Ascent of K2 on 2022-07-28
|Date:||Thursday, July 28, 2022|
|Ascent Type:||Successful Summit Attained|
| Elevation:||28261 ft / 8613 m|
Ascent Trip ReportK2 (28,261ft)
Highpoint of Pakistan
Second highest Mountain in the world
July 28, 2022
Eric Gilbertson and Andreas Frydensberg
No supplemental oxygen, independent unguided climb
June 13 – July 19 – Acclimate by climbing Broad Peak (26,414ft)
July 20 – 22 – rest in broad BC after climbing Broad Peak
July 23 – move to K2 BC in afternoon
July 24 – climb to C2 6700m (I got hit by a big rock on the way up dislodged by descending climbers and was limping for next few days)
July 25 – move to c3 7200m, evening summit plans thwarted by 20cm new snow so slept there in friends tent with only one sleeping bag
July 26 – more unexpected snowfall, spend another night in c3 with no sleeping bags. We found an abandoned tent to shiver in all night. Food basically zero since we were delayed and ran out.
July 27 – move to C4 7800m after weather cleared, then start up bottleneck 11pm in snow squall.
July 28 – reach summit 8611m around 8am. We kept up with oxygen climbers most of the way. On descent I helped rescue two climbers near the bottleneck. Descend to c1 6000m in dark before a snow storm hit so stayed there for the night.
July 29 – descend to K2 Basecamp 5000m
July 30 – Aug 7 – hike out, drive back to Islamabad.
K2 has a reputation as being the hardest mountain in the world. It is nicknamed the “savage mountain” and the “killer mountain”, and before this year it reportedly had a death rate of around 25%.
K2 was first climbed in 1954, and by 2021 had only seen around 500 ascents. Many factors make k2 difficult. It is nestled deep in the Karakorum and takes nearly a week of trekking just to reach its base. In fact, it is so remote that there did not exist a local name for it. Surveyors gave it the name K2 for Karakorum 2, and the name stuck.
It is the second tallest mountain in the world and the oxygen content is low enough at that height that most climbers will need to breath supplemental oxygen.
The easiest route, the Abruzzi Spur, is very technical. The weather is notoriously bad with cold temperatures and extreme wind.
I’m working on climbing the highest peak in every country on earth and K2 is the highpoint of Pakistan, so I needed to climb it. I’ve been working my way up increasingly higher and more difficult peaks over the years in preparation for a climb like this.
My first big peak was Denali in 2010. I gained more experience at high altitude and cold peaks with Mt Logan in Canada and a bunch of 6000m peaks in South America like Aconcagua, Ojos del Salado, and Sajama. I’ve gained technical experience over the years putting up a new 30 pitch rock route on Mt Nirvana in NWT, climbing a mixed route on Noshaq (7492m) in afghanistan, and a long ice route at altitude on Shkhara in Russia.
Last summer, 2021, I started climbing 7000m peaks in Kyrgyzstan. I climbed Lenin, Khan Tengri, and Pik Pobeda via the Abalokov route.
All this experience of technical climbing at altitude gave me confidence I could give K2 a try, though success would be uncertain.
The biggest unknown for me would be how my body would perform at altitude. The highest I’d been was 7492m on Noshaq in Afghanistan. I did fine then, and I’ve never really gotten altitude sickness before, but K2 was significantly higher and I’ve heard things get much more difficult above 8000m.
Of course, I could always use supplemental oxygen on the summit, like most other climbers, but that feels a little like cheating to me. The major difficulty of a mountain that tall is the height and lack of oxygen on the summit. By breathing supplemental oxygen you basically get around that difficulty and make the peak significantly easier. It’s similar to doping in my mind. I definitely wanted to climb K2 without supplemental oxygen. Some climbers higher a high altitude porter to accompany them to the summit carrying an oxygen canister to use just in case they need it. But this is unappealing to me compared to climbing without that porter and canister. To me it sounds almost like the difference between top roping and lead climbing. With top roping you can always weight the rope if you want and it is much easier but leading is more authentic and difficult. Similarly with oxygen there is significantly more commitment and difficulty to the climb if you are on your own and I would consider the gold standard oxygen-less climb as not having any porters or sherpas supporting you with oxygen canisters.
I also wanted to climb it unsupported above basecamp. People have recently started climbing K2 with sherpas carrying all their gear and setting up their tents and guides leading the way and making all decisions. I definitely did not want to get guided up and didn’t want anyone else carrying my gear up.
Of course, I still wanted a reasonable chance of success, and that meant climbing the standard route, the Abruzzi Spur. This meant climbing with a bunch of other climbers. Inevitably they would help break trail, and I was ok with that. Also, because there would be guided groups they would of course fix ropes on crux sections for the clients. I was ok with paying to use fixed ropes on the mountain, as this is very standard practice on peaks like this. It would be silly to climb next to a fixed rope and not use it.
I had previously used fixed ropes twice before – on Denali above 14 camp and on the upper slopes of Khan Tengri.
For acclimation we decided to climb Broad Peak first. Broad is one of the easier and lower 8000m peaks and made sense as my first 8000er. We would climb the standard west ridge route without supplemental oxygen and with no support above basecamp. We could see how our bodies reacted above 8000m and hopefully learn lessons to apply later on K2.
We planned to acclimate very slowly and thoroughly on Broad to give us the best chance of success on K2. I know I often get impatient and want to tag a summit quickly, but the goal on Broad was complete acclimation, not a quick summit.
I found a conservative Broad peak itinerary listed on the summitclimb guided group website, and we planned to use this as our baseline itinerary. We would do three rotations progressively higher to 7000m before a final summit push.
If everything went well on Broad then we would request a K2 permit and go for K2. If for some reason we had a lot of trouble with breathing above 8000m on Broad then we could always skip K2.
Acclimating on Broad would also be much safer than acclimating on K2. For some reason this year many more climbers planned to climb K2 than in any previous year. Around 400 permits were issued for K2 and in the past at most around 60 climbers ever climbed K2 in one season. I’m not sure what caused the increased popularity this year.
This many climbers makes K2 dangerous. Rockfall below c2 is notoriously bad, and more climbers means more rocks. Also, c1 and c2 are very small and there’s no way this many climbers can fit at once.
By acclimating on Broad we would only have to go up K2 once instead of doing multiple acclimation rotations. This would minimize rockfall exposure and time fighting for campsite space.
Finally, it was likely that whenever we summitted Broad would coincide with the first summits on K2 (they are right next to each other and would likely have the same weather windows). We hoped that a majority of climbers would summit K2 in this first weather window and soon leave the mountain. Our strategy would be to wait for the next weather window ( if it occurred) and push for the summit then. Hopefully then the mountain would be free of climbers, rockfall danger would be minimal, campsites would be available, and there would be no waiting in line behind inexperienced guided climbers.
For logistics we wanted to go as cheap as possible to get our permits and get ourselves and our gear to basecamp. We went with Alpine Adventure Guides with Ali Saltoro and I could not have been more pleased. He is the cheapest operator for 8000ers in the Karakorum as far as I can tell and takes care of everything from the time you land in Islamabad to basecamp. He organizes all the permits and porters and transportation and you get a basecamp staff to cook meals down in basecamp. But you are completely on your own above basecamp. Ali is very well-connected with people in government and the military and if you need anything done he is the best man to talk to. He also knows tons of information on climbing history in the area and which peaks and routes are unclimbed.
Some climbers pay up to $95,000 (Madison Mountaineering) for a guided climb up K2, but we paid just $4,800 for permits and service for Broad peak plus $2,000 for a K2 permit.
One final piece of logistics is we needed reliable weather forecasts. In the past I’ve had friends inreach message me forecasts from online sites like mountain-forecast.com, but this is not super reliable. If our weather forecast is wrong it can cost a lot of time in failed summit attempts. This year and the past few years we’ve paid a professional meteorologist, Chris Tomer, to give us daily forecasts. Chris gave us forecasts last year on Pik Pobeda and Khan Tengri and was extremely accurate. He also previously forecast for the successful first winter ascent of K2 (by Nims and team in 2019) so we knew he knew the area well. He would send daily forecasts to my inreach as with last summer.
With all the logistics sorted out I made one final decision, and that was to not tell anyone I was planning to climb K2. I know many climbers spread news about their plans far in advance to try to get sponsors and increase publicity, but I’m a fan of the climber mantra “send before you spray”. It seems weird to me to get publicity for something you haven’t yet done but are only planning to do. But more importantly, I didn’t want any external pressure to affect my decision making on K2. If I told a bunch of people in advance I was planning to climb K2, then I might feel pressure to push for the summit in dangerous conditions to not disappoint them. If nobody knew I was trying for K2, then I would have no reservations turning around if conditions weren’t right.
So I said my plan was just Broad peak. If I didn’t do well at altitude on Broad I could always skip K2 with no shame and nobody knowing. The only people that knew about the possible K2 plans were my climbing partners Andreas and Marie and Ali Soltoro so he could get the permit if we needed it.
