These past days, I waited for the weather window to materialize but it never did. We received heavy snow when the Meteotest forecast said to expect 0cm precipitation, and high winds blasted the upper slopes. After the night of heavy snow that prevented me from leaving base camp for Camp II, Camp III was wiped out by an enormous avalanche while the majority of the commercial expeditions were waiting in Camp II. This resulted in what was claimed to be the loss of all of the oxygen that they had stashed in Camp III (approximately $200,000 dollars of oxygen between the three big commercial teams). This however, turned out not to be the case. Though the tents and the equipment they contained were in fact lost due to the avalanche, there remained a large cache of Kobler’s oxygen (at least 40 bottles) in Camp III, meaning that at least some if not all of his clients could have still made an attempt despite the loss of some gear (most of which could have been either borrowed or sent up from Skardu). This information was of course not conveyed to his clients so they willingly left base camp under the assumption that they could no longer attempt this mountain with supplemental oxygen. After the big teams threw in the towel, a number of us got together to discuss another attempt. Before we met, my liaison officer came to my tent to tell me that since some of my permit were leaving, that I must also leave in four days. This would completely eliminate my chance to try the mountain again. I argued with him for some time before he finally said that if a group of us decided to stay, he could call GB council to get new orders. This means that the entire conversation was completely unnecessary and that he simply wanted to cause unnecessary trouble. The attendees of the meeting to discuss another attempt included Rob (American), Vanessa (American) and her Sherpas, the Hungarian team, and the British Team, along with their two Sherpas. The first thing we discussed was the safety of the upper slopes. Many of us believed, myself included, that the upper mountain was safer now than it had been all of July thanks to the enormous avalanche that unloaded the excess snow from the upper slopes. However, the Sherpas were convinced that since the commercial expeditions had left, that the upper mountain was unsafe. A number of us pointed out that it was the fact that they had lost oxygen and gear and that they were already planning on leaving earlier in July that motivated their departure, not the conclusion that the mountain was unsafe. This did not put their worries to rest, and by the end of the meeting it became clear that the Sherpas were out. We then began considering an alpine attempt without the aid of Sherpas or High Altitude Porters. It was at this point that I assessed my condition. I had touched Camp III, but had not slept there, so I did not feel sufficiently prepared for a safe summit attempt without oxygen. The alpine attempt would also require us to carry more than usual, as we would need to bring along rope and some rock pitons and snow bars. My lack of acclimatization would surely slow me down. I made the decision to end my expedition, as I felt that it wouldn’t be safe to attempt the mountain without sufficient acclimatization. That afternoon, we called for the porters and began preparing for our departure. I plan on descending via Gondogoro La, a high pass that cuts the length of the trek considerably, and spares us another journey down the Baltoro. We will end the trek in the beautiful village of Hushe. I will spend a night in Kande with Akbar’s family, then make the four-hour jeep ride down the well-maintained road to Skardu. The road from Askole to Skardu (the road we would have to take were we not going via Gondogoro La) has three points where it is necessary to change jeeps. After my decision was made, I heard that everyone else had also decided to end their expeditions. The weather changed in the last few days and we received heavy snow in base camp. I will leave for Concordia tomorrow (July 29th), spend a day there so that Manzoor and the Liaison officer from Gasherbrum II can meet me, then continue on to Ali Camp (July 31st), wake up at 1am to climb over the pass, and camp one more night in Shaisho (August 1st) before trekking the remaining distance to Hushe (August 2nd). It’s always hard to walk away from two months of hard work on a mountain, but I got to enjoy my time here with my mountain family (pictured above). I am so grateful to have such amazing people to share this special experience with. Until the next expedition! Thank you for sharing this adventure with me!
