K2 2014 Expedition Journal
June 20th, 2014
Buying dried apricots - Skardu
The last four days have been filled with uncertainty , I have been trying to fly to the next leg of my journey Skardu . I would leave the hotel at 8 am , check in my bags, go through security and sit until mid after noon, then over the crackling loud speaker the announcer would say flight canceled because of bad weather. On the third day same process but this time the announcer yelled, flight canceled " plane broke down. On the fourth day my climbing partner Adrian and I were hell bent to beat the odds. I was up at 3:30am and meet Adrian in the hotel lobby. Our strategy was to avoid all the traffic and massive amounts of people at the airport and get the 7:30 flight but again the sound of the announcer broke the silence with the report, first flight canceled " technical problems . We both looked at each other in shock. Then scrambled to the ticket booth for the next flight out. With the plane screaming down the runway I could only laugh at the craziness, the insanity of it all. My climbing partner does not share my humor .
We arrived in Skardu where will spend the night and early tomorrow morning by jeep for about seven hours we will travel to a little hamlet called Askoli and that's where the road ends and the next leg of the journey begins.
Still in Skardu
June 23rd, 2014
Boys of Sadpara
Adrian and I had hoped to leave Skardu for the seven plus hour jeep ride to Askole two days ago but due to some team members arriving late the military would not give us permission to travel any further. The other team members will be arriving later today from Islamabad. Our goal is to leave early tomorrow morning and spend one night under the stars in Askole and rather than take the normal seven to eight days hike to reach K2 base camp we will try and do it in five.
To keep busy and keep the body in motion we went on an acclamation hike up past a hamlet called Sadpara and up through the valley. We gained about 1,000 meters in elevation and on the way back retraced our steps into the little village . The locals came out to greet us with warm handshakes and great smiles . I think that they were a little surprised to see two westerners strolling through their village.
Reflections on Commitment - K2
This is my third attempt on K2 and my commitment is as strong as ever, without total commitment I would not be here. I have always said that he or she who is willing to bow down to the art of suffering has the best chance for success. Those who seek only the glory of the summit are often fooled by their lack of commitment. It's about the boldness in the heart and the willingness of the mind that will always be the difference between getting to the summit or not, yes safety has to be a core value and critical decision making a must but I am talking about heart, true commitment.
K2 Base Camp
July 4th, 2014
After numerous delays in Skardu we finally arrived by jeep to a remote hamlet called Askoli on June 25th. The next morning the team members and I hiked to a place called Jula and from there the hike would see us in places such as Paiju, Urdoks, Goro 2, Concordia and finally at base camp at the feet of the mighty mountain known as K2 The Savage Mountain .
For the last few days here at base camp we have been pounded by bad weather , last night heavy snow blanked the entire area. Early this morning avalanches could be heard through the mist. Its 4:19 p.m. here in Pakistan, K2 base camp and as I stick my head out of my tent the weather seems to be breaking , pockets of blue sky above and I have some visibility up and down the glacier.
Team members and I hope to be moving up the mountain in the next few days, the weather forecast shows that we should have three to four days of good weather and then it will deteriorate once again. We need to seize every opportunity, keeping in mind the threat of avalanches.
K2 Camp One
July 7th, 2014
Yesterday In the early morning hours the outline of several climbers could been seen from a distance each one lost in his or her own thoughts . Adrian Hayes , Jing Lao myself and several Sherpas decided to make a move up the mountain even though the conditions for the last several days have been against us. We moved up through the moraine and onto the glacier , then we had to navigate through the ice pinnacles to reach advance base camp or as some would like to call it crampon point. Either way its at the base of our intended climbing route , the start of the Abruzzi spur.
Due to terrible weather conditions we elected to put up a couple of tents and spend the night at crampon point. Throughout the night we continued to be battered by the wind and snow. This morning even though conditions did not improve we decided to give it a go and try and establish camp one at an altitude of 6035 meters. Climbing was not easy, we took turns putting in the root, kicking in steps, at times we sank up to our thighs as if we were swimming in the snow, committed forever committed upwards the next step depending on our last, other times our crampons lost their purchase the tip of ice axe slamming deep into the snow , snow flying everywhere hearts pounding ever aware of the consent threat of avalanche conditions and rock fall all around us. We reached camp one cold, tired and some what battered but happy to be here. The forecast for tonight is not good, howling winds and more snow. Adrian and I will share a tent tonight and with the reaming team members tomorrow we will zip down the ropes for the puja ceremony that will take place. Some members elected to go dawn and not spend the night. We had some team members arriving late at base camp they should have arrived today from their perceptive countries.
