Maryland climber sets up base camp at K2

OUTDOORS

Chris Warner plans to summit dangerous mountain this month

outdoors

August 01, 2005|By Chris Warner | Chris Warner,Special to Baltimoresun.com

The weather forecasts through Aug. 6 call for storm force winds on the summit of K2. This is obvious from base camp. Lenticular clouds sit upon the summit, their leeward edges curling back like eddies in the jet stream. The visual effect is of an evil bird grabbing with it's talons for any climber foolish enough to approach K2's top. Lower down, loose snow is blowing from the SSE and Abruzzi ridges.

The mood at base camp is somber. Some teams, like the Norwegians, have been here for more than 60 days. Hope is in short supply and grows dimmer with each new forecast. On the radio we hear the tales of record monsoon rains in India. The weather men offer such bright forecasts as "the forecasts deteriorate a little bit with every model run. The sky is mostly cloudy with repeated snowfall. This situation does not change for the next seven days."

Tao and I remain optimistic, preferring to look at the calendar instead of the forecasts. Our permit is set to expire on Aug. 20. Anything can happen in the next three weeks.

While the Polish-Bulgarian team is re-burying a body they found yesterday (wrapped in a tent: apparently avalanched off the shoulder, a man, beyond recognition but wearing "Planet Mountain" brand clothing, European, perished in the mid-80s), I thought I'd use my leisure time to update the "scoreboard."

The great July 21 summit push on Broad Peak yielded some wild little epics. This is what I've gathered from talking to a ton of people: 30 people (including us) were on their way to the summit at some point. About 18 of them touched the fore summit of Broad Peak late in the afternoon. None of them managed to reach the true summit. On the descent, the tired climbers, many dehydrated, started to weaken. One Pole fell about 60 meters, breaking his leg. His team reached C3 about 4 a.m. A Slovak fell a reported 400 meters and was uninjured. A Czech fell 150 meters and suffered minor frost bite. One Italian suffered extensive frost bite on his hands and feet and was later evacuated from base camp. And finally another Italian, crawled into a crevasse somewhere around 7,500 meters during the nighttime descent. In the morning, although just one hour and in plain sight of C3, he was struck by a "need" to return to Broad Peak's col where he was certain he'd find refuge on the Chinese side of the mountain. Tao and I spoke to him while we descended, thinking he had just begun climbing from C3. It wasn't until we reached C3 and met some other Italians, that we found out he was "missing," never having returned from the summit bid. His partner climbed up to him, at nearly 7,700 meters, and convinced him to return to C3. 3. A few days later, the delightful and determined Kazakhs, Sergey and Dennis Urbuko, finally reached the main summit of Broad Peak, via a new and scary route they pioneered on the SW Face. This season, despite more than 60 climbers reaching Broad Peaks' base camp, only two reached the summit. Just one climber, with Broad Peak summit ambitions remains: Don Bowie, our friend from California. He found food and lodging at K2's base camp after everyone else headed for home. If the weather improves he will give Broad Peak another attempt. (Don't worry Don's Mom, he is well fed and happy.)

Meanwhile on K2: The strong Czech expedition attempting the SSE Ridge, reached 7,300 meters before returning home. The Norwegians, also on that route, have reached the same high point and have camps established to C3 at 7,050 meters. The two-man Japanese expedition has acclimatized on the Abruzzi, leaving a depot at 7,800 meters. They plan to make their summit bid on the SSE Ridge, but need to depart base camp for home on Aug. 10.

On the Abruzzi, the Polish-Bulgarian team placed a camp at 8,000 meters, but cancelled their summit bid due to extreme cold and deteriorating weather. They struggled in blinding snow to reach base camp. The "American Team", has reached C3. The Hungarian team has reached at least C2. The Irish Team (now just Banjo Bannon) has also reached C3. The Irish and Polish-Bulgarian plan to head up this week, despite the lousy forecasts, to either tag the summit or collect gear so they can go home.

K2 has a long history of August summits (with even a few September successes). Just last year teams summited on Aug. 9. Tao and I are hopeful. A few days ago we met with the Norwegians and Japanese and devised a plan that maximized everyone's summit bids. Now we are just waiting for a weather window, which will hopefully arrive before these two teams have to head home.

And just to complete the K2 team roster: the Kazakhs are coming. Apparently these hard men have been training in a hyperbaric chamber, and should be acclimatized for a quick summit bid. I have no idea which route they hope to climb. We heard they were delayed for two weeks in Islamabad, overcoming mountains of bureaucracy.

Rumors in circulation claim that only one Austrian woman has summited Gasherbrum 1 and two men have summited Gasherbrum 2. I advise you to check with www.mounteverest.net to get a better idea of what happened on those peaks. But if this is even close to true, of the approximately 300 climbers in this area of Pakistan, fivehave summited an 8,000 meter peak. Whooo!!!!

And in the meantime at K2's base camp, the teams not burying the dead keep busy reading, gossiping and praying for better weather.

Originally published August 1, 2005, 9:24 AM EDT

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