Monthly Archives: July 2016
Dispatch 31-36 – Heavy snowfall; High Winds
These past five days have been spent waiting out bad weather that has brought heavy snowfall and high winds to K2. The commercial expeditions (Seven Summits, Kobler and Partners, and Madison Mountaineering) ended up pushing off their departure dates so that they could allow their members the opportunity for a summit push. Yesterday, I had an incredibly unpleasant interaction with the owner of one of the commercial expeditions, Kari Kobler. He arrived to my mess tent after breakfast and called for me to come out. He apparently hadn’t paid his Sherpas enough money for the work they were brought from Nepal to do on the mountain (fixing the route for the clients who paid $35,000 dollars a piece to be here). Therefore, he was asking climbers throughout base camp to subsidize this service for him. The problem with his request is that the Sherpas are here on tourist visas, meaning that what he was asking for me to do is to participate in an illegal business transaction whereby I would be soliciting services from someone in Pakistan who was not permitted to supply these services for profit. Were they to have acquired work visas for their Sherpas, or used Pakistani high altitude porters, this would not have been the case. Regardless of this fact, I told him that due to the similarity of his request to that of Wilco before the 2008 disaster, I would prefer that he make this request after the summit push. He immediately blew up at me and said that he was “ashamed of his fellow western climbers” and that “this was pennies to us”. He claimed that he had “kicked the ass of another American climber in Everest base camp who had refused to pay” and then stormed off. As a student who is applying to medical schools and who has spent upwards of $5000.00 so far this summer on medical school application fees alone, I can say that the amount that he was asking from me was far from inconsequential. These are the words of someone who has been making enormous profits off of rich clients for decades. He has clearly lost touch with the average climber. I also plan on returning to Pakistan and would prefer not to break the law here and end up banned from climbing in Pakistan like other foreign climbers have been this year. Therefore, I have decided not to pay (he stormed off yelling how ashamed he was and not listening to a word I had to say about it, so he clearly didn’t care anyway). After this unpleasant interaction, I was told that he treats his base camp staff the same way and that this behavior was very typical of him. Most climbers have left for Camp I today and will be climbing to Camp II tomorrow. I plan on climbing from Base Camp to Camp II tomorrow if the weather remains stable. We received word this evening that our Camp I tent has been damaged and that the contents inside are wet. I am very grateful that the deposit I left inside the Camp I tent is still there, as this contains my down pants, stove, and other vital equipment. Were it to have blown away, my expedition would have been over. We also received word that some of the Camp II tents have blown away or been destroyed. I hope to learn before leaving tomorrow if my Camp II tent is still there. Currently, my goal is to attempt the summit of K2 on the 26th of July. But of course, this plan is dependent on the weather remaining somewhat stable and on my own physical condition. I have not yet slept in Camp III, so attempting to summit during this window is a stretch. I intend to listen to my body and turn around if I feel unwell at any point along the way.
Dispatch 30 – Bad Weather Continues
Today, after a stormy night, I woke up and was finally forced by the lack of sun to use the generator to charge my laptop and satellite modem. After breakfast, Domi, Eva, Mauricio, and Badia came to visit. Mauricio patched up his climbing boots while the rest of us strategized about the summit window. Domi was able to spend a night in Camp III while everyone else had descended. I feel that I must sleep a night in Camp III and descend before I will be ready for an ascent of K2 without oxygen. The timing will be tricky as heavy snow will make the final slopes to Camp III avalanche prone and difficult to pass. But we remain optimistic as we have till the 5th of August before we must begin the trek down and the normal summit window on K2 usually falls on the last few days of July.
Dispatch 29 – Rest Day in Base Camp
Today, I attempted to sleep in, but woke up at 5:30am. I waited in my tent until I heard Akbar start up the stove then went to the mess tent. I had a relaxed breakfast, said goodbye to Martin and Jorge (Spain) then showered and received a visit from Badia and Mauricio. After lunch, I worked on secondary applications as the last people on the mountain descended in preparation for what was forecast to be horrible weather. It rained most of the afternoon in base camp, and cleared a bit in the evening. The forecast looks bad for the next couple of days, so I intend to remain in base camp where I will recover and wait for lower winds before making another attempt to sleep in Camp III before the summit bid.
