We still don’t have a base camp cook tent, stove, food or fuel or the bag we left in Huspang but for now our focus is getting up the mountain and we’re hopeful that all those other minor details will work themselves out by the time we get back. Inshallah (God willing).

/Trey Cook

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.