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.
Today, I woke up at midnight, had breakfast with Akbar, prepared my equipment, and met Simone in his base camp. We got a late start but quickly made our way up the ice fall in the moonless, starry night. I had changed my inner boots before this carry, as they were supposed to be much warmer and lighter than those I’d been using, and this quickly proved to be a mistake as we made our way through deep snow that wasn’t nearly as hard as we were expecting. I quickly began developing blisters on both of the arches of my feet and the climb to Camp I was incredibly painful. Once in Camp I, Ferran gave me 120m of fixed rope to carry in addition to my down clothing, sleeping bag, camp III tent, stove, gas, and food. My backpack was close to 30kg as I set out for Camp II in the heat of the day. I struggled to keep up with Simone as my feet became increasingly painful, and at the base of the ice fall en route to Camp II, I decided that it would be wise to camp here and continue to Camp II when the snow was in better condition and the temperature was cooler. Simone and his high altitude porter continued the last three hours to Camp II while I set up my tent and made water to wait out the heat of the afternoon. The evening brought strong wind that blew spindrift everywhere. I went to sleep after the sun set hoping that the wind would die down before my early morning departure for Camp II.
Today, I woke up to a clear morning and spent the day preparing my equipment for a carry to Camp III with the possibility of a summit push. Although the weather window looks like it could be long enough for a summit push, it would have to be stellar for me to push myself physically to carry and fix the route to Camp III then summit. Based on the degree to which it has been fluctuating, I very much doubt this will be it.
Today, I woke up to a snowy base camp, had breakfast in the mess tent, and then headed up to Ferran’s camp for a meeting to discuss our plans for the coming days. We compared weather forecasts and more or less decided not to leave for Camp I tomorrow early in the morning as the Gasherbrum II climbers are. We instead will try and reach Camp II directly the following day when the weather is supposed to be good and the new snow will have had time to settle. We are planning on bringing everything we will need for a summit bid in case the weather decides to cooperate and we have sufficient energy after fixing the route from Camp II to Camp III in the Japanese Couloir. After this meeting, I headed back down to my base camp for lunch, then worked on packing my gear for the potential summit bid. At 5pm, we had another meeting in the Taiwanese camp where we finalized plans for going up. Tom and I stopped briefly in Peter’s tent (Kobler commercial expedition) where we confirmed that his group will leave tonight. I finished watching a movie in my tent, then had dinner in the mess tent where Harald was packing his bag for a climb to Camp I tonight. Although he is climbing on Gasherbrum I, he will be acclimating on Gasherbrum II.
Today is also my 1.5 year anniversary with someone who has taught me what true love really is; whose brilliant mind and kind heart have made all others fade into the background, and whose company I wish to keep for the rest of my life. I love you! For this occasion, I quote the poet Tagore:
My heart, the bird of the wilderness, has found its sky in your eyes.
They are the cradle of the morning, they are the kingdom of the stars.
My songs are lost in their depths.
Let me but soar in that sky in its lonely immensity.
Let me but cleave its clouds and spread my wings in its sunshine.
Today, I woke up to close to 9 inches of snow outside my tent. After clearing the snow from my tent and my solar panel, I made my way down to the mess tent for breakfast. Afterwards, I walked up to visit Ferran to discuss our plan for the coming days as well as to compare weather forecasts. The Taiwanese climbers also joined in the meeting and we discussed a number of contingency plans depending on how much snow falls and how the weather forecasts change over the coming days as they always do. Afterwards, I returned to my base camp for lunch. The social nature of base camp is vital to keeping climbers cheerful during periods of bad weather. After having invited Kinga over for tea a number of times to no avail (our camps are a 20-minute walk apart), I decided to write her a formal invitation to dinner in our mess tent. I handwrote the invitation on the back of my flight itinerary and added some of the fake flowers from our mess tent to dress it up. Akbar (my cook) hand-delivered the invitation to her camp and dinner was then official. Some Pakistani army officers came over to our camp in the afternoon and helped work on the generator. After close to an hour, they returned to their camp with no success, promising to return tomorrow. Manzoor started up the barbeque and Kinga made her way down to our base camp, arriving around 7. We had a delicious dinner prepared by Akbar in our warm mess tent, followed by a movie. We unfortunately chose to watch the Hobbit, which runs almost three hours, so about half way through, we decided to adjourn and I walked her back to her base camp.
