Gasherbrum 2 - 26362
Gasherbrum 2 - 26362
|Gasherbrum 2 Pakistan - 26,362ft without supplemental oxygen on the 13th tallest peak in the world|
Intro:After years of climbing peaks in Colorado, dropping 40 pounds, working my way slowly higher on peaks around the world above 14,000 ft and overcoming a major hip surgery only 9 months before this trip I found myself apprehensive yet excited to take on an 8000 meter peak. It was a staggering 3-year idea that finally was becoming a reality. For the past two years, I had been trying to put together a team of climbers who could potentially pull it off, could get the time off and commit financially, had the desire to try, and could trust on an 8000 meter peak. Climbing big mountains in itself can be seen as selfish. It's a goal and accomplishment for you personally. However, I always think of climbing bigger peaks as an opportunity to bring attention to important causes and to raise funds to help charities, such as Oklahoma Tornado Relief, Alzheimer's Association, and Brain Injury Alliance of Colorado. My goal was to raise $2 per thousand feet above sea level that we got on Gasherbrum 2. For anyone interested here is my fundraiser link: Brain Injury Alliance of Colorado
A Huge Thank you!
- To my good friend and climbing buddy Alan Arnette who has summited Everest, Manaslu and, most impressively, became the oldest American to summit K2 at the age of 58. Alan has had a primary role in teaching me about big mountain climbing. He has spent lots of time hiking with me, answering questions about training, instructing me on how to be prepared, and supporting me in my idea to try an 8000 meter peak. Most importantly, Alan taught me that big mountain climbing is more mental than physical and that having the right mindset is absolutely key to success on a big peak.
- To Nicholas Rice who I connected with on Facebook. You might recognize his name from the 2008 K2 tragedy books and movies. Nick is an incredibly talented yet humble human being who not only set us up with the best logistics provider in Pakistan but also answered literally thousands of questions on Pakistan and on prepping for an 8000 meter peak there over the course of 3 years. Nick has summited five 8000 meter peaks, four of them without oxygen, this would be his 7th trip to Pakistan where he would join us for part of the trek in and out this summer on his second attempt on K2.
- To my good buddy and Fox 31 Meteorologist, Chris Tomer, who has done all weather forecasting for me on big peaks. On this trip, professional climbers from around the world were being told by their meteorologists that the climbing season on Gasherbrum 2 was over and the weather was too poor at the end of the season. Chris Tomer outshined them all and forecasted the brief and only weather window when we could have summited. I highly recommend using Chris's forecasting for anyone looking to try a big peak. Check out Chris Tomer's Weather Solutions for more details.
Jeff Heiderer(mickeys grenade), Lee Jennings (Mountainfreak258), Endo Chi, Ryan Kushner (kushrocks)
I had known and climbed with Jeff Heiderer for a couple of years. Jeff is an incredibly determined individual who not only has climbed most of the Colorado 14ers in winter but also has summited, Alpamayo, Denali, Aconcagua, and Pik Lenin. I joined him for the Pik Lenin Trip (23,406ft 7134meters) in 2014 where I got to know him as a funny, strong, and team-oriented guy who loved being outdoors. I had met Lee Jennings previously through mutual friends. His summits of Illimani, Mt. Logan and two summits of Denali as well as multiple Ironman competitions made him an incredibly strong teammate as well. Although I outweigh Lee by about 50 pounds, he can incredibly eat more than double what I can.The three of us bonded and got to know each other better on a training climb this winter on South Maroon Peak. I cannot stress the importance of climbing with people you know before a big trip.
Endo Chi is from Surry BC Canada, and we would not meet him until we arrived in Pakistan. His impressive climbs of the Canadian Rockies, Denali and his solo trip of Pik Lenin made him an incredibly strong climber.
June 19-20 day 1-2
We all left and arrived on different flights. My flights took me from Denver to Atlanta to Istanbul to Islamabad. I arrived in Islamabad on June 20 at 3:30 AM after 2 full days of travel to get there. Jeff had gotten there about 2 hours earlier and was waiting there with our logistics leader Manzoor Ahmad from Karakorum Tours Pakistan. I was apprehensive arriving in Islamabad, but it really put me at ease to see Manzoor waiting for me as I walked through customs and to bump into Jeff 5 minutes later. It was great to see a familiar face. Manzoor then took us back to a hotel that was included in our logistics package. It was great to beat the heat of Islamabad in our nice air-conditioned hotel room with wifi as we waited for Lee and Endo to arrive. After Lee arrived, Manzoor took us out to a fantastic Chinese restaurant called ChinaTown. I was pretty skeptical at first but was blown away by how good the food was. We felt reassured that our logistics provider would be taking good care of us.
June 21 day 3
Catching the flight to Skardu is a major travel hurdle. The flight into the Skardu airport is very weather-dependent because there is no GPS to guide airplanes into the airport. If you miss this 35 minute flight in good weather, it's a brutal 17-19 hour drive to Skardu. Luckily, we were able to make this flight and were treated with incredible views of Nanga Parbat as we flew by the mountain at eye level. On this flight you can only bring about 22 kilograms or 48 lbs of total bag weight, so the rest of our bags would have to be transported by land.
Our team was made up of four members but there were 7 of us sharing the same permit. Three additional climbers, two Russians and one American, were with a competing logistics company that shadowed us most of the time. Kelly Soohoo was the American climber while the two Russians were Igor and Lucca. Both Igor and Lucca had previously been to Pakistan to attempt both Gasherbrum 1 and 2 but, unfortunately, had not summited either because of deep snow conditions. However, Igor had summited Cho Oyu and Shishapangma previously without oxygen. Their experience would become incredibly valuable to us, and they were also both really nice guys.
We stayed at the famous K2 motel, which was rich with history. It seems almost all famous climbers come through this hotel at some point on their way to attempt an 8000m peak. Autographed pictures and posters from most big name climbers covered the walls of the hotel.
