Mighty K2 casts cold eye at Warner's summit push

More than 2,250 climbers have reached the top of Mount Everest, the world's highest peak, but fewer than 225 have beaten K2.

Mountaineering

August 04, 2005|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

In hurricane-force winds and biting cold, without Sherpas or bottled oxygen, a Maryland mountaineer today is inching his way up the slopes of the world's second-tallest peak.

Chris Warner of Annapolis and partner Rick "Tao" Franken of Colorado are hoping to ease through a tiny sliver of good weather expected this weekend to reach the summit of 28,250-foot K2.

Small, international teams of climbers have been camping at the foot of the mountain - some for weeks - waiting for a break in the weather to begin the high-stakes scramble to the top.

But conditions driven by India's monsoons have made leaving base camp nearly impossible.

The uncomfortable weather conditions have been exacerbated by the discovery of a corpse from an expedition in the mid-1980s.

"The teams not burying the dead keep busy reading, gossiping and praying for better weather," Warner wrote in his e-mail.

Even when conditions improve slightly at 16,400 feet, snow continues to pile up on the upper reaches of K2, which forced a Czech team to abandon its attempt two weeks ago.

"Like tea leaves, just about everyone has examined today's forecasts in hopes of finding either a summit window or an excuse to head home," Warner e-mailed on Tuesday.

"The best two days are, arguably, Saturday and Sunday."

A slight change in the jet stream will decrease the winds buffeting the summit from 80 mph to about 15 mph, and the unrelenting snow that has buried traditional climbing routes and caused whiteouts may subside, forecasters predict.

Warner, 40, is believed to be the first Marylander to reach the summit of Mount Everest, a feat he accomplished in 2001. The owner of Earth Treks climbing gyms in Timonium and Columbia would like to add K2 to a resume that includes several other 8,000-meter peaks.

But the clock is running on this expedition. Warner's climbing permit from the Pakistan government expires on Aug. 20.

Although Everest is higher by 778 feet, K2 is considered a more technical and dangerous climb, earning the nickname "Savage Mountain."

While more than 2,250 climbers have scaled Everest, fewer than 225 have stood atop K2. Since 1990, K2 has had five times the fatalities of Everest.

Warner said they expected to climb yesterday from base camp to Camp 2 at 21,000 feet. Today, they hope to reach Camp 3, at 22,970 feet, on the mountain's massive, sloping shoulder.

The two men will bivouac there - 5,281 feet below the summit - to see if the weather breaks and if one of two routes is passable.

However, Camp 3 is not a safe haven. The shoulder is prone to avalanches and high winds that funnel through the gap between K2 and Broad Peak. From that point, the summit is still 16 to 18 hours away.

"On the 6th, we will either return to base camp or play a little higher on this hill," he wrote, alluding to an attempt to push to 25,920 feet and set ropes for a summit bid.

If weather forces them back, the two men have not ruled out a second attempt before their permit expires.

"K2 has a long history of August summits [with even a few September successes]. Just last year, teams summited on Aug. 9," wrote Warner.

"Anything can happen in the next three weeks."

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