Today, I woke up at 7:30am, ate breakfast in the mess tent with Harald, and then quickly packed up my tent so I could re-make the tent platform. Last night’s sleep was interrupted by me sliding down the slope that had formed in my tent (the tent is placed on glacial moraine, so after a period of warm weather, the sides tend to melt). Manzoor and some of the staff from other expeditions helped me move stones to make the platform flat again and after this was done, I spent the rest of the morning unpacking the contents of my tent and reorganizing as it began snowing outside. I had lunch in the mess tent, and then had a visit from Tom (Germany) and a Polish climber followed by a visit from a Czech climber. The afternoon was spent working on the generator which hasn’t worked since we have arrived in base camp. Afterwards, we had dinner, watched a movie, and then went to bed as it began to snow hard outside. It continued all night.
Today, we woke up at 2:00am, ate breakfast, and packed up our equipment in Camp II. The night had been windy and spindrift had filled in the small wind screen I had made from snow for my stove. Luckily, when it was time to get out of the tent, the winds had calmed and a half-moon lit the way. The three of us quickly began descending through the ice fall toward Camp I. The route had been partially obscured by the wind and spindrift so we had to route find in a few sections. We arrived to Camp I in just under an hour and a half. I quickly unpacked the gear I will leave in Camp I and changed out of my down pants into gore tex for the remainder of the descent to Base Camp. We left Camp I at 5:20am and made our way quickly towards base camp, the thought of a hot breakfast and a shower driving our pace. We arrived at 8am. I was met on the glacier close to base camp by the other member of my base camp team, Harald Hablacher (Austria), who had just arrived. We spoke briefly as I continued toward base camp. Upon arriving, I had a Pakistani tea, quickly showered, and then had breakfast. Next I went up to visit with Ferran. We made plans for the coming good weather window to go directly from Base Camp to Camp II and fix the route in the Japanese Couloir, and if weather and snow conditions allow it, perhaps make a summit attempt. After chatting with Ferran, I got into a political conversation with their liaison officer. Our thoughts on US-Pakistan relations aligned well. Afterwards, I rushed back to my base camp for lunch, chatted more with my new Austrian companion, and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and drying my climbing equipment. I will spend the next few days of bad weather recovering in base camp and preparing for a potential summit push.
Today, I woke up at 3:30am, struggled to eat a small breakfast in my icy, cold tent, then packed up all of my equipment, put on my harness and crampons, and ventured out into the sub-zero temperatures of night. I roped up with Simone and Richard, and we quickly began heading over the plateau toward the ice fall leading to Camp II. After touching nearly everything in my tent as I packed (bear in mind that everything not in my sleeping bag was covered in a thin layer of ice crystals), my hands were frozen before leaving the tent. They did not warm up as we climbed and I struggled in vain to restore circulation at our first break at the base of the ice fall. It wasn’t until we reached the top of one of the seracs when the sun crested above the ice fall that my hands finally had a chance to thaw. The process was incredibly painful, but once it was done, I was finally able to enjoy the climb. We continued up the ice fall until we reached the plateau between Gasherbrum I and Gasherbrum II. After another 20 minutes, we reached the tent placed by Ferran (it was the only tent in Camp II). I quickly began digging out a tent platform nearby for my small Mountain Hardwear EV2 direct and reinforced the platform with ice walls to protect the tent from high winds in the col for the coming storm. Once the tent was secure, I quickly moved in and made water and food. The sun kept the tent warm and helped me dry my equipment. Around 4:00pm, clouds cooled the tent and we all got into our sleeping bags and cold weather gear. The three of us felt great at this altitude. We intent to begin descending tomorrow morning at 3:00am so as to reach Camp I by 4:30am and then once we have cached the equipment we need there, continue down to Base Camp, hopefully arriving in time for breakfast and a shower.
Today, I woke up at 2:00am, packed up my equipment, ate a quick breakfast with Akbar, and headed up to Camp I. As mornings go, it was a rough one as I quickly became hot as I began climbing, but I made steady progress climbing solo through the ice fall to Camp I. A poignant memory of a certain special someone gave me a second wind and I arrived to Camp I at 9:00am, quickly re-made my tent platform and reinforced it for the coming snow storm. I spent the afternoon killing the time in the tent as the sun baked everyone in their tents in Camp I. In the late afternoon, I found out that the Taiwanese planned only to climb to Camp II then return the same day to base camp. I instead made plans with Richard (Peru) and Simone (Italy) to climb to Camp II to sleep. We decided to leave Camp I at 5:00am and travel together as a rope team. Afterwards, I spoke for quite some time with a Czech climber who is attempting Gasherbrum II, made dinner, then went to sleep early.