K2: No Victory Lap

Alan after K2Our team is back in Skardu now after one of the most grueling treks out I have ever made. As I had mentioned, the descent from K2’s summit was as difficult and physical as the up climb.

We only spent one day resting at K2 Base Camp and then trekked 25 miles per day on the Baltoro Glacier for three days, sick or 75 miles. Each day was 8 to 13 hours. My body never got a chance to catch up. I now have lost at least 15 pounds and am extremely tired. Today we took a six hour jeep ride over very rough 4-WD roads from Askole to Skardu.

To be candid, sick I struggled on the trek out still suffering from mild HAPE, extreme fatigue and dehydration. I have yet to get enough water back into my system but will be fine now that I am back in “civilization”

I will post a recap of the summit night as promised plus a full trip report or even write a book on this experience. But for now I want to comment on the fact that much is being made about there were 40 K2 summits this season with some saying K2 is the new Everest and open for “tourist” business.

With K2 being my 36th major expedition including four on Everest, my honest assessment is that K2 is not Everest. As anyone who has read my blog for the past decade can attest, I have utmost respect for Everest and her climbers. It is the highest mountain in the world after all! But K2 is totally different.

While K2 is lower than Everest by about 800 feet, the climbing presents an entirely different level of difficulty, complexity and needs for skills. Each climber must has proven, long term skills in rock, ice, snow. Falter on one, you gamble with your life.

The fixed ropes are mostly a placebo, some showing the route but others not strong enough to stop a fall.

You actually rock climb using hands and feet, look for hand holds, literally use your upper body to ascend using a jumar. You use the front points of your crampons, not for traction on a snow slope, but to secure your body to a vertical ice or rock wall. It is a game of tiny edges, of inches. Your body is supported by your feet, your hands prevent you from falling backwards. If you slip on loose rocks and are not properly secured, you will fall and die. There is no recovery opportunity. Climb K2 is about as serious as one can get and at severe altitude.

And the decent is in some ways worse. You must rig rapells (or absell) over and over, each one must be perfect, there is zero room for error. There is a maze of old ropes on K2 that need to be cleaned up. If you choose the wrong rope, and you slip thus weighting the rope, it will break under your weight. You are exhausted, the lack mental focus is very real so mistakes are easy and often. No one can climb for you, you are on your own, totally responsible for yourself; no guide, sherpa, teammates or porter can climb for you. You must be constantly on the outlook for large, as in microwave size, falling rocks that can kill you instantly. Avalanches are a constant threat.

And the weather …

In both 2012 and 2014, the weather made K2 “easier” We had a solid week of low winds and light precipitation that greatly reduced the risks. That said, those on the first summit push on July 26 came extremely close to getting frostbite and stopping their attempt as they waited for the lines to be fixed across the Traverse. Many are lucky they did not loose fingers, toes or worse – this will be underreported in my experience.

One person did die. Spaniard, Miguel Angel Perez Alnarez, died at Camp 4 after two summit pushes. Everyone watched the situation unfold and stayed in radio contact with him but he was climbing solo and at first without supplemental oxygen. Rescue teams were sent to give aid as soon as he called for help but they were too late. It takes at least two days to reach him from base camp, helicopter impossible at 8000m. It is a tragic situation and I want to extend my deep condolences to his family and friends. But this situation highlights how dangerous any 8000m mountain can be in good or bad weather.

So, K2 2014 is almost over for me. I need time to recover. It took a lot out of me. I don’t want to be overly dramatic, but I went to a place I never knew existed, I pulled strength from unknown sources. K2 tested me like nothing physically, mentally or emotionally in my life. This will take some time.

When I close my eyes I see myself climbing the rock walls of the Black Pyramid, skirting under the translucent ice walls of the serac above the Bottleneck. I see myself checking and double checking my rap device, scanning the steep slopes for rocks, wondering if I fell, how far and how fast it would be until I came to a stop.

I am glad to be down. I am grateful I summited K2 and descended safely. I am indebted to my teammates and support team.

It is virtually impossible for me to raise my arms in victory, uttering that trite expression about conquering the mountain. The only thing I conquered were my own limits on July 27 that allowed me to take my body and essence to place I never thought I would reach. I have no feeling of success, vanquish or celebration; perhaps they will come with time as I give myself permission to feel what comes from a hard earned goal.

On the trek out, I tried to understand what has changed inside of me, what I left on K2. Where to go from here as a climber. I need time to accept the joy of summiting but also to come to grips with the extreme risk involved.

Was it worth it? Yes, without a doubt. I feel good about raising awareness and money for Alzheimer’s. I had fun climbing – full stop. It was a dream climb of climber’s dreams and it was K2. As I scan the 2000 pictures, each one evokes a deep emotional feeling – a good feeling – and I will build on theses.


Climb On!
Memories are Everything

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51 thoughts on “K2: No Victory Lap

  1. Write the book Alan I will it in a heart beat!! Congratulations on your summit and mostly your decent so looking forward to your story!

