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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Today, I once again woke up late, and had a relaxed breakfast. I spent the rest of the morning working on my secondary applications and finally submitted one of them (it was quite a challenge via satellite modem as the connection failed numerous times and the form reset, forcing me to re-enter all of the data and try again). After this was done, I finally showered and changed into clean clothes. I had lunch with Akbar, then spent the majority of the afternoon packing my equipment for the climb to Camp I. I plan on leaving at 4am and climbing directly from Base Camp to Camp I, skipping ABC altogether. After my backpack was prepared, I headed up to visit Badia and Mauricio. Badia planned to climb to Camp I and descend, but I offered to let her stay in my tent so that she could spend a night there to optimize acclimatization. We will then likely descend together and rest at least one day in Base Camp before heading back up for another night at Camp I and to establish Camp II.
Today, I woke up at 7:30am as the sun warmed my tent, had breakfast with Akbar, then headed up the glacier to visit with the Mexicans and Spanish. We eventually returned to my mess tent as it is much warmer and continued talking until lunch. In the afternoon, I continued sorting out my equipment and optimizing my solar array. I checked the weather and made tentative plans for my approach to the mountain. Badia and Mauricio visited once again in the late afternoon and we spent the time working, them on their dispatches, and me on my secondary applications for medical school. I had a delicious dinner with Akbar, then went to sleep early.
Today, Akbar and I had an early breakfast, broke down the camp for the last time, and began the short trek to K2 base camp. Fortunately, we had a few friends already in K2 base camp so we were able to place our base camp in the center (the higher camps are extremely cold and at risk of being hit by avalanches and the lower camps are far from the route, but warmer). We spend upwards of two hours sorting out the payments for the porters. Once this was finished, I had to pay them their tips. I had Akbar translate, as I was breaking from the norm. I explained that they had already been paid for the service of carrying the equipment to base camp. The tips are for those who go above and beyond what is expected of them by helping to establish the many camps along the way, helping Akbar in the kitchen, or arriving very quickly to camp without complaint. Unlike most expeditions, I didn’t tip based on the number of loads (this practice gives the people who load the horses up to 4x the tip of a traditional porter and on our trek, these men were the problematic ones). Instead, I tipped each individual based on his work on the trek. I gave a base tip to all so that no one felt left out, but made a point of acknowledging the hard work of the few who had outperformed the rest. They received tips up to 2000 RS ($20.00) higher than the rest. I thanked them all for their hard work and most began trekking down quickly to Urdukas (where it is much warmer). The few who had done the most work on the trek stayed after they had been paid to help Akbar and I set up our base camp. They were extremely gracious and a pleasure to work with. After the kitchen and mess tents had been put up, Akbar and I got to work setting up everything else that makes base camp livable. The first things I set up were my solar array, charge controller and batteries. Despite the bad weather in base camp, I was able to get more than 5 Amps off of my solar panels and charge my laptop and satellite modem. We received news that some of the Leila Peak expedition had not received their bags due to a mix up at Goro II that resulted in the bags being sent to Gasherbrum Base Camp instead. Additionally, all of their members were lacking the EPI gas that they had purchased from the agency (the pressurized gas canisters we use to cook in high camps). These had apparently been forgotten by the agency in Skardu. Fortunately, all of my things arrived safely to base camp. I plan on resting a day or two, depending on the weather, and then climbing either to Camp I or Camp II to sleep before descending. The camps on the Abruzzi Spur are already nearly at capacity due to the huge number of climbers on the mountain this season, so we will have to see whether placing a Camp I is even an option. We may end up just skipping this camp altogether and climbing directly from base camp to Camp II.
Today, after an extremely cold night, I struggled to wake up at 5:00am, packed up my equipment, and had a chilly breakfast in the kitchen tent with Akbar and our Sirdar, Yassid. I stayed up quite late last night to take pictures of the staggering number of stars that were visible in the moonless night after the Matam. The ceremony was truly enchanting. We sat in a circle on the glacier in the dark while Little Hussain sang about the death of Hazrat Ali and many in the circle wept aloud. The matam is a lament for his departed soul and commemorates his martyrdom and valor at Karbala. We completed the ceremony with the du’a and walked back to our camp. I really treasure these experiences. After everything was packed up, Akbar and I departed toward Concordia. The morning was cool and a breeze made the walk enjoyable. We arrived to Concordia where we took in the stunning views of Mitre Peak, Gasherbrum IV, Marble Peak, and Broad Peak. K2 was obscured in clouds, but soon we were blessed with a view of the summit. After more than 8 hours, we arrived to Broad Peak base camp at 15,717ft/4790m elevation. We set up our kitchen, then witnessed an enormous avalanche sweep the route below camp I on Broad Peak. We also were made aware that another of our horses had fallen into a glacial river and had been injured. The horse was sent down to lower elevation, and our things were salvaged, but this incident again drives home the point that this glacier is no place for these animals. The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing and preparing for the departure of our porters tomorrow morning. The trek from Broad Peak base camp to K2 base camp is only 45 minutes long so we will have the remainder of the day to set up our base camp.