I departed for Pakistan June 13 a few hours after submitting my final grades for Seattle University.
Between June 14 – July 8 we flew to Skardu, took jeeps to past Askoli, trekked in to Broad basecamp, and did several rotations.
On July 8 we tried to summit Broad peak, and Andreas and I broke trail by ourselves all the way from c3 at 7000m to the col at 7900m. But then a storm rolled in and we had to retreat.
We had felt ok at 7900m, even breaking trail, and thought that was enough data to convince us we could attempt K2 without oxygen. So back at basecamp we contacted Ali to complete the paperwork and payment for K2 permits for us.
I hadn’t realized previously, but it is not normal to request a last minute K2 permit like this and is not easy. Most climbers get this permit months or a year in advance. The government wanted to send in a new liason officer from Islamabad for this, but that would take much too long. Ali made lots of calls and pulled strings, and our liason officer Zishan was also instrumental in helping us out. In the end we got the permit in just 5 days, as Ali had told us would be the case.
One day while waiting for good weather we walked up to K2 basecamp and talked to a few climbing teams. We talked to Marie’s Estonian friend Krisli at Madison Mountaineering and she said they were looking to go for the summit July 22. Interestingly, Madison had a ratio of two guides and 11 sherpas per client! I think they were on one end of the support spectrum and we were on the other.
We heard Elite Expeditions led by Nims was guiding up the princess of Qatar, but she was kind of reclusive and we never saw her. I bet she had the absolute highest level of support.
We also talked to Dawa at Seven Summit Treks and he was super friendly. I knew they had fixed a lot of rope on the route but he said we could use it without paying. He gave us a bottle of coke and we talked for a while until he needed to get back to work coordinating clients.
On July 18 in the next weather window we summitted Broad peak, the fourth and fifth climbers of the season (since there were no fixed ropes at the top the guided groups had all turned around without summitting.)
We made it back to basecamp July 19 and started our rest. We had essentially done five rotations up Broad peak, twice tagging near or above 8000m, and it seemed like our acclimation was very thorough. It was perhaps even more helpful for our K2 attempt that we had required two summit attempts on Broad, since this gave us another rotation.
I was coughing a lot, but I knew from recovering from our first Broad attempt that it was not serious and would gradually go away. Climbers call this the Karakorum cough, and both Andreas and I had it. I think it was a result mostly of the dry air at altitude and me being dehydrated from the climb.
Unfortunately for us there had not yet been any K2 summits, and we really needed to wait for the main wave of climbers to go up and down so the peak could clear out and be safer. We definitely did not want to get tangled up in a 400 person stampede for the summit. On Broad it had just been me, Andreas and our friend Bartek on the summit with three friends later reaching the top. Six people total summitting all day was a safe and reasonable number.
A helicopter evacuation from BC. These were surprisingly common. I heard rumors some climbers faked injuries to get a free flight out. Otherwise the flight is $30k usd. Some rich climbers just paid to fly out.
We rested for a few days reading, sleeping, and eating a lot. Fidali and the cook team prepared tons of excellent food for us every day. The weather was great those first few days and I felt a bit bad sitting in basecamp, but I knew rest was important.
After dinner july 21 just as it was getting dark I noticed headlamps high up on K2 above c4 on the shoulder. This was the highest I’d seen headlamps all summer. Later after 10pm we saw them progress above the bottleneck and we figured it must be a rope fixing team. This was great news since that meant the first wave would be going up soon.
Indeed, we later learned a team of five strong sherpas from Madison Mountaineering and Seven Summit Treks fixed lines from c4 that night, reaching the summit around 10:30pm. I was surprised they would go completely at night, but I suppose this was so clients would have time to follow and summit by sunrise.
As the sherpas neared the summit the rush was on. Clients from Madison Mountaineering started up just before the sherpas finished, trying to be at the head of the pack. They ended up summitting at 230am, well before sunrise. Behind them was a huge lineup of between 150-200 climbers (I heard different estimates based on who I talked to). Apparently everyone was using supplemental oxygen except three climbers – Nims, a pakistani porter, and one more person. Everyone I heard of was part of a guided trip.
The guided climbers with oxygen could get by doing just one acclimation rotation in advance up to 6800m before doing a summit push while climbers without oxygen would have to do at least three rotations to properly acclimate like we did. Thus climbers using oxygen could more easily summit in the first wave since they didn’t really need to acclimate as much while climbers not using oxygen generally had to go in a later weather window like us. I heard many climbers started using oxygen at c2 at 6700m, which means they had to have many oxygen containers hauled up for them by sherpas and porters to cover the rest of the climb.
I later saw a video (by Mingma G) of a traffic jam just above the bottleneck and it looked agonizing. I’m very happy we weren’t tangled up in that. It sounded dangerous to be stuck in the lower section of that traffic jam in the bottleneck below a hanging glacier. The safest thing to do in that zone is to move as fast as possible.
But, it was excellent news that most climbers would soon clear out from the route. We soon started making plans for our summit bid.
We figured if everyone summitted on the 22nd, then they should be able to make it down to basecamp by the 23rd. So by the 24th the mountain should have cleared out.
Chris said there was a little bit of snowfall expected on the 25th but there would be a second weather window the 26-28. Then by the 29th the jet stream would hit the summit with heavy snow and the climbing season would likely be over.
From talking to guided clients it sounded like the standard summit push itinerary is to climb to c1 and sleep, then c2, then c3, then c4, then summit. This sounded way too slow, though. On our Broad peak summit push we had climbed directly BC to c3 (4800m to 7000m) then left for the summit directly that night. So almost a single push.
I’ve found that I generally don’t get a good sleep above 7000m, so we thought maybe we could skip camps and also avoid sleeping up high on K2. We were used to skipping camps on high peaks (for instance on Pobeda last summer on the Abalokov route we skipped every other camp). So our plan was to climb BC to c2 (5000m to 6700m) the first day, then leave the overnight gear at c2 and climb to c3 at 7300m the next morning, rest a few hours in a friends tent, then push on for the summit at 8pm.
This would allow us to go fast and light above c2 and not try to sleep above 7000m where its difficult to sleep anyways. It would put us at c4 at 7600m around 11pm, which is the time our friends recommended starting up for the summit anyways. Then after the summit we would descend back to c2 to sleep. This meant in total we would just need to pack three days of food.
The weather was supposed to be clear the morning of the 26th, so it seemed like a reasonable schedule.
From my experience on Broad I knew I would have trouble eating anything above 8000m. So summit day we would likely not need to bring much food. But I still needed calories to function. To solve this problem I would put gatorade in both my nalgenes. Then I could ingest calories without throwing them back up like I had when I tried to eat hard food on Broad peak.
From talking to Dawa we knew a guided team from SST (Seven Summit Treks) was also planning to summit the 26th, so there would be other climbers on the mountain to help with trail breaking if needed. But they were the only remaining guided team still planning to summit, and they were only five sherpas and five clients, so it would not be crowded. With 200 climbers already summitting and only a small amount of new snow forecast for the 25th, it seemed like we wouldn’t need to break any trail and could just march up in the existing track. So even if it were just us two we could make it up.
Our plan seemed like it could work, assuming the forecast held, and we had the added benefit that the 27th and 28th could be backup summit days since they were also forecast to be dry.
With logistics hashed out and our permit in order we started packing up on the 23rd.
Our basecamp at Broad peak was an hour hike from K2 basecamp, and we had three friends also with Alpine Adventure Guides who had a basecamp set up at K2 basecamp. So we planned to sleep with them that night to let us start our climb the 24th a little closer to the mountain.
After lunch Andreas, I, and Marie set out in nice clear weather and hiked up to K2 basecamp. We had dinner with Serge, Mauritz and Corinne, who were resting after their last rotation on K2 and getting ready for their own summit bid.
Our cook, Honey, cooked up some excellent rice and dahl. Honey actually works as a cook for former prime minister Imran Kahn when he’s not on expeditions, and I can see why Imran Kahn hired him!
That night I tried to get to sleep early in preparation for a big day the next day, but it was difficult. At 8pm our neighbors at the Madison Mountaineering camp started playing loud music and setting off firecrackers to celebrate the successful ascent and return of their two clients Krisli and Nelly.
This lasted until 10pm, when our other neighbors in the Elite Expeditions camp started their own celebrations with even louder music and, of course, more firecrackers. I thought I had packed my earplugs but I had unfortunately left them in broad BC. That was a huge mistake.
Also, unfortunately, Marie hadn’t fully recovered yet from Broad peak and was coughing all night. We were all sleeping on the floor of the cook tent, so it was impossible for me to sleep.
At 11:30pm after three hours of unsuccessfully trying to sleep I picked up my sleeping bag and walked outside far away from our tent. I laid the bag directly on the ground and tried to fall asleep there.
