Sure Enough, Crowds of Rookies on K2

8000ers K2
K2 Base Camp: Is this the place to learn the basics? Photo: Madison Mountaineering

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” said an anonymous climber, after kicking off a wet slide that sent him for a big ride and almost wiped us off the face [of] the Abruzzi today.

The quote is from Himalayan guide Adrian Ballinger, currently on K2 with Ecuador’s Carla Pérez on a No-O2 climb. Ballinger and many others were on their way to Camps 1 and 2 on the “normal” Abruzzi Spur route, taking advantage of good weather before the next storm hits. They were following the trail of a rope-fixing team, which had opened the route to Camp 2 earlier this week.

Ballinger is a seasoned high-altitude climber and guide. His ironical comment depicts a cause for concern on K2. The problem is two-fold: an excess of climbers and too many of them lacking basic mountaineering skills to deal with unforeseen problems.

Yesterday, Carlos Garranzo (at home after climbing Lhotse) posted a picture of climbers “training” with crampons and Jumars on some snow bumps near Base Camp. “Better come to K2 with the training done at home,” he commented.

A Catalan mountain guide who attempted Gasherbrum IV last year, told ExplorersWeb that several climbers currently in Pakistan picked their 8,000m goals depending on whether they might need an ice-axe or not. “They avoid Gasherbrum II, because they had heard that they would need to use the ice-axe on the summit pyramid, but not on K2, whose only downside seemed to be that it was more expensive,” he said aghast.

In fact, the scene at K2 Base Camp is like a painting in progress that, as it gets more detailed, increasingly resembles the recent Everest mess:

“We at Seven Summit Treks just completed the Puja Ceremony at K2 BC; tomorrow all members will start their first acclimatization, as rope has been fixed till C2,” reads SST’s report. “Sherpa will climb to C2 on 6th July, scheduling 7th and 8th for C3 opening.” Except for the letters “K2”, you’d imagine that the comment was sent two months ago from Everest Base Camp.

School-like group photo of a Seven Summits Treks team, after a puja ceremony. The Nepal-based outfitter is now organizing expeditions in Pakistan as well.

The SST team is huge, and the Sherpas leading clients are actual Sherpas from Nepal, not local Baltis, who simply fix the route and carry loads up the Baltoro. Climbers have commented on the scarcity of porters because of the sheer size of the expeditions and their increasing requirements. As Karakorum Expeditions cheerfully noted, “There are over 160 climbers on K2 this summer!”

Meanwhile, a far-from-cheerful Alan Arnette wondered, “Queuing at House Chimney, the Bottleneck and the Traverse occurs when there are less than 30 people on the Hill. What will happen with five times that?”

The answer is not hard to see. Instead of Everest’s huge valley of silence, climbers at Camps 1, 2, and 3 on K2 will encounter tiny platforms on rocky outcrops and steep ledges.

Higher up, further challenges await. Consider that the use of supplementary O2 has become standard even on “lower” 8,000’ers and is now the norm on K2. Queues may lead climbers to run out of gas and find themselves exhausted well above 8,000m. And, let’s remember, there is no easy route on K2.

Given this situation on the Abruzzi, Lina Quesada of Spain has decided to take the less crowded Cesen route. Unfortunately, the Cesen actually joins the Abruzzi at the Shoulder, so that the most dangerous features of K2’s upper sections — the steep, narrow Bottleneck and the infamous hanging serac above — are shared.

The Abruzzi Spur and Cesen Routes on K2’s southeast side. Photo: Cranfield University

No amount of gear or bottled O2 can decrease the objective dangers on the so-called “Savage Mountain”: its quickly evolving storms, its avalanche danger, the high risk of getting lost above Camp 3 and especially, falling blocks of ice from the great serac.

The worst tragedy on K2 occurred in 2008, when part of that serac collapsed. It not only killed those right under it and triggered an avalanche, but it took away the fixed ropes, which stranded climbers on the slopes above. It left them with the choice of trying to descend without ropes in the dark, or waiting for help in the serac’s danger zone. Indeed, another collapse happened the following day.

Eleven people died back then, and critics were fierce about too many climbers on the route, which delayed progress, and the overuse of personal Sherpas or guides on a peak that had previously been only for highly experienced, self-sufficient climbers.

As Adrian Ballinger went on to say about yesterday’s avalanche:

We all make mistakes in the big mountains. We made one today, being on the face too late in the day when it was way too hot. Our stoke to get high for the first time and see the route clouded our decision-making and put us in a position to be under a slide in the first place. But when we fuck up like this, we acknowledge it, talk about it, and share it. We try to learn from screwing up and getting lucky. The team that triggered the slide, when we went to check they were ok, came up with, “I’ve been doing this for 30 years.” Sweet…I’m sure the mountain cares.

Related story:

Will There Also Be Traffic Jams on K2?

About the Author

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides

Sport journalist, published author and communication consultant. Feeling back home at ExplorersWeb after five years exploring distant professional ranges.

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12 Comments on "Sure Enough, Crowds of Rookies on K2"

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Damien Francois
Guest

Seven Summits Treks… Mingma, Tashi, Dawa, what the FUCK are you doing to the Earth’s highest mountains? You turned Everest into Disneyclimb, now K2. STOP your sickening business of taking inexperienced climbers there!

Zulema
Guest

De acuerdo

Martin
Guest

I totally agree, I think it’s a major disaster waiting to happen. Learning basic climbing skills should be done at home and build up your experience. Any 8000m climb is not a training ground especially K2. Sadly I think climbing is going to be in the news again for all the wrong reasons in a few weeks time.

Trish
Guest

K2 will not suffer stupidity. She will cull the herd.

Damien Francois
Guest

I’ve been on Everest in 2014, 15, 17, 18 and 19 (this was my 19th Himalayan xp – my first one was in 2015, so it took me 15 years to finally stand on Top of the World). What I’ve seen there proves my point. But it is wrong to state that most climbers are rookies, or rich dudes (there’s more and more ladies there! :-)) I would say 1/3 should not be there at all, another third should be more experienced and one third is qualified-experienced enough.

Paul wolf
Guest

I can’t believe the Pakistani government is allowing this to happen. Once there is a body count maybe they will take note.

Trango Adventure
Member

I agree with you damien, for making few dollars they are ruing the main concept of mountaineering.

Chris
Guest

It’s a shame :-/ Money rules! 7ST without moral and awareness…K2 isn’ a playground …2020 expedition to Anapurna with dozends of Rookies…

Damien Francois
Guest

… and if they hav trouble in the death zone, bye bye… Poor Dr. Chin! (Annapurna 2019)

Not an Everest Climber
Guest
Not an Everest Climber

It’s so sad to see what the real “Mountaineer’s Mountain” is turning into. Shame on SST/7ST. Soon enough, all the 8000ers will be turned into the Everest circus.

Trish
Guest

What’s going to happen when the inexperienced get into trouble and need rescuing? They are not only risking their own lives but the lives of others as well. This is an ugly dangerous situation. If the fatality rate for K2 is 1 death for every 4 summits what’s the rate going to be with a large % of inexperienced climbers going to look like??

Paul wolf
Guest

This mountain does NOT count towards the seven summits so all of you please go away.