It continues to be wild in the Pakistani Mountains. The week started with heavy snow delays, cleared for a day before the snow came back and now it’s mixed across the five 8000-meter peaks. All of this has taken a toll with multiple teams ending their expeditions saying the avalanche conditions are too dangerous, and time is running short. But other teams are staying put planning a shortened acclimatization process then hoping for a window long enough to allow a credible attempt.
2018 is turning into a high-stakes game of risk management. There are usually very few large commercial teams on the five 8000ers: K2, Broad Peak, GI, GII and Nanga Parbat thus many of the climbers are a loose collation of independents supported by Pakistan operators and minimal support from High Altitude Porters and/or Sherpas from Nepal. This configuration is radically different from what is seen on Everest where expeditions follow what I call “formula climbs”. The routes are known, the difficult spots are over-fixed for safety, there are more support staff than members climbing and the weather forecast have been honed after decades of observations and advances in technology. Pakistan couldn’t be more different.
In recent years, the Kathmandu based and Sherpa owned guide company, Seven Summits Treks, has taken their “volume” model from Everest to K2. They staff with a generous ratio of well-qualified Sherpas to members. They provide logistics for other teams and often they take the lead in fixing the ropes to the summit. Knowing this, independents often come to K2 assuming others will fix the route so they kind of tag along – not a dig to their competency but a commentary on how the style of climbing K2 has changed. Meanwhile on the other 8000ers from Broad to Nanga, its much more difficult to summit. With a handful of climbers and minimal support, they fix the entire mountain and often are forced to retreat when weather moves in abandoning camps that can be susceptible to Avalanches. This week we are seeing both of these models play out with most of the canceled efforts on other peaks than K2, and there, the largest team has taken over.
The weather forecast calls for a clam period over the weekend, maybe extending into early next week but then a series of heavy snowfalls every other day for the rest of the week – this is the nightmare scenario – a lot of snow with no time between events for it to settle. We could be looking at 10 days of no activity if this materializes. So with this scenario, some climbers are making a life risking gamble and ignoring basic acclimatization protocol with only one trip up to 7,000-meters. While this may work for some extraordinary climbers, it’s a huge gamble for the rest.
K2 – Climbing and Retreating
Now that all the commercial teams have arrived at K2 Base Camp and there is a break in the weather, look for some progress until the next system arrives next week.
Japanese climber Akira Oyabe and his team were the first to arrive at K2 base camp this season. They set the fixed ropes to C2 but then the snows came and buried them – it’s a shame because he took great pride in the work. In any event, he is now working with the other large teams staffed with many, many Sherpas to do the work for the other members. He reported: ” 7/4 report: It is said that he set up c1 and c2 in cooperation with the main unit of the main unit. The Rope was damaged, and it had to be replaced by about 200 meters. It’s going to snow again, and its back to the base camp.”
Jason Black made a succinct post with “-20 and snowing like crazy, I had food poison over night and I’m now officially lord of the “both” rings in BC – with the support of this awesome team that helped in any way they could getting me back on my feet & slept it off 13hrs straight awoke feeling in top form – another obstacle overcome let’s keep moving forward… the power of positive people.”
Canadian Nathalie Fortin laid out her plans with a limited acclimatization schedule “4 July – tomorrow is finally leaving for the continuation of the acclimatization. In Theory The 5 at c1, on 6 at c2 dépendemment how it goes, I may stay 2 nights at c2 because it will be the end of the acclimatization. It is scientifically proven that sleeping at c3 around 7000 M INCREASES ONLY 2 % of the acclimatization, and in general this increases fatigue. It’ll be different for me because I slept 7400 feet without o2 at Everest! I want to believe in scientific advances.”
Broad Peak – Climbing and a Weekend Summit Push?
Broad Peak has had some tough weather this season with a report that an avalanche wiped out one of the high camps – details unclear but there are no reported injuries. Many of the K2 climbers are attempting acclimatize on BP feeling it is easier, safer and more predictable than K2 – this year is testing that thesis.
Furtenbach Adventures, the largest and probably most experienced commercial team on BP this season gave an update: “After a period of unusual heavy snowfall in the Karakoram range weather calmed down a bit. Two sunny and warm days made the massive snowpack on the mountains settle down and unload the slopes and couloirs. Now climbing can start again. Breaking new trail and dig out the ropes under the snow will be heavy and cost a lot of energy. The latest weather forecasts confirm a solid window for the weekend so our team will give it a try on Broad Peak.”
Jake Meyer noted on a long, detailed and very good blog post: “The perfect weather conditions of this morning are no more, as I finish typing this blog on my iPhone, the temperature has dropped significantly and it’s snowing… whether it’ll live up to the Ukrainian forecast of 40cm over the next 24 hours, I don’t know (I hope not), but either way, it’ll be early beds for all of us tonight.”
David Roeske is going for a super fast climb with limited acclimatization. He posted: On the way up to Broad Peak’s camp 1 yesterday for a couple nights of acclimatization. More snow fell than forecast so we came back down today rather than going to camp 2. Plan to do one more quick trip up the mountain before a summit push, which may come early next week — “inshallah” — as they say here!”
Fredrik Sträng ended his most recent acclimatization climb on BP due to snow: “rain/snow promptly ended our acclimatization plan this morning as one inch predicted snow became 8 inches with several unpleasant avalanches. So we are back in BC again praying HARD for the Weather Gods to show mercy”
But German guide Amical alpin decided it was too dangerous and have cancelled their climb asking for porters to get them out ASAP. Their Dominik Müller posted: The entire material from camp 1 could be recovered. Right now it’s snowing again and in the rise some avalanches went off! All save back in bc” Also Luis Stitzinger said “I’ve never experienced such a season with so constant bad weather in the Karakoram.”
Gasherbrum – Snow
Adam Bielecki is in a wait and see mode on G: “Unfortunately better weather turned up to be short-lived. Despite our readiness we couldn’t establish camp 2. Due to avalanche danger and never-ending snowfall we had to return to the base camp where we are waiting for weather improvement. One day it has to come, doesn’t it?”
And K2 skier, Andrzej Bargiel, who was acclimatizing on GII abandoned that plan with poor and dangerous conditions there. But Masha Gordo along with Helias Millerioux, Yannick Graziani are still hopeful for a G1/G2 traverse climbing alpine style without Os and use of porters. This will be impressive if they can pull toff with this season’s weather.
Nanga Parbart – Over for Most
Wow, this season is one for the books – a lot of people, many experienced but also many on their first trip to the Karakoram and have limited experience thus are 100% dependent on support from Sherpas and guides – this worries me and is exhibit ‘A’ for why K2 is not Everest. Shame on those guides who tell their clients “I can get anyone up K2. Come on, you will be fine.”
Look at who is leaving Pakistan this week – long time, professional climbers who feel it is too dangerous. My sincere hope that all climbers will return safely but this weekend could be telling.
Memories are Everything