Today, I woke up at 5am to a cloudy and cool morning, packed up my equipment and had breakfast in the kitchen tent with Akbar. The equipment that was apparently caught on the bridge and retrieved did not arrive, so I am using one of my high camp tents on the trek until it does. I trekked for 3 hours non-stop to reach Moncamp where I had my lunch then continued onto Paiju, arriving just after noon. I again nervously waited for my equipment to arrive, set up camp, took a shower (if you can call a cup and a bucket of ice cold water a shower), then had tea in the mess tent. I relaxed in the afternoon, had a quiet dinner with Akbar, then headed to bed. Tomorrow we will remain in Paiju for a rest day. We expect Manzoor and Ryan Kushner’s Gasherbrum I and II Expedition to arrive in the afternoon tomorrow.
Today, I woke up after a very good night’s sleep in Askole, packed up my gear, and ate breakfast. I waited for some time as porter loads were divided up, but was told by my liaison officer to begin the trek before the porters were ready to depart. I conceded as I didn’t want to start our relationship off on a bad foot, and began trekking toward Jhula at 6:10am. I made good time, arriving quickly to Korofong, where I stopped briefly to eat something. I finally arrived to Jhula at 11:00am (the distance from Askole to Jhula is 12.5 miles/20km) and waited with Badia, Mauricio, and Thomas for the equipment to arrive. I continued waiting for more than 5 hours until I was finally informed by our Sirdar that one of the horses had fallen through a broken plank on the first bridge crossing and had broken his leg. As they tried to free him, the wire suspension bridge tipped over and he was stuck hanging from his cargo which had caught on the wire of the bridge. They tried for some time to get the bridge to flip back to its correct orientation, but finally had to cut the horse free. Since the cargo was the only thing holding him, he fell into the water below and passed away as he was swept away in powerful whitewater. I have always resented the use of pack animals here in the Karakorum and elsewhere. Although ferrying loads up the glacier is dangerous for both pack animals and men, the porters who carry loads choose to do so by their own choosing. The animals on the other hand don’t have a choice in the matter. When I first came to the Karakorum in 2005, only porters worked on the glacier. The predominance of donkeys and horses is a recent shift and one that I think was a mistake. I hope that incidents like this will drive home the point that this terrain is no place for a pack animal. Fortunately, due to my feelings about the use of pack animals, I had requested that my equipment be carried by porters if possible. Therefore, all of my personal equipment for the expedition arrived safely to Jhula in the late afternoon. Since the equipment that was loaded onto the horse was caught on the bridge, it will make its way up either on another horse of on the backs of porters in the coming days. But tonight, I mourn the loss of one of the members of my team. He will always be remembered and I will forever be grateful for his hard work. I ate my dinner with the Iranians then went to bed. Tomorrow, I will continue the trek to Paiju where we will rest for one day before continuing on to Urdukas.
Today, I woke up at 5:00am, packed up my equipment, had a quick breakfast at the hotel, then loaded up the jeeps and departed for Askole. The road as far as Shigar is paved, but after that, the track is very rugged and washed out in parts. However, compared with other years, the journey went very smoothly (no broken bridges or landslides along the way) and we arrived to Askole in just seven hours. I was pleased to meet Jorge Egochega and Martin Ramos in Dasu (where we stopped for lunch). I climbed with these two Spaniards on Annapurna in 2010. Once in Askole, I was pleasantly surprised to find my camp already set up as Akbar had departed earlier in the morning to get things prepared. I visited with Badia and Mauricio, then had a delicious dinner in the kitchen tent before turning in early for the night. Tomorrow, we finally begin the seven-day trek to K2 base camp. After sitting for endless hours on planes and in the jeep, it will be a relief to get some exercise in the coming days.
Today, I had breakfast and waited anxiously hoping that my friends Ryan Kushner and Lee Jennings would be able to make the flight to Skardu and be spared the long, hot drive up the Karakorum Highway. I received word around 10am that they had made it. After they arrived, I showed them around the hotel then had lunch with them and took them to the bazaar where we picked up the last few items that we will need on our expeditions. I spent the remainder of the afternoon packing and double checking my gear list, then had dinner with them at Dawan-E-Khas. I will be departing for Askole at 7am tomorrow morning by jeep. I have heard that this year, the road is clear, so the journey should take around seven hours. I will be camping in Askole tomorrow night and then beginning the trek to K2 Base Camp the following day.