  2. Thank you for your grace and humility. For someone who has accomplished what many of us will never even dream, you are amazingly grounded. I imagine that your family struggle with Alzheimer’s has increased your understanding of your own humanity…and where faith, courage and strength can take you. Your journey on K2 must mirror the struggles felt by many affected by this horrible disease. Here’s hoping that we are all moved to assist in the cure.

  3. Thank you Alan. Even if I told you, you wouldn’t know or accept the whole of why. Just thank you. I’m so happy for your success in all.

  4. Hi Alan, You are featured in the Cure Alzheimer’s Quarterly Report newsletter that just came out. Don’t know if you’ve seen it yet, but it is a nice article on your K-2 effort to raise funds for research, and a nice picture too. Thanks for all you do!

  5. Alan, I am just lost for words. If you take all the other comments and roll them into one they say it all for me. Enjoy your success, get well and enjoy. With love and congratulations Cheers Kate (UK )

  6. Incredible, I am in awe of how you have pushed yourself both mentally, physically and spiritually. It makes me realize how below my potential I actually operate. You inspire me to get up every day and to be the best I can be- to get out there and not be afraid. I cannot wait to see you in person and get your incredible story out to others.


  7. Hey Alan, Glad You are All Back To Civilized Life. You Will Recover And Celebrate In Time. It’s Amazing To Do What You Did. I Can’t Imagine What You Have Been Through But It Will Reshape You In So Many Ways. EnjoY What You Have Taken From This Journey And The Mountai For You Will Be Forever Changed. Congratulions. Savor The Dreams Completed. TOM

  8. Great Job Alan. Really! Freaking fantastic. I followed along, as I follow all 8000M trips, and yours has been the best on K2 (and probably others) since the American’s 1978 NE ridge, which I read as much as I can. Climb on – Memories are Everything!

  9. Alan, can’t wait to see you again in person and hear more. Thanks for sharing your adventure and more importantly, for the cause behind it. Valiant and Bold!

  10. Thank you for taking us with you every step of the way. To most of us, the “how” is elusive, but the “why” is loud and clear. Thank you for your caring, your courage, and your determination. You honor your mother and all of us who have lost loved ones to Alzheimer’s and who, like you, long for a world free of dementia.

  11. You are now part of an elite group of climbers who have made it to the summit of K2…enjoy that Alan…its an incredible achievement…….and of course…Climb on !!

  12. Well done and well said. Jon Krakauer has said that he wrote “Into Thin Air” when the events of Everest 1996 weren’t too far behind him-I hope you do the same, though thankfully, your climb didn’t include tragedy on that scale. Your posts have been incredible, keeping me and so many others waiting anxiously for the next one. The documentation of the whole climb, from your training in Colorado till now, has given those of us following along a front row seat to one of the most harrowing, exhilirating, inspiring adventures I’ve ever experienced-vicariously, of course. I’d certainly the book! Take care, rest up and reflect, then celebrate! I look forward to chatting with you soon. 🙂

  13. Wow. My most heartfelt congratulations to you on your achievement Alan! I really admire you. We have a few things in common, my family is from Colorado, we are both HP retirees and both lost mothers to Alzheimer’s. We have also both climbed with Altitude Junkies. But there the resemblance totally stops. I merely read and daydream about climbing 8000ers but you actually climb them. And K2?? Holy shit! Great job! I will be thinking about you on my upcoming trip to Colorado next week. If the weather cooperates I hope to finally summit Long’s peak for the first time. Thanks for the inspiration!

  14. Thank you so much for sharing, Alan. Wow. You should write a book. Your summary above gave me the chills as I too climb. I can’t even imagine being there and going through what you did. Glad to hear you’re heading back and safe. What a major accomplishment for a good cause, too.

  15. Get well Alan! I have followed you for years now!! So many climbs…most successful some not!! This K2 climb scared me!! I am so glad you are back and soon will be strong and back in full health! Your Alzheimer’s cause is so important! Thank you for all you have accomplished…

  16. I’ve been a fan of your blog for some time, and respect your blend of passion and objectivity. You’ve done an outstanding job documenting your K2 climb — your honesty makes it a compelling read. What an achievement you’ve accomplished == your perseverance is inspiring! And to do it for a good cause — what could be better.
    Chapeau, monsieur!

  17. good job alan, very well written,feel like i was there ,looking forward to seeing your pictures on here

  18. Thank you for your fine work in sharing some of this remarkable experience. There are things that all have shared together that go beyond the words that are available to describe them. We are grateful for your words, your video and audio, and your photos. And we are most grateful for your return to Skardu after a punishing trek from base camp. It is good to see the names of the Sherpa because K2 is such a remarkable acheivement for the entire team. Just being on the mountain is a singular experience.
    Our high regards. L & M

  19. Thank you for documenting your expedition with such great photos and information!!!

    Jesse, from California

  20. Just want to say thanks so much for sharing your journey. You have a gift of being able to share your experience through your articulateness and insights and it allows others, mountaineers and non-mountaineers like myself to experience the journey with you on some level.I would SO love for you to write a book. I’m ready to pre-order today! Huge congrats and thanks again!