As I wright this we have white out conditions here at camp one and the wind is picking up.
July 13th, 2014
Taking a break, halfway to camp one.
The last dispatch found Adrian and myself on the mountain for four consecutive days, pushing up to camp two. We were going to descend the mountain earlier but due to the Puja being pushed forward till the 11th we opted to stay and further give our bodies a chance to acclimatize.
After a very short rest I find myself back up at camp one.
This morning I was up at 2:30am and headed to the cook tent where I was greeted with a warm smile and a few words of English " good morning boss " with two big spoon full ,s of instant coffee in my cup the cook poured the hot water and as the two mixed the aroma drifted up to greet me. Something about that first coffee. My breakfast consisted of two boiled eggs and a piece of bread washed down by a second cup of coffee.
Coming through the last section of the ice pinnacles had its moments , its not the safest place to be with large chunks of ice twice the size of your car hanging over your head in a procures angle . Then it happened I was navigating through a dicey section when without warning I was falling , the ice below my feet had given away. I lay there five or six feet down in a tangle of arms and legs feeling for any broken body parts. Thankfully my body was just sore from the collision of the ice below. After extracting myself I just continued on, shaking my head thinking what a crazy world. I will spend the night here at camp one without my team members ,we will regroup tomorrow . The goal weather permitting will be to climb to camp two tomorrow , this is my second rotation before a summit push so I will try and stay on the mountain as long as I can with the hopes of reaching camp three above the black pyramid in a few days.
July 15th, 2014
Our high point today looking down
Yesterday I climbed from camp one up through several rock bands and once again up through the house chimney to reach camp two at an altitude of 6,600 meters just below the black pyramid.
Last night I could not get warm, my body felt as if I was in a cold storage locker, I lay there in the dark shivering, waiting for the early morning rays warmth of sunshine.
Early morning my team mate Adrian Hayes started the ever slow process of melting snow for much needed water to hydrate our bodies. That first cup of not coffee tasted so good. It also warmed me up a little.
One by one we slipped out of our little tent, with harness on and crampons securely strapped to our boots we started the climb upwards into the black pyramid. The black pyramid is 400 meters high, steep sustained rock with mixed ice sections very technical . K2 is known as the savage mountain for good reason. There is no room for error the slightest miss calculation ends in a fatality. Today I was in a dicey section in a near vertical rock band, I slid my ice axe side ways between my body and back pack. I needed both of my hands free to climb. I inhaled deeply and then slowly, slowly exhaled. I am committed , I look up and see a rock protruding, I reach for it with my right hand I test it no movement. I do the same with my left hand. Looking down I see space, nothing but space then my eyes ketch movement its the wings of a bird far below. Before my mind can register what is happening my body is in fluid motion moving upwards one movement at a time and then bam. I cannot move, the rope is tangled with my ice axe. My heart starts to beat faster, I say to myself relax, relax, breath, breath. I release my right hand balancing on my front points and holding on with my left hand. Every so slowly with my right hand I untangle the rope from my ice axe and continue climbing. The higher Adrian and I climbed into the black pyramid the higher the winds battered our frail bodies. After four hours of nonstop climbing we decided to descend back to camp two. Our goal this morning was to reach camp three, although we were very close, mother nature decided our high point. Tomorrow morning we will descend back to base camp for a much needed rest. This has been our second rotation up the mountain for acclamation and now our bodies are ready for a summit push.
