We have just finished 2 rotations on K2. We are down at base camp currently resting and recuperating while awaiting the summit weather window to show itself. The next slog on the mountain will be the summit push itself and its expected to happen sometime towards the end of the month.
K2 is no easy mountain. In fact, it’s a beast. From the moment you set foot on its slopes, the onslaught ensues. Our team has chosen to climb via the classic Abruzzi ridge (aka SE ridge). Advanced base camp is about 2.5 hours from base camp and one has to traverse eastwards on the Godwin Austin Glacier before hitting the icefall. Just like the Khumbu ice fall on Everest, this final 1 hour obstacle stands between us and ABC. Although not as intricate and extensive as the Khumbu falls, it does possess its own unique challenges. One usually doesn’t use crampons to cross and does so during anytime of the day. This means that the ice usually melts and the route often changes without notice. Small invisible puddles of water forms beneath what seems like pristine ice and snow which can be extremely deceptive. After this mini Khumbu falls, it’s a short rocky climb before ABC reveals itself at 5300m. Only having space for about 3-4 tents, ABC is more of a storage and staging facility before donning crampons and hitting the Abruzzi ridge. During the first rotation however, I spent a night at ABC before heading to C1 the next day.
From the moment you hit the slope on the Abruzzi ridge, there’s no flat ground and the lowest inclination of the slope at any point is 40 deg. I was warned about avalanches and rock fall before starting the route, however, I had no idea how common these avalanches came pouring down. The moment we hit the slope, shouts of “AVALANCHE” filled the air. We had to scramble to the left near the rocks to avoid being taken down. Some of the avalanches were small but some were huge. They left the right of the trail with huge chunks of ice and snow which filled up the previous tracks and made it even more difficult for the rest below to scale the slope. It took up so much energy each time we had to scramble to the left to avoid the avalanches. I was so exhausted just staying alive that there wasn’t much more in me to climb upwards.
Just when I thought avalanches were bad, rock falling on the trail made me change my mind. Rock fall can be subtle. However if that loose rock that falls happens to come your way, that’s the end. As I was climbing on the fixed lines, I heard this huge rumble and when I looked back, I saw this huge piece of rock (which was bigger than a tent) breaking off from the side and slipping onto the track and dragging the fixed lines together with it. I was dragged down as I was on the fixed line above. The falling rock either cut the ropes below or removed one of the anchors. Only then did the feeling of being dragged down cease. It was also lucky that I was the last man on the line that day; else those below would have definitely died. If I was about 5 mins slower on the trail, the rock would also have smashed right onto me. It was the most sobering experience in my tiny climbing career so far. That event kept playing in my head again and again and I found it difficult moving myself forward. However, I also knew that if I was slow or I stopped, I would be increasing my risk of getting hit by more rocks. This fear kept me moving each time I gazed above and there was a huge rock tower looming high over me. The fear was intense. I kept god in mind as I moved forward as I knew he was the only one who could protect me.
ABC to C1 was an intense slog in the snow. Snow could reach thigh level and trails were simply being covered by the strong winds and the avalanches. The slope was nearly vertical as we neared C1. It was an intense workout just getting to C1 at 6070m. It took me 7 h. Finally seeing C1 perched atop a small flat area was also scary. The tent lines were tied to any piece of rock that could be found. They were all jumbled and mixed and were preventing the 4 tents pitched from being blown away. I couldn’t think much as I made my way into the tent. I knew I was sleeping by the edge of the slope but I was too tired.
The climb from C1 to C2 was supposed to be shorter but harder according to the sherpas. I grew not to believe the sherpas as I always had to add 1-2 hours to the timings that they gave. I wanted to experience the route for myself before judging. The climb from C1 to C2 was relentless. It was a straight up from C1. No time to relax. Very soon, the path of snow turned into ice and very soon the ice turned to rock. We were climbing near vertical rock faces with our crampons. These rock faces were not small either. Some were more than 10-15m high. It was more interesting climbing rock with crampons rather than trudging through the never ending snow fields. However, it became more and more difficult as we got nearer to C2. The slopes were near vertical and every step had to be carefully planned or the crampons had to be kicked hard into the thick blue ice.
Our group had decided to place C2 just below the House’s Chimney as it always had been too windy above the chimney. After a day’s rest at C2, we were heading further upwards for acclimatization. The House chimney was a spider web of old ropes and a flexible metal ladder. It was a narrow couloir which was just wide enough to fit a single person. There was rock and hard ice all around but it was rather difficult to get a good foot or hand hold while climbing. After this 10-15m vertical section, it was a wide open space where the location of the traditional C2 resided. There were ripped and destroyed tents all around in this small open space and the wind was not letting us down. The ripped tents were not laid to rest there either. They were still being continued to be ripped by the blasting winds. We carried on abit above the upper C2 and also found that the winds were too harsh for us to continue any further towards C3. We turned back to our lower C2 and rested there for the night before the long decent towards base camp the next day.
As we rest in BC now, all our minds are only focused on one thing now – The summit window. According to different weather prediction models, there will be bad weather on the mountain till the 22nd July. We stay watch closely as to when K2 will have a few days of continuous good weather to offer and we will be making our finals plans for the summit push then. I’m also recovering from a bad throat infection which made me lose my voice. I’m recovering but the progress is very slow. Each day, I’m coughing out blood stained mucous and my throat is extremely dry. The infection part is probably over but the cold dry mountain air isn’t making things any much better. My voice is slowly returning but I really do hope that I will be recovered enough to take on the summit push. I truly hope that this would not put a full stop to my summit ambitions.
Will keep this blog updated before our final departure.