On K2, 120 Climbers Make Their Move

“Finally, the time we have been waiting for has arrived,” Mike Horn posted yesterday. Together with Fred Roux, and virtually everyone else in Base Camp, Horn set off earlier today toward the summit of the Savage Mountain. “The ascent will take us two or three days,” Horn estimated, implying that they’ll be on top Wednesday or Thursday. Friday the latest, if they decide to get a good night’s sleep in one of the camps along the way.

They will definitely not be alone on their quest. A reported 120 climbers (75 international and 45 Sherpas in ten teams) are on K2. This does not count high-altitude porters, whose exact number is unknown since they do not need a climbing permit. The weather has been so good for the last two weeks that no one wants to miss this once-in-a-lifetime chance.

According to meteorologist Michael Fagin, “The jet stream and associated strong winds seem to be displaced further north of K2 in 2019, compared to last year,” he told ExplorersWeb. “Also, the advance of the monsoon seems to be further south than normal.”

Mike Horn has left Base Camp en route to the summit of K2. Photo: Mike Horn

Such extraordinarily good weather had led to a string of summits over the last few days on Broad Peak and the Gasherbrums. Some of the K2 climbers who set off from Base Camp this weekend have been on the mountain for weeks. Others just arrived, after acclimatizing on other peaks.

The main questions are whether traffic jams will clog the upper sections, and how prepared the climbers currently chugging upwards are.

According to reports, this is what we can expect:

This year, expeditions have divided more or less evenly between the normal Abruzzi Spur route, up the SE ridge, and the neighboring Cesen (or Basque) route via the SSE spur. The Cesen option features slightly steeper lower sections but avoids the House Chimney, which has to be jumared up and rappelled down on fixed ropes.

Adrian Ballinger, on a no-O2 climb with Carla Perez, describes the Cesen route as “stunning: steep, exposed, airy, and, for the most part, safer than I expected.” The pair have not joined the current summit bid, since their no-O2 attempt requires further acclimatization.

The twin routes have resulted in a swifter flow of porters, rope-fixing teams and climbers. Both itineraries have been fixed up to their respective Camp 4s: Yes, there are two separate Camp 4s this year. But as we mentioned in previous reports, both routes merge below the Bottleneck, so everyone from that point will have to share both ropes and trail itself up the steep Bottleneck and the dangerous traverse below a giant serac looming above. According to Alan Arnette, Seven Summit Treks staff are responsible for fixing ropes from C4 to the summit.

Carla Perez on the stunning Cesen route. Photo: Adrian Ballinger

We still don’t know whether team leaders have discussed coordinating their schedules to avoid crowding, although Madison Mountaineering did confirm that they will not leave Base Camp until Tuesday, aiming for a less crowded Friday summit.

According to Carlos Garranzo, some big commercial teams have claimed that they are ready for a summit move from as low as Camp 2. The use of bottled O2 is definitely changing acclimatization patterns on the 8000’ers. O2 allows summit pushes with less acclimatization. The risk, however, increases if an O2 system malfunctions at high altitude.

On a different note, K2 Base Camp has a number of new visitors, mainly from nearby 8000’ers. Some have double permits and are using the acclimatization they gained on easier peaks to launch a quick assault on K2.

On other mountains…

On Broad Peak, Billie Bierling bagged her sixth 8,000m summit. She was part of the Kari Kobler team, which reported “14 members, 2 mountain guides and our strong team from Pakistan, Nepal and Russia” summiting on July 13-14.

On the Gasherbrums, news is expected soon from speedsters Sergi Mingote and Nirmal Purba, who reached Base Camp on Friday and immediately started up toward the summit of Gasherbrum I (Hidden Peak). Sergi Mingote and partner Marco Confortola were in Camp 2 yesterday. If they proceed to Camp 3 today, they could summit as early as tomorrow.

Purba, meanwhile, intends to summit not only Gasherbrums I and II but K2, all within a week. His home team has published a video of Purba or one of his team breaking trail through thigh-deep snow on Nanga Parbat, at almost a sprint. The post’s provocative tag reads, “Lead, follow or get out of the way.”

Unclimbed Gasherbrum VI will keep its status for another season. The Polish team attempting a first complete ascent spent just a single night at 5,600m and backed off when they found that conditions were “too dangerous”. They are now heading for plan B: Laila Peak, a beautiful, 6,096m spire in Hushe Valley.

Needle-sharp Laila Peak pierces the Hushe Valley sky. Photo: Hunza Adventure Leaders


Related stories:

Sure enough, Crowds of Rookies on K2

Will There Also Be Traffic Jams on K2?

High-Altitude Forecasting: The Weather Wizards of the Greater Ranges

Summits and Lies: Interview with Billi Bierling