The Most Difficult: K2 and Alzheimer's
28,251 feet 8611 meters
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K2 is called the Mountaineer's Mountain and the Savage Mountain for its deadly and difficult reputation. I summited K2 on my 58th birthday, July 27, 2014. I am asked many questions about climbing especially since I am not a professional climber. So here are the most popular questions with my answers. As always, this information was based on my experience and are my opinions so always consult with a professional before making any serious climbing decisions.

Summited July 27, 2014 at age 58 - the oldest American to summit K2

Alan on K2 Summit

Camp 1 ManasluWhy

My mom, Ida, died from Alzheimer's in 2009. Since then there has been great progress in understanding the disease but there still is no cure. Many families are still surprised when they get the diagnosis of Alzheimer's just thinking their mom or dad, or even husband or wife was just getting old. And they are shocked when someone in their late 40s or 50s are diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease.

Caregivers are the silent victim of this disease often giving up their own life goals to care for their loved one. They often make such financial sacrifices that bankruptcy is required to keep going. This situation is unacceptable yet prevalent across the world.

So it with that mandate that I continue to raise awareness and funds for research on behalf of Alzheimer's non-profits.

I climbed K2, arguably the world's hardest mountain from June to August, 2014 on behalf of Alzheimer's causes and once again to honor everyone with the disease, their caregivers and researchers.

I trained hard to get ready with weekly summits on my Colorado 14,000 foot mountains, most with heavy packs, I was confident when I left late June. This was my sixth climb on a 8000m mountain (Everest, Broad Peak, Cho Oyu, Shishapangma, Manaslu and now K2. Well actually, nine if you include all my Everest attempts. I climbed with a small team organized by Garrett Madison. I climbed personally with Kami Sherpa whom I summited Everest with in 2011.

2014 K2 Summit

I had a great, yet challenging time summiting K2 on my 58th birthday on JUly 27, 2014. Looking at the climb, I can identify 5 key areas that made it possible:

ORGANIZATION:I have to start with how the climb was organized by Garrett Madison of Madison Mountaineering. Garrett has taken more people to the summit of Everest than any other guide and summited six times himself so he understands expeditions very well. He thought through the schedule in an aggressive yet simple manner to minimize our time on K2 exposed to the objective dangers but also to reserve our energy for the summit push. As a result we only made one acclimatization rotation. This proved to be sufficient and we used supplemental oxygen. Others climbing without O’s made as many as four rotations to the higher camps.

While we used the base camp and logistical services of Seven Summits Treks, we were a self contained team with our own Sherpa support. It was a comfortable base camp with good food and general support. I never got sick before the summit push, lost weight or felt stressed – all this was key to going into the summit with a good mental attitude.

A final factor was that I employed every trick and technique I knew throughout the expedition from sleeping to gear to eating, drinking, foot placement (simple, small steps), clothing layers, attitude, who I hung out with, etc. One proof of how it worked was that I never lost my appetite, rare for me.

WEATHER: We experienced some of the best weather K2 has seen in modern expedition times. There was over a week of minimal precipitation and very low winds. When we summited at 8:00am on July 27, the winds were less than 10 mph. It was cold, maybe 0F and my fingers got very, very cold as I took off my gloves to make phone calls, etc. But for the summit of K2 at 28,251′ – this was nothing.

We did see 3 feet of fresh snow the previous night covering some of the fixed lines but again, this was not a major issue. During our acclimatization rotation, we had a couple of days of high winds, heavy snow and low clouds that gave us a hint of what K2 could provide but for the summit window – it was perfect.

PREPARATION: My fitness was at the best level for an 8000m peak ever including Everest three years earlier. In the previous 6 months, I climbed over 15 14,000 Colorado mountains with 30 pound packs and did a total of 58 outside activities from 14ers to day hikes. I went to K2 at my target weight which was 177 pounds for my 5’10″ frame.

That said, in hindsight, I could have used a bit more upper body work given the extensive rock climbing on K2, plus more cardio work. I think these are given on such a high altitude technical peak such as K2.

SHERPA SUPPORT: This should be no surprise to anyone who followed me that having my Everest summit partner Kami (Ang Chhiring Sherpa – Pangboche) was a perfect match for me. At age 49 with 15 Everest summits, and an attempt on K2 in 2008, he had the maturity, experience and personality I needed. It goes without saying I trust my life to Kami. He was always supportive, professional, competent and is a genuine nice person.

Kami along with Kami Rita Sherpa, Fur Kancha Sherpa made a couple of carries to establish the high camps plus were there by our sides as we climbed. I want to be clear, I would not have summited K2 without their support. Also, having a small team of myself, Garrett and Matt Du Puy was perfect. We got to know and trust one another. We climbed as a small team, perfect for such a dangerous mountain.

PURPOSE: In looking back at my other climbs, I hit my mental wall way before my physical wall and quit too soon. I never understood how much reserves my body really had. Again, many people talk about mental toughness but my previous experiences showed me how far one can push their body if the mind is willing. So in the last few years, I have been working on mental toughness. When the time came on K2 to push my body, my mind was willing. However, I had to reach into depths I didn’t know existed on summit night plus the descent. More on this as I write about the overall climb later.

But the biggest difference was the inspiration and motivation that came from watching my mom struggle with Alzheimer’s. She did it with class, dignity and humor. She never let on how much it hurt. Her strength and courage kept me going every time I felt weak – physically or mentally.

