K2 Climb 2016
Blog #43: The Savage Mountain strikes.
Day 43: Camp 2 (6650m) – Camp 3 (7300m) – Base Camp (5000m)
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With the calming down of the storm from last night, we were all set and ready to push up to C3. Di, Paul and Pete would be coming up to C2, from C1, which would put them a day behind me, but we could sort that out later. We had heard some rumblings of some avalanches early in the morning, but that was expected, considering the amount of snow there had been in the last week. The sky was a beautiful deep blue colour, without a cloud to be seen – it was the complete antithesis of the previous day – and whilst we were all dressed in our down suits and jackets, somehow I didn’t think they would last long.
There was a rumour going around the Sherpas that C3 might have been hit by an avalanche – although no one had actually been up there to see, given the amount of rumblings from further up the mountain, and the placement of C3, this was a distinct possibility, and we just hoped that if true, we could still dig our tent and salvage our equipment. This potential situation was given further credence, when we heard a couple of explosions slightly above our camp. They definitely had a very different sound to the ‘crack’ that you hear at the start of an avalanche, and when I asked Mingma what they were, he told me that they were exploding oxygen cylinders, which had been swept out of C3. Uh oh. Let’s just hope that they aren’t any of ours.
The climb up towards C3, whilst a very similar distance to C1-C2, feels longer. It’s obviously significantly higher, so that takes a toll, but the climbing through the ‘Black Pyramid’ is tough and unrelenting, with several vertical sections (over rock bands or bergshrunds). As expected, it was very warm, and I shed my down jacket and fleece after only 30 minutes. It was great climbing just with the Sherpas, and whilst my rucksack was slightly lighter than theirs, I could just about keep up. We’d left a cache of oxygen cylinders and a tent at about 7100m, and Mingma and Phurba (and later the HAPs who were behind us) picked up several cylinders each. This obviously massively increased the weight of their packs (each cylinder is around 3.6kg, and they were picking up at least 3 each), which slowed them down for the final few hundred metres of climbing (although by this point I certainly wasn’t complaining, as the higher we went the tougher I was finding it).
The cloud was just starting to come in as we started up the final sloped towards C3. At this point we’d left the rock sections and were on the glacier, which whilst with the steps made by the Sherpas in front of us made it a technically easy climb, we had to watch out for crevasses, and every so often you could see where someone’s footstep had punched through into a deep crevasse.
As we neared C3, and the site came into view, our worst fears were confirmed. C3, which we’d set up about ten days previously with around twelve to fifteen tents was nowhere to be seen. Instead there was a thick layer of avalanche debris, and absolutely nothing to indicate that there had ever been a camp here. No tents, no ripped material, no oxygen cylinders, nothing. Just a group of around 10 Sherpas sitting dejected in the snow, with their heavy packs shed wantonly at their feet. A few of them were taking photos and videos, as if to prove that C3 was no more.
Whilst the loss of C3 and everything in it was a massive blow, I couldn’t help but think that if the Avalanche had come 24 hours later, then there would have been 15-20 people (including me) in the tents sleeping. It’s unlikely that any of us would have survived. Whilst it was a demonstration of the savagery of the mountain, it was also an incredible blessing that it had struck when it had. I think without a doubt it could have been the worst loss of life on K2, or even any 8000m mountain, not just in a single event, but in a season. Some may see it as a sign that we shouldn’t be up there, but I see it just for what it is – an avalanche, the result of an extended period of snowfall high on the mountain which was waiting to happen. It was unfortunate that it destroyed our camp (when I say ‘our’, I mean everyone’s), but we were lucky that no one was there, and no one was injured in it. Kit can be replaced, people cannot.
What was also dawning was the ramifications of the avalanche. For most teams, this was their only weather window, and with their loss of kit, this was the end of their expedition. There would be no time to regroup, take stock and have another go. Whilst gutting for all involved, there would be a certainly amount of finality to the event for them – it’s time to go home. No K2 this year.
In a previous blog I wrote about how K2 receives no ascents 40% of years. There were no ascents in 2015, we though that perhaps 2016 would be a return to successful summits. Maybe this will not be the case.
Whilst we (our team) had the kit and equipment to reset C3, there wasn’t much point, because as well as the personal kit lost in C3, we’d (teams collectively) also lost a lot of the rope that would be used for fixing to C4 and the summit. Part of me wanted to stay at the site of C3, fix camp and then make a decision, but with all of the Sherpas (including Mingma and Phurba) saying it was time to turn back, I had to reluctantly agree.
It took us a couple of hours to get back down to C2. We’d radioed the others previously, so there was no surprise about the fate of C3. By this point most of the mountain and all the teams were aware of what had happened, and no doubt in every tent on the hill, there was the huge emotional swing from ‘This is it, the weather is good, we’re heading for the summit’, to ‘No C3, no summit, no expedition’. I won’t repeat the expletives that Di muttered over the radio when we informed her, but I know that she was merely saying what we were all thinking.
