Saturday, July 24, 2010

K2 summit push is on! Trekkers out to Skardu!

24th July, 2010
from stu in the usa office

Broad Peak Team Treks out to Skardu

Our Broad Peak only folks, Ben, Rob, Mike, Jo and Ian are all the way out to Skardu and hot showers! They arrived on the 22nd after moving very quickly from BC, over the Gondogoro La and out by Hushe. Ben will write a nice note in the next 2-3 days along with some pics from Broad Peak and the trek so stay tuned!

The members are taking the 2-day ride back to Islamabad by way of the KKH (Karakoram Highway) as there were no flights for three days and not much hope for the backlog to empty soon!

K2 Snowy Days, Summit bid brewing?

The same weather that plagued the airlines has left lots of fresh snow on K2 and in the base camp. I have spoken to Fabrizio and Chris and they said at least a foot of fresh snow is now on the ground, which, along with very high winds up high, has created dangerous wind-packed snow conditions. This sort of new light snow on top of an old icy layer makes for high avalanche conditions. They felt that it would need to take at least 2-3 days to see the consolidation of the slopes and for this reason delayed the main teams departure. Early on the summit day on Broad Peak Chris had dug an avalanche pit and found more than 4 layers of this wind slab. When they felt the slope settle and move 6 inches under them they knew it was time to turn about. We’ll hope in their first foray back up the Cesen that they do not find the slopes to be unstable.

There is an excellent period of low winds right now and Fabrizio has moved up the route along with at least one other team to push the route through. If all goes well he (and likely other teams!) would be trying to establish the route through the bottleneck on the 27th and perhaps consider a summit bid. On the 26th Chris will bring the rest of the team up to C2 and they will hope the window holds for the 29th. We’ll hope that on the 27/28/29 that our team can be high on K2 and at least reaching C3 or C4 if not going for a summit bid. I am not convinced that the window is large enough for a summit bid but we’ll hope for better forecast in the next 2-3 days! We have until the 8th of August so nearly 2 weeks remain for a summit push. If we can’t find the top during the 27/28/29 window we’ll still have nearly 10 days left after that. Pray to the weather gods!!!

One nice thing about the snowy weather is that it has allowed for some good rest for all the members. For many of them, having worked hard to 7500 – 7700m on Broad Peak, they now have a great combination of acclimatization and rest coming into the push on K2. It has also given everyone an opportunity to climb a whole bunch on the more moderate slopes of Broad Peak before coming onto the steeper ground of K2.

Chris mentioned this morning that he was convinced that the idea of acclimatizing on Broad Peak first has been a great idea…using much less energy to gain the acclimatization and avoiding significant objective hazards. As well members have had a good chance to really understand what it takes to climb in the Karakoram vs Everest/Cho Oyu style climbing. They now step onto K2 with a clearer sense of their own abilities and retooled goals. Chris noted that to a person all of the members have felt this way as well!

One of our team members from last summer, professional film maker Dave Ohlson, has made a video which you will enjoy! It brings you all the way from Skardu to the mountain and back again. His footage will transport you to the Karakoram in a way I have seen few videos come close to!

Chris has left an audio dispatch for you to all enjoy with the very latest!

Trekking Details

It seems a trip to the Karakoram is never done with providing the adventurous with yet more delights. For all of our trekkers (exiting by Hushe) they pass under the steep faces of Mitre Peak, Chogolisa, turn a corner, and spend the night camped across a glacier from the high snow-laden Gondogoro La. Early the next morning they stomp their way across the glacier, ascend the moderate slopes to the high point at just under 6000m, and blessed with views to a myriad of 7000 and 8000m peaks.

Chogalisa on the trek out © stu remensnyder

They then descend into the Huispang Valley and encounter living things for the first time in a month. Scores of wild flowers, small pine forests and rambling sage brush fill the senses. I have yet to speak to someone returning through this valley that was not taken aback by the smells and sights. Rising high above, like a sharks fin, in the coveted Leila Peak. To climb it would be quite a challenge for most alpinists but a few very ambitious folks have even tried to ski down it! This includes Fredrik Ericsson who is on K2 as we speak!

Leila Peak © stu remensnyder

The view during the first day down the valley is dominated by the Masherbrums and though they be not of 8000m pedigree they are daunting to look at an imagine how to surmount them. Masherbrum (originally called K1) stands # 22 in the world at 7,821 m (25,659 ft) and is a beautiful mountain. The first expedition came in 1938 and the peak was finally climbed by George Bell and Willi Onsoeld in 1960 by the southeast face.