By this time Nims team at Elite Expeditions had finally run out of firecrackers and were merely blasting loud music. I was far enough away from our mess tent that this was the only noise I now had to contend with. Finally by 2am I managed to doze off, but was awoken by my alarm at 3am that it was time to move. Elite Expeditions was still partying hard with music blasting. They would continue until nearly sunrise.
Marie was still coughing and we convinced her to take another rest day. It didn’t seem wise to start up K2 when still feeling sick. So it would be Andreas and I going up as a team and Marie following up independently. We had heard ropes were fixed up the whole route, so going up solo would be doable and reasonably safe. The weather window was supposed to be long enough that Marie should be able to summit a day or two after us.
After eating some porridge and chapati we headed up around 4am. Mauritz, Corinne, and Serge had said they usually started up around 4am on their rotations and this seemed reasonable.
We started out in our light hiking boots carrying our mountaineering boots on our packs, since the first stretch of the route was on rocky morrain. This made our packs heavy, but not as bad as on Pobeda last year (we made many comparisons between K2 and Pobeda, ultimately concluding K2 was easier). That time we needed to carry a 60m rope, a week of food, rock and ice racks and two tools each. But since K2 had fixed lines we could get by with just one ice ax each (to use just in case ropes got cut), with no rope or rack, and half as much food.
We had considered taking a light rope for the bottleneck in case the ropes got cut by icefall while we were at the summit and we needed to rappel. This had happened in the 2008 accident on K2, when some climbers had to downclimb. But we figured there would be plenty of fixed line above the bottleneck and worst case we could cut that and use it to rappel if needed. We brought a few ice screws and v thread tool in case we needed to simul climb across the traverse section and make some anchors going down.
If the ropes got cut before we ascended we could borrow some lower fixed rope and re fix the cut section while taking turns climbing with our two tools. This allowed us to save a bit of weight and move faster.
The trail out of BC was poorly defined but we roughly stayed on the rocks between the icy sections. By sunrise we reached the end of the rocks and started following occasional flags in the ice.
We gradually gained elevation, and as we neared advanced basecamp we encountered more and more slippery icy sections. Finally we stopped and put on our olympus mons boots and crampons, and that made progress much easier.
We eventually followed flags off the glacier on the left side and took the crampons off. Amazingly, I saw one patch of grass on the side in the dirt! That was the highest vegetation I saw on the whole route, at nearly 5300m.
We reached ABC around 6am just as a sherpa and client were hiking down. There were two tents set up but nobody was in the camp. We carefully hid our light hiking boots under some rocks and put our crampons back on.
Above us was a huge wide icy snow slope on the right bordered by a rock slope on the left. There were no obvious fixed lines but we could vaguely see old tracks on the snow on the rock snow border. Our friends had told us the route hugged this border, with the rope fixed on rock while the route followed the snow.
We started kicking steps up the snow and soon reached the start of the fixed lines sheltered behind a big cliff. A handful of hiking poles and other gear items were stashed in the rocks and we added our poles to the pile. It was unlikely they would be useful any higher.
I was a bit disappointed that the fixed lines were the white Korean rope we had come to know from Broad peak. This is cheap static line that is sold in 200m sections in every mountaineering shop in Skardu. It is thin, frays easily, and does not inspire confidence. But as long as it just takes body weight statically it somehow works. I wasn’t complaining, though. Some other climbers had spent a lot of time and effort putting it up and it had apparently held for 200 climbers going up and down during the first summit wave.
Fortunately there were two independent lines, so I could put my ascender on the strongest-looking one and clip my backup to the other line. In general there would usually be at least two lines up the whole route. I clearly wasn’t the only climber mildly sketched out by the Korean line. To increase my confidence I would generally try to not weight the rope and only use it as backup.
We slowly started up the route with Andreas in the lead, but it would soon get very dangerous.
After 30 minutes we rounded a corner and heard a loud noise up above. Soon a big green oxygen canister came blasting down the slope like a missile! Then a second one blasted down just behind it! We frantically swung as far to the left as possible, with the missiles passing 15 ft to our right.
We hung out sheltered behind a rock band watching amazed as a backpack, then sleeping bag, then pad rocketed down. Fortunately no person fell down, but it appeared a sherpa had somehow managed to lose the entire load of him or his client!
After the slope settled we cautiously started up, very rattled. We would sprint from safe zone to safe zone, nervously glancing above us every few seconds.
Frequently we would here mini helicopter noises and then rocks would zip by at lightning speed. Clearly a group of climbers above was being extremely careless. I think this is one dangerous consequence of guiding inexperienced clients up a major peak like this. They don’t necessarily have the mountaineering background to know the importance of being extremely careful with rockfall.
As we got higher we had to cross one particularly long and risky section. At some point I heard yet another helicopter noise as a grapefruit size rock came hurdling down. I jumped to the side but at the last minute the rock took a wild turn and hit me directly in the calf! It went between my legs from the right, hitting me in the left leg.
I bent over in pain and swore at the top of my lungs at the climbers above. I hoped they understood english, but I doubt it caused them to change their behavior. My calf was throbbing but miraculously the rock had missed my shin. It might have broken my leg if it had hit bone, it was going so fast. I had a huge black and blue mark but luckily no bleeding. I had to limp to keep going, but it seemed like the kind of injury that would gradually improve.
We seriously considered turning around, but it looked like we were almost at the end of the snow slope and the rocky terrain above looked like it provided more protection. Up was safer than down at that point, so we continued up.
Soon some sherpas and clients descended down, and I warned them to be more careful about rockfall. They said we shouldn’t be ascending so late in the morning, but that’s no excuse for sending rocks down! If we had ascended in the dark it might be more dangerous since we couldn’t see oncoming rocks to avoid them! Descending climbers really need to be more careful. It’s not difficult on that route to avoid dislodging rocks I now know.
We passed about 15 sherpas and clients coming down and they had all summitted in the July 22 wave. We had expected them to all descend on the 23, but I guess many were slower than we expected and were taking two days to descend.
By 10am we finally reached camp 1 and stopped for a break. That was the first flat spot since ABC. The camp was deserted, with just a few tents still standing, likely abandoned. The camp stunk of excrement and had trash and flattened tents everywhere. There were perhaps 20 platforms created in the rocks and, precariously, in the snow at the edge of camp, but nearly all were empty. I was very happy to not have to camp there, especially when it was full.
I was surprised how much trash was in this camp given that the camps on Broad were generally clean. Both peaks had a similar number of climbers registered for permits and c1 and c2 on Broad were also small. The only difference I can think of is K2 has almost exclusively guided groups while Broad had a high percentage independent groups. Perhaps independent groups clean up after themselves better and don’t leave old tents on the mountain? I’m not sure.
It was actually a bit sketchy walking around in crampons through all the trash and discarded tents, but we found a place to sit and eat a snack.
Soon two sherpas from Seven Summit Treks descended to camp and stopped to talk. They said there were only a few other climbers left above us on the route and they were coming down. That was great to hear the route would soon be empty and the rockfall danger would be much less.
They confirmed the group of ten from SST was on their way up from ABC and were planning to summit on the 26th just like us. They also said the fixed rope up the bottleneck was high quality thick dynamic rope just put up July 21, and this boosted our spirits.
They soon headed down and we continued up. I decided to power through the pain in my calf since it would likely improve with time.
Just as we were leaving camp another rock whizzed down past us! It appeared camp 1 was not a totally safe zone, surprisingly. There must be a climber above us still, and we stayed vigilant watching above for projectiles.
We followed more korean line up the rocks, and this was soon replaced by higher quality black rope. We were ultra vigilant not to dislodge rocks, and I’m pretty confident we were successful. It wasn’t very difficult.
At one point we traversed through a small waterfall, then climbed a short snow slope and returned to rock scrambling. One solo Pakistani climber descended by us, and I think he was a porter ferrying a load down.
At some points the fixed rope situation was almost comical. One anchor had literally 15 different unique strands of rope coming off! The trick was always to find the two strands that looked the newest and clip one with the ascender and the other with the backup line.
Interestingly, in some places it looked like a brand new 10mm orange dynamic line had been placed next to older Korean static line. But often the orange line was core shot while the Korean line was still holding together. Perhaps the Korean line was stronger than I gave it credit for. Though there were still plenty of places where it had been cut and tied back together.
We eventually reached a small flat area with a single yellow Kailas tent pitched. Just above this we encountered the infamous house chimney.
This is the first technical section of the abruzzi spur route, and is a 30m tall vertical chimney that goes at around 5.7. Long ago climbers left a metal cable ladder strung in the chimney, and there were two new fixed ropes in the middle (one was placed by our friends Mauritz, Corinne and Serge.)
I’ve heard horror stories of climbers waiting hours in line for a chance to go up or down this section, but luckily we had it all to ourselves. I started up first and it was tricky squeezing through and up with a big pack but still pretty fun. I generally used the ladder rungs as handholds and stepped on ledges on the side.
