I was back from my summit push on the 26th. However I did not make the summit. I decided to turn back from C2 due to a couple of reasons which I thought compromised safety. It was a difficult decision to turn back but at that instant, I thought it was best not to push on.
I finally reach Home just before Singapore’s birthday and currently resting and recuperating from my 2 month stint in Pakistan. Mainly eating and sleeping and trying my best to get rid of the chronic fatigue. From the comforts of home, I write this retrospective entry on what happened during the summit push.
We left to ABC on the 22nd. By this time, the icefall had dissolved and melted to become something totally unrecognizable. The ropes which had been threaded through the ice had become loose and the path towards ABC was no longer there. Kami and I spent about an hour figuring out and constructing a new way through the ice fall. We were almost about to turn back as it was starting to get dangerous with melting ice from high ice towers starting to randomly collapse. However, Kami managed to get us safely past the technical segments and to ABC. What a start to the summit push. The easiest segment of the climb was turning out to be a challenge in itself.
We were on our way towards C1 on the 23rd. From the word go, the weather was not the best. Even though I felt stronger than the previous rotations, my timing from ABC to C1 was about the same due to the weather and terrain. Historically, late July has seen the best weather to summit but it didn’t seem so in our case. It started snowing heavily and winds started picking up halfway through the climb. When we reached C1 in the blizzard, we found that most of the snow beneath our tents had melted and the tents were either sliding down the slope or lopsided. We had to readjust and re-carve the ground in the howling winds and snow storm which drained a lot of our energy. Finally when we were in the tent, I was wondering how we would climb to C2 if this horrible weather continued the next day. Vanessa, Jang Ga and myself stayed in C1 while Hari, John, Ah Jung and Cheng Xue proceeded straight to C2.
When we awoke on the 24th, it was a splendid clear day. The plan was for everyone to move to C3 straight, skipping C2 to keep in track with the rest of the team. As we proceeded to C2 the weather started getting worse to a point where I couldn’t figure out what was 20m in front of me. It was the worst weather I had ever climbed in. Footsteps from the climbers just 5 mins ahead of me were nowhere to be seen as I passed them as the snow filled in the tracks. By this time in the season, the top layer of snow on the slopes had melted away exposing the blue ice beneath which had now been laced with a layer of sugary snow. The terrain was impeccably difficult to tread on, even though this was the 2nd time we were there. Rocks were loose and we had to take extreme care not to step on or hold those rocks in case they fell onto the climbers below. Every step that we took was precariously slippery as we struggled to kick into the virgin blue ice masked by the deceptively easy layer of snow. It took us a lot of energy by the time we got to C2. Jang Ga had decided to proceed to C3 in that terrible weather. I and Vanessa decided to stay in C2. As I rolled into my tent, I was surprised to see Hari there. He became sick the previous day and decided to rest in for the night. His plan was to proceed to C3 the next day.
The weather was horrendous when we woke up on the 25th. 50kmh winds and the snow was flying by horizontal to the ground. The tents were rattling as though they were going to rip apart. It was totally different from what the weather reports had predicted. Mingma confirmed that the weather reports were not tallying any longer. This was when I had to make the decision that would cost me the summit. To proceed or to stay put. I knew that if I didn’t reach C3 by that day, it would mean the end of my summit bid but I also knew that pushing on in that weather was also dangerous. Hari made the wise decision to turn back and my heart was with him to get down as well. Vanessa on the other hand summed up all her grit and will and began to proceed to C3; what would take her 8 hours to complete in that weather. The 4 Austrian/German climbers from Furtenbach adventures, turned back on the Abruzzi route from C2 due to the weather and terrain conditions. We heard that all the Himax climbers on the Cessan route also turned around. The 2 Mexicans had not started with the summit bid and the Polish had their own plans in BC. Which left only our team, Fredrich from Sweden and the Mongolian behind on the Abruzzi route.
A lot of thoughts were running through my mind by now. These were some of the reasons I decided not to proceed with the summit push.
– The weather prediction was no longer in unison with the reports and the summit day on the 27th looked questionable as well.
– Even if we had summited on the 27th, the weather on the 28th was looking extremely bad and it would be dangerous coming down from the summit.
– Fixed lines halfway from C3 to the summit had not been laid and it was questionable if the huge avalanche a few days back had destroyed whatever lines that had been laid from C3 to C4.
– It was also unsure if the avalanche had swept away the stash (O2 and other climbing equipment) stowed above C3.
