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Jun 252015
 
Balti Porter in 2014

Balti Porter in 2014

With the heat wave in Pakistan now responsible for over 1, 000 deaths, it may be surprising that heavy snow has stalled progress in the Northern Territories.

Himex is reporting that they have stopped their trek towards K2 Base Camp due to slippery conditions on the Baltoro Glacier. There is no “path” per se, but only a faint line on the loose rocks that covers the ice. The Balti Porters wear thin Chinese canvas shoes or even simple sandles thus need solid footing.

Brook Mancinelli Tweeted:

Rain2snow last nt. Cant move. Its nasty.

The delay is not a big deal as there are a lot of weather days built into the schedule. But it does go to the point of what the weather might hold for this years climbers.

Large teams

One of the story lines for K2 this 2015 season are the unusually large teams. As I posted a few days ago, and update now, here are three teams of considerable size:

Adding this up totals 89 people who will be climbing just K2 just from these three teams, and there are more teams, perhaps 5 or more adding an additional 50 climbers on K2.  Thus in total K2 may see over 125 people attempting the summit – twice the record set in 2014.

Last year when I was there we had about 75 total people at K2 Base Camp and that included cooks, Liaison Officers, climbers, Sherpas and Pakistan High Altitude Porters. With a week of unusually good weather, about 49 people summited K2. In 2012, there were 30 summits but none from Pakistan in 2009, 2010 and 2011 and 2013.

A Look Behind the Numbers

So, what’s behind the large numbers for K2 in 2015? Part of the reason is the new model that was driven by Seven Summits Treks in 2012. They brought a team of highly skilled Sherpas to the Karakorum who fixed lines, broke trail and ferried gear to the high camps. In other words the same model that has been used on Everest for decades.

Madison Mountaineering, the team I was on last year, did a similar model in 2014 and is again this year. Russell Brice’s Himex group is following suit with 12 members, 1:1 SHerpa support plus the matching HAPs.

Adding to the numbers, The Pakistan Government, fearing that Sherpas will displace their own local climbers, insisted that commercial teams on K2 hire local Pakistan High Altitude Porters (HAPs) to match the imported Sherpas.

Obviously this creates more people on the mountain. The primary challenge for everyone is that there are few HAPs that have the skills and experience to independently guide on K2. Plus there are four other 8000 meter mountains requiring some level of support: Broad Peak, Gasherbrum I and Gasherbrum II and Nanga Parbat (note: there are no climbers on NP this season).

Tight space at Camp 1 on K2

Tight space at Camp 1 on K2

A New K2?

The impact on climbing K2 is two fold: First, K2 is a very, very steep mountain with limited space at Camps 1 and 2. At C1, last year there were 10 2 person tents squeezed so closely together that they were literally sharing guy lines.

I have no idea where all the people will sleep this year and in practice, the teams will have to cooperate in an unprecedented way to make it work. This means perhaps sharing tents and coordinating schedules which will become problematic if the weather turns bad or there is a short summit weather window.

By the way, this same situation has been going on for years on Broad Peak which is also steep with limited space for tents – fights have broken out over the real estate!

The second issue is that with such a high level of support, some people may think that K2 has been tamed thus attracting individuals with insufficient experience. I’ve written about this before, but to reiterate, K2 is not Everest. It is steep, dangerous and technically difficult. No matter how many Sherpas you have, the climber must move themselves up, and down, under their own power.

Climbing House’s Chimney, the Back Pyramid and through the Bottleneck to the Traverse offer climbing challenges rarely seen on other 8000 meter mountains and is not for the novice.

Guides like Garrett Madison and Russell Birce are old hands at leading complicated expeditions and know what they are doing. Brice hand selected his team and views 2015 as somewhat of an experiment. Garrett had great success last year and has personally lead more people to the summit of Everest than any other guide.

But it’s clear things are changing K2 and in the Karakorum overall.

Climb On!

Alan

Memories are Everything

 

 

  15 Responses to “K2 2015 Coverage: Large Teams Snowed in on the Trek”

  1.  

    Alan, as a journalist I am impressed by both the detail in, and objectivity of, your posts. And what can anyone say about you climbing…hey man you got to the top of K2! Keep up the good work. I, like some of your readers, worry about members thinking that K2 is the new Everest. Hopefully the guide services will do their jobs and ensure those they accept for expeditions are capable. Looks like Brice and Madison do a decent job. As you say, climb on!