I didn’t notice it at the time but my friends later showed me pictures of a big loose boulder balanced above the chimney. Climbers have wrapped ropes around it to hold it up but they don’t look very effective if it actually got dislodged. It kind of reminds me of chain rock in Kentucky. Maybe it’s for the best we didn’t notice the boulder as we were climbing.
Once I topped out Andreas started up while I waited. Above the chimney we passed a solo climber going down. He looked very tired and said he had summitted on the 23rd and was trying to make it to basecamp. We congratulated him, then made the last short climb up to c2 by 3pm.
Like c1, c2 was completely deserted. Four tents remained and they were all in tough shape and very likely abandoned. The trash situation in c2 was much worse than in c1. Most of the tent platforms were literally piles of old tents. There would be 10 flattened old tents, then a platform with a pile of trash on top. Empty fuel cans were everywhere, as well as food wrappers and all kinds of random junk. It’s as if climbers come down from the summit exhausted and decide they’d rather leave their gear and trash there and go down light and buy new gear later instead of carrying their gear down. This is terrible! All future climbers have to then deal with the trash! My LNT instructors from boy scouts would be appalled at this situation.
Luckily I later learned a cleaning team is scheduled to go up and remove the trash if there’s a weather window. Hopefully this is what our $200 environmental fee is helping to fund.
We looked around for a spot sheltered from the wind and the calmest spot ended up being on a pile of old tents. I cleared off some trash from the top and then we pitched Andreas’ ultralight MSR tent. We tied it off to some pickets on the surrounding platforms and threw our sleeping bags inside.
I was quite concerned about finding clean snow, but luckily there was a good patch above the highest platform where I was quite confident nobody had pooped. There was actually a shovel there which appeared to be used to harvest clean snow. We carefully filled up a stuff sack of snow and brought it down to our tent.
By that time one sherpa from SST made it up and he started setting up a big tent he had stashed there. Then he went to two of the abandoned tents and threw gear inside.
The ethics about tent usage on K2 is interesting. The camp locations are so small that they can’t possibly sleep all climbers at the same time. But climbers generally leave tents set up in camp to claim spots. So the ethics are generally that you are allowed to sleep in a tent if it is empty, since there may be no spots available to pitch your own tent. This was formally agreed upon by all the major expedition leaders at a meeting in K2 BC at the beginning of the season to cope with the unprecedented crowds on the mountain.
If you sleep in another person’s tent you obviously should leave everything inside undisturbed and zip it back up when you leave. But, unsurprisingly, many climbers are not very considerate. On Broad peak some climber slept in my tent in c2 (even though there were empty sites available they could have pitched their own). Then they left the door and vestibule unzipped right before a storm. When I found it the vestibule was ripped off, sides were ripped, and snow had filled the inside! In the future I will will lock the entrance of my tent on 8000m peaks.
In c2 the abandoned tents all had their doors unzipped. This appeared to again be from inconsiderate climbers, unfortunately. But the SST sherpa had claimed a few and I knew they would be well taken care of that night at least.
We soon cooked up some backpackers pantry freeze dried lasagna and settled in to the tent. We had a great view that evening of the Goodwin-Austin glacier 2000m below extending from BC down to Concordia. We could see Broad peak across the valley and could see the black pyramid looming above us.
The sherpa soon went back down and returned with a pink backpack from a client. Later a few other sherpas and then a few clients made it up to camp. We talked to one client, a friendly lady from Poland. She had already climbed Nanga Parbat, Broad, and some 8000ers in Nepal. She said she was trying to climb all 14 8000ers this year and was going with Seven Summit Treks for all of them.
Interestingly, by my count this year at least four women are each trying to climb all 14 8000ers (all guided using oxygen and heavy sherpa support). There’s the Polish lady with SST, a Norwegian lady with 8k, a Taiwanese lady, and an American. I suspect they were inspired by Nims’ amazing push in 2019 to climb all 14 8000ers in around 6 months.
I was thrilled to hear this, since the Polish lady would be very motivated to reach the top of K2, meaning the sherpa guiding her would very likely push for the summit and be able to help us break trail if needed.
By sunset the last few SST members reached camp and we went to bed.
The tent was quite small but we stayed very warm and had a good sleep. We intended to sleep in with no alarm to try to catch up on sleep from our sleepless previous night in basecamp. I think the SST crew was similarly in no hurry since they had gotten to camp late the previous day.
I poked my head out the door around 8am and unfortunately the weather was socked in with snow showers. Chris had predicted an inch of snow, so this wasn’t too surprising. I hoped maybe the system had just come in early and would then clear out early for our evening summit push.
Amazingly, the night of rest had done wonders for my calf and it was feeling much better (still sore but not enough to cause me to limp). This was excellent news for continuing up the mountain.
We took our time eating breakfast and at 9am it was still snowing. We got a morning update from Chris and he said there was considerable uncertainty in the days forecast. I didn’t like how things were looking but the sherpas said they were still heading up, and the Polish lady soon left camp going up.
We considered spending another day in camp to wait out the weather. But it seemed like a huge advantage if we could go up the same day as the sherpas. I figured a bigger group would increase safety and give a better chance of success on the route if there was any trail breaking. The weather was supposed to clear that evening, so it seemed like our original plan was still good as long as we were ok walking through some snow showers and low visibility. But there were ropes on the route to follow, so visibility wasn’t concerning. And the predicted snowfall, one inch with low wind, shouldn’t be enough to increase stability concerns.
So we quickly packed up. We left the tent set up with sleeping bags inside, since we would go directly for the summit and come back to c2 to sleep. We also left a bit of food to eat when we came back.
Once packed we headed up, with the Polish lady ahead of us and the rest of the SST crew still getting ready.
The ropes were mostly newer, thick dynamic rope instead of the white Korean rope. We soon started climbing the black pyramid and it was pretty fun. There were steep scramble sections interspersed with snow slopes.
At times the wind picked up, blowing snowing and decreasing visibility, but it didn’t last long.
The trickiest part was another vertical rock section with two metal cable ladders and fixed lines hanging down. The rock was loose and wet, and it was a bit tricky climbing. Like in the House chimney I generally used the rock for footholds and pulled on the ladder for handholds.
At the base two climbers descended, then at the top I met three climbers coming down. One happened to be Sara Strattan, and she was also getting forecasts from Chris Tomer! She had summitted on the 24th when the weather was great. She said she had hired a high altitude porter to help carry gear and oxygen and she had used oxygen on summit day. I half wondered if I should have done that to increase chance of success, but I was still happy giving it a try unsupported without supplemental oxygen, even if we ended up bailing before the summit.
The snow picked up then and stayed hard for a while. We caught up to the Polish lady at camp 2.5, where there were platforms for about six tents. Two empty tents were set up and I suspect they were abandoned.
We passed the Polish lady and continued up. There were a few steep sections with core shot rope but generally the scrambling was fun and easy as before.
Eventually we reached the last rock, which signaled the top of the black pyramid. I let Andreas take over then and he led up a gentle snow slope with some light trail breaking. We passed the body of an Afghan climber who had died there a few weeks early from complications related to altitude sickness.
Before long the slope leveled out and we were at camp 3, 4.5 hours of climbing up to 7300m.
There were five tents set up and we quickly spotted the tent of our friends Serge, Mauritz and Corinne. The tent situation had a bit of confusion. Serge didn’t want us planning to sleep in their tent in case they needed to sleep in it the same night. That was understandable and we agreed. But Mauritz said it was ok to rest in it a few hours on our way up for the summit bid. And that was our plan.
They had locked their door but we had the combination and went inside. There were no pads but we found some laying around outside and brought those in. For some reason c3 was much cleaner than the other camps with no obvious piles of trash or flattened tents. But I suspect this is because c3 is on the glacier and is a lot snowier than the other camps. The trash is likely just buried under the snow and not visible.
We soon started melting snow and cooking up dinner in preparation for our evening summit bid. Before long one of the sherpas came up and threw some gear in a big SST Kailas tent. Then he threw more gear in an Elite Expedition tent. I think most of the tents were abandoned and he just started claiming the biggest ones for his team. Elite Expeditions had already summitted July 22 and wasn’t sending any more teams up, so they had clearly just abandoned their tent.
It was still snowing by mid afternoon and I went over to talk to the sherpa. He said they were still planning to head up at 6 or 7 pm but he shook his hand like there was some uncertainty. The rest if his team still hadn’t made it up.
I was feeling uncertain about the weather. With all this new snow the old tracks and fixed lines would be covered up. Navigation would be difficult in the dark and I was starting to worry about stability. There was a steepish snow slope above c3 (the camp itself appeared safe though). The old snow had had a week to stabilize but the new snow was starting to be enough to maybe slide.