– The weather was so bad on the 25th that the sherpas could not ferry up any loads to C4 and return to C3 as planned and that meant that not all O2 cylinders would be available at C3 and C4. The Sherpas were also not proceeding on to check the state of the lines and equipment above C3 due to the weather.
– There seemed to be too little time to do all these by the expected summit date which was set on the 27th.
– The 26th seemed to have reports of high winds and this would mean very little time for the sherpas to work on laying the fixing the lines above C3.
With all these strong reasons against proceeding, I just thought that the risks were too much to take and the chances of success were very slim. Furthermore, I wasn’t as strong as my team mates and my health wasn’t the best at that point. I knew my reserves were thin and would have struggled if anything were to have happened on the way up or down.
I decided that I’ll push as far as I could and then return back to BC instead. However the next day on the 26th, it was foggy and visibility was extremely bad. We could not see anything more than the tent in front of us. We thought that there was no point in proceeding up and decided to descend back to BC in the fog. The Mongolian also followed suit. The ice fall below ABC was again different as compared to when we were going up. We somehow manoeuvred our way around and ended up in BC that afternoon. Although I was disappointed that I could not be with the rest of the team, I thought that it was the best decision to make at that point of time.
This is what happened to the main team in the days to come.
– Vanessa reached C3 on the 25th in the bad weather. The team decided to push upwards from C3 to C4 in thick fog and winds on the 26th. Even after climbing till 6pm, they could not find the true C4 site and decided to pitch camp about half hour below the actual C4. There was thick snow all around and they had to dig away 1.5m of ice and snow to construct their tents.
– At this time, the team received news that the rope that Fedrick said he was going to transport to C4 was going to be placed along the way between C3 and C4 as Fedrick decided to turn back due to bad weather and terrain conditions.
– The team decided that they could not make the summit on the 27th due to time constraints and decided to push for the summit on the 28th instead. They choose to rest on the 27th at C4 with O2.
– While the clients rested for the whole of the 27th, the sherpas (one of the was sent down to collect Fedrick’s ropes) fixed lines above C4. They managed to fix up to just below the bottle neck due to thick snow conditions.
– The team set off for the summit on the 27th at 10pm and slowly made their way up in winds. The plan was to turn back on the 28th noon regardless of the outcome of the climb as the weather was predicted to turn very bad after noon on the 28th.
– The sherpas started fixing the bottle neck on the 28th at about 9am and the clients followed closely behind the sherpas. The weather report that arrived that moning mentioned that the high winds that were predicted that afternoon had died down and that it would be much better weather. Mingma took the risk and pushed on hoping that that morning’s report would be accurate.
– After a 17h push in the waist deep snow, poor visibility and winds, the weather cleared up amazingly just as the team was reaching the summit and finally after braving all odds, the team summited K2 at about 1535h on the 28th.
– They made their way safely to C4 by 2000h and back to BC by the evening of the 29th; some as late as 11pm.
Vanessa, Cheng Xie and Jang Ga were attempting K2 for their 3rd time. John was attempting to be the first Icelandic to reach K2’s summit and Ah Jung was on his quest for all 14 8000m peaks. They took risks and pushed really hard. In the end, it all paid off. They had put their heads in the lions mouth and had returned successful and unscathed. Hats off to all of them. They deserve all the praise and accolades for making it up on such a difficult season. My heartfelt congrats to the 5 of them.
We also had 2 Pakistani records. Amin was the 4th Pakistani to complete all 5 8000m peaks in Pakistan with his successful completion of Broad Peak. Fadzeel became the 1st Pakistani to climb K2 twice successfully and probably he is the first in the world to summit K2 twice without supplemental O2 as well! The 28th saw 5 clients and 6 sherpas (all of them summiting K2 for their first time except Mingma who has summited now twice with this success) and Fadzeel on the summit.
We exited the range via the Gondogoro la pass which was shorter than the old route but would encompass us climbing again to 5600m and descending down a steep dangerous ravine with no crampons and harness. Coming down was just as scary as going up K2. It was a 3 day journey to the village of Hushe where we got a jeep back to Skardu. Finally the expedition was over!
I was really disappointed that I turned back on the 25th but I keep telling myself that things could have turned out much different from what materialised. As I mentioned in my previous post, I am happy that I was able to live out my dream of climbing K2 and even more glad that I had gotten this far. No regrets on that. No looking back. I probably will not attempt K2 again but the stories from this expedition will always stay fresh in my mind.