Blog — K2 attempt 2018

Jake’s K2 Blog #2: The Meyer has landed!

Jake Meyer
Jake Meyer
Chief of Staff
Jake’s K2 Blog #2: The Meyer has landed!

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K2 Expedition 2018

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Day 1: Skardu, Pakistan

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As I type this I’m sitting in the shade on the grassy terrace of the Concordia Motel in Skardu. It is quiet and tranquil; birds chirp in the Cyprus and poplar trees, and the wide expanse of the Indus River snakes lazily down the valley below me. All around are impressive craggy mountains, many with snow capped peaks. The Kharphocho Fort commands an impressive position of overwatch above the confluence of valley and tributaries which feed a river which starts in Tibet and flows to the Pakistan coast, discharging a volume of water into the Arabian Sea twice that of the Nile. The Indus also represents the gap between the Himalayas and the Karakoram mountain ranges.

Skardu represents the gateway for much of the adventure in the Karakoram. At an altitude of over 2200m, and a population of nearly half a million Skardu is a major hub in the north of the country. Whilst looking out over the river, it is somewhat sobering to think that this vista has hardly changed since the Duke of Abruzzi commenced his 1909 attempt to climb K2 from here.

Jake with one of Skardu's police men

Jake with one of Skardu’s police men

Of course what has changed is the method of reaching Skardu. The earliest expeditions would have had to make the journey of hundreds of kilometres on horseback or foot. The Karakoram Highway, which was built during the 60s and 70s at a cost of over a 1000 Pakistani and Chinese lives, was completed in 1979 and opened to the public in 1986. From Islamabad to Skardu, a distance of around 700km, it takes up to 40 hours, depending on the weather and the condition of the road, which is frequently blocked by landslides. Fortunately for us, we were able to reduce this to only 45 minutes by flying direct from Islamabad to Skardu.

Having driven the KKH 3 times before, I was in no rush to have to drive it once again, despite our leader announcing to the group that it’s the most beautiful drive in the world. I can’t completely disagree, but give me a short flight any day.

I’d arrived safely (and with all of my kit, which is always a blessing) in Islamabad at 0345 on Saturday morning, and was driven to a guest house to meet the rest of the team.

Our ‘team’ is a mixture of 3 different groups: all with different objectives, but travelling under the same set of permits. The leader, Dan Mazur is a hugely experienced mountaineer and expedition leader, having spent much of his life organising trips to many of the highest mountains in the world. He himself summited K2 in September 1993 with the first Briton to summit and safely descend (Jonathan Pratt), and has dozens of expeditions to the Everest and K2 region to his name.

View from the terrace of Jake's Hotel overlooking the Indus River

View from the terrace of Jake’s Hotel overlooking the Indus River

The K2 team: Dan, myself, and Tomo, a Slovenian climber who summited Everest from the north in 2016 (with a great friend of mine, Sean).

The Broad Peak Team: Bond, a young Chinese climber who is currently studying architecture in the USA; Dimitri, a Russian American physicist; and Sauri, a female Japanese climber who’s just come straight from summiting Everest. There was a fourth climber from the US, who sadly within 24 hours of arriving in Islamabad injured himself, and has already been evacuated back home. Incredibly unfortunate for him, with his trip ending before it had even begun.

The Trekking Team: We’ve got a team of 4 trekkers from the US, David and Deborah, Terry and John. They’ll be coming into BC with us, before heading back out, so their trip will be around 25 days in total.

We’ve got 6 Sherpas who drove from Nepal (with Dan and all the kit) a few days ago, as well as a small group of Pakistani guides, cooks and assistant cooks. We’ll pick up the porters in Askole, which is where the trek into basecamp will start from.

As I finish writing this, the sun has set, the temperature has dropped and the wind has picked up. The evening call to prayer is billowing out from a mosque nearby, with echos from other mosques starting up all throughout the city, like an echoing Mexican wave of soulful choruses. A lone cow grazing on the river bank below seems to be answering the call to prayer – ‘Allahu Akbar’ being returned with a doleful bovine exclamation.

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Blog #1: Here I Go Again!

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Day 35: Basecamp 5000m

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“I’m a little bit sad about leaving that hill, it’s been 6 or 7 weeks here at basecamp, and I’m going to miss it. Whether or not I’m going to see it again in it’s glory, I don’t know, but we’ll see. In’Shallah”.

Those were the final words I said as I departed K2 basecamp on the 1st August 2016, captured on video. My voice is tinged with a sense of sadness and frustration, whilst trying to keep my stiff upper lip, and at the time, I honestly didn’t know if I’d ever return. Before I left on that trip, I do seem to remember saying (to my wife amongst others), “I hope it’ll happen this time, as I certainly don’t want to go back for a third time”.

Well, I take that back.

As Sean Connery once said, “Never say never again”. Of course my preference on any mountaineering expedition is to get to the top, and not to have to keep returning to complete unfinished business. It’s expensive, tears you away from family, friends and normal life, and inevitably is risky every time you step into the mountains. As any risk aware person would agree, if you want to minimise risk, minimise your vulnerability.

Of course the simple (and frankly sensible and logical) answer is just not to go into the mountains and put yourself in harms way in pursuit of (let’s face it) illogical achievements. Nearly every mountaineering video or article online, especially ones that reference Everest or K2, will have their comments sections full of remarks about “stupid thing to do in the first place”, “what’s the point, it’s just a massive ego trip for people with too much money” and the like. As much as I often want to jump in and defend the dreams, pastimes and often sacrifices of my mountaineering brothers and sisters, like most online debates it becomes a fruitless exercise. If you can’t appreciate that others might have different desires in life, then you’ll never understand why we do what we do. Mallory might have famously (and flippantly) explained his determination to climb Everest as “because it’s there”, but in reality everyone’s reasons for why they head into the mountains is different.

For me, K2 represents much more than just a mountain. It transcends a mere lump of rock and ice, thrust to its heady heights by the nature of its location and the forces and pressures of geological history. It’s often described as ‘the Savage Mountain’, a moniker which creates a sense of conscious and malevolent anthropomorphism and personification. Believing that, it would be easy and understandable to become increasingly daunted, and attributing mountain events such as avalanches as behavioural actions, but as Di Gilbert, my climbing partner on my last K2 expedition (as well as Everest) countered – “It’s just a mountain”.

Treat it as a connected system of rock, ice, snow, weather and climatic interference, and you can thus treat it as a system that you can overcome. Perhaps it’s the name, K2. The simplicity and objectivity of a single letter and single number. No fancy description of its shape or what it represents. No religious deification. As a name, it is cold, hard and neutral.

Now don’t for a minute think that my simplification belies a lack of respect. I respect the mountain in the same way that I respect a hot pan or a rifle – treated properly they are useful tools, but disrespected or misused they become dangerous. I know that I fall into the trap of referring to the mountain as ‘she’, but that it is more force of habit rather than anything more meaningful.

For me the reason for my return is more existential. Twice I’ve tried. Twice I’ve been beaten back due to various reasons. I believe that I have the skills, determination and ability to get to the top – I want the opportunity to see if my self-efficacy is warranted. K2 has also become part of my brand and story – it is part of my journey and who I am, and I am not ready to set it aside and put it down as a ‘once upon a time’ footnote.

As Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts”. In 10 days’ time I will embark on my third attempt to summit K2 (and return safely), the culmination of a 10 year journey, and a 13 year dream. I believe that using my experience and lessons from previous attempts, as well as being part of a high performing team, that I/we stand a good chance of realising our dream. If luck is preparedness meeting opportunity, then bring it on.

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