If it were just me and Andreas I would delay by a day and maybe go up in the daylight if the snow stopped soon. If the team of ten SST climbers went up that night, though, I would be tempted to follow since the route would be found, trail broken, and stability tested ahead of us.
I radioed Zishan at basecamp and interestingly he said BC was hot and sunny and he could see the summit of K2 in the clear most of the day, but there was a middle layer of clouds stuck on the mountain. It appeared it was only snowing on mid elevations of K2, and we were stuck in the snow.
A few more hours passed and it continued snowing. The rest of the SST crew trickled in. By 7pm I got an evening update from Chris and he said it would dry out at 10pm. That sounded too late to wait. We wanted to hit the summit the next morning when the wind would be low. By afternoon it was forecast to increase.
I told the sherpa our forecast and he agreed it was best to delay. So the plan was to go up the 26th in the afternoon and summit the 27th.
This put us in a bit of a dilemma. We’d only brought enough food to summit the 26th, and hadn’t brought sleeping bags to spend the night at c3.
For better or worse our appetites get suppressed a lot at altitude, so we figured we could stretch our food another day. We weren’t supposed to be sleeping in the tent that night, but since it wasn’t conflicting with our friends sleeping plans that night we decided to sleep there instead of descending all the way to c2. We would just wear all our down jackets and down pants. The temperature for the summit was supposed to be around -10f/-2f, which was much warmer than normal, and we figured it would be above 0f down at c3. So it could probably work. Luckily we even found one sleeping bag in our friends tent, which we could use as a blanket.
I thought back to early July when our friend Nico was alone at c3 on Broad peak on a summit push and had accidentally dropped his sleeping bag down the mountain. We had let him sleep in our tent using my down jacket stashed there as a blanket. He made it through the night ok so we figured we’d be ok too.
It kept snowing hard until 10pm, then stopped just as Chris had predicted. I saw stars outside and hoped things would stay cleared out and stabilize. In total it had snowed about 8 inches, much more than expected.
The night was chilly but we managed to stay warm enough to get some good sleep.
The next morning dawned sunny, but it didn’t last long. By late morning it started snowing again and I started getting nervous about our summit chances. The forecast was for high sun and low clouds, but it appeared we were stuck in the low clouds and they had unexpectedly high moisture content.
We stayed resting in the tent and early afternoon started melting snow.
Soon more climbers started showing up. A handful were more SST clients and a few independent climbers showed up. Flor from Peru and Iman from Iran were independent climbers and had left the tent next to ours, which they crawled into.
Soon Serge came up and he was not happy to see us in his tent. I quickly got out with all my gear so he wouldn’t get more angry. I gave him my fresh nalgene of boiling water to warm his cold fingers and I think this smoothed things over.
We hopefully just needed to hang out a few more hours before moving up, and shouldn’t need to sleep another night. The plan was to move up at 7pm with SST again. But since it was snowing it would be nicer to rest in a tent.
Our sherpa friend saw me getting out and motioned to an abandoned tent at the bottom of camp. He said it was nobody’s and I was free to use it. I went over but then a client started eying it. He clearly had his own tent brought up by the sherpas but just didn’t want to set it up. I told him we just needed to rest a few hours in a tent before heading up and were hoping to use that one.
He looked annoyed but reluctantly acquiesced and let me go inside. The tent was nice and big, but the snow underneath had collapsed under half of it so the space was actually small.
I threw my gear inside and Andreas soon joined. I went outside to melt snow and soon met Mauritz climbing up. He said Corinne had gotten hit by a rock below c1 and decided to turn around. It wasn’t serious, but she didn’t want to risk getting hit again. Their plan was to move to c4 the next day and summit the 28th. I told them we planned to move up that night if the weather cleared, but it wasn’t looking good yet.
Inside the tent we made some interesting discoveries. The owner had left two freeze dried meals, a pair of small women’s down pants, and a fuel bottle with a little bit of fuel.
This was perfect for us! The sherpa said the tent was abandoned so I felt ok using these items. We were short on food and fuel so they would potentially be useful. If we hadn’t found these we would still have managed with our food and fuel, but they were nice to have.
We cooked the food for dinner with the extra fuel. Then Mauritz was kind enough to give us a little extra of their food they didn’t need since Corinne had turned around. So we had sufficient food for that day.
The snow continued and by 6pm we talked to the SST sherpas and agreed it was wise to delay another day. But based on our forecast and food supplies that was as long as we could hold out. We had to either move up for the summit the next day or move down to our gear at c2 or lower. Plus, the jet stream was supposed to move over K2 on the 29th, so really the 28th appeared to be our last shot.
The SST client appeared now to be annoyed at us that we weren’t moving up after all. I think his main annoyance was that he had to pitch his tent! I told him it was just snowing too much to be safe and we had to delay. I promised we’d help break trail for him if we were moving up together.
That night would prove to be rougher than before. We really wanted to stay at c3 so we could move directly up for the summit push. But we didn’t have sleeping bags, not even one to use as a blanket. If we descended to c2 to retrieve our tent and bags and extra food it would likely take too much energy for us to be able to make a summit bid. So we reluctantly decided to spend the night without sleeping bags in that abandoned tent. It was supposed to be a similar temperature as the previous night, probably around 0F, and seemed marginally tolerable.
For reference, last summer we had attempted a single push ascent on Khan Tengri but at midnight my partners got tired out and needed to sleep at 5500m. So I gave them all my spare clothes and backpack to sleep on in an open bivy while I did jumping jacks and melted snow all night without sleeping. I made it through that night no problem, and this night looked to be considerably more comfortable, so I was not concerned.
We removed two of our scavenged pads from Mauritzs tent (and left them one to be nice) and placed these in our tent. We put on all our layers – down jacket and down pants- and wore our boot liners. We then each put one leg up to our shin in the small down pants we’d found and the other leg in our packs.
We huddled onto the pads and got close. The floor space wasn’t big enough for us to lay on our backs so we laid on our sides.
The night started out ok but later it got windy and cold. I had to force myself to shiver every once in a while to warm up and occasionally had to wiggle my toes so they didn’t freeze. We had to adjust the pads some so we each had two underneath. Eventually, amazingly, I fell asleep.
Somehow we each managed to get several hours of sleep in and seemed sufficiently rested by morning. I think it helped that we had napped a bit the previous day when it was warmer out.
By morning my remaining food was a bag of gatorade and four bars. I gave Andreas a bar, ate one for breakfast, and saved the last two for summit push.
We had to make a summit attempt today with or without the sherpas and I went outside to rally some help. By now the weather seemed to finally be clearing.
I knew from trail breaking on Broad peak that if it were just me and Andreas it would be a lot of work and go very slowly. But Serge and Mauritz said they would join at 10am. Then Flor and Iman said they would also join. So we had six oxygenless independent climbers planning to join forces for trail breaking. If we rotated often that might just work.
I talked to the three Italians going without oxygen and supported by SST. However, they would only go if the sherpas went. I’m not sure why.
I then went to the the sherpas and told them the six of us were going up at 10am. I think this might have pushed them over the edge and convinced them to go. They said they would also go up at 10am.
This was great news! A bigger group of climbers, including sherpas with oxygen who were familiar with the route, would definitely increase our chance of success. By then the sun disappeared and we were back stuck in the clouds.
I radioed basecamp and Zishan said the summit was in the sun, though. So it appeared we were just stuck in a middle cloud layer that we might be able to pop out of. If we were lucky the upper mountain might have gotten significantly less snow than we had gotten.
The sherpas got ready fast and some started up at 9am with clients, all wearing oxygen masks. We took our time more and headed up closer to 10am as planned. I felt a little bad not being at the head if the pack breaking trail, but they had a huge advantage breathing supplemental oxygen and trail breaking would be much easier for them.
By the time we started up visibility was again low. We followed the other climbers up slowly. The fixed line was back to the old Korean rope, but it didn’t really matter on the gentle snow slope.
Higher up as the slope angle decreased we eventually popped out above the clouds as expected! Mauritz was having trouble with a cough and stopped for a break as we passed.
At one point I found a lone crampon laying in the trail. Somehow it had fallen off a climbers boot. I picked it up and carried it up to give it back to its owner. I figured it was probably a careless client but it turned out to be from Andreas!
I would now be nervous the rest of the climb. He had lost a crampon descending from Pobeda last summer and that was very dangerous. I did not want that to be repeated on K2.
We soon passed a group of Polish climbers without oxygen stopping to take a break. Then we reached camp 3.5 on a small flat slope and we had caught up with the sherpas. A team of five sherpas was working hard to break trail and I commend them for their effort.
It seemed futile for us without oxygen to try to help them so we took a break with the other climbers.
The views were great across the valley to broad peak and up the Goodwin-Austen glacier into China. Down glacier we could see Chogolisa and Concordia in the distance.
Eventually the clients with oxygen joined back up with the sherpas and we followed behind. The route steepened up another snow slope to another small flat area below a serac. There were two tents here (abandoned) and I guess you could call this camp 3.7.
