July 29, Monday 2013. Second Round of Acclimatizing Complete. Chance for G2 Summit Aborted.
Back in Basecamp today after being up on the Glacier and on Gasherbrum 2 for an entire week. Almost to the exact hour. Had a chance to go to the summit but turned back by High Winds.
Needless to say I’m back and finished breakfast here in the basecamp after coming down from Camp 1 this morning. Nice to have a hot meal that wasn’t Oatmeal or Freeze-Dried. Mark, Arnold, Grace and I made quick work out of the glacier on a Cold, Frozen, but Crystal Clear Morning. Really wish we were going for the summit instead of returning to basecamp (The weather is so good right now!), but now it is even more critical that we get rest and eat lots of food before we return to G2 again.
Quick rewind of the past week:
Monday July 22, 1am -8am: Climbed from Baseamp to Camp 1. Snowy weather. I actually put on my skis on the glacier and skinned up to Camp 1. The Glacier stayed nice and frozen, and the first two hours we were treated to an almost full moon as we climbed up the glacier initially from basecamp. At first our goal was to shoot for a July 25 summit attempt, but the Karakoram had other ideas.
Tue July 23: We used this as a rest day in Camp I as snow fell. We got a couple of inches as the day went on and decided to possibly wait out the 24 before continuing up to Camps 2 or 3 higher up.
Wed 24: It Snowed almost a foot all day long and so we didn’t go anywhere. I spent the day digging our tents out withArnold and Grace. Mark enjoyed lots ofsleep, and we played lots of cards all day long and ate as much food as possible. Got a weather report from Chris Tomer indicating that the winds would be starting to decrease up above 7000m starting on the 25 through the 26 and thereafter for long summit weather window.
Thurs 25.: We decided to head up to Camp 2 as a team to get into position for a Sat the 27 Summit attempt. Deep snow from 6” to 15” in places made the typical 3-4 hour climb up the Banana Ridge to 6400m Camp 2 take almost 6 hours. (started at 7am and arrived in Camp 2 at 1pm.) Arnold and I traded off Breaking Trail most of the way up the route and on the ridge. When I arrived in Camp 2, I was pretty trashed initially……Snow that deep at over 20,000’ can be quite difficult.
Fri 26: 7am – 1pm, Up the Ridge to Camp 3 at 6900m/ 22,500’. It was another day of battling the powder but the snow wasn’t as deep on the ridge to camp 3. Several Ice pitches of up to 80 degrees didn’t have as much snow on them so we took advantage of the good weather and made it up to our high Camp for the Summit Attempt. 930pm departure from High Camp to go forthe Summit, goal was to be on the Summit before 10am.
Sat 27: Went for the Summit (More detailsbelow) Very Windy!
Sun 28: Descend to Camp 1. Dropped myFigure 8 device on rappel in the high winds and so I had to improvise and usesome knots in my caribeaner in order to get down the Banana Ridge Safely! Tough Day.
Monday 29: Descend to Basecamp….Rest for nextwindow.
“Be Thankful for whatyou have, not what you don’t have”
Friday July 26to Sat July 27. SummitAttempt on Gasherbrum II (26,354’)
It had been almost 40 days since I left the United States to come all the way around the world to Pakistan. Everyone I talked to raised eyebrows in surprise about travelling all the way to this strange mountain range called the Karakoram. Why Pakistan? I don’t really have any other answer except that I wanted to push my Mountaineering Career to the next level and try to tackle one or two of the fourteen highest mountains in theworld. Life is too short and I’ve always felt like I’ve got nothing to lose by going away to some far off place. Tons of reasons actually bring me to the mountains, and a desire to climb in almost every mountain range onearth. There is one rule that I always follow when I go on a long expedition: Make good decisions so that you get to come home alive. No summit is worth dying for. The truth is, there have already been nearly a Dozen Deaths on K2, Broad Peak, and Gasherbrum I this season (Four alone on Gasherbrum I). I am not about to become another statistic on Gasherbrum II this year. Across the same Glacial Valley from me now stands GI, slightly higher than GII. Upto the time of this writing, there have been 9 summit attempts, 5 summits, but 4 deaths. Many factors have contributed to these deaths, and perhaps I can talk about those later…..for now lets focus on G2.