Since we arrived at the hotel early, we had the rest of the day to burn. We needed to get a lot of cash from ATM's to have money for things like food, fuel, tips for porters, and one very expensive emergency oxygen set up, which we decided as a group was a good idea to have in case of emergency. I was initially hesitant to walk around Skardu with this cash, but found the people very friendly and welcoming.
June 22 day 4
Our bags arrived early on the June 22nd which was perfect because we were supposed to leave at noon that day to begin our 6 hour drive to Askole. The first two hours were on paved or smooth dirt road. After that, the road became a 4x4 road crossing single lane bridges that moved as we drove across them.
I had read about Askole prior to my trip in many mountaineering books. I thought it would have been a bigger town, but there were only a couple hundred people living there. The elevation was about 10,000 feet. There we set up camp for the night to prepare for the big journey ahead.
June 23 Day 5
Temperatures at night were cool maybe in the 40s but during the day it would get up near 80. As a result, we started early to try and avoid the heat. We marched off ahead of the group of porters and mules bringing our gear behind us.
Shortly after we got started we were treated to an "interesting" bridge crossing.
The first day of our trek was about 15 dusty miles, and we only gained about 100 feet in elevation. We arrived at the first camp where we tried to grab what little shade was available as we waited for temperatures to cool.
June 24 day 6
This day was really impressive as we began to leave a more desert climate to see peaks begin to tower in the distance. Each mountain seemed to get taller and more jagged the further we walked. We arrived in Pariju at 11,100 feet in very hot temperatures. Fortunately, my buddy Nicholas Rice, who was attempting K2, arrived there a day ahead of us and was also using our same logistics provider. Therefore, tents were already set up for us to avoid the sun and to relax. Most teams were attempting K2 and were there a day ahead of us. Over 100 people were going to try and attempt K2 this year. If you add in all the cooks, porters, trekkers, and our team you could imagine how many people were there camping. It was like a tent city.
A few hours after we had settled in, our team was sitting in the dining tent chatting when 4 military Liaison officers from Pakistan walked in. I thought we were in trouble but quickly found out that they were there to introduce themselves to us. Right away the conversation turned to how happy they were to have Americans there. The conversation then turned to family, life, adventure, and even terrorism.
For me this was a great moment when I really became more comfortable with the people in Pakistan. They seemed humble, polite, and always willing to learn about other people and cultures.
Unfortunately, the down side of this day was that Endo became sick. We think he may have drunk some unclean water that put a number on his stomach at the previous camp.
June 25 day 7
Today was our rest day but Nicholas Rice would leave a day before us to head closer towards K2. We would not see him until the end of the expedition. We had a rest day at Pariju where we spent most of the day trying to avoid the heat again. Endo started taking antibiotics, which helped his stomach issue.
June 26 day 8
We began our Trek to Urdukas early in the morning with a stunning sunrise. A few hours in, we saw the famous Trango Tower.
After I lose sight of the Trango Tower, Lee pointed out the next view. I thought it was a cloud at first . . . but it ended up being Broad Peak, the 12th tallest peak on earth, rising into and above the clouds. A quick video of the beautiful area and the "cloud" taken from about 12,300 feet.
Shortly past where I took the video, we get a better view of the incredible Muztagh Tower rising in the background.
We arrived to Urdukas at 13,100 feet and were glad to camp somewhere cooler with incredible views!
Later on when we were in our cook tent, we met an elderly American trekker on his way out from trekking to K2 base camp. He was incredibly friendly and enjoyed meeting other Americans and hearing about our potential climb. When the subject of our US occupations came up, he calmly said, " I helped put the first man on the moon." It turns out his name was Ken Goodwin from Houston who worked for NASA on the Apollo missions. We had no idea that the man we were chatting with for the past few hours was involved in all of the Apollo missions. He left shortly after to continue his trek back to Askole, but that was a great moment. What are the chances we meet someone like that in the middle of the mountains in Pakistan?!
June 27 day 9
The next day we were trekking entirely on the Baltoro glacier which went straight for miles. Our next camp would be in the middle of the glacier at 13,900ft with incredible views of Gasherbrum 4 and Masherbrum.
After settling into glacier camp, a concern for one of the porters developed. He went from feeling normal to going into the fetal position moaning in pain. From where he was grabbing his stomach, we all thought he had ruptured his appendix. Kelly Soohoo is a certified EMT and took his vitals, which were normal but we really worried about him. Thankfully, there was a military camp with medical equipment nearby. Some of the other porters helped carry him there where it turned out that he was just really dehydrated. Later that day after lots of fluids, he was back at camp feeling better, and the next day he was back to carrying loads. We were treated to an amazing sunset that evening. I apologize for the cheesy narrating in the Video Below:
June 28 day 10 Trek to Shangiri at 15,200ft
We were really excited for this day since this was our trek to Shangiri. Along the way we stop by Concordia, which is famous for its awesome views of K2. Unfortunately, on this day the weather was mostly cloudy with brief snow showers all day, and K2 was mostly clouded over. Every now and then we could see very brief parts of it sticking out impossibly high in the clouds before it disappeared again. Hoping to get a better view of K2 on the way out, we continued our trek to our last camp before base camp.
June 29 day 11 arrive at base camp
We started the last day of our trek early to get to base camp. The early start allowed the porters ample time for the long trek back home, so they could begin the process of carrying gear all over again for another team. We were thrilled to finally be in base camp which we measured at an altitude of roughly 16,200ft. It was cloudy when we arrived but later on in the day the mighty and intimidating Gasherbrum 1 cleared itself of clouds for a few minutes allowing us to get incredible views of the 11th tallest peak in the world. Gasherbrum 2 was just out of view from base camp.
Our outfitter Karakorum Tours Pakistan was Awesome! The porters and cooks got to work quickly. Before I knew it, they had set up individual 3-person tents for each of us as well as a big cook tent complete with tables, chairs, padded floors, decorations, heaters, and a generator they would run at night for tent lights and to help charge our electronics. Compared to our logistics company, every other logistics company on the mountain fell far short in terms of being comfortable and in food quality for this trip. More on that later.