Today, I woke up early, had a relaxing breakfast in the garden and spent the day working out a number of issues with my technical equipment. I double checked my gear list and made a list of items to purchase from the bazaar tomorrow. I ate lunch with Kelly and the Russians and took a jeep to Shigar (a 45 minute drive from Skardu) to have a delicious dinner in the Shigar Fort.
Today, I woke up early and had a leisurely breakfast out in the garden. Afterwards, I retrieved my equipment that had arrived by road late last night and unpacked it so that I could pack it properly into porter loads of 25kg each (these now typically are put onto donkeys instead of low altitude porters). This took most of the morning. Afterwards, I headed into the bazaar to find a shop to print a copy of my climbing permit, then returned to the hotel for lunch. I was delighted to run into an old friend upon my return. Qudrat Ali was one of late Hugues D’Aubarede’s high altitude porters on K2 back in 2008. We shared a base camp and climbed on the Cesan route together so we became good friends. He was very lucky because his work demanded that he leave the expedition before the tragic events unfolded on the mountain on August 11th. We spent the afternoon catching up. I got word that Badia and Mauricio had made it by road and were staying in the Masherbrum Hotel on the other side of town, so I invited them to join me for dinner at Dewan-E-Khas later in the evening. I arrived to dinner early to find Qudrat at the restaurant already with two Spanish climbers who are also headed to K2, so we asked for a bigger table and joined them for dinner. I walked back to the hotel, worked out the kinks with my satellite modem, then turned in for the night.
Today, I woke up at 5:30am, packed up my bag, and headed down for an early breakfast in the lobby restaurant of my hotel. I then loaded my bag onto a van that was packed with Chinese tourists that had missed their flight the previous day, and headed to the airport. I checked in, cleared security, and then waited anxiously at the gate hoping that the flight wouldn’t be cancelled. The flight from Islamabad to Skardu on Pakistan International Airways is notorious for being cancelled if there’s even a single cloud in the sky in Skardu. They usually blame the cancellation on the fact that Skardu airport does not have GPS, but it is normally due to funding issues that prevents them from operating the flight. I was relieved as we were called to board the aircraft but knew that the flight could be turned around mid-air. I didn’t believe that we would make it until we landed in Skardu. Upon arrival, I registered with the police in the airport, then retrieved my bag and met Akbar outside the terminal. We made our way through town and to the hotel where I had lunch and met another American climber (Kelly Soohoo) who is climbing on the Gasherbrums. We spent the afternoon talking. After sunset, I had Iftar with Akbar and Manzoor’s brother at the Dawan-E-Khas restaurant (my favorite restaurant in Skardu) and then turned in for the night.
Today, after nearly 28 hours of travelling, I arrived at Benazir Bhutto International Airport and, after nearly an hour of waiting, retrieved all of my luggage from the baggage carousel. This is the first time that all of my equipment has arrived on my Emirates flight on time, so I am taking it as a good omen for my expedition. I stepped out into the oppressive heat of Islamabad and met with Manzoor just outside the terminal where we loaded my equipment onto a car and headed to the hotel. I showered quickly then headed downstairs to eat breakfast. As I sat down to eat, I was greeted by Badia Bonilla and Mauricio Lopez from Mexico who are also climbing K2 this season and whom I’ve known for 11 years. I then noticed Simone La Terra (Italy), Alex Gavan (Romania), Szilard Suhajda (Hungary), and Mimgma (Nepal) also eating in the same restaurant. All of them are headed to Northern Pakistan in the coming days for expeditions on various 8000 meter peaks. I caught up with Badia and Mauricio, then went upstairs to organize my equipment, which needed to be sent up to Skardu via the Karakorum Highway in the late afternoon. After finishing this work, I finally collapsed into my bed and napped the rest of the afternoon in the comfort of my air conditioned room. I enjoyed Iftar (the evening meal after sunset during Ramadan during which Muslims break their fast) with Manzoor and Ali Muhammed in a restaurant nearby, then returned to my hotel to get an early night’s sleep. Tomorrow I will hopefully fly to Skardu on a PIA flight that is notorious for being cancelled.
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Today, after breakfast and a morning of packing up our base camp, we received word that Ferran, Thomas, Yannick, and their HAP, Sadiq, had arrived safely back to base camp after their summit bid. After lunch, I walked up to their camp to congratulate them and ask about conditions. Ferran said that in all of his expeditions, this mountain was one of the most challenging and that the team had faced deep snow and an exceedingly long summit day. I also visited with Kinga who was in contact with the family of the missing Polish climber. Afterwards, Harald and I headed back to our base camp where we finished closing everything down and made sure not to leave any trash behind. The late afternoon became extremely windy and nearly blew away the mess tent. We secured everything down and went inside as it began to snow. The donkeys arrived in the evening along with a few porters. We had a quiet dinner and went back to our tents for our last night’s sleep in base camp.
