K2oo6 WorldCLimb - A look Back
What a trip … and I left before it was half over! I said several times to my teammates that I considered the expedition a success just by getting us all to Islamabad. But my real measure was a safe return for each person back to their families. I am thankful that both goals were accomplished.
I am also appreciate of your generosity in raising money for the earthquake survivors. I will announce the final number and the agency to receive it on a video I will post next week on my site.
By now the background is well know: FTA and I dreamed upped a double header climb of Broad Peak and K2. We posted the info on our websites; Dave worked on the logistics while I managed the applicants. In the end there were 29 climbers and trekkers out of 100 interested parties.
ATP met us in Islamabad and we continued our “busses, jeeps and walking” journey, taking almost two weeks to get to the Broad Peak basecamp. Pakistan said hello to each of us with a special welcome: diarrhea, headaches, vomiting and lost luggage! And there were smiles, laughs, helping hands and a humbling introduction to our fortunes compared to their struggles. I will always remember the kids.
Carl and Kurt won the award for time lost waiting on bags – almost 10 days in all. The Irish served as the advance team by getting ahead of everyone to save Ger’s lungs from the smog of Islamabad. And then there was my bug.
I still don’t know where I caught it but it kicked my butt. Lying in the fetal position in the dirt on the Baltoro Glacier, I thought it was all over … and it was day two of the expedition! If it hadn't’t been for Carl and Ryan, it would have been.
But the stunning beauty of the Karakorum kept everyone going. I will never forget my first view of Broad and K2 – unbelievable. They were one set of bookends to an amazing shelf of natural wonders. The 5 day trek to BC was worth the trip alone.
Arriving at BC, everyone was anxious to get climbing – you know: Climb On! JJ, Ryan, Tagi and other HAPs took on the task of “fixing” the mountain. They worked tirelessly setting lines to C1, C2 and beyond. They would return to BC for more rope and supplies and go back up. Soon we had the first summit by Ryan – and in style. The Porter community celebrated with gusto the summits of three HAPs –a rarity in the Karakorum.
Meanwhile Wilco, Ger and Joelle set the pace for the rest of us. Joelle, without any her bags borrowed boots from the Austrians, tied an 8mm cord around her waste as a “harness” and climbed to C2! We all just shook our heads with amazement.
Sub-teams began to form: Di, Ian and myself; Jan, Nick and Matt; Con and John; Mark, Mick, Ger, Joelle, Marcus and of course my favorite – The Odd Couple – Kurt and Carl. It was not cliques but rather climbers at the same pace or skills. And everyone on the team worked together.
I always enjoyed the times when the Basecamp tent was full. John telling us another story, Carl pointing his camera, an Irish joke or the pleasure of a song, complaining about more Dahl - we were all entertained. And the bonds grew.
However, the team began to spread out. One day, I counted 14 of us on the mountain at 4 separate camps. It was gratifying that at any time, everyone knew where everyone else was. The team was a team.
Wilco continued to lead the charge with attempt after attempt. Sometimes it was bad weather, other times it was lack of critical mass of more climbers to break trail. But he did not give up. He and Ger made it to the fore-summit before wisely turning back due to darkness.
Mick, Con, Marcus and Joelle all made the true summit – a testament to their determination and strength. Almost everyone made it to C2 – 21,000’ or 6300m. Many set personal altitude records.
I chronicled my climb on a long (and I mean long) trip report on my site but two times stand out clearly in my mind. Sitting in my tent at C2, Marcus had dropped by for a visit. We chatted and soon he was off to wander around trying to fend off stiffness. Ian and Di were one tent over and were melting snow and stratagizing their next move. Con and John were swapping tales in their tent.
I sat cross-legged in the vestibule melting snow for my couscous dinner. The view was breath taking. The dirty-white glaciers snaked around the mountains. The jagged peaks of the Himalayas poked into the air like puppies looking for dinner. The steepness of Broad was unveiled in a subtle yet stern warning for us to be careful – very careful. And when I looked higher….
Ah, the goal. The tracks of my teammates and fellow climbers showed the way to C3 but I was not going to get there.
Another memory was my last climb to C1. Ian, Di, John, Nick and I left together from BC. It was a good morning to climb. As usual the weather was spectacular – how absolutely lucky we were during the Broad Peak time. John and Marcus lead the way from the break. I felt my strength simply melt away.
I arrived at C1 spent. Totally. Nothing left. Di offered me some electrolyte replacement. Ian melted some snow. Nick found a spare sleeping bag and pad for me since mine were at C2. I crawled into the Austrian tent and fell asleep.
I knew it was over and told JJ so over the radio. But I also felt the unquestioning support from my teammates. Carl and Kurt crawled into my tent and entertained me with their usual routines as I reflected on the meaning of mountaineering.
Amazingly, 5 days later after sitting in a tent on Broad Peak I was home.
The team continued on Broad as the K2 BC was established by Ryan and Josette. Courageous efforts were made to reach the true summit but the weather now started to return to “normal” Winds picked up, snow squalls became frequent and routes obscured. But personal stories of character started to be revealed.
On Broad, Mark, on his first 8K Hill, never gave up. A stronger young man does not exist. He made it to C4 before cold took his strength and bit his fingers. He wisely returned. Jan pushed it above C3 before saying "good enough." Di set her personal record and then returned to BC with her husband Ian – an impressive couple whom I was honored to climb with so much of my time. But there was also tragedy.
The leader of the Austrian team died after his summit. His partner radioed our BC for help but there was nothing that could be done. A horribly sad ending. On their down climb, Di and Ian helped create a happier ending. Thanks to Ian’s rope in his pack, they saved a climber’s life that was trapped in a crevasse. It puts everything into perspective.
With the Broad Peak climb over, the team split with most going home and others moving on to K2. The Karakorum revealed her true colors with deep snowfall, brutal cold, avalanches and rock fall.
Ryan, Mick, Wilco and Ger drove up the Hill once again setting the route for others to follow. But it seems that this was not to be – this year. Other teams lost their tents and gear on high camps as snowfall and avalanches swept them away. Our climbers made it to C3. However they spent a lot of time in BC waiting out the weather.
Falling rock ending Ryan’s bid with a strike to his knee. Nick, on his first big climb, impressively made the lower camps on K2 only to be hit in the chest by falling rock. And then Ger was seriously injured when a rock cut his head requiring a helicopter rescue from BC. Thankfully he has recovered. Joelle was also evacuated due to severe headaches. Hey, this climbing stuff is serious!
But there were success stories on K2. Carl made it to 8000m, another personal record. Several climbers reached C2 and navigated House’s Chimney and the infamous rock fall area.
I guess it is no surprise that Wilco was the last to leave the mountains. A natural born leader, he was determined in his climbing yet generous with his help. His second attempt on K2, I will not be surprised to see him return one day.
So it is over. Everyone is back home – alive and safe – and still friends.
Did you summit?
That is the question everyone always asks climbers when they get home. How about some different questions – Did you have a good time? What did you learn? Did you make any lifelong friends? Would you go back?
Did you get what you went for?
The answers are unique and personal to each climber. There are no right answers. We love mountains. We love mountaineering. We live to live the challenge. We appreciate the support we get from family and friends. We value the support from one another.
For many this will not be the last climb. In fact for some it was only the beginning. But whether the first or the last it was a great time.