June 30 day 12 Rest day.
We spent most of the day sleeping and deciding what to do with our acclimation schedule. We were hearing that other teams who arrived before us were having trouble negotiating their way through the ice fall with some of them suffering big crevasse falls on their way down. What we couldn't understand is why every team seemed to be starting so late in the day when the temperatures are much higher and the ice fall more dangerous. The reason we would go through the icefall at night was because the ice fall is incredibly hot during the day and very dangerous, as the ice continues to move and soften up with the warming temperatures.
Our cooks for the trip were Asal and Akbar and would keep us properly fed at base camp for the duration of the trip. They worked extremely hard and were incredibly nice guys to have around while we were there as well.
July 1 planning day 13
We are excited to finally be moving up the mountain. We had heard you could see G2 from the end of the glacier moraine if you walk about 20 minutes farther up from base camp. Lee, Jeff, and I decided to take a stroll. Finally after 2 weeks, we could see the mountain we traveled from the other side of the globe to see standing yet another 10,000ft higher than where we stood.
Our current plan was to leave real early on the 2nd at around 1am to head up through the ice fall to camp 1 where we would spend the night. We would then come down again early the following day when the ice fall is more solid. We planned to make a permanent camp 1 with heavy bomb proof tents that would remain there the rest of the expedition where we could come down to rest. We would use lighter tents at camp 2 and 3. We had Lee's EV3 tent for Endo and him, and my MSR Asgard tent for Jeff and I, as the bomb proof tents at camp 1. We tried to pack light since we were concerned about this being our biggest elevation push with the most weight we had carried so far on the trip. We were hopeful that two rest days at 16200ft would help us. However, it seemed impossible for any of us to keep our packs under 40lbs.
July 2 day 14 ice fall nightmare
We left at midnight to avoid the heat of the icefall. . . . or at least we tried to. We got lost for two hours in the middle of the night. Jeff even took a small fall into a tiny glacial lake soaking his foot and boot up to the knee. This was an important area in the icefall where we knew we needed to make a hard right turn so we nicknamed the lake "Jeff's Lake."
We were about 18000ft around 9am when the heat became so intense it slowed our progress to almost a crawl. From 18,000ft to 19,000ft should have only taken us an hour but, in the intense heat, it took us three and a half. Jeff had to drop his pack about half mile from camp just to make it. We anchored the pack with the idea of retrieving it later and arrived at what we thought was camp 1 at 19000ft. This camp was actually Gasherbrum 1 camp 1 not Gasherbrum 2. We knew Jeff couldn't go any farther so we just set up camp there. The climb had taken us 12.5 hours - at least 2 of which we spent lost in the ice fall in the dark. Other climbers arriving behind us and decided to build their camps near us not realizing it was not the real camp 1. Soon 10 other tents had surrounded us. We all figured we would go back to get Jeff's pack after we set up camp but as soon as we laid down in our tents, we all fell asleep. A short time later the sun started to go down, and I could feel temperatures dropping quickly. I knew we would need Jeff's pack for the night so I ended up going back to retrieve it myself. When I got back to the tent, the others were still asleep and soon I joined them.
July 3 day 15 another bad day through the ice fall
It felt like a split second of sleep before the alarm went off at 2 am. We were moving down the glacier by 330am at a good pace. However, we again got lost in the ice fall. Wands to mark the route were melting, and it became hard for us to find the right route even as the sun came up. The intense sun cooked us once again in the mid-morning. Fortunately, it became cooler as we descended off the glacier to base camp, because the sun reflecting off the glacier was not as intense. I planted all the remaining wands we had so we would hopefully be able to find our way back up through the ice fall better the next time up. I mean it couldn't get much worse than the first time right? We got back to base camp, ate a huge brunch, and promptly slept the rest of the day only getting up for dinner.
July 4th day 16 team leader meetings
As the Leader of the team I had to meet with all the other team expedition leaders from around the world to discuss the fixing of the ropes. It was incredible to be in a room with such talented climbers many of which have climbed multiple 8000 meter peaks. I was the only one who had no previous 8000 meter peak experience so I felt like a high school football player in a room full of NFL all stars. The Pakistan Alpine Team would be the ones who were fixing the ropes. I was a little confused at the whole process. Basically, they were trying to get each climber who did not contribute a large amount of ropes, pitons, and screws to fix ropes to pay $300 per climber. These ropes are supposed to go from just above camp 1 to camp 4. I didn't really say much as we sort of expected this to happen. I was supposed to follow up with our team as they would come by the following morning to discuss with us how they would fix the ropes.
Jeff and Lee were both feeling ill, so the rest day was really helpful for them to be back at the lower elevation of base camp.
We would also get a weather update from Chris Tomer that our forecast for the next couple days looked pretty bad. We were hoping to go back up the mountain to camp 1 and eventually camp 2 sooner to acclimate, but the weather was going to force us to wait there a few more days.
That evening was pretty cool. We had a big movie night and several climbers from a very experienced Chinese team came by to watch a movie with us and discuss everyone's climbing rotations. They were using oxygen and only planned on one rotation up to camp 2 and back down before going for a summit attempt. What a difference! Either way it was great to learn from them. Endo speaks fluent Mandarin and it was great to hear from their experiences and summits of multiple 8000 meter peaks in the past.
July 5th day 17 something is not quite right
The Pakistan alpine team leaders from the day before come by expecting payment for fixed ropes. I thought it was strange they were demanding payment for ropes they hadn't even fixed yet when I thought they were coming by just to discuss their plan on how to do it. The conversation turned heated with our liaison officer as they demanded payment for fixed lines. As the team leader I held my ground saying "we aren't paying for fixed ropes when there are no fixed ropes in place yet, if we do our next rotation to camp two and find we need ropes or that they are in place we will gladly pay you but I'm not giving you a dime until I know the ropes are there." It was strange having to be so strict with such experienced climbers but our team was all on the same page. We decided to visit other camps to see what everyone was doing as far as fixed ropes. We found out that no one had paid these guys since the ropes were not in place. We were the team farthest up on the glacier moraine at base camp so by the time they got to us they were just tired of getting rejected. We were very glad we stood by our decision to hold our ground at the moment.
