Stretching it out on Broad Peak


Climbers Chris Warner and Tao Franken attempt summit in early morning hours

2005 K2 expedition


July 13, 2005|By Chris Warner | Chris Warner,Special to

The sun was just below the curvature of the earth, but the faded light was strong enough to show us the remaining few hundred feet of crumpled, tilted glacier leading to the col.

We were at 24,500 feet on Broad Peak, having left the tents of Camp 2 just after 10 p.m. Below us everyone was asleep. They had no idea that the two Americans, who arrived at K2's base camp five days ago, would now be stretching the acclimatization game so dramatically. No one on either K2 or Broad Peak, even those teams that arrived in early June, had reached so high yet.

We did give ourselves one full day at base camp before setting off on this little adventure. On July 9 after lunch, we carried gear to a spot at the base of Broad Peak. Waking at 3 a.m. we humped enormous loads up the ever-steepening face to C1. No ropes had yet been fixed and so we climbed the 30-55 degree slopes with care. I was the first to arrive at this cramped eagle's nest.

Weeks earlier teams had claimed the obvious 6 or 7 tent platforms. Knowing that we would only spend one night there, I dug out a snowy ledge and reinforced it by stomping it and whacking it with a shovel blade. It was as good as the engineering involved in a hard won snowball fight. With the right water content and molding, the snowy ledge was as hard as a rock.

As I was setting up the tent, the next climber arrived, visibly angered that there wasn't a place for his tent (and it was barely 7 a.m.). When Tao arrived he shook his head in disbelief, at least 20 climbers were below him. A lot of sad little campers arrived at C1 and spent hours configuring tent platforms suitable only for a small circus' worth of contortionists and acrobats.

We passed the day in blazing sunshine. At 19,000 feet, I wore just shorts and a t-shirt, preferring to work on my tan and drink liters of cold beverages.

July 11 saw us arising before dawn, and schlepping our bulging packs to C2. Once again I was the first to arrive and found a perfect platform void of snow and just long enough for our tent. That old Calvinistic work ethic was proving itself divine. The views were amazing. K2 stood right in front of us turning golden in the light of dawn. The summit was now clearly visible, which may not have been a good thing. It is a long and tricky way from high camp to the summit of K2. The famed Bottleneck is just a tiny portion of the distance to be traveled.

Hours later the next group of climbers arrived. The same people who couldn't find a good spot at C1 now spent up to 4 hours carving platforms at the equally airy C2. (In either 2003 or 2004, a Czech climber stepped out of his tent and slipped over two thousand feet to the glacier below. He died before he could finish peeing.)

We whiled away the morning hours inches from the edge, once again stripping down to shorts and a t-shirt. Tao shifted his hopeful gaze from K2 to the seemingly close summit of Broad Peak. "Why don't we climb it alpine style," he says.

"Well Tao, the definition of alpine style is to start at the base, without ever seeing the route, pre-establishing camps, etc. and climbing to the top. Clearly we can't do that, we already pre-established this camp."

"So it will be alpine style if we summit tonight."

"I guess we better get some sleep, since we have to start at 10 p.m."

Now neither of us was foolish enough to think we could pull this off, but we were more than foolish enough to give it a try. If conditions were perfect and our bodies could prevail, the summit was attainable.

With no moon in the sky, the blackness was thick. At 6,900 meters (22,700 feet) the angle steepened and with both headlights slicing the darkness, we could just barely make out some kind of line in the snow face above us. I was in the front, with Tao told to stay at least 20 feet behind. I had an idea as to what that line was, maybe a crevasse slicing across the face. We were using both of our ice axes and kicking in the front points of our crampons.

In the darkness it was impossible to tell the angle of the slope, but it must have neared 60 degrees. Climbing towards the line, it was obvious that this was a gaping crevasse, with the lower side having slumped two feet from the upper. We traversed below it, searching for a weakness that could be passed. Finally I found a place to sink my ice axes into the upper lip, spread my body weight over as large a surface area as possible and squirmed across the delicate snow bridge that spanned the crevasse. Tao followed. No rope connected us, so falling in that crevasse was to be avoided.

At 23,000 feet we came across the ancient remains of torn tents, the fabric frozen to the slope, with only the odd sock or used gas cylinder still in place. This is lower C3. With the light of a headlamp, this seemed like an eerie place, a graveyard with tattered nylon tombstones. I thought back to the human remains I found at the base of Broad Peak in 2002. We think it may be the remains of Pete Thexton who died at C3 so many years ago.

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