The Summit Push Is On
July 21st, 2014
Throughout the night of July 15th the winds howled as if a wolf had been caught in a trap, the poles of our tent bent and the snow fell without mercy. Very early in the morning with a flick of a match the tiny stove came to life and the slow process of melting snow into much needed water began. After a second cup of coffee cold boots were tugged on over cold feet and laced up. Slowly Adrian and I put on our harness in a quiet rhythm without saying a word and slipped from the relatively safety of our tent. The visibility was poor and restricted to only about 30 feet. With crampon's secured to our boots I leaned into Adrian so he could hear me and said be safe and with that I clipped into the rope with my rappel device and started the long decent to the glacier floor below . Once at the base of our root we had to retraced our steps through the ice pinnacles and onto the glacier floor keeping ones attention fixed on the bamboo sticks marking the way that would take us back to base camp. At base camp the snow would continue to fall until the morning of July 19th , then the weather started to show signs of letting up. After consulting meteorologist from around the world and interpreting the data we feel that we have found a pocket of stable weather . Our summit attempt will be July 25th or 26. That means we will be leaving tomorrow morning for our summit push July 22nd.
This will be my last dispatch until I return from the mountain . I need to reduce the weight in my backpack. As I need to carry extra rope and ice screws in case of an emergency.
Say a silent prayer for us.
K2: Summit Push
Like a Snow Leopard moving silently in the night stalking its prey, I moved silently with fluid motion actively hunting my objective. I was hungry. The rope fixing team had left camp four two hours earlier. Now I was on the move.
With focus and commitment, I mentally locked into my surroundings. I was all alone and climbing fast, I soon caught the heals of the rope fixing team. I looked back into the night and all I could see was the torch light of other climbers, some from my team and several from other expeditions. I could hear the voices ahead and the dull sound of someone trying to place a piton in the rock band for protection. They were having no luck, the minutes felt like hours. The chill penetrated my flesh, my hands felt like frozen claws and my feet were becoming numb. I remember making a conscious decision that I was willing to lose some toes to frost bite but not my fingers. Never my fingers.
The climbers from the distance were stacking up behind me calling out into the night, ‘what’s happening?’ ‘we are getting so cold’. I Knew how they felt. I had been motionless for over an hour. Finally, with the anchor set, we were on the move once again. I climbed over rock and snow moving upwards, Chhiring Sherpa came up behind me. I pulled off my oxygen mask and asked him to unzipped the bottom of my packsack and hand me my warmest mittens. Soon I felt the burning sensation of my hands coming back to life.
I could see flashes of light in front of me bouncing off a giant serac (huge ice block). This was the feature that in 2008 a part of it had broken off resulting in the loss of 11 lives. The serac was so massive and leaning forward that it blocked out the darkest of the night. Like an animal guarding its den I was being taunted to climb higher. You may touch the top but you may not go home. There was no hesitation. I climbed up and to the left to the bottleneck, which consists of black rock and solid ice. The sunrise cast a beautiful glow as it bounced off the ice all around me. But it also revealed the next hurdle. Dead ahead was 100 feet of 70 degree vertical ice that would have to be front pointed with the tips of my crampons and two ice axes. Going on instinct I took a deep breathe and exhaled slowly. All my years of ice climbing had prepared me for this moment. This was it. I clipped my safety device onto the rope and started across. My mind painted a picture of the route for the descent to come. I looked down into the void below my feet and remember thinking “wow a long long way down”, Incredibly scary. As quickly as possible I was across and climbing upwards again. For hours I climbed the steep angled snow slope until I came to a ridge. The rope was being held by two ice axes only! I looked back and some climbers were not using the rope for safety but using their jumars to pull them up the mountain, I felt fear wrap it arms around me like a blanket on a frozen night. Death was looking over my shoulder. I tried calling out. I waved my arms in panic. “Climb the mountain not the rope”! “We are not anchored in, we are not anchored in”! I could envision what was going to happen if the ice axes pulled out. Death was mocking once again. I felt him all around me. We have been together many times. Before he moved closer, like a joker I slid my tongue across his cheek. He backed up. I said “not today”. “Not today”. Franticly, NIMA Sherpa and I helped dig a hole in the snow and the rope was tied to an oxygen bottle. Ahead was another snow slope maybe forty or fifty feet across that seemed to go on forever but on both sides dropped of into never never land. We were all out of the main fixing rope but I always carry seventy five feet of five millimetre rope in the bottom of my packsack for emergences. As other climbers arrived at our location we began asking if they had any rope to spare. They too were prepared for the unknown. Piece by piece the rope was tied together until we had enough to get up the ridge before running out. From there we would climb unaided towards the summit. all the focus was on one foot in front of the other and making sure that crampon points made secure purchase in the ice below my boots. And then the summit came into view. My mind screamed “no mistakes, no mistakes”. On my third attempt I was there. July 26th I was standing on the summit of the savage mountain. K2.