We spent the rest of the day watching South Park episodes and the movie "Office Space" as we were waiting patiently for the next weather update to decide when we should be going back up high on the mountain.
July 6th day 18 weather day
We again waited out another weather day. We chatted with the Russian team and Kelly Soohoo sharing our permit. It looked like we would have to wait at least another day for the current snow to settle. This would mean it would be 5 days waiting at base camp so far to go back up for our second rotation and at least one more before the weather cleared.
The snow was pretty consistent all day and became heavier after we went to bed that night.
July 7th day 19 heavy snow/avalanches
Lee and I woke up at 2:45 AM to a huge roar that was thankfully several miles away. It sounded like it was coming from somewhere in the direction of the ice fall, and we could tell it was a huge avalanche. It had snowed heavy all night and our tents were sagging under the weight of close to a foot of new fresh snow at base camp. The sound got louder and louder and kept us awake for another half hour as smaller avalanches continued to fall. As we were about to go back to sleep, another huge avalanche from the other direction came down. Shortly after the noise of the avalanche stopped, we felt a weak blast of wind from the avalanche hit our tents and shake them for about 30 seconds. It wasn't anything to worry about but both of these avalanches alerted us to more potential dangers that could await us going back up the mountain. It continued to snow off and on throughout the morning.
A big group came by our camp for lunch. French, Pakistanians, Spanish, and Iranians all joined us for a big long conversation after lunch. We were all getting antsy to get up the mountain but knew that current dangerous conditions on the mountain especially the ice fall to camp 1 prevented us from climbing. We needed a good hot day to melt the new snow during the day and then give us a good solid freeze to make everything solid at night again. Thankfully Chris Tomer forecasted exactly that.
July 8 day 20 good forecast/pack
We woke up with exactly the forecast we needed. With a good solid freeze the night before, we got warm temps during the day and were expecting another solid freeze that evening. We chatted with other teams all excited to go back the mountain the following day.
We packed for our potential plan which was to move to camp 1 the next day for two nights, then spend one night at camp 2, one night at camp 3 another night at camp 1, and then back down to base camp to rest before our summit push.
Our plan was to leave even earlier than the first trip about 10 PM to go through the ice fall in the middle of the night when it's coldest and the most firm.
July 9 day 21 move to camp 1
We had hoped after our previous ice fall experience we would know the route a little better. Unfortunately, the same thing happened even with a 10 PM start. We didn't get there until 10:30 AM the next morning, and it was another scorcher. This really shook our confidence especially when Kelly Soohoo, Igor and Lucca started at 4 AM, 6 hours after us, and walked into camp 1 the same time we did. It was incredibly frustrating. We all arrived exhausted again suffering from the heat as we dove into our tents and put bags of snow on us to cool us down. We began to hear rumors from other international teams that we didn't belong here. It was a disheartening feeling especially after another tough day to camp 1. As I fell asleep that night, I was thinking that I might have agreed with them.
July 10 day 22 rest camp 1
We wanted to go up to camp 2 today but we were totally beat from the day before. We didn't really didn't do much other than rest, eat, hydrate and read.
July 11 day 23 move to camp 2
A lot of people talk about Gasherbrum 2 being an easy 8000 meter peak but, in reality, anything at 8000 meters is difficult. The "Banana Ridge" is the ridge you take up from the flat expanse of camp 1 to a narrow corridor at 21,500ft that holds camp 2. The ridge used to be only 40 degrees, but a couple of years ago the ridge collapsed and became much steeper and more exposed. I would say pitches on the top half of the Banana Ridge averaged 50 to 60 degrees with two small sections of ten straight feet of vertical snow and ice. This was much harder than we expected. Since there were fixed lines here, we didn't rope up and each climbed at our own pace. Fortunately for us, this is the type of climbing we all really enjoy.
That morning we left camp 1 at 4 AM. The initial part of the climb is flat as you leave Camp 1. Then you hit the head wall and immediately start climbing.
I was the first to arrive at camp 2 at 915am followed closely by Lee. Endo and Jeff were only about twenty minutes behind Lee. We chatted with two other teams that asked us what time we left. They were thinking we left at 10pm again and that it took us 11 hours to get there. When I told them we left at 4am and it only took a little over 5 hours to get there, their eyes opened wide. They couldn't believe we were the same team that spent 12 hours trying to get through the icefall. It had taken most teams around 7 to 8 hours to get there from camp 1. This gave us a big wave of confidence . . . .maybe we can do this.
Shortly after this shot was taken, I made the mistake of the trip right before reaching camp 2 .
I was bringing up Jeff's EV2 tent that was in the top of my pack. This is a solid tent we wanted to use for camp 2. Unfortunately, right before you get to camp 2 there is a 60 foot rappel on top of an icy peach with 2000 foot droops on both sides.
As I set up to rappel the last section, I turned quickly to my right to grab something off my harness and helplessly watched Jeff's tent fly out of my pack and slide down the face. I briefly thought of diving after it but knew it was a lost cause. I watched dumb struck as the tent slid down a 20 foot slope and then disappeared over a 2000ft drop. Thankfully, we had also decided to bring he Black Diamond FirstLight tent to take as a lightweight tent we could squeeze into at camp 3. I broke the news to Jeff when he arrived at camp, and he was very cool about it. We were lucky we had a backup, but I now owed Jeff a $600 tent when we get back to the states.
The Russian and American team of Kelly, Lucca and Igor were there already in camp 2 and happy to see us. Lucca offered us tea upon arrival and Kelly had saved us some tent sites next to him. This was really appreciated but even more appreciated was that Kelly dug a brand new "toilet" for us to use at camp 2 with incredible views of Gasherbrum 1.