I was high on Gasherbrum II On the night of the 26 of July. I couldn’t have been further from the familiar world of Colorado, my homeland. The sun had just gone down and temperatures were starting to drop into the single digits fast. Sitting in my tent with two other climbers (Grace), and then one of our adopted teammates from the Belgian team (Sophie), we were busy preparing to head for the summit and depart sometime after 9pm. There wasa lot of anxious uncertainty for the ladies in my tent as they prepared to tackle the summit with our team. Grace was trying her first 8000m peak without supplemental Oxygen (She had already climbed 4 other 8000ers, and for Sophie, this was her first 8000er. Sophie was also abandoned by her selfish team leaders Stef and Hito who left her in the icefall on their way up G2 back onthe 19. We were gracious enough to take her on our team for this attempt of G2, but since she wasn’t with her original team climbing, she had a lot of apprehension about thissummit climb). In any other part of the world or in any other circumstance, sharing a tent with two other women would probably be every man’s dream. Here however, it was all business. Weather was forecasted to be good for the night and an 8-10 hour summit climb. I’d be going to the summit without supplemental oxygen, but I was prepared, had plenty of warm clothing and the right gear and optimistic mental focus and also hoped the winds would staylight. All I had to do was make it to the sunrise, then the sun would warm me up on the summit ridge, I could make it to the top and then descend back to Camp 3 on a beautiful day……piece of Cake. Or so I thought.
Grace, Sophie, Arnold, Mark, Mingma, and I departed camp together around 930pm, minutes behind a 4 person Korean Summit Team with two Koreans and two Sherpa. We decided to let the team of Koreans go ahead because they had a Sherpa that had made it to the top before, he knew all the minor intricacies of the route and also their whole team was on bottled oxygen, so they would be a little quicker than us.
Within an hour after leaving camp, we headed up a steep rise of the ridge and onto a rocky section. The ¾ moon came out and there was very little wind. Above 7000m/23,000’ it was one step three breaths, one step, three breaths. I got into a great rhythm and every few hundred yards I would keep tabs on the time. 1 AM….. 2AM…..time moved very fast. AND, it was a Calm night. “Perfect” I thought….”I’ve got this summit in the bag.” I felt awesome. I was climbing well, and at a great pace for no Oxygen.
Between Midnight and 2am our team stayed together. I climbed with Grace in front of me as I liked her pace. Sophie stayed behind me,but often complained about how cold she was. Arnold, Mark and Mingma followed us by about 15 minutes. While many were worried about Cold Especially the Girls, Arnold and Mark had some Supplemental O’s and Mingma was behind us doing just fine. We pushed on.
We had also adopted an experienced Swedish Ski-Mountaineer named Martin, and during the course of the night I often found myself climbing with Martin right behind me. At 2AM near a flat rocky area and a little used camp around 24,000’ called Camp 4, the team took a short break. I joined in the break but also wanted to continue up as I felt great. I drank some water mixed with powder, and after a 5 minute break and bathroom break, I led the way and headed up through Camp 4 and the start of the long ascending traverse below the summit pyramid and towards the summit ridge of the peak. It was slow going but not as steep as I got higher and higher. The stars were brilliant and there were shooting stars from time to time as well. After 230am, the winds began to pick up. Martin came up behind me and we climbed together along the traverse. Perhaps 30 minutes ahead of us I saw four headlamps and tried to keep pace with the Koreans. The moon was out and lit up the white snow around me. By about 330, the horizon to the East lit up, and I was excited than morning would be coming soon.
It began to get windier…..spindrift smacked me in the face, and it was getting even colder. Fortunately my feet were warm and my Orange Down Jacket kept me nice and toasty. At about 345am, Martin asked me if I wanted to take a water break. I obliged, and turned to face him out of the wind. We paused for about 15 minutes. It was really starting to get lighter now. Soon in the shadows around 4am a figure appeared with a headlamp behind Martin. It was Mark, my Irish teammate. He was looking toasty and chipper in his red down suit. He pulled off his oxygen mask and had some news. “Grace and Sophie turned back with Arnold about half hour ago.” He said. “Bummer”. I said to Martin and Mark. They both told me they were feeling ok, so we decided to continue up the traverse. Mingma also came up behind Mark, so the four of us pushed on.
From 4-445am it kept getting lighter and yet it kept getting windier. But this wind was very strange. It was rising up from the east side of the Gasherbrum II peak, and it was creating this swirling gusty wind that was pelting us in microburst gusts of Hurricane force strength. Mountains create their own weather, and at about 7500m /24,500’, only about 1700’ from the top, this mountain had some strange reason for not wanting us to go any further. I couldn’t believe it. All this wind seemed fake. Maybe it would stop soon. Looking over to some other huge peaks in Pakistan and India, it was a perfectly clear morning. It actually didn’t even appear windy on other peaks at all. You could see Gasherbrum I, Masherbrum, Nanga Parbat, and the K7 Complex, and many other peaks.