Getting to the summit is the goal, getting back down alive is the success
Suddenly standing on the summit I could see a storm coming straight for us like a freight train out of control. The clouds were getting darker by the minute, one of my fellow climbers, a Sherpa from another group, was kind enough to take some photos. It was time to retrace our steps and descend. As we were leaving the summit a light snow began to fall and with each passing minute it fell harder. We made our way to the small rope that we had stitched together earlier. It was not intended to be rappelled off but, just for this very reason, if a storm were to hit us we would use the rope to guide us down the very long snow slope. Two far to the left or right, you die. You would just disappear, game over. I was very tired. I had left camp four for the summit push at 10:41pm it was now around 4 in the afternoon. Working my down the slope my crampons suddenly lost contact with the mountain. My body jerked violently. I was falling. My arm went into the air, ice axe crashing into the side of the slope, snow was flying all around me. I slammed my axe again. This time I stopped with a mouth full of snow. My body hurt and my breathe rate was off the chart. A voice deep inside said “slow it down”. I inhaled and exhaled slowly “I am alive”.
Back at the ridge where the two ice axes and oxygen bottle were used, the rope was now secured with ice pickets. As I arrived I could see another climber descending, I would have to wait until he was off the rope. I kept my hand on the rope waiting for the tension to be off and then it was my turn. Tying the rope through my figure eight and securing it with a locking carabiner to my harness I leaned back in space. The visibility was about ten to fifteen feet. One rope length … then two. It seemed to go on forever then I was back at the long traverse. As I arrived at the anchor another climber was just starting to make his way across. It did not take long before he got swallowed up in the storm. My mind raced. “Remember when you front pointed across, now do it in reverse”. “Straight across for about fifty feet then drop down about five feet”. “No mistakes move slowly”. “Be patient”. Crossing to an ice bulge and dropping down five feet and finally straight across. I had made it! From here the route was marked with bamboo wands and red tape. The storm loosened it’s grip and I could make out camp four in the distance. In another hour I would be there, safe for the night.
Crawling into my tent I reeled in horror. My sleeping mattress was gone and worse, my much needed bottle of oxygen. “No it cannot be”. I shook my head in disbelief. Someone had stolen both items. I went out into the night calling for the items to be returned, my pleas fell on deaf ears. I had been on the go for over fifteen hours, was completely exhausted and badly in need of the oxygen bottle. Up here it was worth more than gold or diamonds. Your life depended on it. I crawled back into my tent, sat on the tent floor, and wrapped my arms around myself to keep warm as it was going to be the night from hell. I awoke in the fetal position curled up like a small child. I was so, so cold. I had used two bottles for my summit attempt and now the second one was out. I rocked back and forth shivering hoping that I would make it through the night. Eyes getting heavy, neck snapping back wards. I would wake up and then drift off to another place. Finally the early morning rays of sun began to seep into the day. I new that I needed to get down to base camp in one long push or I would die.