Above this we climbed and traversed one final snow slope and at last popped out at c4 on a broad flat shoulder.
The bottleneck and the famed hanging glacier loomed above, though far enough away not to be dangerous. I was amazed to have read so much about this area and seen so many pictures and now finally I was seeing it in person. It looked less intimidating than I expected, but of course I hadn’t yet climbed it.
My watch read 7600m and I was feeling great. It was only early afternoon and we didn’t plan to head up until 11pm (to put us on top in the morning when the wind was supposed to be low). So we had a lot of hours to hang out.
In retrospect we should have brought a tent. We had originally planned to start up from c3 in the evening and pass quickly through c4, but that hadn’t happened. There were three Kailas tents that SST clients were using and two 8k tents other climbers jumped in.
I found a flattened Kailas tent and our sherpa friend said I could use it if I could repair it. I went over and started excavating it, but then one of the Italians rushed over and started trying to dig inside it while i was working on it!
“What are you doing?!” I asked.
He said he was taking a pad from it. But SST sherpas had already provided a tent and gear for the Italians! It seemed pretty mean for him to come steal gear from us. I didn’t want to start a fight so I just asked that he please leave us a pad if there were two (even though it wasn’t his gear in the first place).
Luckily there were two pads and he quickly took the bigger one and left without saying anything more. I guess for some mountaineers it’s every man for himself on 8000ers.
It took me a while to dig out the tent and put it up, and I spent some time trying to fix the poles. There was a partly full fuel tank, reactor stove, and a bag of nuts inside which I salvaged.
Meanwhile Flor and Iman watched me working hard and offered that Andreas and I could just rest in their tent. They had gotten permission from 8k to use one of the big 8k four-person tents already up there and they had plenty of room for us inside. Plus it would be warmer with four people instead of two.
That was extremely nice of them and we accepted their offer. We brought over our pad and hung out inside melting snow and telling stories.
It turned out the reactor stove I found worked a lot better than Andreas’s stove for some reason so we ended up just using that.
We munched on the nuts I found and my last handful of trail mix but saved our remaining few bars and gatorade for the summit push.
We all planned to start up at 11pm, though the sherpas wanted to start earlier around 8pm or 9pm. They wanted to get the clients all the way back down to basecamp after summitting the next day.
We were told it would take around ten hours to reach the summit without oxygen and I wanted to be passing through the bottleneck after sunrise when it wasn’t quite as cold. I’d had trouble keeping my fingers and toes warm on Broad peak, and had previously gotten frostbite on Pik Pobeda last summer, so I wanted to be extra careful on K2. I’d heard the lack of oxygen makes you more susceptible to frostbite if you go without supplemental oxygen.
Luckily the forecast temperatures for K2 were actually slightly warmer than the temperature had been on Broad peak so I suspected I would be ok. Though less oxygen on K2 could complicate things.
By sunset we decided to take a nap to rest up before pulling an all nighter summit push. By now we were getting used to sleeping without sleeping bags, though I really wish the Italian hadn’t stolen the other pad. We put our pad down but it wasn’t quite big enough for both Andreas and I to fit.
So I had to lay down half on and half off the pad. We wore all our clothes but I was still cold. I put a boiling nalgene between my legs and one on my chest and that helped a bit. Forced shivering also helped.
Somehow I managed to doze off and get at least an hour of sleep. But by 830pm there started to be a lot of commotion outside as the guided group headed up.
I couldn’t get back to sleep after that, and by 10pm our alarms finally went off to get started.
I ate my second to last bar for “breakfast” and waited while Flor and Iman heated up water and cooked food. There wasn’t a whole lot for me and Andreas to do to get ready since we didn’t really have food to eat, we’d already heated up water before bed and added gatorade to it, we were already wearing all our clothes, and we didn’t have sleeping bags to pack up.
Finally 11pm rolled around and we thanked Flor and Iman for their hospitality and said we would start up.
We slipped our boots on, strapped on our crampons, and started up. Just as we were leaving camp, though, we saw a light coming up from below. It was Serge! He and Mauritz had camped at camp 3.5 but Mauritz was coughing a lot and couldn’t continue. So Serge was going up solo.
He asked if there was a tent he could rest in and we directed him to rest in our spot in Flor and Iman’s tent, which they graciously allowed.
We then started up. It was unfortunately snowing then but we could faintly see lights from the guided group up ahead.
Andreas led the way with me following. I took my time trying to maintain a constant heartrate while Andreas moved faster. After an hour we broke above the clouds and snow and I could at last see stars overhead. Maybe it would clear after all! I also saw flashes of lightning in the distance, and later learned our friends Jeff and Priti on K7 Central got caught in a thunderstorm that day. We were lucky it wasn’t over K2!
I was surprised there was no fixed line on the route for navigation, but the slope was very low angle at the beginning. It soon steepened, though, and I took out my ice ax.
As I got closer to the bottleneck and the slope steepened more I eventually encountered a good fixed line which I clipped to.
I was comforted that I didn’t see any signs of debris even though we were under a massive hanging glacier. I’ve heard that there haven’t been any major accidents under the hanging glacier since the 2008 incident. This makes me think the bottleneck isn’t quite as risky as people make it sound. For sure it’s a high consequence area but I think there’s still a low probability of icefall.
The bottleneck was mostly a snow climb with short sections of rock (though this changes from year to year). It never got very steep, probably less than 50 degrees, and wouldn’t be a big deal to climb unroped with an ice ax if needed in those conditions.
Interestingly there were a handful of intermediate rock outcrops that would provide shelter from icefall, and I felt ok taking short breaks there to catch my breath.
Halfway up I noticed a headlamp approaching rapidly and I stopped to let a sherpa with oxygen pass. I later learned he would summit in around 12 hours BC to summit, which is now the speed record with supplemental oxygen.
At the top of the bottleneck I finally caught up to Andreas, who had caught up to the three Italians. They had started two hours before us but I think the lack of oxygen was affecting them more than it affected us since we were moving much faster.
I scrambled up a last rock step and was at the base of the hanging glacier. From there the route traverses a narrow snow and rock ledge to the left end of the hanging glacier before cutting steeply up.
I waited to give the Italians a head start on the traverse so we could spread out a bit. It was still dark then and we hadn’t quite stuck to the plan of doing the bottleneck after sunrise. But I guess it was hard to predict we would move that fast above 8000m.
After the Italians made it across I started over carefully. There were two fixed ropes and I clipped both. The snow track was only 10″ wide and very exposed, so I took my time to avoid slipping. One section was a rock slab covered in a dusting of snow, and that was a little sketchy, but I soon made it across.
After the tesverse the route went up very steeply, but I felt relieved to no longer be under the hanging glacier.
I recalled reading a report from famous professional mountaineer Adrian Ballinger who climbed K2 without oxygen (with three sherpas supporting with oxygen) and he said it took six hours to get through the danger zone. I had assumed this would be a lower bound for us amateur mountaineers of time in the danger zone. However, somehow we had gotten through in just three hours. I was very pleased to have beaten my expectations and reduced time in that risky area.
Around the corner I noticed the sun was finally starting to rise. This meant it would soon warm up, but was currently the coldest part of the night.
It was about then I noticed my fingers and toes starting to go numb. I could easily warm my fingers by making a fist in my BD trigger finger mitts and doing the “penguin dance” trick to send a surge of blood to my finger tips.
It was harder to warm my toes, though. I’ve never had a problem with cold toes before this summer. I’ve climbed big cold peaks like Denali and Logan where it was -20F on top but my toes were always warm.
This summer on Broad peak near the summit ridge I started having trouble keeping my toes warm and now I had the same problem on K2, even though the temperature was probably closer to -10F. My only thought is it must be an affect of so little oxygen in the air and me going without supplemental oxygen.
To warm up my toes I ended up kicking my feet out in various directions and curling my toes back and forth quickly for a few minutes.
This would generally rewarm them, but after ten minutes I would need to do it again. Still, I caught back up to the Italians at a steeper section and continued up the rope.
Surprisingly they got very angry at me and told me not to touch the fixed rope. They said I needed to use my ice axe. This was perplexing. The whole point of a fixed rope is that you use it to help your ascent. You don’t need your ice ax if a rope has been fixed.
I touched the rope anyways and they yelled furiously to get off. They were really mean. My only thought is the lack of oxygen was affecting them psychologically. I felt the safest strategy was to stay far away from them. So I spent the next ten minutes standing at the anchor warming my toes and fingers.
When it looked like they were safely away I yelled up to ask if they were off the rope and they said yes. Then I cautiously started ascending.
This section got very icy, but so many people had climbed on the 22nd that many places had steps kicked into the ice. But the sections without steps were somewhat awkward.
Higher up there were often several ropes to choose from and I made sure not to touch any ropes the Italians might be on.