Dispatch 28 – Climb from Camp II towards Camp III; Descent to Base Camp
Today, I woke up at 5am, packed up my equipment and started up towards Camp III. I carried everything I would need to sleep in Camp III in case I felt healthy when I arrived, but this backfired quickly. The beginning of the route from lower Camp II to Camp III required passage through the very narrow House’s Chimney. My backpack was completely full, with a mattress pad and shovel attached to the right side. I made my way up the technical chimney, the shovel scraping the rocky sides as I struggled to take the next step. I arrived to the top breathless and took a few minutes to catch my breath before continuing on. The terrain above the chimney was very steep and the deep snow gave way every step. After a couple of hours of climbing, I decided to return to Base Camp, as the winds were blasting the serac, above which lies Camp III. I am after all, here to enjoy myself. I carefully made my way back to Camp II, prepared a deposit to leave in my tent, then descended to Camp I, rappelling almost the entire way. I was amazed to see how steep the terrain was between Camp I and Camp II. Only when descending was I able to fully grasp the grade of these slopes. I arrived in less than an hour to Camp I, dumped most of my gear into the tent, and proceeded down to ABC. A number of us got stuck behind an elderly Korean climber who was being helped down the fixed lines by two Sherpas. The waiting added at least an extra 1.5 hours to the descent, but I managed to make it back to Base Camp well before dark. I said my hellos to Badia and Mauricio, who had descended first thing in the morning, then made my way to my mess tent where Akbar prepared me a tea. I was amazed at the amount of energy I still had after climbing nearly 12 hours. I ate dinner, unpacked my gear, and got an early night.
Dispatch 27 – Climb from Camp I to Camp II (21,476ft/6546m)
Today, I waited till the sun hit the tent to begin my climb to Camp II, knowing that the winds would die down in the afternoon. Again, the weather was cloudy with a strong breeze which made climbing the steep slopes to Camp II more tolerable. I carried everything I needed for the night so I had an extremely heavy pack. Despite this, I made it to Camp II in under four hours. Normally Camp II is placed just above House’s chimney, however, due to the crowds of commercial expedition members whose tents had been placed earlier by Sherpas and High Altitude Porters, I elected to place my Camp II just beneath the chimney. This location encountered less wind and was less crowded. Upon arriving, I spent the better part of an hour carving out a platform into the steep slope, and securing my tent to old fixed lines and a broken tent from another season. Once this was done, I settled in, made water, and relaxed. Badia and Mauricio arrived from their climb towards Camp III in the late afternoon. They will spend another night here in Camp II before descending to Base Camp tomorrow. Eva and Domi also arrived from Base Camp and we all chatted before bed. Tomorrow, I intend to climb towards Camp III before descending to Base Camp before the bad weather on the 14th.
Dispatch 26 – Climb from Base Camp to Camp I (19,944ft/6079m)
Today, I woke up at 3:30am, packed up my equipment, had a nice breakfast in the warm mess tent, and began climbing the glacier to ABC. The route from base camp to ABC is quite boring as it skirts the base of K2. That said, the mountain gave a spectacular show, with winds blasting the higher camps as the sun hit the peak. I also had the privilege of seeing fresh snow leopard prints on the glacier. I arrived in good time to ABC, put on my crampons and harness, and began climbing up the steep slopes to Camp I. The day was cloudy, which made for enjoyable climbing. Though winds were visibly blasting the upper flanks of the mountains, I only had to contend with a light breeze on my way to Camp I. Having departed one day after the commercial expeditions, I only had to worry about a few climbers who were descending on the fixed lines. I made good time to Camp I, arriving in just 5 hours, and settled in for the evening. The only other person in Camp I was one of Vanessa’s Sherpas, who was quite friendly. We chatted for a bit then went to sleep as the sun set and the temperature dropped.
Dispatch 25 – Preparations for Climb to Camp II
Today, I woke up early, had a delicious breakfast, and prepared my pack for the climb toward Camp III. The weather fluctuated between sunny and snowy, but showed signs of improving. By the evening, the winds were calm and there was no more snow. I plan on leaving Base Camp by 4:30am tomorrow morning.
Dispatch 24 – Weather Forecast Prompts Change of Plan
Today, after consulting the weather forecast, I decided to put off my push to higher camps until the 11th of July. Winds are still high the next couple of days and a huge number of Sherpas and members of the commercial expeditions left this morning for Camp I. Badia and Mauricio left after lunch for ABC where they intend to sleep before continuing onto Camp I. I plan on leaving on the 11th for Camp I, sleeping there a night, then carrying to Camp II, sleeping there, and climbing higher towards Camp III before descending before the bad weather on the 14th. The night brought heavy snow, and I felt content with my plan.
