K2: The Journey Home

Alan on the KKHWell the climb is over as I’m actually on my way home. It has been a lifetime experience that brought into sharp focus my passion and purpose in life.

Climbing K2, the world’s hardest mountain, to fight Alzheimer’s, the world’s hardest disease.

The 75 mile trek from K2 Base camp back to Askole was very difficult on me as I had little time to recover from the summit push plus was suffering from mild pulmonary edema aka HAPE, dehydration and general fatigue. We walked for three days covering 25 miles each day taking 10 to 12 hours per day. Once we left the Baltoro Glacier, the heat was stifling adding heat exhaustion to the equation. But we moved as a team and I appreciated their support.

Once in Skardu, the flight to Islambad dance began. Skardu does not have radar and is nestled in a steep valley so it is visual flight rules. Frequent storms cause the cancellation of flights but the worse part is that PIA is the only airline and has limited flights. With so many of us coming off K2, Broad Peak Gasherbrum I/II there were too many people to accommodate via standby so we were forced to take the bus over the Karakorum Highway (KKH) to Islamabad.

For those of you who have done this, you know it is a grueling journey not made any better by some great scenery as you follow the Indus River.

A Close Shave

Our couple of days in Skardu were fun staying at the Concordia Hotel who have great food and nice people. It was like seeing old friends with so many climbers there so the atmosphere was quite festive.  As I posted on Facebook, Garrett Madison and I went for a haircut and shave based on the recommendation of Al Hancock.  It was quite the experience getting a traditional single blade shave from a young Pakistani lad in “downtown” Skardu.

It was one of those totally manual affairs with scissors and sharp lethal switchblade type devices. He had the concentration of a Beverly Hills Housewife who had been scorned by her friend over a bad martini – not sure about this reference …

Anyway, it started with a clip, clip clip of him cutting hair, followed by getting slapped around with his open hand to bring the facial skin alive – at least that is the theory. I was ready to tell him anything.  He used some kind of medieval snake oil to loosen the pores then lathered us up with a horse (could have been mule) brush before taking the blade to our face.

In my case I covered my goatee to indicate “no touch”. He grunted, then scowled, then twisted his mouth in a strange way as he worked around my beard. I found this interesting because EVERYONE has a beard here including the horses, mules, young and old men – but not this guy. I think he is on a one man protest.

I digress.

He finally took the blade to my goatee itself which was fine as it needed thinning but he went on and on. It has not been this short since I was 4 years-old. Cost? $1.00 each – a bargain!!

Riding the KKH

The bus ride to Islamabad was a close second in drama. I was a bit worried about this part of the journey as the KKH is known for crashes, murders and kidnappings. But the Pakistani military was in full presence with multiple checkpoints plus jeeps equipped with machine guns highly visible. I never felt threatened my entire time in Pakistan.

The bus ride was something entirely different. Again, as I wrote on Facebook we made it to Islamabad after driving 19.5 hours yesterday and another 9 today in a Partridge Family style bus complete with fringe and heavy red drapes to keep the sun out, we arrived team intact to now figure out flights home.

The music was blaring as we left Askole so I asked for it to be turned down – just like an old man – but was told it will keep the driver awake and prevent him from running off the Karakorum Highway (KKH) into the Indus River.

So making a trade-off between living and watching Bollywood movies, well ….

I got in touch with my inner-Bollywood via repeat showings of a snake handed lady wiggling her hips non stop until an angry young man stormed her only to join in. I am now a convert …

The KKH was packed with security checkpoints, jeeps with machine guns and random security. It was good to know someone was watching over us and not just the bad guys … thanks Pakistan.

We finally arrived at the Marriott in Islamabad and had a real meal sitting in a real chair at a real table – talk about sensory overload. I’m felt like going over an sitting in one of their planters in the dirt just so I could feel at home ….

Seriously, I do finally feel like I am getting back to human shape but need multiple long shower/bath/scrubbing/delousing.

But just as I was ready for that first shower, I called my airline to change my flight and was told the only seats were tonight or wait a week. I was hoping for a few days of doing nothing at the hotel but this trip has kept me going. I got on the hotel scales and in fact lost 15 pounds – more than I wanted to loose.

So now I’m somewhere in the air between Islamabad and Denver.


K2. It gets you coming in, climbing and going out. There is nothing easy about that mountain. But the rewards are genuine. It still has not sunk in that I summited. For some reason I’m not giving myself permission to think about it too much. Perhaps too busy just trying to get home. Maybe it is too good to be true. Or just that is was so hard, I am suppressing what really happened.

But the satisfaction is there. I feel a great satisfaction from all your comments on my climb. You are generous to acknowledge that this old man, at age 58, became the oldest American to summit K2. I didn’t know this was even a possibility until I was at K2 Base Camp …. To have summited on my birthday was amazing.

I won’t rehash the previous blog post, but K2 is not for everyone, it is not Everest and it is not a mountain to test yourself for the first time. It is steep, dangerous, difficult and deadly. I was glad I had the previous climbing experience I did.

