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.
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:
- Himalayan Experience (Himex): 12 members, 2 guides, 11 Sherpas, ~ 11 Pakistan HAPs
- Madison Mountaineering : 7 members, 2 guides, 6 Sherpas and 9 Pakistan HAPs
- Seven Summits Treks: 10 members, 1 leader, 11 Sherpas and ~ 7 Pakistan HAPs plus 15 for Broad Peak (7 members, 7 Sherpas)
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).
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.
Memories are Everything