Regardless, we were now at camp 2 at 21,500ft and feeling good considering how high we were. Breathing was quite a struggle though. Simple things like setting up your sleeping bag, drinking water, or brushing your teeth literally took your breath away.
July 12 day 24 rest at camp 2.
It's hard to describe the temperature swings on a big mountain. People think it's cold all the time, and that's not necessarily the case. We woke up to an icy tent where the moisture from our breath had frozen completely covering the inside of the tent. In fact, every time you moved inside the tent you were showered with snow. When the sun hit your tent, temperatures rose quickly. The moisture that had frozen on your tent walls turned to liquid, and it started to rain in your tent. Ahh mountaineering.
The temperature was probably in the 20s, but the way the sun reflected off the snow was incredible. It created a giant solar oven that was more intense at higher elevations. You did not want to be in your tent because it was a furnace, but you had to avoid the direct sunlight. Endo had a thermometer and measured the temperature inside his tent at one point at 110 degrees . . . At 21,500ft . To combat the heat, we clipped our sleeping bags to the roof of the tent to block the sunlight. We also filled our Nalgene water bottles with snow and rested them on our skin to keep cool.
We spent the rest of the day resting and packing for the move to camp 3 the next day. Some teams were trying to go up to camp 3 at 23,000ft that day. We were watching their progress and could see the other teams slowly moving up during the hottest time of the day. I estimated about 15 people tried to move to camp 3 but most turned back except for a few higher groups that just couldn't seem to climb over the final ridge to camp 3. We would find out why tomorrow.
July 13 day 25 move up to camp 3 . . . ish, another mistake
One thing I just can't understand on a trip like this is why teams start so late in the day. Yeah, the visibility is a little better but the heat is relentless and the snow softens up considerably. Your climb upward becomes much more exhausting as you slip and slide trying to move uphill.
We were up at 2am moving by 3 as we climbed in very cold temperatures up the steep sections in and around seracs. As the sun began to rise we were treated with incredible views of Gasherbrum 1 next to us as we climbed past 22,000ft.
The mountains that had once looked so big when we were around camp 1 began to become eye level where we were. The views were out of this world, and for the first time the summit pyramid actually looked realistically within reach. Unfortunately the route did not go through all the way to camp 3 as a steep snow slope about 150ft below it stopped us. This was the same spot where climbers the day before had stopped climbing. The fixed ropes had just completely stopped even though they were supposed to go all the way to camp 3. We checked our altimeter and we were at 22,860feet. Roughly 20 feet higher than Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in the world outside the Himalayas, and we were still looking up over 3400ft left to the summit of Gasherbrum 2. We tried several times to push our luck through deep snow, but at that height it was exhausting and the risk of an avalanche became too high. Our plan was to just touch camp 3, drop supplies, and come down but that didn't happen. I tried to find a way up the final slope but was prevented by a Bergschrund (sideways crevasse)
We decided the extra 150 feet through deep snow was a waste of energy, so we dug a cache, buried our supplies in the snow in a pretty obvious location at 22,700ft for our return trip on our summit push, and went back down to camp 2. We also placed one of our bright pink wands in the snow to mark the location. Igor, Kelly, and Lucca turned around at the exact same spot the day before. No one had been higher than our current location the entire season. It was now late morning and the heat of the day had begun to intensify again, so we began our descent.
As much as I wanted to relax at camp 2, I had trouble sleeping the night before and a pretty good headache that morning. I figured dropping to camp 1 at the lower altitude of 19000ft would help me. Lee was also thinking along the same lines while Endo and Jeff decided to avoid the heat and wait until later in the afternoon to descend.
My decision was wrong in every way. Descending the Banana Ridge from camp 2 to camp 1 in the afternoon was a nightmare. The fixed ropes that were tied into the mountain by ice screws and snow pickets had half melted out and some melted out completely making the decent treacherous.
As we tried to rappel, we would occasionally sink hip deep into the snow on the mountain. I myself had to re-screw two ice screws on the way down that had completely fallen out leaving no ability to hold someone's fall. I found a flat spot and waited for Lee.
As I sat there and waiting, I heard nothing but constant avalanches coming down from mountains all around us. We even had two small slides on both sides of the Banana Ridge as we were descending.
The worst part of this day was when we hit the bottom of the Banana Ridge where the route flattened out. The heat of the day was in full force. Lee and I post holed shin to knee deep for the 1.5 miles back to camp one. At 19,000ft in the heat and at the end of a long day, we were more than exhausted when we finally stumbled back into camp 1. Jeff and Endo returned about four hours later. Although their decent was rough, they made the right decision leaving later when the snow on the Banana Ridge and flat section back to camp 1 was more solid.
July 14 day 26 descend to base camp
Our plan was to leave camp 1 and descend to base camp at 4 am but with all of us exhausted from the day before, we slept in another two hours. We were fortunate this time that it was partly overcast which kept the temperature lower on the descent. We did a much better job descending this time than last and shaved 1.5 hours off our previous time. Most importantly, we could tell we were acclimating because the lower we got the more energetic and better we felt. Our cooks Asil and Akbar walked about a quarter mile out onto the glacier and were waiting for us and cheering us on as we returned. They had Coca Cola and fried potatoes for us which was awesome. They even offered to carry our packs back to base camp. We tried to say no but they wouldn't have it. Once back at camp they had a huge breakfast ready for us. Have I mentioned how amazing our outfitters were?! What was also encouraging to us is that they couldn't believe how much better we looked than the last time we came down the ice fall after our first rotation to camp 1.