  21. Hi Alan ,Hope you get some rest when you get back , then look back on what you have done . No climb is easy in Life , whether your climb a mountain , try to walk , or try get money for cause . Its what make out of Life


  22. One word – “Perfect” – Please keep all of us posted on the book, auctions, needs and anything else that will be forth coming.

  23. Alan: I cannot find the words to tell you how mesmerizing your posts have been. Every day, I have learned so much from your words. We are all thankful that you are safely down and on the road to recovering from this ordeal. You are an inspiration for others to reach beyond what they think they can do. Godspeed home….and thank you for sharing this with us.

  24. When I heard you were going to attempt climbing K2 I wanted to write back, DON’T GO, ALAN IT COULD KILL YOU, WHO WILL COVER EVEREST SEASON IF YOU DIE! I’m happy I didn’t write that then post it on Facebook. It sounds selfish of me but I truly did not want you to die. In my mind you have accomplished a near impossible feat. I’ve followed K2 season on Exploers Web and the news is always about the terrible weather conditions and climbers having to give up their quest. During your climb I hoped and prayed the weather would not turn for the worse because I knew it could be devastating for your entire team. The science of predicting weather patterns has come a long way to helping climbers see windows of good weather to attempt their ascents but as you said climbers are on their own on K2 and it does not matter if you have good weather because one slip can mean death. So, on a happier note please tell us what food and drink you have been dreaming about for your celebration meal. Being that you lost 15 pounds means you can eats some decadent, gourmet food without guilt. For me, the terrible disease, Alzheimers, will be forever associated with the Killer Mountain, K2, and your summit.

    1. Very well said.. I have prayed so hard for Alan and the team to summit and decend safely.. I still will keep the prayers flowing until he is back at home if Colorado..

  25. Well done, well done. Take pride in what you have achieved and give your body the recuperation it needs. I am so pleased with your success.

  26. So happy you are safely back. Thanks for all your reports, written, audio and photographic. I’ve followed this so closely that I blocked out any other news! Your humility and courage are exemplary. My team is so proud!!!!

  27. Thanks for all your reports, written, audio and photographic. I’ve followed this so closely that I blocked out any other news! Your humility and courage are exemplary. My team is so proud!!!!

  28. Incredible. So glad your team is safe and heading home. Safe Journey Alan and congratulations on your unbelievable achievement. So inspired!

  29. Yeah Baby!!!—-Let me put it out there….I love Kami!!!
    So glad he was with you.

    Glad to see your smiling face back on lower ground!
    Travel Safely..rest up and refuel!

    Your Forever Friend!

  30. What an inspiration you are, Alan. Congratulations on reaching this monumental milestone. #ENDALZ #K2CureALZ

  31. Not only do I stand in awe of your efforts to support a great cause and the fact that you pulled this incredible climb off, I’m at least as much impressed by your eloquence, your wisdom and the fact that you came down in one piece. Brilliant story, Alan, and yes, your strength and spirits will return. And again a triple hurrah for this magnificent achievement. Very, very, very well done!

    1. Bob’s comment says it all, at least for me. Only thing I’d add is…I can’t wait to read the book. Alan, you are now one of the few great wise old men of the mountains and incidentally my latest hero. May you live long and prosper.

  32. Alan, congratulations on an awesome climb. Thank you for a riveting introduction to the world of climbing K2. The Alzheimers community is blessed to have you as a spokesman.

  33. Take your time recovering. It will all come to you – all the emotion and recollections that make this memory special.

  34. Huge congratulations Alan – you continue to inspire and challenge me. Thank you for your reports and your continued focus on the bigger picture of raising awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s. Safe travels on your way home.

  35. I know you will raise your arms in victory. You are not home yet. At 58 years you have done an incredible feat Allan. Your weight will come back and even more drive for the things you want to attain in life. Love your reports.

  36. Heehee, I remember that 3 day trek out down the Baltoro from Gasherbrum a few years ago. Water, water everywhere and never enough to drink. Incredibly exhausting, and we didn’t even summit like you did.

    I can also relate to your overwhelming relief at getting down alive over and above any feeling of elation at your achievement. I’m sure that sense of achievement will come in time though!

    Congratulations on an amazing climb, and thank you for such an honest and informative post. I hope anyone who has climbed Everest and considers K2 a logical step up reads your words and takes them very seriously indeed!

  37. …..salutes my friend.
    You are blessed,
    You know how to stay human even after a super human effort.
    ….it has been a rare, ‘once in a lifetime’ experience and a pleasure,
    …..being with you and seeing you, through your unique way of expression.

    Thank you and climb on. And may this effort bring solid advancements in the understanding and prevention/Rx of Alzheimer’s, Aameen.

  38. Thank you Alan. So glad you are safe. I want to read more! I so understand “going to a place you’ve never been before” that requires you to dig deep more more to go on. Enjoy your well-earned success.

  39. Alan, conquering you own limits is was got you to the top and back down safely. You deserve to raise your arms in victory. In time you will. Well done!

  40. Incredible buddy! What next indeed. You do so well describing things, that’s much appreciated.

    In awe, in CT.

    Get home safe and sound


  41. Thanks for the fun video – it really puts us there. “YEAH BABY”! Travel well Alan.

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