Around 8400m I passed a dead climber curled up and tied to a rope. I later learned he was an Icelandic climber that had died on a 2021 winter attempt. I think it was too risky to remove the body from that altitude.
Above the body the slope gradually eased and got snowier. I briefly lost focus and touched a rope one of the Italians was on, and he yelled back at me, furious again.
“Calm down, it’s a fixed rope. You’re touching it and I’m also allowed to touch it” I said back to him.
He turned around and continued climbing up. At this point I could see the group of oxygen climbers ahead and I had nearly caught up to them. But it seemed like my pace started to slow a bit above 8500m and they started pulling away.
I wanted to go faster to catch up to Andreas and I had the energy, but now I was stuck behind the Italians. I was worried I would really piss them off if I tried to pass or asked to pass, and I didn’t want to find out the consequence. So I maintained a safe distance behind going at a slow pace.
Soon a sherpa started descending rapidly and it was the one that had passed me in the morning on the speed ascent. Then I noticed another climber coming up behind rapidly.
He closed the distance between us amazingly quickly and soon passed me. He had oxygen, of course, and was from Elite Expeditions (not Nims though). He had also started in basecamp last night and would get a time of 14 hours to the summit.
Shortly later the guided SST crew started their descent down from the summit. I thanked the sherpas for their hard work breaking trail.
Amazingly, going at the modest speed behind the Italians I didn’t really have any trouble breathing. I was always able to catch my breath by taking in a big gulp if needed and didn’t need to do pressure breathing. I didn’t have a headache and was feeling ok. Of course, I’m sure that would have changed if I was breaking trail or pushing to go faster, but it seemed like I was doing ok overall at that altitude.
Soon I neared the summit and passed Andreas on his way down. He had managed to pass the Italians and make it up earlier but was now eager to descend.
Around 8am I popped put on the summit ridge and met the fast sherpa taking a video. We exchanged fist bumps and then I marched the last few steps to the highest point, a cairn covered in prayer flags.
I was amazed to make it the whole way with no supplemental oxygen and no adverse altitude effects. It had taken nine hours from c4, though if I could have gone my own speed I could have shaved off some more time and summitted with Andreas.
The Italians and I were the only ones at the summit cairn, and I appreciated the lack of crowds. By now they were in good spirits and all my past infractions seemed to have been forgotten.
One of them was nice enough to take a few summit pictures of me and I returned the favor taking pictures of them. I think they had a lot of sponsors since they had a lot of flags to get in different pictures.
It seems like Andreas and I were some of the only unsponsored climbers I heard of to make the summit, but that’s fine with me.
Unfortunately the summit was stuck in the clouds and I didn’t get any views. I imagined the views would be similar to those I got on the summit of Broad, and those had been spectacular.
I radioed Zishan to tell him we made the summit and he congratulated us and told us to be careful on the descent.
I spent a little time looking for a summit rock (no luck) then a bit more time taking pictures of the whiteout.
I was soon getting antsy to head back down, though. In my experience it’s a bad idea to spend too much time on a high altitude summit. Eventually bad altitude effects start kicking in.
So I soon started my descent. The angle was low enough that it was most effective to do an arm wrap descent instead of rappelling.
I made quick progress down, and met a few climbers on their way up. Flor and Iman were looking strong and Iman gave me a fist bump and congratulations.
I caught up to Erix and Dorje from SST and got slowed down a bit. Erix was rapping down each section while Dorje and I descended with arm wraps.
We soon reached the steep icy bit and one Polish climber was still ascending. I worried he would be topping out pretty late. He told me a French climber wearing purple was in trouble down below and I should help if possible.
Lower down just above the dead body I saw Erix and Dorje stopping and taking a while to descend. I waited until they unweighted the rope so I could rappel.
I later learned that the French climber in trouble was Benjamin, from our group! He had told us he would try to climb from basecamp to the summit in one push without oxygen that day to try to break the speed record. He had already set an amazing new Broad peak speed record (7.5 hrs bc to summit) a few weeks earlier so I had assumed he would have no trouble on K2.
But in fact he had passed out near the dead body due to effects from altitude. He would later tell us he lost his memory of that time.
Dorje graciously gave Ben his own oxygen container and mask. This brought Ben back to life and he started down slowly.
Meanwhile I started rappelling down once the rope got unweighted. I made it a few more rope lengths, always being careful to choose the newest-looking rope. But then there was a traffic jam below and I had to wait at a sketchy anchor with a small stance.
It appeared Serge was coming up and we had to wait to let him pass. There wasn’t any room at the anchor for anyone else and I yelled up for the descending Italians to wait a minute until the jam cleared. They said ok bit still continued rappelling down!
So I pulled one of the ropes taught like a fireman belay to force them to stop.
“There’s no room at this anchor, just wait a minute until climbers clear below me and you can come down,” I said.
They said ok, so I released the rope. But then they just continued rapping to the anchor anyways! I was very frustrated with them. They got to the anchor and it got very sketchy trying to balance with them there. Maybe their judgement was still being effected by lack of oxygen.
Eventually Serge passed and I made a few more raps to the start of the traverse. There I saw Erix and Dorje waiting while another climber in purple was standing the middle of the traverse not moving.
Eventually the climber made very slow progress across and I started across the traverse. On the other side the slow climber slipped and fell, sliding 10 ft down the snow slope before the rope caught him!
At that point I recognized his helmet, pack, and jacket and realized it was Ben moving down slowly.
I made it across the traverse and Ben had gotten back up and climbed up to the anchor. By then the Italians also made it across.
The Italians then revealed that one member of their group, Pietro, had snow blindness and needed help getting down. So we had two climbers in need of assistance getting down the bottleneck.
I suspected Dorje would need to help Erix get down since Erix was a client, so it was unlikely they could help. Francois, one of the Italians, volunteered to help Ben down while I would help Pietro.
We were figuring this out standing in the danger zone below the hanging glacier and I was very eager to speed things up and get moving quickly.
So I told Dorje and Erix to start down immediately. They soon cleared out and there were two ropes heading down. Ben started down one under Francois’ supervision and I went down the other. I made sure Pietro was attached to the correct rope first then I put him on a fireman belay when I got to the bottom.
In general there were two ropes on every pitch, which was very helpful. I would generally go down first then yell up instructions for the other guys. (Some rope rigging was not standard and required us to do things differently). We generally moved quite efficiently, and soon reached the end of the fixed rope and the end of the steep section.
By then Bem seemed to be doing much better and Pietro said he would be ok unassisted from there.
We followed our tracks down and eventually were low enough that I considered us out of the danger zone from the hanging glacier. By then we were in a whiteout and the tracks below had mostly drifted over.
We soon caught up to Andreas and two other climbers sitting and resting. They had lost the tracks and were waiting for other climbers to help. I had recorded the ascent on my watch GPS and noted our up tracks were a bit to the right.
I was about to start down when two sherpas came from behind. Without hesitation they continued breaking trail down. It was an easy choice to follow them since they seemed so confident.
The trudge back took a while and balance was a bit difficult without hiking poles, but by noon we arrived at camp 4, 13 hours after leaving. I was amazed that I still had plenty of energy. The only things I’d eaten all day were a cereal bar at 10pm and 1.5 liters of gatorade during the climb. But that was enough to keep me going and I hadn’t thrown up the gatorade or the bar. My remaining food was just some more gatorade powder and one bar, though.
There was plenty of daylight left and we decided to make it down as far as possible. But first we needed to melt some snow to rehydrate.
We stopped off at Flor and Iman’s tent and melted a few liters of water. I put in some aqua tabs and we waited the 30 minutes for it to kick in. We needed a rest anyways since we hadn’t really rested the whole climb except for a few minutes on the summit.
Once the water was ready I chugged half a liter and ate my last bar while Andreas ate some leftover nuts. Then we were ready to head down, with our food officially reduced to zero.
We made quick progress rappelling and arm wrap descending down towards camp 3. Just above camp we passed a solo climber going up and it turned out to be Dennis Urubko ( though I didn’t know this at the time). I asked when he planned to summit but he didn’t want to tell me. I was confused why he was so secretive but I wished him good luck.
Shortly below we passed Marie climbing up. We told her Chris had forecast good weather the next morning but bad in the afternoon so a summit was possible if she was quick. She sounded kind of sick and we were a bit concerned but she was determined to give it a shot so we wished her luck.
Back at camp 3 we met back up with Ben. He had just unfurled his paragliding wing and was getting ready to fly back to basecamp. That would surely cure any altitude sickness symptoms quickly!
I wished I could fly down, but I think it seems a little too risky to me. I’m sure Ben is experienced enough to be safe, though. Once packed he pulled up the wing, ran downhill, and then was airborne. It looked very fun and I think he was back to BC within 20 minutes.
