K2 Expedition 2018

Jake’s K2 Blog #21: The real adventure begins!

Basecamp to K2 Camp 1 (6077m).

This is it! The real adventure begins. We’d had a good amount of information that the weather was looking good for this week, and potentially with a summit day on Friday 20th. This would mean starting the summit attempt on Monday 16th, so that we would be in a good place to get to C4 in time for a summit day if the weather held.

There is always a mixture of excitement and apprehension the day/night before you leave BC for (hopefully) the last time. We’d been sitting around for nearly 5 days, and my feet were itching to get onto the hill that I’d come here for. There is also the apprehension that this is it – what will unfold over the next week or so will determine the success (or otherwise) of this expedition.

The Broad Peak Team set off early on their own summit attempt, whereas we elected to have a much more leisurely breakfast and leave at 0830. Tomaz had already left his climbing kit (including his big boots) in the mountain, which meant that my bag was really rather heavy, as I had all my climbing equipment as well as everything I’d need for a week up on K2. Jangbu kindly carried a bit of extra food and my down suit, which certainly made things a little less backbreaking. To give an indication of speed we were travelling, with no bag, it would normally take 30 minutes to get from our BC to the main K2 BC. With our big bags it took us an hour!

Once past the moraine of Main K2 BC, you are then onto a series of different landscapes as you climb the Godwin Austin Glacier up to ‘ABC’. I use inverted commas for Advanced Basecamp, as no one really ever stays there, we just tend to use it as a kit storage area and crampon point. The first major type of terrain you encounter off the moraine is the avalanche fan which comes down from the large snow slopes underneath the Cesen Route. This gets regularly dusted with snow and ice, so you have to keep your wits about you, and try and take a relatively wide berth of the most avalanche prone area. On one of their previous visits through here Tomaz and the Sherpas got a bit of a dusting from a large avalanche that came down here. When this area isn’t ‘live’, the ground tends to resemble icy Swiss cheese, with lots of holes created by the sun-warmed rocks and gravel melting their snow way down through the snow and ice.

Further up the glacier, the route finding gets much more interesting, as the ice of the glacier becomes much more rolling. This is also complicated by crevasses and glacial streams cutting crisscrossed obstacles through the ice.

We got to the base of the route around 3 hours after we left our basecamp. We were hot and tired, but eager to get onto snow. Leaving my trainers in a duffle bag at ABC I put on my big mountain boots, gore-tex, harness and helmet, which certainly helped lighten my rucksack.

The first 100-150m of ascent is unroped, as it’s not too steep, and is regularly cut by small avalanches. It’s easier for climbers to keep and eye out, than it is to keep having to replace buried ropes. This was made incredibly apparent as I heard a whistle from above (Tomaz, who was in front of me) and then a yell of ‘Avalanche!’. a relatively large flow, with the consistency of wet cement was coming down the slope just to my right. At first I started to get my camera out, but then decided not to, as this was not only quite big, but the flow was coming disconcertingly close to me. There are many different types of avalanche, and this was certainly the kind of wet one which would just suck you in, so, with discretion being the better part of valour I rapidly started moving over to the left, and was pleased to see that Jangbu had had exactly the same idea. By the time I’d stopped appreciating the destructive force of nature, the flow had more or less come to a stop, and my camera was still in my pocket!

The route to C1 on K2 is pretty dull: steep and sustained climbing on snow and ice, with a few patches of rock to liven it up a bit, but all the time the security of fixed ropes limiting the risk. The majority of risk on climbs like this comes from rock fall or chunks of ice or hard pack snow being dislodged by climbers above you. You hope that any climber who either knocks something off, or sees something falling down the climbing line will yell ‘rock!’ or something similar, so that anyone below will have time to react and ideally move out of the way, but if not, at least brace for impact. Hopefully all climbers are wearing helmets, but it’s often your thighs or forearms which get the brunt of the impact – and even a relatively small piece of ice or snow can be a real stinger! Sometimes the best place to be is right behind another climber, as hopefully they are the one that gets hit – kind of like some climbing peloton!

It took about 4-5 hours to reach C1 from the base of the route. Because we’d left it later in the day, the conditions had warmed up a bit, which meant that there was a bit is slipping and sliding around in the snow, trying to find purchase in the steps that others had made.

C1 (6077m) is on a relatively small platform area, with enough space for around 6-8 flattish tent platforms, and then several ‘slightly more creative’ tent platform areas. One thing that was very obvious was the lack of snow in camp, normally the ground is covered by a decent few feet of hardpack snow, which makes for securing tents (using ice screws and snow bars) quite easy. However there had obviously been a lot of snow melt in the past few days, and much of the camp was 20-30 degree consolidated gravel.

Our tent (which Tomaz has slept in before) had certainly seen better days. Not only was it on rather a jaunty angle, but it had been hit by rock fall which had gone straight through four layers of nylon (outer, inner, and then inner and outer!). It certainly doesn’t leave you with the most content feeling of a good night’s sleep. We moved the tent onto a section of steep gravel, which even though it was only about 10ft from the original placement, somehow made us feel all the more bulletproof!

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