As the ropes fixers make progress and teams prepare for their first rotations, there is trouble in the air.
Similar to the early signals this past spring on many 8000ers with 10 deaths, the additional 11 deaths on Everest made the warning signs clear. And now we see the same signals on K2: record permits issued, and inexperienced climbers. The wildcard may be how the weather develops and how many days will be suitable for summit bids. In any event, queuing at House Chimney, the Bottleneck and the Traverse occur when there are less than 30 people on the Hill. What will happen with five times that?
More Nanga Summits
But first, some good news on Nanga Parbat. Stefi Troguet with Ali Sadpara were reported to have summited as does the tracker show for Sergi Mingote. Thats four summits thus far, I think.
K2 – Traffic Control
Mingma Sherpa of Imagine Nepal has made the decision to use the Česen route and not the standard Abruzzi. He posted:
Because of too much traffic on Abruzzi route, we choose Česen route for this year to avoid accident and traffic.
This has not worked out too well in the last few years with too much rock fall and avalanche danger but let’s see what Mingma finds. But it shows the concern that operators are having as the season gets seriously underway. The rope team has made it to Camp 2 on the Abruzzi. I don’t think there are any ropes yet on the Česen.
As I reported when the season started, there are over 150 climbers on K2 alone. This is a list of those just on K2 this summer:
|14 Sherpa K2 Expedition (aka Seven Summits Treks / 14 Peak)||Blue Sky||K-2||Nepal||42||Mr. Chang Dawa Sherpa|
|International K-2 Broad Peak (aka Imagine Nepal)||Leala Peak Expeditions||K-2 & Broad Peak||Nepal||31||Mr.Mingma Gyalje Sherpa|
|Madison International K-2||Mashabrum Expeditions||K-2||USA||23||Mr. Garrett Madison|
|K-2 Broad Peak||Karakorum Expeditions||K-2 & Broad Peak||Canada||16||Mr. Louis Rousseau|
|K-2 Expedition||Lela Peak||K-2||British||14||Mr. Adrian John Ballinger|
|Furtenbach K-2 Broad Peak||Jasmine Tours||K-2 & Broad Peak||Austria||11||Mr. Christoph Garber|
|K-2 – Adventure Peaks||Summit Karakoram||K-2||UK||10||Mr. Paul Noble|
|International K-2 Expedition||ATP||K-2||Swiss||6||Mr. Frederic George|
|K-2 Expedition||Jasmine Tours||K-2||Argentina||2||Mr. Maximo Gustavo Kausch Serantes|
|K-2 Expedition||Nippa Travel||K-2||Japan||1||Kawasaki Hiroshi|
Adrian Ballinger and his team made their first sortie up the Abruzzi and to a bit of a surprise as he explains on Instagram:
“I’ve been doing this for 30 years” – says anonymous climber after kicking off a wet slide that sent him for a big ride and almost wiped us off the face moving to C1 on the Abruzzi today. Now, don’t get me wrong. We all make mistakes all the time in the big mountains. We made one today, being on the face too late in the day when it was way too hot. Our stoke to get high for the first time and see the route clouded our decision-making and put us in a position to be under a slide in the first place. But when we fuck up like this, we acknowledge it, talk about it, and share it. We try to learn from screwing up and getting lucky. The team that triggered the slide, when we went to check they were ok, came up with, “I’ve been doing this for 30 years”. Sweet…I’m sure the mountain cares.
And he weighs in on the number of climbers and their experience:
lots of potential issues – similar to #everest, not necessarily too many permits, but I think major issues with inexperienced climbers and the operators that bring them. Let’s see….
Digging Deeper into the Experience Problem
I reached out to Garrett Madison of Madison Mountaineering to get his thoughts on how the season is shaping up;
Q: How does K2 look from BC?At this time on K2 it looks like there is more snow on the mountain compared to previous years I’ve been here (2014-2018). All of the surrounding peaks seem to have more snow present. I believe this can be good for us if the snow is consolidated. This will minimize rockfall potential, and make some of the climbing easier if there is less rock on route exposed. However, if the snow is unconsolidated this can make climbing much more challenging, as unconsolidated snow can be deep and arduous to climb through, and avalanches are more likely in this scenario.Q: Are you concerned with so many people attempting it?I am concerned that this season it appears there are more than double the number of climbers attempting K2 as last season. Last season felt ‘busy’ to me on the Abruzzi ridge route, we had to share camps with another team. We made it work, but with more than double the amount of climbers it will be much more challenging to make the camp situation at C 1 & C 2 work. Additionally, climber generated rockfall is a real concern, as well as ‘bottlenecks’ on the fixed ropes in tight sections of the route such as ‘Houses Chimney’.Q: How will you coordinate space at C1/2 that is so limited?We are either going to have to share tents with another team as we did last season (on the Abruzzi route camps) or we will switch to another route. We are investigating alternative route options and will decide which route we will commit to shortly.Q: Any reports from the rope team on snow conditions above C1 and finally Garrett it is sounding like K2 has finally become Everest with crowds, rope fixing teams, etc.Our Sherpas that went to Camp 1 have reported favorable snow conditions. This is consistent with what the Broad Peak climbers reported from Camps 1 & 2 on Broad Peak. Hopefully the upper mountain snow conditions on both BP & K2 are good this year. I think with the big success we (and other teams) had on K2 last season, more climbers will want to attempt this mountain, time will tell if this success can be repeated. For me, K2 is a more rugged experience compared to Everest, with less people, and higher consequences. I hope all climbers attempting K2 this season have a safe and successful expedition.
We also touched on the crowds and experience level of the members.
Q: Any concern with the experience level of the climbers this season?
Yes, I am concerned, it seems some of the operators here don’t have a rigorous screening process for their K2 applicants, with little barrier to entry on their expedition. On our team everyone has climbed Everest, most have climbed other 8000m peaks as well, all have been on a training program prior to the expedition. We have a much higher level of support (guides, Sherpas, Pakistan high porters, oxygen, etc) comparatively to other teams that are here.
This is my twentieth 8000 meter peak expedition in my guiding career, I am more conservative than anyone I know when it comes to having ample support and resources present to assist our climbers at high altitude. Perhaps this is a result of what I believe tips the scales in our favor in regards to safety and success in the death zone.
The leaders of the three largest K2 teams are extremely experienced and have worked together before. If in fact, Mingma moves to the Česen that will relieve a lot of traffic on the Abruzzi. But I hope everyone brought sturdy helmets ….Stay tuned!
Memories are Everything