In addition, knowing that there are millions going through the same struggle inspired me knowing that all of you were watching me. I simply could not let you down. So perhaps the pace went a little quicker.


Summit Video

This is a 30 minute video I created capturing the entire experince


I first saw K2 in 2006 when I organized a dual climb to Broad Peak and K2. That expedition was a disappointment for me on several levels not summiting Broad Peak but I was able to see K2 up close thus planting a seed that has grown along with my experience.

K2 is the world's 2th highest mountain at 28,251'/8611m. It is located in northwest Pakistan about 30 miles from the border with India. K2 is called the Mountaineer Mountain and the Savage Mountain for its deadly and difficult reputation.

It is not climbed as often other 8000 meter mountain due to the technical difficulty and history of avalanches and deaths. As of 2012, the summit has seen about 334 successful ascents and 83 deaths, ranking it second for the dangerous 8000m peaks only after Annapurna. (Updated and different from table)

source: Himalayan Database, research

It is climbed in the summer when the weather is best, but not always suitable. K2 is reached after a week long journey from Islamabad including an amazing trek up the Baltoro Glacier passing some of the most legendary rock pinnacles on earth.


The first summit of K2 was on July 31,1954 by Italians Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni. 2014 will be the 60th anniversary of the first summit. The first attempts began in 1902 by Brit Aleister Crowley. But it was the Duke of Abruzzi whom made the most valiant attempts in the early 1900's thus named the ridge most popular used today, the Abruzzi Spur.

After five American attempts, Louis Reichardt and Jim Wickwire summited on September 6 1978, and John Roskelley and Rick Ridgeway the next day. To see if a human could survive, amazingly Jim Wickwire spent a night in the open just below the summit at 27,000 feet without food, oxygen, or shelter in temperatures of -40 degrees.

According to research, the last year K2 allowed a summit was 2012 with 28 on July 31 bringing the total to 334 (compared with approximately 6,800 on Everest). 83 climbers have died on K2, thirty-three while descending from the summit making it was the second most deadly mountain in the world. 11 died in 2008 including my friend Gerard McDonnell. K2 has a special reputation for women climbers. Prior to 2014, of the nine women who have summited, five have died - 3 descending from K2's summit and 2 on other 8,000m peaks. Basque climber Edurne Pasaban was the sixth woman to climb K2 in 2004 and was the only one of four still alive today along with Norwegian climber Cecilie Skog in 2008, Nives Meroi from Italy and Austrian climber Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner who summited from the north side of K2 in 2010.


K2 is known for extreme weather, avalanches and rock fall. It starts steep and never lets up. 2008 was a deadly year with 11 deaths in a single incident and 13 deaths during the 1986 season. 2012 was the most successful year with 30 summits, 28 on July 31st. There were no summits in the recent years of 2009, 2010 and 2013 primarily due to weather and snow conditions. Until recently, most climbers did not use supplemental oxygen on K2.


The most popular route is up the Abruzzi Ridge. There are several technically difficult features requiring skilled climbing. These include Houses' Chimney, the Black Pyramid and the Bottleneck Couloir. There are no easy routes on K2.

K2 mapThere are multiple camps depending on conditions.

  • Base Camp: 17,500ft/5334m
  • Advanced Base Camp: 18,650ft/5650m
  • Camp 1: 19,965'/6050m
  • Camp 2: 22,110'/6700m
  • Camp 3: 23,760'/7200m
  • Camp 4: 25,080'/7600m
  • Summit: 28,251''/8611m


This was our approximate schedule:

Days 1 -4: Travel to Islamabad and on to Askole
Days 5 - 12: Trek to K2 Base Camp over Baltoro Glacier
Days 13 -25: Establish High Camps, set fixed safety ropes, acclimatization rotations
Days 26 -33:Summit Attempt weather permitting targeting July 27 as summit day
Days 34 - 40+: Trek out and return to Islamabad

Join the Climb, Join the Fight; K2 for Alzheimer's

I posted updates during the climb on my Blog. A full trip report will be available after the climb

Click this link to make a donation, join a team or become a team captain. As a team captain, you can form a team to follow my K2 climb and help with the Alzheimer's cause. We would provide you with all the tools, it would take as little or as much time as you choose, you can stop at anytime. It would be managed on my website, give you and anyone else the option to opt out, or to donate once with no further contact.

You would also be able to send emails, upload pictures of your own life experiences - climbs, Alzheimer’s, share your own story. In other words, you can help to make a difference in our world. You can be my hero!

K2 Partners 7 Summits Climb for Alzheimer's

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Cure Alzheimer's Fund: Our mission is to fund research with the highest probability of preventing, slowing or reversing Alzheimer’s Disease through venture based philanthropy. All organizational expenses are paid for by the Founders and Board, allowing 100% of other contributions to be applied directly to Alzheimer’s Disease research.

UsAgainstAlzheimer's: has one mission: to end Alzheimer's by 2020. We work to achieve greater urgency from government, industry and the scientific community in the quest for an Alzheimer's cure. In the three years since our founding, we have leveraged support from our donors to increase federal funding for Alzheimer’s research by $209 million. Our Founders have pledged to cover all overhead expenses associated with USA so that 100% of your donation will support our innovative programs and platforms.

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