July 15 day 27 rest day at base camp
I met up with the Igor, Lucca and Kelly that morning to discuss a strategy for the mountain. It looked as if most teams are giving up because of exhaustion and deep snow conditions on the route. Since Igor and Lucca have been here before, they had previously seen this trend. The snow was as bad or worse as the last time they were here when they turned around at 7800 meters due to exhaustion and deep unsafe snow on their last try several years ago. It seemed it would be very hard to summit unless we teamed together. The issue of not having fixed ropes all the way to camp 3 and the fact no one had been higher than we were was a big concern on everyone's mind.
We decided we would fix the remaining part of the ropes on the route to camp 3 and from there work on plans to summit Gasherbrum 2 as a team of 7 which would make traveling through the deep snow above 23,000ft (7000) meters to the summit more realistic.
We discussed the distance and time it would take to summit and thought we would most likely have to leave at 10pm the night before planning for a 20 hour round trip summit day. It was Friday and the weather forecast for the next 4 plus days was supposed to be bad, so we waited patiently to hear how the forecast shaped up.
July 16 day 28 rest day/weather day
This was another day waiting out a snow day. Additionally, it had been overcast for two days so our solar chargers were not working very well and our electrics were running low on batteries. Luckily, our outfitter had a generator that ran at night but it was slow to charge everyone's electronics.
We went and had tea with the Pakistani/French team and were joined by Romanians, Australians, Iranians and Spanish. I met Juan (name) from Spain who was the last guy to climb the incredibly intimidating Gasherbrum IV. He was very humble and polite when I met him, and he was also going for G2 this year by a new route.
July 17 day 29 rest day weather day
Another repeat of the previous day. The weather is bad, overcast and snowing so we are stuck at base camp again. Without sun we are having a hard time charging iPods, and Kindles to read and pass the time.
July 18 day 30 rest day weather
Still bad weather. It was starting to feel like ground hog day. However, we did get a promising forecast from Chris Tomer. Later in the week, it appeared that we would have a good weather window. The only catch was every other team knew about it as well. Would we get stuck in the traffic jam or wait things out? Time would tell as we still had another day or two waiting before we could consider going back up.
July 19 day 31 rest day/weather
Another repeat of the last several days. Cold and snowy pretty much all day. It looked like good weather would start the next day (Wednesday) lasting until Monday. After that, another storm was predicted to come in Tuesday and our trip would most likely be over. There would not be enough time for us to go back up for another attempt before we had to start shipping out of here for the long trip back to Islamabad and then home.
July 20th day 32 finally sunny
The weather had finally improved! We were now waiting for the evening to head back up the mountain for our summit push. It was a beautiful and sunny day . . . FINALLY. We spent the day doing laundry in the glacier water and packing for our summit push. The anxiety had already started to set in. We had our weather window good for the next five days. After that the door would shut on us for a summit try as an extended period of bad weather was forecasted. This would be our only chance to try for the summit. If we could not do it on this try, our trip would be over.
July 22 day 33 move to camp 1 - ice fall disaster part 3
We decided to start at midnight for our move to camp 1. We felt acclimated and thought we new the route finally. The night was a beautiful full moon that lit the entire ice fall so bright that we all started without even using headlamps. We were making progress to the area known as Jeff's lake but noticed that the route didn't feel the same. We were lost . . . Again! We took turns trying to figure out a way through. Endo ended up taking a crevasse fall, which almost caused us to turn around. Endo eventually got out but said he hit his head pretty good during the fall. With our slow progress we ended up seeing other teams catching up to us and coming through the ice fall again. We found our way to their track where we finally found ourselves going in the right direction again. We arrived at Camp 1 exhausted and defeated after another 12 hour death march.
We made the mistake of not contacting Chris Tomer about our weather this evening. We heard from other teams that a small snow squall was coming in tonight that probably wouldn't drop more than an inch or two of snow. That forecast was way off. We went to bed that night around 8pm to crystal clear skies and no wind.
July 23 day 34 Storm trapped us.
We woke up around 6am that morning hoping to move to camp 2. As I opened the tent door my jaw dropped because outside the tent was almost 3 feet of new snow! I knew we wouldn't be moving up that day. Fortunately for us the sun came out by 10am and started heating up the snow helping it consolidate.
I made sure to call Chris Tomer to get a weather update. He told us that July 25th was a great day but the 26th was iffy at best with a big snowstorm coming in that evening and for the next few days, which would effectively end the Gasherbrum 2 climbing season.
July 24 day 35 move to camp 2
I was still pretty skeptical on moving up to camp 2 this quickly after a snowstorm but apparently other teams had gone up late yesterday afternoon and had no issues. We decided to give it a go and were treated with much better conditions than the first time we went up the Banana Ridge.
The new snow had consolidated making this part of the climb my favorite part of the trip so far. Once again after arriving at Camp 2, teams couldn't believe how quickly we got there after performing so poorly in the ice fall.
July 25 day 36 move to camp 3
We woke up earlier than most teams to get started on the move to camp 3. The move from camp can certainly keep you on edge in certain sections.
No one had yet been there all season. We carried only a small amount of food knowing that we would retrieve our cache at about 22,700ft. We moved up to about 22,700ft to pick up our cache . . . . . but it was gone. We searched in vain for about an hour trying to find any trace of it. Our wand was gone. All of a sudden Endo located a piece of our wand thinking we found the cache. Lee and Endo started digging but were unable to find anything. All they saw was about a 6 inch piece of our broken wand. Had the rest of our cache been avalanched off the mountain? How could we not find it in this very obvious place where we knew we buried it? We had a talk and figured we had just enough food and fuel to make a summit attempt with what was on us . . but it was going to be very close.
We worked with several other teams to bulldoze our way over the final crest to reach camp 3. At 11 AM, Lee, Jeff, and I felt a sense of accomplishment, as we were the first climbers to get to camp 3 all season.
Exhausted we started to melt water and set up our tents for our one and only summit push.
Late afternoon video as the sun begins to set behind Gasherbrum 4.
