Karakoram Summer 2019: K2 Teams Back in BC, More Summits on GII

Things are in a state of flux on K2 at the moment. After the rope fixing squad was turned back on the mountain yesterday, without installing ropes to the summit, most of the teams have now returned to Base Camp and are reevaluating the situation. It seems many of the teams have found the conditions above the Bottleneck to be too dangerous and are now preparing to head home. Others are taking a “wait and see” approach for now, while a few are already preparing to take another crack at the mountain. One thing is clear however, the world’s second highest peak isn’t about to yield its summit easily.

Most of the teams haven’t provided much information on their status at the moment, other than that they have headed back down the mountain. But Adrian Ballinger has posted a status update following his latest –– and final –– acclimatization rotation. He and his teammates went up to 7800 meters (25,590 ft), where they camped for several days. From there, they had a look at the Bottleneck for the first time. Ballinger posted the following message to his Facebook page:

“After a dreamy month since leaving home – steep climbing, perfect weather, great friends – yesterday @carla.perez.ec @estebantopomena @namgye @pembageljesherpa and I posted up at 25500ft/7800m under the “Bottleneck”. I’ve been waiting to see if the real thing lives up to almost 30 years of reading and hearing about it. It does…it’s f*cked. And this year, perhaps more than most. Despite an epic Sherpa effort of more than 12 hours over 3 days, no one has yet been able to get around the Bottleneck to the mountain’s summit slopes. Chest deep snow, small slab avalanches, and all the time the 400 foot serac (ice cliff) just hanging above, waiting to break another chunk off. The conditions are reportedly sending most (all?) teams home. Meanwhile, this trip to the Bottleneck and Camp 4 was only the finish of our acclimatization rotations. Now we are ready for a summit push! We don’t know if the mountain will let us. For now, whiskey and bbq in Base Camp is making all things right. More to come.”

The important things to take away from this update are that conditions up high are in rough shape. Adrian says that the snow is chest deep in sections, and others have indicated that the Sherpas installing the fixed ropes found the snow to be nearly over their heads at times. They worked for hours and still barely made any progress, which says a lot about how dangerous things are right now. At the moment, the ropes are in place up to about 300 meters (984 ft) below the summit, but those last few hundred meters are going to be incredibly tough to get through. Still, Adrian and his team are getting ready to give it a try.

The other thing to take note of in Adrian’s Facebook post is that he says most –– if not all –– of the teams are now preparing to go home. I have yet to see anyone make an official announcement indicating that they are leaving BC for the season, but it wouldn’t come as a total shock considering how bad things seem to be there right now. It should be noted however, that traditionally speaking most of the summits on K2 come in the final week of July or the first week of August. That means here is still plenty of time for those who are patient, although conditions are going to have to improve significantly for that to happen.

While most of the teams have had to descend the back to BC on foot, Max Berger, the lead guide for Furtenbach Adventures, flew his paraglider back down instead. As you may recall, we shared Max’s flight from Broad Peak last week and his K2 flight is currently on the FA Facebook page, but if it gets posted elsewhere we’ll be sure to share it as well. The return to BC reportedly took only 20 minutes, saving him plenty of time and effort.

Yesterday we reported that a number of climbers had topped out on Gasherbrum II, including Sergi Mingote and Nirmal Purja. But, there were a number of other climbers who reached the top of that peak, including three members of the Climbing for Casualties team. ExWeb indicates that they were accompanied by eight Sherpas and a Chinese alpinist as well, although Matt Randall from the CFC squad was forced to turn around due to illness.

Speaking of Nirmal Purja, he posted an update to his Facebook page as well sharing some insights into the past week or so for him and his team. Nims and company summited GI and GII over the span of three days, but the real story is how they had to complete an 8-day trek from Nanga Parbat Base Camp in just 3 days, carrying all of their own gear for most of the way. They barely spent any time in BC before heading up the mountain either, which means they likely pretty exhausted from their effort. Purja had hoped to move on to K2 next, but we’ll have to wait to see if that happens. As I noted yesterday, I wouldn’t be surprised if he decided to go to Broad Peak first and wait to see how things shake out on K2. Again, patience may be the key.

That wraps up another week’s worth of updates from the Karakoram. Where things go from here we’ll just have to wait to see. Stay tuned for more.

Kraig Becker

2 thoughts on “Karakoram Summer 2019: K2 Teams Back in BC, More Summits on GII”

    • I’ve been thinking the same thing over the past few days. It looked like we were on track for record summits, and now it could be a year without any summits at all. The next week is going to be very interesting.

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