I awoke this morning, Thursday July 17, 2014 to the muffled sound of snow hitting my tent. Even at 8:00am, prescription it seemed dark. The reality was a heavy snowfall overnight had coated K2 Base Camp with a nice layer of white snow. We had returned from our five day rotation to Camp 2 at 22,000 feet just in time.
The rotation was tough on me. It tested me in ways I had envisioned but in some I was not prepared for. But I made it. I successfully climbed Houses Chimney and part of the Black Pyramid. I had a horrible night acclimatizing at C2 and pushed my body, and skills to the limit when rock climbing in crampons on near vertical rock. I had fun. And I was scared.
Today, there are climbers at C3 on K2, most of them acclimatizing as they are climbing without supplemental oxygen. They will return to base camp before the summit attempt perhaps next week. The fixed ropes have not been established above C3. On K2, one small team of 1 westerner and 3 Sherpas is still attempting the Cessan route fighting deep snow but all the other teams have combined efforts on the Abruzzi, including us. The conditions still remain good for K2 in spite of the recent snow. But as always in the high mountains, each day brings new challenges.
Climbers on nearby Broad Peak have stopped all summit efforts due to heavy snow for the moment reaching their C4. Most are now abandoning Broad Peak for the season, a few teams remain waiting for another summit window. Some are moving to K2.
I will publish three blog posts of our rotation to C2 on K2 via the Abruzzi, this being the first post.
We left K2 Base Camp around 2:00pm on Friday July 11, 2014 for Advanced Base Camp, ABC. The track is straight forward following the glacier that feeds into the Goodwin-Austen Glacier. The rock walls of K2 mark the left side of the glacier while a series of “small” 7,000 meter mountains mark the right.
After 1.5 hours the glacier changed into a rubble filled terrain of ice climbs with seracs and pinnacles standing between us and ABC. One section required a leap of faith as a small stream of ice cold water had cut a deadly gap into the ice. A similar stream had taken two lives last year near Broad Peak Base Camp when two climbers fell into it, were swept under the rock and ice. Their bodies were never found.
We carefully navigated this section and soon were on solid earth – dirt and rock. Two tents previously set up by our Sherpa team stood ready as we arrived in good spirits. We heated up pre-cooked dinners in boiling water as one particular serac became the evening entertainment.
This hanging ice and snow wall, aka serac, was releasing on a regular basis. With each release the noise was astounding. It started with a loud rush of “white noise” as the snow and ice fell downwards, pulled by gravity and pushed by tons upon tons of frozen water. Then as it hit the ground below, a boom announced the beginning of one of the largest debris clouds I have ever seen.
The noise was like a sonic boom from a jet plane passing through the sound barrier, a summer thunderstorm in my hometown of Memphis, a clash of drums from the symphony – regardless of the metaphor, the sound stopped all activity as we stared in the general direction wondering if the plume would hit ABC. It never did.
The tent space at C1 was limited, as in none. C1 is a rare flattish spot on the Abruzzi. Several teams had already made their rotations and claimed tent spots. To use another team’s tent without their permission was not good form on this or any mountain.
Kami and Kacha went there to literally carve out new platforms out of nothing. These men continue to amaze me with their strength and skill. I would not be here without them. They know that and know they are valued in intangible and tangible ways.
We spent the night and got up the next morning for a short active rest day involving climbing up 500 feet up the snow route. This was my first real introduction to K2. It was steep. As I will write over the rest of this expedition, everything on K2 is steep.
The route starts by leaving a rocky scree field adjacent to a steep snow slope, perhaps 40 degree angle. The snow was soft with evidence of recent avalanches thus we hugged the rock ridges that are ever-present on K2. After 200 feet the angle increased to 50 degree and the fixed rope began.
The rope was secured into the rock with decades old pitons, small sharp slivers of steel hammered into any available crack in the rocks. New rope was tied into two pitons, equalizing the load. The pitons were rusted, the line looked shredded in places.
We reached our objective for the day and turned back for a second night at ABC. It was a successful day of exercise and a gentle introduction to K2. The real K2 would show itself over the next few days.
K2 is huge, it is steep, dangerous, scary – everything you have read, heard or experienced cannot prepare you for the real thing. It is called the Mountaineer’s Mountain but I would also call it a mountain of doubts. It pushed me to my limits – physically, mentally, emotionally. I have begun my recovery from the first rotation and am preparing for our next foray to an even higher goal.
My purpose remains clear, as does my resolve. The question now is can I find what it takes to summit, if K2 allows me the opportunity?
To be continued with the Climb to Camp 1 tomorrow.
Memories are Everything
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