K2 Expedition 2018
Looking back on the season itself, it was a season of triumphs and tragedies. Of course the death of Serge hit us hard (and later on the death of Kojiro Watanabe who also fell to his death returning from the summit), but in terms of summits themselves, it ended up being a short, but record breaking summit window with over 60 ascents, taking the total of K2 ascents to around 420 in total.
There were a number of firsts (ski descent, country summiteers etc), and a record breaking 3rd ascent for a Pakistani High Altitude Porter. I have no doubt that the success of this season will lead to a lot of interest for climbers for next year, especially with the commercial teams. I am under no illusion, that whilst there was a lot of hardwork and effort that went into getting to the top, there was also a certain amount of ‘luck’ in terms of the weather and especially the precipitation that we had this season, which made a massive difference, especially in comparison to previous seasons that I’ve been there.
Inevitably, returning from a big expedition is always a rather surreal experience full of contradictions. Desperate to catch up with others, yet wanting the solitude with the family; exciting opportunities (such as TV appearances) mixed with the strange banality of normal life; being the inevitable centre of attention, yet wanting to talk about anything other than the mountain you’ve been staring at for the last 7 weeks; the temptation of all the rich food that you dreamt of whilst away, whilst often only having time for a snatched bowl of cereal with the children.
In some regards it like a soldier returning from operations, recognising that whilst people want to know all about what you’ve been doing, 99.9% will never actually be able to truly appreciate what you’ve been through. It’s easy for others to see the glossy photos and video and see a very sanitised and curated view of the experience, whilst not recognising the pain, misery and endless boredom that filled much of the time.
Of course the expedition, and the experience was so much more than just those few minutes on the summit, and strangely it was just that: ‘pain, misery and endless boredom’, coupled with many wonderful moments of madness and laughter, which made it the adventure that it was. For me, that’s absolutely what makes an expedition such an incredible experience: taking the rough with the smooth and getting out of the comfort zone.
One of the most surreal things about being back is the fact that the family moved into a new house whilst I was away. It’s odd walking into a completely new house, full of our things, but not quite sure where anything is.
There has been some excellent coverage of the expedition (mainly due to my amazing friend Pip who’s been a superstar with the PR, as well as being ‘me’ on social media whilst I was away) – and having the summit photo on the front page of the Times on Monday 23rd July was a huge coup, as well as getting a whole seven and a half minutes on BBC breakfast this weekend! We’re now trying to do a media push around the ‘world’s highest G&T’, using the video of me mixing a gin and tonic on the summit – it certainly seems to be getting lots of interest in social media!
As normal life starts to take back over, and the post expedition excitement dies down, I know that the mountain will feel like a distant out of body experience, like some half-remembered dream upon waking up. What I will never forget – and what I will never take for granted – is the incredible seven weeks I spent away in Pakistan, of demons vanquished, itches scratched and a 10 year journey completed.
As the chapter on K2 in my life now comes to a close, I’ll look back proudly and fondly at that little hill, of everything it threw at me and my various teams over the three attempts, and the joy and privilege of being afforded the opportunity to step above the clouds and onto its summit. She may be savage, but like a wild animal, she is also beautiful in her own special way.
First meal: A bacon sandwich and a ham and cheese croissant (I was craving pork!) in Heathrow Arrivals.
First drink: A beer with lunch 48 hours after I got back.
First TV programme: Love Island Final, of course.
Best thing about being back: The showering of love from my two daughters (it was as though I hadn’t been away).
What do I miss from the trip: My team mate Tomaz and our Sherpas – who were awesome.
What don’t I miss from the trip: Having to use a pee bottle? Squat toilets in basecamp?
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