Karakoram Summer 2019: Bad Weather Hampers Climbers in the Early Going

The summer 2019 Karakoram climbing season in Pakistan is now under way and the first teams are either getting settled in Base Camp on their respective mountains or are about to arrive there. Already there is a common theme developing however with various reports indicating that the weather conditions are less than ideal in the early going. In fact, by most accounts it is snowing in the mountains more than expected with a considerable amount of powder already on the ground. For now, that is hampering operations, but we’ll have to wait to see how it impacts climbing schedules and acclimatization efforts moving forward.

Swiss-South African explorer Mike Horn was the first to arrive in BC on K2 this season and he has shared regular updates over the past week or so. Thus far, those updates have mostly centered around the weather and how it has prevented him and his team from making any meaningful progress. Horn was on K2 back in 2015 and seems to have returned this year much more focused and dedicated to climbing the mountain. So far however, his group hasn’t really been able to go much above Base Camp as heavy snow has kept them stuck in place. Other than making a few hikes at lower altitudes just to stay active, they haven’t had much of a chance to start the acclimatization process at all.

Further down he valley, the Madison Mountaineering team is trekking to K2 Base Camp and reached a major milestone yesterday when they spotted the mountain for the first time. They also report challenging weather conditions with an unexpected amount of snow so far, which is why they aren’t rushing to reach BC. The trek is challenging enough as is and the hope is that by the time they get settled at the base of the mountain the weather will also begin to improve. They should arrive in BC over the weekend and start the process of making it home for the next month or so. From there, they’ll evaluate the conditions and then get to work preparing for the ascent ahead.

Adrian Ballinger is also on his way to K2 this season with the hopes of reaching the summit without the use of supplemental oxygen. He’s not even in Base Camp yet and the challenges have already begun however. Over the past few days, Ballinger has been extremely sick and judging from his updates it sounds like he was in a terrible place. Unable to keep food –– or even medicine –– down and struggling with his strength and stamina. Fortunately he seems like he’s on the mend now and is improving dramatically. By the time he and his team reach BC he should hopefully be back to his usual strong and determined self. Whether or not the weather will begin to cooperate is still the question.

Over on Broad Peak, the conditions seem pretty similar to those of K2 right now. That shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise as the two mountains are practically neighbors. In fact, BP is often used as a tune-up for K2, although it is the main objective Kobler and Partner this season. The group arrived in Base Camp back on June 21 and since that time they’ve been getting settled, making some acclimatization hikes, and keeping a close eye on the sky. They report deep snow on the trek as they approached the mountain, which hampered the use of pack animals and slowed progress dramatically. Now, in BC the snow continues to fall but the Kobler team is strong, determined, and in it for the long haul.

Speaking of pack animals, Alan Arnette is reporting that due to the high amount of snow on the ground those creatures can’t be used to haul gear to any of the Base Camps this season. That puts the bulk of the work on the porters, but unfortunately there seems to be a shortage of those strong men to help shuttle the equipment as well. This is having an impact on the teams that are trying to reach K2 and Broad Peak in particular, as those are the two mountains that will see the most visitors this summer. How this will impact the season as a whole remains to be seen, but for now it is delaying the start of the trek –– and thus the climbing season –– for several teams while they try to sort out the logistics.

Finally, while not in the Karakoram itself, there is summit news to report from the Indian Himalaya. According to Explorers Web, Polish climbers Jarosław Gawrysiak and Wojtek Flaczyński reached the top of the seldom-climbed Nanda Devi East yesterday. The 7434-meter (24,389 ft.) peak is the tallest to reside entirely inside India, and it was first climbed 80 years ago this summer. The expedition commemorates that success, which also happened to launch an extraordinary climbing legacy for the country of Poland. The two men reportedly were descending in good conditions after the summit, but the weather took a turn for the worse on the way down. Hopefully they’ll be back in BC safe and sound today.

That’s all from the Karakoram for now. More updates soon I’m sure.

Kraig Becker