Archive for July, 2008
July 27th, 2008
July 27: Finally we have a weather forecast that is promising. I won’t repeat what I wrote on the main blog (read that if you haven’t). After about two weeks of sitting, I get to start moving tomorrow. I’ll be climbing with Chris Warner and Paul, and our group will attempt to summit two days after the first, lead group of climbers. That lead group is really a mashup of all the other groups on the mountain. Our big team had to split up into two groups because of a lack of tent space at C1 and C2.
I will be out of contact from July 28 until about August 5. So remember that in this situation, no news is good news.
Are we acclimatized enough? Since I just wrote a book on that general topic (it might actually get published some week), I should know the answer, but frankly there isn’t enough data to answer the question. I think we are. So our plan is to go as high as we can, then turn around and come down.
I’ll be in phone contact with family. Some of you might get an email with an interim update but don’t count on it! My phone is way too cranky and battery power is limited.
Thanks for the emails that were sent to me the past few days. If I missed responding to yours, sorry–but I read the emails!
I’ll be back online around Aug. 5. Again, read the main blog for more info about our ‘news blackout’ during this period.
July 22nd, 2008
July 22: We continue to sit at BC due to weather. The weather at BC isn’t particularly bad, but it is clear to even the most optimistic person that there is too much wind to allow climbing right now. So everyone is trying to figure out how to fill up the 24 hours in each day. You can only eat/drink/pee/poop/sleep for a few hours each day! From my experience, your ability to cope with this situation is the best indicator of how likely you are to climb the peak.
Getting exercise is important, so yesterday Deedar (our cook), Chris W., Eric and I headed down to Broad Peak Base camp for a visit. This is a nice walk, about an hour each way. For me, the day ended up being quite full of social engagements (some expected, some not).
The first surprise came about 30 minutes out of our camp. My liaison officer from our 2005 Broad Peak expedition, Major Anwar, came walking up the glacier. He was serving as an LO at Gasherbrum BC, and he found out I was at K2 BC. So he and some fellow LOs embarked on a 3 day round trip to visit me and the other LOs in the area. He is a great guy and we caught up on old times. It turns out he spent two years on the Afghan border after our expedition–not a safe assignment! I was relieved to hear that he is now in Lahore. His wife and two sons are doing fine, and he will likely retire in the next couple of years. As a present, he brought me a large bottle of Coke (worth at least $10 up here). Thanks!
We then went down to Broad Peak Base Camp, where Deedar and I caught up with Mario Panzeri, who was with us on our 2006 Gasherbrum II expedition. Mario is an Italian, a very strong climber, and a delight to be with. He loves his cigarettes, Pepsi, and coffee. He always has a smile waiting just around the corner. He just came from Nanga Parbat, where they had 3 weeks of great weather, allowing him to summit without much trouble. He’s now going to wait for good weather at Broad Peak, where 2-3 days will see him to the top.
We then went down to the American camp, but found out they went to K2 Base (they passed us while we were in Mario’s tent). So we hiked back to K2 Base and eventually caught up to them in our own mess tent. They plan on summiting Broad Peak, then moving up to K2 for an attempt. While we talked, Singapore climber Robert joined us. I’d corresponded with Robert prior to our expedition, so it was a pleasure to meet him. They all left about 6:30, when we ate dinner.
There had been a party a few days before (with beer!) that we hadn’t heard about. I made it clear to Deedar that we were to be informed about any further parties. Well, there was one last night so Deedar made certain that I was there. About 9pm I got out of my tent and walked down to the party. These parties consist of the Pakistani staff and team members (all male). There is much singing and drumming, and then dancing. I’ve been to these things before and knew as a team leader that I’d have to dance. You can imagine me doing a solo dance in front of about 40 (mostly sober) guys. No beer last night!