Dispatch 19 – Dispatch 23 – Storm Traps All Climbers in Base Camp
These past 5 days have been spent in Base Camp waiting out a storm that brought high winds and snow to K2. Those who tried to ascend the mountain during this storm retreated. I spent the majority of the time working on secondary applications and visiting with friends in base camp. Although I normally publish a dispatch every single day, I figured a composite dispatch would be more appropriate during this storm, as daily dispatches would have been incredibly dull. On July 6th, we celebrated Eid ul Fitr, the breaking of the month long fast during the month of Ramadan. We enjoyed a feast hosted by one of the commercial expeditions and then watched as the local staff sang and danced. The weather today (July 8th) is much improved, however, winds are still high on the mountain. I am unsure at this point if I will climb tomorrow to Camp I, as the winds still appear to be high and the main motivating factor causing others to go up in poor weather seems to be the feeling that we are somehow “behind” since the two commercial expeditions arrived so early in June and have already slept in Camp II. However, we do have time to wait, as the traditional summit window usually doesn’t appear until the last week of July. If I do ascend to Camp I tomorrow, I will sleep there a night, climb to Camp II, sleep there a night, and if I’m feeling healthy, climb towards Camp III and sleep another night in Camp II before descending. This plan will only materialize if the weather cooperates.
Dispatch 18 – Rest Day in Base Camp
Today, I slept in till 9am, had a leisurely breakfast in a snowy base camp, and spent the morning working on secondary applications. In the afternoon, those who intended to climb higher on K2 came down as winds blasted the mountain. Badia and Mauricio came down to my camp to make me a Mexican dinner, which they cooked in my kitchen tent under Akbar’s supervision. We enjoyed the evening together then went our separate ways as the cold forced us into our sleeping bags.
Dispatch 17 – Descent from Camp I to Base Camp
Today, Badia and I woke up at 5am in Camp I, made water, packed up our equipment, and began descending at 7am. The morning was calm and clear and we arrived to ABC in just two hours. We made our way through the ice fall below ABC and arrived to Base Camp around 11am. We parted ways and I had a late breakfast in my mess tent with Akbar. Having not eaten much in Camp I prior to my descent, I had very little appetite. I also managed to miss my upper face when applying sunscreen so ended up with a severe sunburn. Despite this, I managed to rally the energy necessary to get through another three secondary applications for medical school. I showered before lunch, ate, then invited Badia, Mauricio, and Thomas over for dinner. I spent the rest of the afternoon working on applications. Manzoor, the owner of Karakoram Tour Pakistan, arrived to base camp around 4pm after ensuring that everything was perfect with his expedition in Gasherbrum Base Camp. The weather had deteriorated throughout the day, but became calm again after the sun set. As we finished dinner, we went outside to enjoy the beautiful moonless night.
Dispatch 16 – Climb from Base Camp to Camp I (19,944ft/6079m)
Today, I woke up to a calm, cold night at 3am, prepared my equipment, and had a quick breakfast in the heated mess tent (thanks Karakoram Tours Pakistan!!!!). I started up the glacier and after a half hour, met up with Badia and Little Hussain. We continued together up to ABC (17,400ft/5303m) where we stopped for a quick break to put on our harnesses, sunscreen, and crampons. The route up the glacier was in relatively poor condition, as I punched through to my knees a number of times despite it being only 6am (before the sun had had a chance to warm the glacier). We continued up toward Camp I, the slope reaching 70 degrees and the route climbing over mixed ice and rock. We dodged a number of falling rocks, which bounced off of the slope at terminal velocity, changing direction each time. Little Hussain suggested that he rush ahead, as I was climbing quite slowly due to the heavy load I was carrying (25kg). When Badia and I finally arrived, Little Hussain had already set up a tent and claimed one of the few remaining flat places in Camp I. Many other climbers were not as lucky, having to sleep on inclines that made their night quite restless. Badia and I felt great after a nap in Camp I, had dinner as the sun set, enjoyed the beautiful views toward China and of Broad Peak, then went to sleep. Tomorrow, we plan to descend to Base Camp where we will rest and allow our bodies to acclimatize (alter hemoglobin’s affinity for oxygen and make more red blood cells).