Pakistan 2014: Final Thoughts on K2

K2 prayer flags

The climbing season in the Karakoram of Pakistan has come and gone, and by now we should be starting to look ahead to the fall climbing season in the Himalaya. But this year’s historic performance on K2 is one that is worth reflecting on, and there is still much that can be learned from the climbers who spent weeks on the mountain. With that in mind, here are some thoughts on climbing the “Savage Mountain” directly from some of the climbers who were there.

ExWeb has posted an interview with Adrian Hayes in which he shares his thoughts on his successful summit of K2. Adrian was a part of the first summit push, which topped out on July 26. He notes that that round of summiteers were fortunate that the weather was so good, because they often had to wait for extended periods of time for the fixed ropes to be installed. Adrian remarks that if the temperature were a few degrees colder, or the winds were a bit stronger, that not all of the 32 people who summited that day would have been successful.

When asked if K2 has been “tamed,” Adrian has a direct and pointed answer. He says that “K2 will never be tamed,” and he points to the lack of summit success from the Pakistan side of the mountain from 2009 – 2011, and again in 2013, as an example. This year was an aberration. It had the best weather that has possibly ever been seen on K2, and as a result, the level of success was also unprecedented.

Adrian goes on to discuss how he managed his fear while climbing such a difficult mountain, his thoughts on approaching Camp 3, where friends Marty and Denali Schmidt passed away in 2013, his thoughts on strategies for climbing the mountain (hint: get there early, bring strong Sherpas), and much more. Since he was on K2 in 2013, when no one was able to summit, Adrian has some good thoughts on comparing the two very different seasons.

He wasn’t the only one sharing his insights on the 2014 K2 season. Alan Arnette has also posted an article to his website that includes some broad thoughts on his climb as well. He touches on some of the logistics of the climb, discussing the organization of his team, which was led by Garret Madison of Madison Mountaineering. Alan indicated that while it may have appeared that the team was using the usual “siege” tactics that are common in the Himalaya, they were actually a small, focused squad that almost went in alpine style instead. The Sherpas led the way of course, doing much of the shuttling of gear to high camp, but the rest of the team was well prepared, and climbed well together too.

Alan also touches on the almost unbelievably good weather, his own preparation for the climb, and the incredible Sherpa support the team had. He also mentions that while he was more than physically prepared for the challenges of K2, it was the mental challenges that he truly had to prepare for. Since summiting Everest a few years back, Alan has worked on improving his mental toughness, and it paid off for him in the Karakoram this summer. When he needed to dig deep, and push on to the top, he found reserves that he didn’t even know he had. As a result, he was able to summit the toughest mountain on the planet.

Alan’s post contains a lot of insights on his personal experience on K2, but the comments section has become an ongoing Q&A session as well. Readers have been posting their questions about the climb, and Alan has been personally answering each of them. Those questions have been far reaching, and they will help anyone to further understand what goes into a climb of this type. The article, and the comments that follow, are a great resource of information on climbing K2 specifically, and 8000 meter peaks in general.

Above Traverse

Finally, Chris Jansen Burke became the first Australian woman to summit K2 when she topped out on July 26 as well. She shared her personal story in a two part recap of the season as well. Part 1 can be found here, while the second part is here. Initially, Chris traveled to Pakistan to attempt Broad Peak, which was to serve as an acclimatization climb before heading over to the real prize – K2. She did indeed acclimatize on BP, but the summit remained elusive, so after spending several weeks on that mountain, she jumped over to K2 Base Camp to take advantage of the weather window that was predicted to open there. Her lengthy, detailed account of the climb is a good read, with lots of personal insights as well. Chris is a strong climber, with lots of experience on 8000 meter peaks, so her thoughts are always interesting to read.

In addition to her personal account of the climb, she has also posted a brief Q&A blog post in which she answers some of the more common questions that have come her way post-climb. She talks about how having more teams on the mountain helped to make it a more successful season, who was responsible for fixing the ropes at each phase of the climb, whether or not she ever thought about turning back on summit day, and much, much more. Again, it is a very insightful post, with great information on K2, and Chris’ personal experience on the mountain.

That about wraps it up for the K2 coverage this season. I’m not sure how much more there is to say about. It has been several weeks since the successful summit push, and most of the climbers have shared their thoughts on what a great year it was on the mountain. Soon, the mountaineering world will turn its attention on the fall Himalayan climbing season, and our focus will shift elsewhere. But 2014 will be seen as a historic year on K2, when conditions were just right for success. Whether or not that same level of success can be replicated in the future remains to be seen. But for this one year, K2 was very welcoming indeed.

Kraig Becker