Back in C2, we all crowded into one of the tents for a quick team meeting. We knew that most other teams had everything invested in this one summit attempt – essentially they were out of time on the mountain, and they’d need to leave, summit or not. We still have plenty of time on the hill, we’re not due to leave BC till around the 12 August. Whilst none of us want to stay any longer than we have to, we decided that we all still felt strong, and if possible (and the weather allowed), we’d want another attempt. The biggest challenge for us, was that we as a team (essentially us 4 and 2 Sherps) couldn’t fix to the summit alone. Mingma was adamant that the only way we could go back up for another summit attempt would be if we could find more Sherpas from other teams who were prepared to stay on the mountain, in order to make an uber team to fix the upper part of the mountain.
It won’t be until everyone is off the mountain that we can take stock, speak to the other teams and see who is prepared to stick about for another attempt, that we can make a final decision as to whether we stay. Obviously if no one else stays, then by default, we’ll have to call an end to our trip, and head home (which of course in itself isn’t an entirely unattractive option!). From my point of view, it would be easy to call it quits right now – we could be back in the UK within 8 days, but in my heart of hearts I owe it to myself (not to mention all my sponsors, the charity Walking With The Wounded, and everyone who has supported me so much in this venture) to (within the realms of safety) give it one last go, if we can.
After our impromptu team meeting in C2, seeing as there wasn’t enough space for everyone to stay in the 2 tents (there were 8 of us there), the HAPs would go down to C1, and the Sherps would go all the way back down to BC. Even though it was 1730, the thought of being back in BC that same day was too appealing, so I elected to go back down to BC with the Sherps.
We sped off down the ropes, arm rapping much of it (including even some of the steep sections), and were back in BC within 2 hours. By this point it was starting to get dark, and we trekked back through the maze of the glacier in torch light. Several miles through the glacier we spotted a group of about 5 torches stationary in the middle of the glacier, so we went to investigate – it turned out to be Sherpas from the Seven Summits group, who had been met by some of their basecamp team with drinks after their descent. They beckoned us over and shared with us a bottle of coke and hot orange squash and tea. Even though the temperature had dropped rapidly as the sun had set, we were all incredibly hot and thirsty (we’d climbed 700m that day, and then descended (and abseiled) over 2000m in a matter of hours), so we’re very appreciative for sweet drinks, both hot and cold!
It took us another 40 minutes to get in to our camp – trekking through the (by this point) featureless glacier was essentially an exercise in trying not to trip over rocks (easier said than done with big boots and tired legs), and not falling in the partially frozen glacial streams. Eventually, out of the gloom we started to make out the familiar orange and yellow glow of the BC tents – never have they looked so inviting. Arriving back in our camp, we were met by Nassim and Juma, who welcomed us with open arms. Not expecting anyone to have come off the mountain, Zulfi had gone on a day trip down to Concordia, and still hadn’t returned, by the boys prepared us a much appreciated dinner. I wasn’t really hungry, but couldn’t drink enough fluids – weather soup, hot orange tang, and thankfully Mingma produced a bottle of coke – delicious!
So, in summary – no summits from this window. End of expedition for most teams. We will try to form a ‘Kelly’s Heroes’ mixed team of those who are able/willing to remain. If we can’t then we will also have to admit defeat. I’m sitting in the sun in BC, looking up at the mountain thinking what at beautiful day it would be to climb to C4 and prepare our summit attempt. But it’s not to be. Di, Paul and Pete will be returning from C2 later today, and I imagine we’ll start the rallying call this evening/tomorrow. I’ll keep you all informed as to how we get on. Although I can’t wait to come home and see may girls, similarly we’re not beaten yet. Let’s hope that a good dollop of British pluck and courage will see us through. We may have lost this battle with the mountain, but hopefully the war is not over.
Jake Meyer 2016 K2 Expedition fundraising in support of Walking With The Wounded
Please note, that Jake’s comments are his alone (as are his spelling and grammar mistakes and poor jokes), and do not represent the views of any of the Sponsors, Expedition affiliates or Expedition Team Members. All praise/complaints to Jake on his safe return.
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Although the summit attempt is over, there is still a challenge ahead: getting everything and everyone safely off the mountain…
It is with deep regret that Jake announces that the expedition is over, and the UK team will be heading home.
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Day 40: Basecamp 5000m… but not for long!
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Day 38 & 39: Basecamp 5000m
With the day of the summit attempt just round the corner, the team enjoy some birthday cake before the final dramatic push begins!
Day 36 & 37: Basecamp 5000m
As the team wait out some bad weather in basecamp, Jake ruminates on just how dependent on the weather gods a successful summit attempt is…
Day 35: Basecamp 5000m
Jake has gone from the visceral thrill of climbing up to 7300m, to getting excited about KitKats and margerita-flavoured jelly shots…
Day 34 – Basecamp Rest Day, 5000m
The weather report says that summit winds are 75 knots today. However galling it was to have to come all the way back down the mountain, we definitely made the right decision.
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