Though exhausted, sleep at 23,000ft was impossible for us. We did our best to hydrate but ran into a big problem when one of the fuel cans we brought up completely failed and another one had a leak. We were now short on water to drink and use for cooking hot food that evening. We had also planned to bring a small stove for the summit push to melt additional water but that plan was now caput as well. The incredible sunset at least for the time being helped take my mind off the hard day awaiting us tomorrow.
We started getting ready around 10 PM and left about 11:30 PM. A few groups from other teams had already left around 10 PM. Everyone in our group had between 2 and 3 liters of water for the entire day and began the long slow climb in the dark.
July 26 day 37 summit and down to camp 3 three
I was shocked that about 300ft out of camp 3, we would begin climbing steep snow covered class 2+ and 3 rock sections. Thankfully, there were old fixed ropes here to help guide our way while the teams ahead of us were bringing a rope they had brought to help fix parts of the route. Unfortunately, the weather was not good. We climbed into wind and light snow that slowed our progress even more. We kept thinking this horrible snow covered rock section would end soon, however we would be climbing on this for some time. We all made sure to take every step slowly and carefully knowing the consequences of a big fall. We began to pass other climbers who seemed to just sit down in the snow on the middle of the route unable to function at this altitude. We asked certain people if they were okay but had trouble seeing who they were in the dark with all their gear on.
Finally the light started to come over the horizon as the weather slightly parted. We had arrived at the rarely used camp 4 at 24,000ft and had caught up with the rest of the teams. Below is a video as Jeff pulled into Camp 4 at 24,000ft.
If you can't hear what Jeff is saying, he said, "This is tough on me" right about the time my camera battery froze.
Upon reaching camp 4, we took sharp right turn and traversed underneath the snow pyramid. Climbers in groups were tapering off. There were about 20 people who started, and we were now down to about 13 as people were beginning to turn around. This part traversing underneath the Pyramid was the hardest part for me. I had felt pretty dehydrated all day so I was drinking more water than I should have at that time and knew I would run out at some point. The snow was knee deep so we decided to take turns with other teams plowing the trail through the deep snow which above 24,000ft was exhausting.
As we were traversing I knew Jeff was having some trouble. He had been mentioning turning back for some time but the time to officially do it had unfortunately come. I knew how difficult this decision was for him to spend months training, lots of money, time away from friends, and spend almost 40 days on the mountain already. But you can't say enough about a teammate who knows he could put you at risk if he keeps going and gives up on a dream hoping the rest of his team makes it. This is one of the many reasons I would call Jeff a good teammate and friend and would never hesitate to go on another expedition with him.
At the end of the traverse everyone was still moving forward grouped together and trying to figure out a plan. We were now at the edge of the traverse but still had to go through the notch to regain the ridge leading to the summit. It was now 10 AM, and we had been going for about 11 hours. We were still 1,300ft short of the summit.
There was an old 200m rope that we were able to use in the area that we would need to fix some sections higher on the mountain, but someone would need to carry it. Endo volunteered me, and I reluctantly agreed. To help compensate for the additional weight, the rest of the group would take turns breaking trail as we moved higher on the mountain towards the notch at the end of the traverse.
Once through the notch the terrain became even steeper as we climbed up the backside of the pyramid.
We were so frustrated by the weather. We did get some brief views earlier in the day just for the clouds to come and swallow us up again. I was really worried if we did make the summit we would not be able to see anything. Fortunately, for us as we got close to 8000 meters the clouds began to part.
It was getting late. All I could see as far as the mountain was just more and more up. The last 1,300ft had taken us about 5 hours. As we approached 3 PM, I began to worry whether we would make it or would have to turn around.
All I could see was a steep ridge with a serac to the left of the ridge.
We were all loosing energy big time, but we knew we were close. I was down to taking 8 to 1's meaning I took 8 breaths for every step.
That was as fast as I could go. As we approached the sharp ridge, I saw the Sherpa and his climber on oxygen about 10 yards ahead of us starting to cheer . . . could it be? I still couldn't tell and pulled up right next to the Chinese team. My jaw instantly dropped as I was treated with an incredible view of Broad Peak and the mighty K2 . . . . WE HAD MADE IT!!
I had no words as Lee and Endo came up next to me on the narrow summit. "Lee, wait until you see this view", I said. As he pulled up to finally pop his head over the top, the look on his face said it all. I was overwhelmed with happiness as I congratulated our team. There were 8 of us on the summit: the Chinese climber on oxygen with his Sherpa and Porter, an Iranian named Arman Hadad, and the four climbers from our team, 1 Canadian and 3 Americans at 3:30pm on July 27, 2016
We spent 5 to 10 minutes on top. Since it was so late and we knew bad weather was coming in, I did not take many photos as everyone knew we needed to start going down. We had been climbing for 15 hours to reach the summit and still had to descend all the way back to camp 3.
The decent took about 6 hours as we slowly made our way back down the mountain. We were all dreading the rappel down from camp 4 to camp 3 over the rocks. Just as the sun was setting, we got back to camp 4.
The snow started to fall again right at the time for the descent down the loose rocks. As we descended to camp 3 the snow became heavier, and heavier. I got down to camp 3 first. Lee was right behind me and then stopped. I found out later that his headlamp stopped working so Kelly Soohoo stayed with him as they descended together. I began to boil water and had just enough to give Kelly, Endo, and Lee half a liter each as they got back to camp 3. We were all desperately thirsty and totally wiped out. Unfortunately we knew we would have to descend all the way from camp 3 to camp 1 tomorrow before the incoming storm intensified.
July 27 day 38 decent to Camp 1/bad weather
We all slept well that night even at 23,000ft. Lee and I were first to descend knowing that we had a lot more food and fuel at the lower camps. With the incoming bad weather, the sky was already overcast which kept the temps colder and, as a result, the snow a lot more stable. Other than being really fatigued, we had no issues descending the Banana Ridge this time. We were greeted with congratulations from other teams at Camp 1 who couldn't believe our team that suffered so much in the ice fall had been one of 2 groups to actually make the summit. Jeff, who had descended to camp 2 the day before was waiting for us as we arrived at camp 1. He was feeling much better which was great to see. We rested and ate as much as we could as the storm moved in and the snow began to fall.