  2.  

    Alan Im just curious, is it normal for there to be no climbers on Nanga Parbat? What, in your opinion, is the reason for that?

    •  

      Ginger, a bit unusual but not every 8000m mountain is attempted each season. NP has a difficult reputation after the 2013 massacre at base camp thus there are safer choices right now, at least is that respect.

  3.  

    Esp. looking forward to your commentary since you summited last year.

  4.  

    Hi Alan, what’s behind the large numbers this year? I think you’re neglecting to mention your own contribution … Inspirational blogger and standard bearer for ordinary commercial climbers across the world confounds his critics and makes it up and down in one piece! And I’m sure the success of your team will have made other operators sit up and take notice.

    Even so, I wouldn’t dare suggest K2 might become the new Everest 😉

    Great to see you will be covering the Pakistan 8000ers this year. I’ll be following with interest.

    •  

      Thanks Mark,

      The last thing I want is for someone with limited experience to say “Hey this 58 year-old guy made it so can I.” However, I think the formula for climbing K2 is being found – Sherpa support, good weather windows, solid base camp support BUT it can all change in a blink.

      To expand on my experience, first I want to make clear, as you already know but for other readers, that I am no rookie. I had climbs on 9 8000m peaks: Everest (4X), Manaslu, Cho Oyu, Shishapangma, Broad Peak, plus Alpamayo, Denali, the 7 Summits and lots of climbing in Colorado including 150+ summits of the 14,000′ mountains. So I knew what I was doing … and I struggled on K2.

      I addressed “Why K2 is not Everest”is this blog post and I encourage everyone to read it.

      http://www.alanarnette.com/blog/2014/08/02/k2-victory-lap/

      All this said, K2 is achievable by “normal” people – If you have the experience, team support and drive – go for it but be careful who you climb with.

      I was at a Big City Mountaineers event in January, 2014 and spoke with Ed Vestures about K2. I asked “Ed, what about K2?” He looked at me and simply said “It’s hard.” Then he went on. “When I climbed with other people they called out ‘Ed this is hard.’ to which I responded “This is K2, what did you expect?” He went on to say they turned back but he kept going.

      K2 is a deadly, difficult climb I suggest only for those with solid rock, ice, extreme altitude experience and the right team – less than that – don’t even think about it – you will die.

      •  

        Gosh completely understood all along that you are no rookie. I am reading Ed’s book on K2 now and highly recommend.

      •  

        I’m in complete agreement, and I certainly won’t be following in your footsteps myself any time soon. 🙂

        Sadly I fear there will be those who choose to ignore your advice, and think that because there are commercial teams there now then they can climb it when they are not yet ready. I only hope the operators do a better job of filtering out unsuitable members than they have been doing on Everest.

        •  

          Mark, 2015 could be an anomaly as it appears most of the other major international guide companies don’t see guiding K2 as a good business proposition i.e. too much risk for too little profit.

          And with the desire/need to have both Sherpas and HAPs, the equation got worse. I hope for a safe season for all but if K2 has it’s normal tough weather, many people will be rightfully scared away.

          All that said, our sport is enjoying and attracting more people than ever – for better or worse. As always ,it remains up to the climbers to go informed, prepared, self select in choosing appropriate climbs and have the skills to be self sufficient.

  5.  

    K2 is not an extreme technical challenge – that is why many are there. The real challenge mountains are bare.

    •  

      Lars, my reference to K2 being “technical”, which is supported by most who have summited it, is when compared to the normal routes on Everest and most of the other 8000 meter mountains. Of course there are harder routes on lesser mountains and on Everest by routes other than the standard ones. I believe K2’s popularity in increasing due to the support put in place by guide services like Seven Summits Treks, Madison Mountaineering and Himex.

  6.  

    Alan is it because Everest has had the most horrible, sad and tragic events the last 2 years? So people are going for K2? I hope this is not a daft thing to say.

    •  

      I don’t see it that way Jacqueline. Many of the K2 climbers have already summited Everest.

      •  

        Ok Alan and thanks. I just wondered really why K2 appears to get higher numbers each year. Full of admiration for your climb last year on this difficult mountain. It’s tough going even getting there !