Today, we woke up at 7:30am, had breakfast in the mess tent and enjoyed/resented the fine morning weather (it was yet another perfect summit day). Later in the morning, we received word that one of the Polish climbers who was attempting to ski down Gasherbrum II had vanished below Camp III. The two skiers had contacted their base camp staff to let them know to expect them for breakfast in base camp. While descending from Camp III on Gasherbrum II, one of the pair triggered a small loose snow avalanche, made a few turns, then fell into a crevasse below Camp III. In the afternoon, a group of liaison officers came to our mess tent to coordinate whether there would be a helicopter rescue. The information they had was simply that the skier had vanished somewhere below Camp III (there were conflicting accounts in base camp; mine is from an eye-witness) and with such general information, they decided that a helicopter fly-over would be of little help. They contacted their headquarters to report the missing climber, then left. The rescue effort for the moment will be coordinated by the climbers already in Camp I. Until we know more, we can do little from here to help, as we would not be able to arrive safely to Camp I till tomorrow morning. One of the high altitude porters was dispatched to help with the rescue effort, but as of yet, no one has asked for help from any of the climbers here in base camp.
Today, after a clear and, for the most part, calm night, I awoke to a beautiful morning in base camp. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the weather was warm and calm. Today, both Ferran’s team and teams on Gasherbrum II are heading for the summit. In the afternoon, we received word that the Gasherbrum II teams encountered too much snow on the traverse and decided to retreat to Camp IV so that they can make another attempt tomorrow (weather permitting). We also noticed huge trails of spindrift coming off of the summit of Gasherbrum I in the late afternoon indicating ferocious winds up high. Ferran’s team has no contact with base camp so we relied on news from the internet to find out about their progress. Since this news is not from first person accounts here in base camp, I won’t publish it here (you can look at their blogs if you would like to know what they have published). Once they arrive back in base camp and tell us how the summit bid went, I will post news here. After dinner, since the night was clear, I stayed up well past 3am taking pictures of the surrounding magnificent peaks with the Milky Way stretched out behind them. I have posted one of the photos from tonight here
Today, I woke up at 8am to a cloudy, windy, and cold base camp. The night had been windy here and the stars were obscured by heavy cloud cover. Gasherbrum I’s summit was shrouded in clouds and I couldn’t imagine going for the summit in these conditions. Early in the morning, the Kobler expedition began the trek down the Baltoro toward Askole. I spent the day teaching Akbar how to ice climb, rappel, and use a jumar in the nearby ice fall. Afterwards, I remade my tent platform, showered, and received a visit from Ferran’s Liaison officer, Salman. After talking for over an hour, I spent the afternoon reading in my tent. Having finished Brad Spellberg’s Rising Plague, a book that goes into detail about the rising global threat from deadly antibiotic resistant bacteria and our dwindling arsenal of antibiotics to fight them (I highly recommend it whether you’re interested in medicine or not as it discusses issues that will eventually affect all of us if new legislation is not passed in the near term to stimulate new antibiotic development by pharmaceutical companies), I began reading Leo Tolstoy’s Family Happiness and Other Stories. The late afternoon and evening cleared considerably and after dinner, I emerged from the mess tent to a breezy, but clear starry night. If teams are to summit, this will be the night that they might have a chance (though the issue of deep snow high on both Gasherbrums will remain an issue).
Today, after breakfast, I headed up the glacial moraine to check on the plans of the Taiwanese expedition, as they had ascended to assess conditions higher on the mountain. They apparently found poor snow conditions and decided to officially end their expedition and clean their equipment off of the mountain. One of the members of their expedition graciously offered to bring my Camp II equipment down to Camp I, knowing that I was still nursing injuries sustained on our last acclimatization cycle. The Taiwanese descended down to base camp the same day and I retrieved all of my equipment from Camp I and spent the afternoon drying tents and packing up my high mountain gear. Later in the day, we received word that a Polish climber had descended suffering symptoms of high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) after climbing on Gasherbrum II. Having descended to base camp, his symptoms should hopefully resolve in the night.