We took a short break and then continued our descent. We soon caught up to a sherpa and client moving slowly and they kindly let us pass. In general we rappelled the steep sections and arm wrapped the low angle sections with our safety backup clipped on. The weather occasionally cleared to give views of the glacier below but was usually in the clouds.
By 5pm we reached camp 2, which was deserted. Unfortunately the front of Andreas’s tent was ripped open, possibly by the wind. Luckily our sleeping bags inside were undamaged, though.
This made camping at c2 kind of unappealing, especially if the weather turned bad. We could always crawl in one of the abandoned tents or just repair ours with a lot of duct tape, but we started thinking it might be best to just descend all the way to basecamp. That way we wouldn’t have to sleep in the dirty c2 or c1 and we could maybe avoid rockfall since it was unlikely any other climbers would be descending at night.
It was a tough call, though, since if any rocks fell at night we couldn’t see them to avoid them, but it was very unlikely rocks would be dislodged with no climbers to dislodge them.
We quickly packed up and headed down around 6pm. We rapped the House chimney and worked our way down the scramble section. I led the way and the trickiest part was usually finding the most trustworthy looking rope to rap down. Once I found it then Andreas would follow the same one. At least going down I knew the rope wasn’t core shot since I could inspect it starting from the anchor. When ascending I would have no ide of the rope quality above me.
Darkness soon set in and we descended by headlamp. But we could always follow the ropes so navigation was no problem.
We eventually neared c1 but by then the wind picked up and it started snowing. Conditions were actually pretty nasty.
We took a short break at c1 and considered our options. If we continued we were basically committed to descending the whole way since there weren’t really any more flat campable spots. But the weather could get worse.
While descending I had actually heard one or two rocks whiz by and in the dark I was kind of nervous I couldn’t see to jump out of the way (they were likely dislodged from a client and two sherpas I later learned were descending above us).
But if we camped we’d have to try to repair the broken tent. However, we did see one big abandoned tent in c1. I poked my head inside and it was in good condition and snow free. So we decided to ride out the storm there.
We threw out our sleeping bags and crawled inside them around 1030pm. It felt kind of weird sleeping in a sleeping bag after the previous three nights of shivering without bags. But I soon got used to it.
We had a small bit of food now that we’d stashed in c2 but for some reason I wasn’t really hungry, despite eating basically nothing the past 24 hours. I figured I’d make up for it back in basecamp.
We soon went to bed amidst the loud howling wind and blowing snow.
The next morning I was awoken by talking outside around 6:30am and it sounded like the client and sherpas had also spent the night at c1 and were now heading down. At first I was delighted that they would below us and couldn’t knock rocks down on us.
We quickly packed up and started down. After 10 minutes we caught up to them and I recognized them as SST sherpas and client. I thanked the sherpas for their hard work breaking trail.
Unfortunately they were very slow though. The client did not look very confident rappelling and one sherpa would go next to her on a parallel strand each rappel while the other sherpa stayed up high.
It was agonizing for Andreas and I to be going one third of our normal speed and wait so long at the anchors. Soon rockfall started coming down around us and we knew more climbers were descending. The safest action was to get down as soon as possible to leave the danger zone. We cursed ourselves for not waking up earlier.
Fortunately the sherpa said it was ok if we passed, and I went around and arm wrap descended for speed. The lower ropes had all gotten cut (probably from rockfall) and retied so they were too tight to rappel, so I ended up arm wrap descending most of the rest of the way.
I would look up every ten seconds for rockfall and had to jump out of the way a few times but we eventually made it safely to the end of the fixed line behind the rock buttress.
I found my whippet where I’d stashed it but someone had stolen my other hiking pole! I cursed the unknown thief. Why would a climber do that? The same thing happened on Pobeda where we stashed our poles at the base of the climb and someone stole Andreas’ poles.
At least they left the whippet, which is more valuable.
We hiked down the slushy snow, still looking up every few seconds to check for rockfall. Finally we made it to ABC and were out of the danger zone.
Sadly, I later learned that a few days earlier two dead climbers were found right there at the base of the route. It appeared they fell down from c1 or c2 and were killed in the fall. A team went to recover the bodies, but while they were resting drinking tea an avalanche came down the snow face and covered the bodies. I think they are still buried.
We walked over the avy debris and found our stashed boots, luckily not stolen. We then purified some water in a stream and continued down.
Miraculously, I found my missing pole leaning against a rock next to the stream! It appeared the person had just used it to descend the snow slope then left it. But it was still mean of them to take it. I would have certainly appreciated using my own pole on the snow slope also.
Below ABC the glacier was more melted out than before and most of the flags had fallen over. We soon put crampons on and had trouble following the route.
At one point we made a tricky stream crossing and found fallen flags on the other side. But then a trekker on the other side waved over to us that the route was there. It appeared there were two flagged routes, but the trekkers were coming up from BC so we knew theirs worked. So we crossed back over.
From there it was easy following the route. We met one guy coming up who congratulated us on our climb and handed us each a chocolate bar. At first I thought he was being nice but then he asked for money. So we gave him back the bars. We were only 30 min from BC and decided to hold out.
By late morning we made it to K2 BC and stopped for a break. Mauritz, Corinne, Ben and Zishan were all there and we had a nice celebratory lunch.
That afternoon we learned on the radio that Serge had turned around before summitting the previous day and Marie had turned around that morning around 8200m. Only she and Dennis Urubko had pushed for the summit that morning. The snowstorm had apparently wiped out our tracks and Dennis broke trail up to the summit by 7:30am.
Marie had started feeling the altitude so turned around. Then she texted that she likely had HACE (high altitude cerebral edema) and needed help down.
Flor and Iman had spent the night in c4 and were luckily able to help give Marie a Dexamethasone injection and help her get down to c2 that evening.
Andreas and I spent the night at K2 BC.
The next morning it was snowing hard in BC and I felt bad for the descending climbers. But Serge and Marie made it down to ABC and Mauritz and Corinne met them there to help carry their gear. Meanwhile Andreas, I and Ben hiked down to Broad BC. On the way we stopped at
Lela camp and ate some cake with Dennis Urubko to celebrate his birthday. He said he was planning to climb Broad peak (again). He’s trying to break the record of the most ascents of 8000m peaks, which is currently somewhere around 27 (including repeats). I think dennis is close to that now since he climbed Broad, G2, and K2 this summer.
We later returned to our own camp and had another cake, this time a K2 summit cake.
Marie and Serge later made it to K2 BC that afternoon so our whole team was finally off the mountain.
The porters came in the morning and we packed everything up to give them. Marie hiked down to Broad BC but was still feeling bad effects from the HACE. So we decided to try to get her a helicopter rescue. Zishan stayed to coordinate that while Andreas, Ben and I started trekking out.
We hiked through Concordia then up to Ali Camp by evening. We would take a shorter route out directly to Hushe instead of the longer route to Askoli.
This Hushe route went over a sketchy 5500m pass, Gondokhoro Pass, and is generally not used for the approach to BC because this is difficult if unacclimated.
Unfortunately the porters don’t take this route out since it is too steep and icy. In fact, there is a rescue crew stationed near the pass to help climbers across.
We reached Ali camp at sunset, ate some dinner, and went to bed.
That night we got up at midnight and one member of the rescue crew started leading us up the pass. There was a lot of fresh snow and it was actively snowing so trail breaking was tough.
There were fixed ropes near the top and we reached the pass around 3am. Our leader jumped in a waiting tent at the pass and then we were on our own.
The south side was extremely steep with a few inches of snow on loose rocks and slabs. We arm wrap descended down fixed lines but still slipped a lot.
The snow continued all morning, changing to rain down lower. By sunrise we reached a Chuspang camp and stopped to eat some chapati and eggs.
We then continued down, eventually reaching Hushe village by early afternoon. We were at last back to civilization after six weeks in the mountains.
We stayed at the only hotel in town, eating a big meal and taking a nice shower.
Over the next few days we would make our way back to Skardu, wait for porters to bring our gear our, then drive to Islamabad and fly out.
Marie ended up taking a horse down to Askoli since the weather was too bad for helicopters to fly.
After July 29 the whole K2 basecamp cleared out, and the season basically ended. It appeared the jet stream had returned with heavy wind and snow that covered the route.
From what I’ve heard, approximately 200 climbers summitted K2 this season, mostly on July 22, of which approximately 15 were without oxygen including us. A vast majority of the climbers were with commercial guided groups using supplemental oxygen and heavy support from sherpas. This total at least triples the previous record for ascents of K2 in a season.
Link to full trip report and pictures.
|Summary Total Data|
| Route Conditions:||Snow on Ground, Scramble, Exposed Scramble, Rock Climb, Snow Climb, Glacier Climb, Ice Climb, Aid Climb|
| Gear Used:||Ice Axe, Crampons, Rope, Headlamp, Ski Poles, Porters, Tent Camp, Bivouac|
| Weather:||Frigid, Calm, Low Clouds|
This page has been served 308 times since 2005-01-15.