During the trek out there are numerous rivers to cross and most if not all need to be either leaped across or waded through. Wading is safer but the water in bone jarringly cold and it takes a few minutes after getting back out to feel your feet again. The skill of the porters included knowing where the slights submerged rocks are and enables them to do triple jumps that would surely qualify them for the olympics!

River crossings near Hushe © stu remensnyder

Below is an excerpt from my trek out in 2003. When our trekking group is back out to ISB we’ll look forward to having lots more fresh images of Broad Peak and the Gondogoro La/Hushe Trek!

Base camp to Hushe and awaiting jeeps

After a short day hike to Concordia we made our way on the 24th to Camp Munir, by way of the spectacular Vigne glacier, where we stopped in preparation of a very long day to come over Gondagoro La. It should be noted that the 24th of July was the only day all summer in which we experienced any rain - a short 2 hour sprinkle. Wrested from our group sleep-over in the mess tent at midnight, we trudged like zombies in single file across a large sweeping glacier and up the steep snow slopes of Gondagoro La.

Fixed ropes made the ascension very easy and less than two hours later we found ourselves in pitch dark on the pass. So much for the breathtaking panoramic views of the entire Karakoram range! The descent was a bit more harrowing as icy fixed ropes held onto by hand simply do not have the staying taking power of a figure-8 and harness!!

An exciting 2-hour descent brought us out onto the flat glacier below and the start of a 20km adventure across a dry glacierscape, moraines and mesas all the while in the awesome presence of the Masherbrum group. By 7pm all of us had made our way to camp where we encountered a Nepal-style tea house with coca-cola and sprite which we consumed by the gallon.

Along the way Walter made friends with a man from Karachi who offered him real coffee and great hospitality, While Walter sipped cappuchinos Fred and Sultan awaited him asleep by a huge raging river crossing!!

Fred and Alex had both suffered over the pass with gastrointestinal problems that left them vomiting for several hours. This malady had struck Julen and Patxi the day before and was soon to hit Walter and me in the days to come. We think it had to do with the dzo (a cross between cow and yak) meat we had in Concordia and Munir.

During the course of this day it seemed that we were suddenly in a different world. A single day’s transition from snow and ice, boulders and stones to sage brush, gnarled pine trees, wild flower meadows, wooded glades and golden wheat fields. Too much for our senses to take in and we sipped cokes in bewilderment in the shade of large trees. We were all staggered that it should take such little time to return, from the stark environment of the Karakoram, to the gentle world of the Hushe Valley. I personally was reminded of the unbridled joy expressed in the wonderful image, taken by Galen Rowell, of a returning Karakoram climber standing to a small grassy knoll with arms stretched high and rejoicing in the return to the world of living things. It seemed more than serendipity that Walter should make nearly the exact motion as I approached him in a similar spot!! It is quite a thing to experience the transition back to the world of birds and butterflies after being in exile for 35 days.

The next morning we took an easy 3-hour stroll down to Hushe and the home of our high altitude porter Taqui Mohammed. We were greeted at the town limits by singing children and treated to a fabulous home-cooked meal at Taqui’s house and felt welcome and at ease in this small but lush town at the edge of the populated world.

Soon we were loaded onto the trucks and on our way back to Skardu and the K2 hotel. We left the mountains sad to lose the simple camaraderie of our small team and the strange community of climbers we had found but eager for showers and soft beds.
Town of Machulu near the confluence of the Shyok and Indus © stu remensnyder

K2 Hotel and the mighty Indus river © stu remensnyder

Trucks on the KKH © stu remensnyder

Sad news on K2

Our team is now turning its attention to K2 and beginning to move gear over today and tomorrow. This comes on the heals of reports of sad news of a Bulgarian climber who has died in C2 on the Abruzzi. Our sympathies go out to his family and friends and hope that there is some small consolation in knowing he was in a very beautiful place living a dream at the time.

Even for the well acclimatized and prudent there is always the threat of altitude sickness. Any climber may do their very best to stay within their limits but we are talking about real human limits to be climbing at these high altitudes. As we move from Broad Peak to K2 we encounter an even high summit and greater risk of objective hazards. In the weeks ahead our team will be constantly making decisions and revision to keep the safety margin as high as possible. I have confidence that Fabrizio and Chris, who have both been on K2 before, will making the prudent and cautious choice whenever possible.

Parting Quote

“Risk, there is no real living without it. Die we all must, but try to knock all risk out of our lives and we lock ourselves tighter and tighter into a safe, comfortable, deadly box, and we die too, without ever having lived.”
Alex Noble

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