Today, I woke up at 5:00am, packed up my equipment and had a quick breakfast. Some of the locks on my barrels had gone missing yesterday and even though nothing inside seemed to be missing, Akbar thought it best to stay behind and ensure that everything made it to the next camp. I departed from the last soil I will set foot on for a month and said my goodbyes to the flowers and birds. From this point on, my movements will be on an icy glacial moraine and the landscape will be devoid of life. The morning was relatively cool and I arrived quickly to Goro I where I stopped to eat. In the end, most of my lunch ended up going to the yaks that I had been trekking behind who were searching the glacier for food to no avail. I continued on to Goro II and arrived at 11am. Some of the porters helped me set up our camp while we waited for Akbar to arrive and I spent the remainder of the afternoon charging equipment, drying my tent, and socializing with other climbers. Rather than stay in Concordia tomorrow, we plan on trekking to Broad Peak base camp which is only 45 minutes away from K2 base camp. This will save the porters a day and will allow for them to descend farther to a warmer camp as they will be able to depart K2 base camp very early in the morning. Today is the Matam for Hazrat Ali, the father of Hazarat Husayn, so I will be joining Akbar and some of our porters after dinner for the Marsiya (مرثیہ) and Nohas (نوحہ).
Today, I woke up at 4:30am, had a quick breakfast, and began the long trek to Urdukas. The route begins on the hillside, but quickly climbs onto the Baltoro glacier and traverses the mouth of the Indus river. From there, we must traverse the 2 mile-wide Baltoro glacier, climbing up and down the moraine (the Baltoro Glacier is the largest glacier in the world and clearly visible from space). The weather was cool and we made good time, arriving to Korofong before most of the other climbers. We spent an hour there enjoying a long lunch and refilling our water, then continued onward to Urdukas. The porters whom had left in the night had successfully claimed a prime piece of real estate in Urdukas, and we settled in as others searched desperately for places to camp for the night. Although this day is always the longest and hottest day of the trek, it is also one of the most breathtaking. I always think of this as the entrance to one of Mother Nature’s most magnificent temples. Despite this being the seventh time I’ve trekked up this route, I am always almost moved to tears by the beauty that surrounds me. I always approach the mountains within her temple with the utmost respect and never let my ego get the best of me. In this landscape, we are tiny dots, completely inconsequential, and powerless to control the elements that could easily kill us. Glaciers could shift without warning, immense boulders hanging precariously above could crush us in an instant, and swift rivers could sweep us deep within the immense glacier. Here, we are at the mercy of Mother Nature’s will. Tomorrow I trek to Goro II where I will camp underneath Mashabrum. the Queen of the Mountains. The following day, I will camp at Concordia where I will get my first glimpse of K2, or as it is referred to by locals, Chogori (which means King of the Mountains).
Today, I woke up around 6:30am despite my intent to sleep in until 8:30am. I headed down to the kitchen tent where Akbar informed me that all of the equipment from the horse that had fallen into the river had arrived after being recovered by Manzoor. After eating breakfast, I spent the morning playing cards with the Spanish K2 and Gasherbrum Expeditions. In the afternoon, Ryan Kushner’s expedition arrived to Paiju and we enjoyed lunch and dinner together. We also were paid a visit by most of the liaison officers present in Paiju. They just wanted to socialize. One of Ryan’s expedition members had drunk from one of the water spigots in Jhula (which are fed from streams up the mountain and are far from safe) without treating the water and suffered the consequences today. I’m not sure if he will be able to recover in time to complete the expedition. I plan on getting up at 4:30am, packing up, then eating breakfast at 5:00am and beginning the longest day of the trek to base camp in the cool hours of the morning. Akbar arranged to have a number of our porters depart at 1am so that they could claim a spot for us in Urdukas. Because of the holiday before we departed Skardu, the military cleared all of the climbers from the previous three days at the same time, resulting in an abnormally large number of climbers on the same trekking schedule. It has been a struggle to find places in the camps to put the kitchen tent and personal tents, but Akbar has managed surprisingly well.