July 28th day 39 down to base camp
Other teams leaving camp 1 left before us. Packing up all our gear that we had brought up the mountain in multiple trips took some time. Luckily, this time down we would have a trail to follow with other groups leading the way. We did not leave until 8 AM and once again suffered our way down through the ice fall with heavy packs as we post holed in places to our hips.
Finally, we could see base camp. As we got closer, our cooks, Akbar and Asal, ran out on the glacier to us with fried potatoes and Coca Cola. They congratulated us and were so proud that they had helped put us on the summit. They brought celebratory leis for us and grabbed all our packs as we walked back the short distance back to base camp where we were congratulated by the leaders of other teams.
It was an incredible moment. Only then safely back at base camp did it hit me that we had done it and the tears of joy and relief finally began to flow.
July 29th day 40 rest/pack
There were two ways to go home. We could go back the Baltoro Glacier, which would take 4 or 5 days to walk out, or we could go over the Gondogoro Pass in 2 .5 days. (This pass is only open every couple of years because of snow conditions.) Everyone was eager to get home so we all chose to go over the pass. Little did we know how rough that would be on such little rest after summiting. We carried very light packs on the way in while porters and yaks carried all our gear to base camp. To go over the Gondogoro Pass, we would need a lot of our climbing equipment.
Our last night in base camp was beautiful. See the video below after the above picture was taken to get a sense of the beautiful area.
July 30th day 41 leave for Gondogoro pass
We thought it would be about an 8 hour day . . . it turned into a 16 hour day.
We broke off just before Concordia to go over the pass. We made it to camp that night, and I was astonished how many people were there. Most teams were leaving the Karakorum mountains and hundreds of trekkers had decided to trek out that way as well to save some time.
July 31st day 42 hiking over Gondogoro Pass and down
The scenery changed pretty drastically on this 18 hour day. We started at 1am to go over the pass where it was most solid. It was a steep snow climb up to about 18 or 19,000ft. There were so many people it was just a big line of headlamps in the dark. We passed group after group as we moved up the pass and approached the top of the pass just as the sun was rising. On the back side of the pass was a fixed line section on class 3 and 4 loose rock and snow to descend. I couldn't believe trekkers with very little climbing experience were going to be descending this way. We all grabbed the rope and descended dodging rocks being kicked down by the hoards of people above. Some trekkers would panic and just sit down blocking the route for everyone above. Needless to say, we were really happy to get off this section as we continued our walk out. We had crested 18,000ft but descended all the way down to a camp at 10,000ft that night. As we got lower, we saw green plants and animals for the first time in over 40 days.
August 1st day 43 hike to town and drive to Skardu
After a 3 hour walk we arrived in our logistic provider Manzoor's home town. We were greeted by dozens of kids curious to see the American climbers who had made the summit.
Manzoor's family invited us into their home where we had a great big meal before our 6 hour drive back to Skardu. It was absolutely wonderful to get a big goodbye from kids lined down the street. Though I only got a few seconds of video, it was a great way to end our climb.
August 2nd to 7th day 44 to 49 wait in Skardu to change flights
This was the toughest time period of the trip. We had to stay in the K2 motel and could not change our flights to go home early. This was the busiest time of the year for tourism in Pakistan. We tried to change our flights home but they were either too expensive or we were unable to get a seat. As a result, we were stuck with our original plan of flying out on August 10th. We would have to wait 8 days at the hotel in Skardu before we could fly home. There was one really good restaurant in town called Dewanekhas which we ate at every day . . . . sometimes twice a day.
August 8th day 50 fly from Skardu to Islamabad
After waiting eight days at our hotel with great weather and flights into Skardu every morning, we woke up to rain. This is a big problem because flights could not get in to Skardu if there is rain and decreased visibility. We went to the airport and waited an additional four hours for our flight that kept getting delayed because of weather. The flight took off and ended up turning around and skidding off the runway back at the Islamabad airport. No one was killed but there were some injuries. We then scheduled our 17 plus hour drive to Islamabad since we could no longer fly.
August 9th day 51
We left at midnight on August 9th and ended up driving 19 hours back to Islamabad in an older Toyota Land Cruiser. We arrived around 7 PM with not much time before our international flights out the following morning. We would have liked some celebratory beer, but alcohol is technically illegal in Pakistan. We had heard that the Islamabad Marriott had beer so we took a taxi there to find what felt like a secret underground club that charged $15 for Pakistan's version of Keystone Light. We had 2 beers a piece and called it a night.
August 10th to 12th day 52/53/54 fly back to states
We arrived on time for our flights but they were delayed 6 hours out of Islamabad due to weather. As a result I missed my connection in Istanbul, spent the night in Istanbul, and flew out the following afternoon to Atlanta. I had a layover in Atlanta for 11 hours before catching my flight home to Denver. I was happy to finally arrive home after 54 days.
Remember, I was the guy whose first 14er was Mt. Bierstadt 7 years ago at the age of 27 and I hardly made it. In time with good mentors, training, and motivation you can do anything you put your mind to. Thanks for reading!
Gear Worn on Summit Day:
- Scarpa Phantom 8000 meter boots - New Version
- Black Diamond Cyborg Crampons
- Heavy weight wool socks
- North Face Makalu Down Pants
- Outdoor research trailbreaker shoftshell pants
- REI Middleweight long underwear
- Merino Wool Base Layer
- First Ascent Tech Hoodie
- First Ascent Down Shirt
- Outdoor Research down hoodie
- First Ascent Guide Jacket
- First Ascent Peak XV Down Parka
- Four Seasons hat
- Julbo Glacier Glasses
- OR PL 400 liner gloves
- Hestra Heli Gloves
- North Face Himalayan Mittens.
- Black Diamond Carbon Cork Trekking Poles
- North Face Raven Pro Ice Axe with insulated handle.
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