So after 11pm I went back to my tent, as tired as I’ve been in a number of days. Today is certainly less exciting (though I’ve spent 30 minutes typing this). It’s partly sunny, slightly windy, and we had a bit of snow earlier this morning. Lunch will be ready in about 30 minutes and will take 15 minutes to eat. After that, the afternoon will stretch ahead. I’ll look for more reasonable photos/video, read a bit, talk some, and try to avoid looking at my watch.
We likely have another 5-6 days before we can go up. The higher we get, the fewer weather openings there are.
July 21st, 2008
July 18: SUBSTANCE In the past week, Paul, Chris W. and I had a good acclimatization trip. We spent two nights at Camp 1, then two nights at Camp 2. After a short climb of 50m or so above C2, we decided we’d had enough and headed back to BC. The biggest problem we have is that our tent sites suck. There is literally only one truly flat tent site during the first vertical mile of ascent, and that site isn’t ours. As a result, our sleep suffers. The wind was quite strong during two of our four nights, and we spent a lot of time on our backs.
Now, life is good after three nights in Base Camp. Simply being able to stretch out and sleep at full length is a major luxury. We’re about ready to head back up, but the weather gods are not happy. We need to spend two nights at C3 (7300m or 24,000 ft) to be physiologically prepared to get to the summit without oxygen.
We’ve had two big meetings among most of the teams to coordinate our ‘summit strategies.’ While these meetings are overall quite positive, it’s very clear that some teams are living in, shall we say, an alternate universe where summit attempts can be planned 10 days in advance. Rather than planning an attempt like you would book an airplane flight, you have to be a guerilla fighter and be ready to strike at a moment’s notice, whenever the mountain weather shows a weakness.
STYLE The climbing style used by many teams is quite archaic and frankly disappointing. K2 was first climbed without oxygen 30 years ago and it is generally not used by real climbers. However, there are many bottle of oxygen stored on the hill for the summit attempt.
If you use oxygen, you generally need high-altitude porters (HAPs) to carry the bottles up. This year there are many porters, both Nepali Sherpas and Pakistanis, and most of work of establishing the route (on the Abruzzi Ridge) has fallen to them. Given modern lightweight equipment and rope, there is no particular need for teams to employ HAPs in most circumstances.
The HAPs have also been responsible for installing the fixed rope on our route. This rope is used to both ascend and descend the route. The rope eliminates the actual climbing, but it doesn’t make going up or down physically easy. The route is a constant 46% angle with almost no flat spots, much steeper than your typical high peak.
We are not using oxygen. We are not using HAPs (we do have one Sherpa as a team member, not a HAP) We are using fixed ropes.
Finally, we are providing our share of the rope and helping to maintain the route. I’ll talk about parasites (as Messner called them) in a later post. These individuals use the ropes (and often tents, gear, gas, and food) of other climbers without contributing anything themselves. Luckily, there are few on our route this year.
It’s snowing out for the first time in a while. The weather for the next week is: crappy. So lots of sitting around is likely on my part. We may go to Advance Base Camp tomorrow just to get in a walk. Right now my feet are cold, my hands are cold, and Rage Against the Machine is playing in the Mess Tent. Send me an email if you have my address, because I’ll surely have time to read them.
July 11th, 2008
July 10: Sitting in BC, again. Since my last report I managed to reach Camp I, where I had the dubious honor of being the only person on the Abruzzi Spur. Everyone else had enough sense to be in BC, because the winds blew all night and I slept very little.
However, after a wonderful night’s sleep at BC and yet another fun night of music, M&Ms, and some 15-year-old Scotch, I finally feel ready to tackle the mountain. I’m no longer preoccupied with team issues, staff issues, etc. We have a smoothly functioning cook staff, our LO is great, the team is breaking up into smaller functional units (you can’t climb with 8 people all at once).
Base Camp life is pretty nice, if you don’t mind living on a glacier covered with a thin layer of rocks. Here’s a pastiche of the last 24 hours.
This morning we got up about 8am and I had drip coffee, bacon, and pancakes. The cook made the pancakes, we made the coffee and cooked the bacon (Muslims won’t handle pork). Of course, we don’t have to do dishes or cook our meals as we have three staff members in our cook tent to serve us.