Next Steps and Speaking Tour

I need some time to write the summit and overall trip report but please let me say again that I pushed myself in ways I never thought possible. I went on when I wanted to quit, I stayed focused when before I would have surrendered. I left K2 a different person in many ways knowing that when I talk about something being hard or impossible, I really know what that means now.

Thanks for following. Thanks for learning about Alzheimer’s and thanks for donating. It is never too late to continue to make a difference.

I will make a few more posts on this climb and as always keep you updated on my future plans – I’m not nearly finished 🙂

I am working hard to do a speaking tour across the US and perhaps selected international cities where I can tell the story of Ida Arnette and Alzheimer’s and how it took her life but changed mine forever taking me to climb the world’s highest mountains.

If you know of an organization that would sponsor such a tour, please let me know. It would be primarily as a fund raiser for Alzheimer’s. If I came to your city, we can climb something together, even if it is to the top of your highest building!!

In catching up on some emails, I was dismayed to read multiple notes from old high school friends who had lost a parent to Alzheimer’s. This crisis is real and we must speak up as world citizens to rally the research community with more funds urgency and action.

Let me hear from you. We are a community in climbing and Alzheimer’s or just friends – and for that I am grateful.

Climb On!
Memories are Everything

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14 thoughts on “K2: The Journey Home

  1. Namaste Alan,
    I’ve followed your trip from the start. It was amazing and inspiring! If you do a speaking tour please post the cities on line. I am in the bay area and would love to hear you speak. I did the EBC trek two years ago but stopped at Lobuche due to moderate altitude sickness. Your climb was great.

  2. What a great post, Alan…. I would LOVE to hear you speak; I’m going to touch base with my local ALZ Assn contact and see if we can swing something in Columbus. It would be wonderful! Rest up, you look wonderful. I’m so inspired.

  3. Alan, You Trip Just Keeps On Getting Better With Adventure. I Hope You All Are Taking It All In. The Journey IS the Trip. Hope You All Get Home Soon To Rest Awhile. Great Seeing And Reading Your Reports. Take Care.Tom

  4. This post made me laugh hysterically and then sobered me up. It has been amazing to follow you, and I will try to apply the lessons you have learned to my own life.

  5. Enjoy the ride home Alan and congratulations to everyone who summited or participated.

    Cam Slee
    Mt Beauty, Victoria, Australia

  6. Hi Alan

    Your reference to the Concordia hotel Aakole, Sardu took me back to the amazing stories written in Ed Viesters book…However of all the summit pushes and Mountaineering blogs that I have followed yours had a heart to it like none other … Maybe it was the fact that at 58 your door to climb K2 was closing… I’m 56 and know that’s the case for me and some much smaller Mtns than K2.. But I think what I sense in your writing and your pictures is a great sense of humility the kind that comes from losing loved ones and living dreams that should not be attainable for someone who is possibly even younger or even more experienced .. Good show Alan and if you ever get out to Oregon I would love to meet you! Thanks for being so transparent and for living a life dedicated to serving others !

    Web Staunton
    Ashland, Oregon

  7. Amazing Alan! Congrats for completing this journey. We’re so proud of you! Wishing you much rest, food and peace the next few months! Thank you for your spirit, and taking us along as much as possible. Be proud of your accomplishments.

  8. Welcome back Alan… Thank you so much for making the journey (and bringing it to all of us “live’)…. It meant a lot to me personally, and many others as well… the combination of your desire to climb and your desire to cure Alzheimer’s is awe inspiring….

    just as I promised, when you started this trip, with a planned match donation of $500.. here’s the matching completion $500 for you coming home…

    THANK YOU.. THANK YOU… THANK YOU… for making the journey… I hope my small part helps as well


    PS Please write the book!!! I can’t wait for the Kindle installment

  9. So enjoy your climbing stories and your dedication to finding hope for those whose families have been touched by someone suffering from Alzheimer’s. Looking forward to your next chapter Alan…as you say “memories are everything”

  10. congrats on a fantastic effort for your summit, and your efforts to raise money and awareness for Alzheimer’s !!!
    I have been to Pakistan 1 time previously and visited some of the “base camps” on a trekking tour. It’s encouraging ? to hear an expert commenting on the difficulty of just getting to the mountain and back home. We continued past Concordia, over the Gondoro La pass, through Hushe and looped around back to Askole. Found the people to be friendly, helpful, and did not feel threatened at all ! Amazing place to visit..I highly recommend it ( even if your not climbing K2 )

  11. Alan: Thank you again and again for sharing this utterly amazing experience. Still having a hard time getting my mind around what you have achieved. This inspires us all to see what we can achieve for the Cure!

  12. Alan, thank you so much for another update. As for speaking sponsor, how about REI?

    Your mother would be/is beaming with pride for your accomplishments!

  13. Please let us know when you publish. And you should publish – you write clearly, and often with humor – I laughed often, reading today’s post. It would be fun to read, to once again climb with you up (and down) K2. Welcome home.

  14. Fantastic, Alan! I hope you’ll be enjoying and savouring this fantastic effort for a long, for a very long time to come. 8611 thumbs up!

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