Today, I woke up at 7:30am and knew that the climbers still intending on attempting either Gasherbrum I or II had headed up in the night to higher camps. During the early hours of the morning, the weather was cloudy with some light rain/snow, which meant that the snow bridges that we use to cross the many crevasses enroute to Camp I and Camp II would be soft and much more dangerous, despite the early hour. I spent the day doing laundry and hoping that the climbers who headed up would be safe. A few climbers came down later in the day, some with altitude sickness, and others due to poor climbing conditions. In the end, most likely due to heavy snow on the way to Camp I, the Taiwanese decided to remain in Camp I for the night and head up to Camp II tomorrow to see how conditions are there.
Today, I woke up around 7:30am to a snow-covered base camp, had breakfast and again headed up to Ferran’s camp to see about specific weather predictions. According to their forecast, we will have good weather on Thursday and Friday morning for a summit bid. This would mean that we must begin climbing tomorrow, aiming for either Camp I (if we intend to summit Friday) or Camp II (if we intend to summit Thursday). I began packing my things for the summit in the early afternoon and then received a visit from some Pakistani army officers who chatted with us for over an hour. Afterwards, I spoke with Martin (Czech) about his plans. Just before dinner, we received the tragic news that an avalanche had struck climbers close to the deposit between base camp and Camp I on Broad Peak and that two climbers were severely injured and that one Pakistani HAP was missing. The missing Pakistani happened to be Qumbar, the brother of one of the local staff from the Slovenian Gasherbrum Expedition. The mood in base camp immediately became somber as some of the staff prepared to break the news to the kitchen boy about his brother’s fate. This incident immediately made me rethink my summit bid, as conditions on Broad Peak are quite similar to Gasherbrum I due to the close proximity of the two peaks. Having been jolted out of the delusional optimism that we sometimes feel before summit bids, I began to realize that conditions on Gasherbrum I this year are far from optimal for a summit bid. Just last week, Ferran and Yannick turned around from their summit bid on GI due to too much snow. By Thursday, we will have received another few feet of snow high on the mountain’s flanks. Additionally, weather before and after Thursday is forecast to be bad. If anything were to happen on our summit day that caused us to be delayed, we would be trapped in bad weather, making a rescue close to impossible. Lastly, the temperature at night is significantly warmer when it is cloudy/snowing vs when it is clear, resulting in softer snow bridges over the countless crevasses that riddle the route from Base Camp to Camp II. After taking into consideration all of these factors, in addition to the injuries that had built up from the start of the expedition (my ribs are still hurting from the fall I had when the piton snapped out on my descent from Camp III), I decided that it was too risky for me to attempt the summit and that I would go up only to clean off my gear from the mountain. After dinner, I went up to the Taiwanese camp to discuss their plans. They will go up in the night tonight to Camp II to assess conditions higher on the mountain. If they encounter too much snow, they will also clean their gear off and descend. It would seem that Gasherbrum I may be impossible this year. Perhaps one or two climbers might sneak up the peak and get off safely, however, I’m not willing to take the risk. I’ve had a great expedition overall, having the opportunity to climb a new variation from Camp II to Camp III on Gasherbrum I, to make new friends from all over the world, and to take in some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world from high in the Karakorum. This mountain will be here for centuries and I don’t doubt that I will be back for another attempt.
Today, after breakfast, I headed up to speak with the Taiwanese again about their forecast and plans, then made my way up to Ferran’s camp. He had received some generally good news about a potential weather window, but had not received specifics yet. I had lunch with Ferran, Tom, Yannick, and Sophie then chatted for a while as we waited anxiously for Kinga and her HAP to return to base camp from their successful summit bid on Gasherbrum II. Once they arrived and settled back in to base camp, I congratulated them and headed back to my base camp feeling much more optimistic about our prospects on Gasherbrum I. Simone and much of his base camp decided to head home and will be starting the trek down early tomorrow morning. That leaves only Ferran, Yannick, Tom, their HAP, the Taiwanese team, their HAP’s, and myself on Gasherbrum I. Kinga has both permits but must decide if she is feeling up to a second 8000m summit bid after just getting off Gasherbrum II. I had dinner in the kitchen tent as it once again began snowing outside then got an early night.
Today, after a very restless sleep in Base Camp (in part thanks to the machine gun fire from the army camp during the night which I later found out was to celebrate Eid), I woke up at 7:30am and had breakfast in the mess tent with Akbar. Afterwards, I got the news that Kinga Baranowska (Poland) was successful in her summit bid and had reached the summit of Gasherbrum II yesterday, despite new snow that had partially filled in the boot track from the day before. I spent the rest of the morning tending to my horrible blisters hoping that I can get them to heal sufficiently for another summit bid in the coming days. In the afternoon I got a visit from the Taiwanese who discussed weather and possible plans on the mountain. The weather report I have is not very encouraging, however, I remain hopeful that the usual end of July summit window will somehow materialize and that the forecast heavy snow will not. I have until July 31st before I must begin trekking down. In the evening, I ate dinner with Manzoor and Akbar in the warm kitchen tent as light snow began falling outside.
