It has been a roller coaster ride of emotions on the world’s second highest peak over the past week or so. Last week this time the teams hoping to scale that mountain this summer were setting off with high hopes and a good deal of optimism. After all, the weather was perfect, the forecast looked great, and with their acclimatization rotations complete, most climbers were feeling fit and strong. But once they reached 8200 meters (26,902 ft) things began to deteriorate quickly. Deep snow and high avalanche danger caused even the rope-fixing team to retreat, leaving the summit untouched thus far. Now, as a new week dawns, most of the commercial teams are now preparing to go home, while a few hardy, experienced climbers are on their way back up the hill.
Amongst the teams that are packing and preparing to return to Skardu are the Madison Mountaineering team, which has already sent its entire group of clients home. The guides and support staff remain in BC to help clean things up, collect the gear, and pack everything onto oxen and porters, but by tomorrow they’ll begin the trek out too. Despite the fact that they never really got a shot at the summit, the team seems upbeat and happy. Discretion is always the better part of valor when it comes to making decisions about safety and the squad seems pretty comfortable that they made the right choice.
Furtenbach Adventures is also calling it quits. The team found early success on Broad Peak this season, but the Karakoram double-header of K2 was not to be. The team is also packed up and heading out and happy to call it a successful season, despite being turned back on their second objective. They’ll be joined on the trek out by the Adventure Peak squad, which is pulling the plug on their K2 efforts as well. Mike Horn and Fred Roux were first on the mountain and were one of the first teams to leave as well. They’re already on the trek out to civilization.
At this point, Base Camp is starting to get very quiet, but the teams that remain there are fairly notable. For instance, Adrian Ballinger and his squad are heading back up the mountain today. He’s now fully acclimatized and ready for the final push, which he’ll attempt without supplemental oxygen. The plan is to go straight to Camp 2, then on to C3 tomorrow, C4 on Wednesday, and if all goes as planned, the summit on Thursday.
Also heading up is Nirmal Purja, who summited Gasherbrum I and II last week. He’s hoping to get both K2 and Broad Peak before heading home for some much deserved rest and recuperation. Nims as already left BC and is aiming to summit on Wednesday of this week. It is unclear whether or not he’s helping fix ropes at this point, but it seems likely that he’s at least lending a hand.
Not far behind Purja is the rest of the Seven Summit Treks teams. They hope to head to the to on Thursday, a day after Nims is planning to summit. This gives the more experienced and stronger climbers the chance to break the trail first and install the ropes, with the commercial clients following along the next day. It should also give the advanced team a chance to survey the slopes for avalanches, getting a better sense of stability on the way up.
Currently, the weather continues to look good, but the lines to the summit are still not in place and deep snow remains high on the mountain. How much that will impact the progress of the climbers remains to be seen, but last week it was reportedly waist to chest deep above the Bottleneck. That will make for extremely tough going and will cause progress to grind to a halt. What that means for the summit schedule remains to be seen, but it will certainly make break trail extremely challenging. It could also keep the danger of avalanches extremely high as well, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed that all goes well over the next few days. There will still be a large contingent of climbers on the mountain this week, which could be disastrous if things don’t go right.
We’ll be watching the mountain very closely over the next few days. More updates to come soon.