Two close friends of mine Chris and Lakpa from another team were getting ready to leave camp four and I decided to start my descent with them, One by one we clipped into the rope and disappeared over the lip of the head wall. Then it was my turn. At the bottom of the head wall they took a break and I continued moving down the snow slope alone, in the distance I could make out another climber, I could tell that who ever it was, was having trouble. The climber would move down the snow slope a little then they would sit down in the snow. For some reason I thought that it was a Pakistani climber by the color of the down suite. When I reached the climber I sat down next to him and he turned his head towards me. I knew who it was, he just looked at me and said Al I am so tired. I sat next to him for a while and then said that I needed to keep moving, we both stood up and he said that he would follow me to camp three. He looked in bad shape, worse that me. He had just summited K2 without bottled oxygen. Arriving at camp three I was starting to over heat with my big down suite on so I crawled into a tent and removed it, I drank a little water and had some ?snakes?, by that time Chris, Lakpa and some other climbers arrived. The conversation was short and I bid fare well and continued on down through the Black Pyramid. I kept checking and rechecking my rigging before rappelling down to the next anchor. No mistakes. One mistake and it’s over. It’s good bye time. I stopped again at camp two to take in more fluids and to eat a little chocolate and try and keep what little energy l had left. I remember arriving at camp two thinking “that’s two camps down, two to go and I will be safe”. Rappel after rappel brought me down through the House Chimney and soon I was back at camp one. I knew that to let my guard down now would spell disaster. I moved as if in a trance as if I were hypnotized. More rock bands and more snow slopes to cover. I was tired so tired. I started to hear voices. “I am going mad. Keep it together; keep it together” the voice in my head said. The enamel on my amour was cracking, I am losing it. The voices are getting louder but it can’t be. I was all alone. My heart was pounding out of my chest. My mind was all over the place as I came around the last rock band. People were at crampon point singing out; there were so many people who made the journey up through the glacier to give us a hero’s welcome. As I got closer to them the stress started to melt away, arriving into the crowd there were hugs, hand shakes, and happiness in the air. I moved through the crowd and let my body slump down on a rock, people started to remove my backpack others my crampons, a coke was placed into my hand, people were taking care off me as if I were a little child. After a short rest I picked myself up, shouldered my backpack and thanked everyone. They would stay to welcome other climbers from the gates of hell. I moved ever so careful down through the ice pinnacles and onto the glacier floor. An hour and a half later I could see the tents and prayer flags of base camp, before arriving at base camp I sat down again on a rock and turned my head up towards K2 and the tears flowed down my face like rain. I thanked the mountain for letting me climb and allowing me to live.
The hike out from base camp:
After two days of rest at base camp it was time to start the long journey back to Askoli. It took us six days to travel on foot from Askoli to K2 base camp, that’s seventy five miles. Our goal of retracing our hike would be done now in three days over some of the most hostile landscape in the world, beautiful but dangerous. There was a small American team on K2 and they were gracious enough to let me hike out with them. Good thing for me, I might have gotten lost. The goal was to get up and be moving very early in the morning to escape the heat of the day. Things did not go as planned, the sun got hotter and the porters got slower. We arrived at our planned location but most of the porters did not arrive until after dark, some not arriving at all. And those that did show up just dropped their load wherever. It was total confusion. People were going around with their head torches looking for gear. I had managed to find one of my three gear bags that contained a light sleeping bag but my two blue barrels were missing. In one of the blue barrels, the contents were electronics worth about $10,000. The next morning meant back on the trail and more burning sun. After many hours we decided to take a break in a place called Urdokas. We all sat on this huge boulder and people had umbrellas erected to try and hide from the sun, it was only a temporary escape. The conversation went from one topic to another and then someone said to me, “Let me get this right, you hiked up through here the last three years in a row”? Then, “you must be insane”.
Late in the evening we arrived at our next location and the confusion and madness started all over again, gear was missing and more porters not showing up. Our Sherpa staff worked hard to keep us happy late into the night and managed in all the confusion to serve us some hot noodles. I did manage to locate one of my blue barrels but not the one I was hoping for. I was told that two donkeys that were transporting some of the loads just up and died and that porters were being sent back to collect the remaining gear. It would hopefully arrive, key word …hopefully. To say the least I was having a little panic attack, that barrel housed all my electronics. By the third day we were like little fried robots in that sun with some of us worse than others. One foot in front of the other just keep moving soon the pain will all be over. Crawling into my tent in Askoli I felt the effects of the last couple of months of climbing and hiking, I felt utterly shattered.
The next morning we all loaded into jeeps for the journey back to Skardu, The trip was uneventful but it was just so nice to be sitting and not to be hiking anymore. Back in Skardu we had hoped to fly the next day to Islamabad, no luck. The next day we back to the airport again no luck. No body wanted to do the two day drive to Islamabad because we would be driving strait through Taliban territory. Two days later that’s exactly what we did, I will say no more than that.
Back in Islamabad I was in my hotel room at the Marriott thinking what a crazy world.
I would like to thank my Sponsors for all their support
Remedy’s Café Edmonton, Alberta thank you Zee and all your staff
Mountain Hardwear for supplying all clothing
Spot Global positioning
I would like to express my heart felt condolences to Miguels family, loved ones and friends.
Of Miguel Angel Perez who sadly lost his life on K2
Take this kiss upon the brow for I leave you now.....life is but a dream