Today, I woke up at 2am in my nearly buried Camp II tent, prepared my backpack for the descent, and ventured out into the windy, cold night to join the Taiwanese for the decent to Camp I. I waited for close to 40 minutes outside while the other members prepared their things and finally around 3:40am, we began descending. We reached Camp I around dawn and I decided to go the rest of the way to Base Camp solo as my blisters required me to pace myself and I didn’t think it fair to impose that pace on others. I spent 45 minutes unpacking equipment to leave in Camp I, then set off toward base camp. The sun warmed me as I passed over the glacier before plunging back into darkness as I continued through the ice fall. The sun made a halo around Gasherbrum I which eventually turned into three intersecting each other. This normally indicates moisture in the air (in the form of ice crystals) which causes the splitting of the colors that make up white light. I didn’t think it boded well for Ferran’s team’s summit push, but I hope they succeed. I arrived just after 8am to base camp and was greeted by Manzoor who had a drink for me and walked me back to our base camp. I quickly showered, had a Pakistani tea, and had a delicious hot breakfast. I finally took a close look at my feet and was horrified at the size and depth of the blisters that I had been ignoring higher up on the mountain. I did what I could with them and hope that they have time to heal before the summit window appears. Muhammad (Pakistan), Nima (Nepal), and five members of the commercial expedition to Gasherbrum II summited yesterday after a harrowing 16 hours of climbing from Camp III. Others (including Kinga) will make an attempt today.
Today, I woke up at 5:00am, had a small breakfast in my tent, made water, and finally braved the icy wind so that I could check on the plan. Ferran’s group, the Taiwanese, and I decided to leave Camp II at 8am or 9am, a decision I would quickly regret. As we made our way up the face, the wind quickly died down and the heat of the day made us regret our decision to climb in our down clothing. The deep snow did nothing to help the situation either. It ranged from knee deep to hip deep as we continued making our way up the face to the ridge that we hoped would join the final stretch of the Japanese Couloir leading to Camp III. The combination of deep snow, the high temperature, and route finding made the climb to Camp III take far too long. After more than nine hours of climbing, and having reached an altitude of close to 7000m, I decided that I needed to begin descending if I was to have any hope for my own summit push. We all carried gear for Ferran’s team. I had a spool of fixed rope which I left secured to an anchor at my high point. I began descending the rocky ridge and when I reached the snowy slope, a piton flew out of the rock as I weighted it, sending me tumbling down the steep slope toward Camp II. Thanks to the warm afternoon temperature and deep snow, and the fact that I had stowed a trekking pole between my backpack and back, I quickly came to a stop, facing down the slope. I continued making my way down the slope slowly, double checking the anchors as I clipped into the rope. I reached Camp II after the sun had stopped warming the camp, and about an hour later, the Taiwanese arrived as well. I struggled to dry my soaked socks in the icy temperatures of my tent and after a couple hours, finally fell asleep.
Today, I woke up at 4:00am, packed up everything, and began ascending the ice fall toward Camp II. The wind that had been blowing all night continued to blow, making it difficult to see the track in the pre-dawn hours. Spindrift blew down the glacier, burning and stinging my eyes and face as I continued climbing. I finally gained the proper route and a few long hours later, I was in Camp II. I arrived to find my tent nearly buried in spindrift and quickly worked on digging it out. I unpacked my things as everyone else in Camp II woke up. The wind was unexpected as all of our forecasts had predicted winds not in excess of 8km/hr. Later in the morning, Ferran, Yannick, and Simone began working on fixing the route to Camp III. We had decided to make the route on the face instead of in the Japanese Couloir, as this might help us to avoid the avalanche risk that all the new snow presented in the couloir. Since I had arrived in the morning, I spent the afternoon resting so that I might be useful tomorrow in fixing the route to Camp III tomorrow. After around three hours of work on the face, Ferran, Yannick, and Simone returned to Camp. We all hid inside our tents as the wind continued to blow spindrift anywhere it could. In the evening, I spoke with Ferran who wanted to organize the plan for tomorrow. The weather was unfortunately too unpredictable for us to set a departure time so we decided in the end to wake up and see how conditions were.