The sun was coming up and hitting the highest points by5am. We stopped and thought that maybe this localized spindrift would stop when the sun came up and then we could gainthe ridge. The Koreans also waited a 100m or so ahead of us. You could seethe start of the fixed ropes that ascended a short steep col to the summitridge. From where we were we maybe had another 3-4 hours in the morning sun to get to the summit. We HAD it. But, the wind kept on pounding the four ofus. We turned away and enjoyed the views while we pleaded with the wind to stop and let us continue. By 515 still no slowing the wind down. The rising sun made some brilliant colors outof the snowy spindrift and the sky. The Mountain seemed to have a mind of it’s own. It wasn’t going to let us go any further. I still couldn’t believe it. I had to turn around. “Let’s go down.” Said Mingma. Mark, Martin, and I were all reluctant to call it and pull the plug. By 525am I said OK….I turned around and led the way back down. Sheer disappointment. There was no reason for this wind, but there was no reason to lose a life over the conditions…….and, I also didn’t want to lose my fingers or toes.
The wind pounded us from behind as we descended. By 620 or so we had arrived through the broken tents and abandoned remains of Camp 4. The gusts would come in 75 mphbursts and were still drilling us from the back side. Mark and I, along with Mingma hid behind somerocks for a few minutes. Looking back upat the peak, it appeared possessed with lots of spindrift. In between huge gusts Mark and I bolted for it. (Further up the mountain Martin had tried to put his skis on but realized the conditions were too awful to even try to ski back to Camp III) Martin and Mingma followed us down the rocky ridge to Camp 3. Descending the rope sback to Camp 3 was very hard. Not only because the wind was still blasting us, but also knowing the summit would not be reached on this day.
I finally arrived in Camp 3 just before 8 am. When Grace, Arnold and Sophie arrived back in the camp a couple of hours before us, Grace had dove into one of the tents to try and save it from being torn to shreds in the wind. Only one of our three tents survived the wind storm. Two were torn to shreds and destroyed in the microburst gales.
The morning sun warmed me as I sat down next to our only good tent in Camp 3. For an hour or so when I got back to the Camp, I still was getting hit by bursts of wind. Grace made some tea for me. Mark came down with Mingma, and when our teamwas all back to Camp 3, we were all very disappointed. This weather came out of nowhere. It just wasn’t our day. Long story short, we packed our things and did the only thing we could do, and that was go down. The rest of the day we spent getting pounded by wind as we descended to camp 2 and then finally down the Banana Ridge toCamp 1. Getting lower would be the best recipe to help push the acclimatization and allow us to recover and then hopefully return again to try for the summit in the next weather window. Staying in Camp 3 would have been a bad idea, it is not a place to regain strength or even to try for the summit on back to back days. 8000m peaks need time and energy and we needed to descend to save our strength.
And so this brings me back to where I am sitting now. In basecamp. It is almost August and I surely thought I would have at least one Summit of one of the Gasherbrums by now. Some of the other expeditions here, and even a couple of the other teams here now have gotten One or BOTH summits done in these weather windows. They are the lucky ones. This has nothing to do with climbing skills, or ability or will……..making it to the topof 8000m peaks requires some good fortune. I’ve had plenty of patience on this trip, but maybe too much patience. But this brings me to the point of this blog.
“Be Thankful for what you have, and don’t complain about what you don’t have”.
I don’t get to make it to the top of GI, and I may not even get to make it to the top of GII, but many have died this season and so far me and my teamare having terrible bad luck. I will still hope for the best and deserve to get to the top, just need some betterluck. We seem to be off on our timingof the summit windows, and many days we have been in basecamp when the weatherhas been good up high. There are many factors on this expedition that are out of my control. It’s very hard to fail………what has transpired on this expedition so far is very disappointing…but how I respond to it in the next 10 days and after is what is going to matter. Next weather window in a week or so I’ll beready to go back up and hopefully make to the Top of G2. I’ve been here in this situation on an expedition before and I know what to do. G1 will have to wait for another time. The mountain isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Thanks for continuing to send good vibes, send some great weather, and lets hope for the best in the days to come. I’ll have more news on plans for the next summit attempt, but for now time to rest and eat in the warmth of basecamp.