Then Tim, Chris Warner, Paul, Kirsty, and I sat around and talked politics for the morning. A couple of other climbers stopped by to chat, then I had a shave. Lunch was rice, some mixed veg in broth, and I cut up a sardine for good measure. Now (about 2pm) I’m typing up stuff to send via email. After this I’ll get my pack organized to go up the hill tomorrow morning. It also sounds like a good afternoon to have some crackers, sausage and mustard as a snack.
Dinner last night was a vegetarian soup, French fries (!!!), rice, some cooked meat, and cooked vegetables. Of course all of this food is washed down with cup after cup of fluids (tea, Tang, coffee). We sat around last night and talked quite awhile, then I realized my feet were cold so it was time to go to bed. We each have our own tents, and once you’re laying down there’s almost no reason to get up all night. So I turned on the iPod, had some M&Ms, sipped some Scotch, and listened to music for several hours. We all have pee bottles, so it’s not even necessary to sit up to deal with that issue (for guys, anyway). I’m normally asleep by 11pm but I knew we’d be in BC the next day so why worry about sleep? I ended with John Lennon’s “Across the Universe” and it was time for sleep. At 6:30 the first climbers walked past on their way up the hill.
Tomorrow (July 11), Chris W., Paul and I intend to climb to C1, spend the night, then hopefully spend two nights at Camp 2 before returning to BC. We have a narrow weather window, then the winds are supposed to increase.
If you have my address, emails are appreciated!
July 5th, 2008
July 5: Sitting in BC on a beautiful day. That’s OK, because I got in two night’s acclimatization at ABC and most of my gear is up there (5350m). Tomorrow I’ll likely start up towards C1 for some work and acclimatization.
Why should anyone climb K2? It’s a hard, scary mountain. Frankly, you should climb K2 for only one reason: for yourself. There are many people at K2 BC who are climbing for other reasons: for fame, for their sponsors, for self-importance, and so on. You can get away with that on easy peaks like Cho Oyu, Everest, etc. But here, these external motivators can color your perceptions and judgments and lead you astray. If my book ever gets published, you can read more thoughts along this line. So if I climb K2, that’s fine. If I don’t, that’s fine too. In either case I’ll go home and life will continue on pretty much as normal. A mountain like K2 can’t make you a different person than you were prior to reaching the summit.
You won’t get a lot of HMS (He-Man S**t) on this blog or on the expedition blog. Why? Read the paragraph above. Nobody climbs K2 by themselves, and it matters not who reaches a particular camp when. We are following a line of fixed ropes installed by Sherpas from the Korean expedition and Pakistani porters from the Serbian expedition (with help from some of their team members). Ascending fixed ropes has been called ‘the worst form of masterbation,’ as it takes no real climbing skill. So none of us are ‘climbing’ in the truest sense. The true climber will show himself above the fixed ropes, above 8000m. So until then, it’s hard to generate a feeling of accomplishment (from the climber’s perspective). If you need HMS, go somewhere else.
July 4th, 2008
July 2. Finally, our cargo arrived yesterday! I was missing about 1/3 of my gear and have been pretty much in a holding pattern until it arrived. I now have crampons, plastic bags, snack foods, oatmeal, and other items that prove useful on the hill.
This afternoon I’ll head up to ABC (2 hrs, 300m up) for a night of acclimatization. I’m a load behind the others so I’ll likely come down tomorrow and pick up another load of personal gear.
I’ve barely thought about K2. Mostly, I’ve been concerned with our late cargo, Paul’s arrival (today, Inshallah), and the usual political bullshit that leaders have to deal with when coordinating with other teams. I think that issue is solved, but there’s got to be a better way to deal with these problems up front.
There are some quite good climbers here, and there are far too many who certainly have no business being here. My goal is to stay with the former and avoid the latter. By the next post, I better have visited Camp 1!
BTW the Thuraya SMS (text message) delivery seems quite random. For those of you who have contact info, feel free to send an email. Mike