Alan Arnette: K2 Season Summary
The mountains are now free of climbers. Another season, with summits, deaths, rescues and other drama comes to an end.
The K2 2018 summer season came to an end when the Austrian operator Furtenbach Adventures declared the weather window had closed and they spent too much time on Broad Peak, thus missing their K2 opportunity. Overall, K2 saw over 60 summits—a record!—by several different teams. As always with K2, there were deaths—two this year.
K2 continues to play hard with climbers in all seasons. Early in 2018, a well respected Polish team gave their best effort to make the first winter summit, but were denied. Blame the weather, or botched logistics or poor teamwork; whatever the reason, the world’s second highest peak can go for years without any summits at all, unlike many of the other 8,000-meter peaks.
According to 8000ers.com, plus my own research, from 1986 to 2016 there were 12 years with no summits. From 2009 to 2016, there were only three years with summits—2011 only from the Chinese side, by Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner. 2012 and 2014 each saw about 30 to 50 people summiting, record-breaking years as a result of a week of excellent and rare summit conditions.
Everest, on the other hand, went from 1974 to 2014 with summits every year. That’s 40 straight years! The best year ever for K2 before 2018 was in 2004, when 51 people summited. The second most successful year was 2014, with an estimated 49 summits, including six female climbers—the same number of female climbers as this year! It seems the curse of K2 on female climbers has relented.
With less than 10 teams hoping to summit K2 in 2018, the season began a bit earlier than usual with a high-profile Japanese team led by Akira Oyabe arriving in late June. They had been preparing for two years after not reaching the summit in 2009 and 2013. They were somewhat independent with no Nepali Sherpas and only a couple of Pakistani High Altitude Porters (HAPs). They fixed the ropes to C2 before heavy snows buried the lines, leaving the rope-fixing to highly supported commercial teams.
As for the other four 8,000ers: On Nanga Pabart, Gasherbrum I and II, and Broad Peak, there were only a handful of climbers. A number of small independent teams hoped to open new routes or repeat rarely climbed ones. There was also activity on at least nine other Pakistani peaks including Gasherbrum IV and Latok I.
As we left June and entered July, the notoriously poor Pakistani summer weather turned downright ugly. The conditions were aptly summed up by Luis Stitzinger of the German guide company Amical alpin: “I’ve never experienced such a season with so constant bad weather in the Karakoram.” They gave up on their Broad Peak ambitions and went home by July 6th. Similarly, 150 miles away in the Western Himalaya on Nanga Parbat, well respected climbers Mike Horn, Alex Gavan, Tunc Findik, and Maya Sherpa all ended their efforts fairly early in the season due to dangerous snow conditions.
2018 was beginning to look like 2015 and 2016, when no one summited K2 and only a few made the other peaks throughout Pakistan. There were sporadic days of good weather, but not enough to allow teams to string together enough time at altitude to fix routes and acclimatize their bodies for the summit push. Usually the Karakoram season ends in early August, so by mid July it was looking bleak.
Finally the first summit in Pakistan for the 2018 summer came when the Austrian Hansjörg Auer made a historic, solo first ascent on the 7,157-meter Lupghar Sar West. Then on Nanga Parbat, technically part of the Western Himalaya Range and not the Karakoram, the Korean Kim Migon, with support from Summit Karakoram, made the first 8,000-meter summit of the season. He persevered when other climbers gave into the conditions. This was Kim’s last 8,000er.
Just as the season seems to have turned around, tragedy—often associated with climbing the world’s big peaks—struck. On July 7, Canadian climber Serge Dessureault fell to his death on K2 near House’s Chimney as he was rappelling from Camp 2 during an acclimatization rotation. He was the leader of a small Canadian team which soon canceled its expedition and returned home. Then over on Gasherbrum IV, a 7,925-meter-high peak where several small teams had ambitious climbs planned for the season, Maurizio Giordano was hit by ice and died as he was descending on July 11. He was part of an Italian Army team. They abandoned their expedition after his death. Next, the Austrian climber Christian Huber died in an avalanche that hit his tent at Camp Two on Ultar Sar (7,338 m) in Pakistan, in late June.
While not in Pakistan, another death was that of Pemba Sherpa, who fell into a crevasse on Saser Kangri, the highest peak in the Saser Muztagh Range at 7,672 meters. The Saser Muztagh Range, located in India, is the eastern-most subrange of the Karakoram range. Pemba was with a team of climbers led by Basanta Singha Roy from West Bengal, and another team from Pune, India.
With the weather playing serious tricks, several teams made attempts hoping to thread the tiny needle in random weather windows; none succeeded. Furtenbach Adventures attempted to summit Broad Peak over the weekend of July 7, but stopped short. They posted, “Summit bid stopped at 7800m short below the col due to avalanche danger. The couloir is filled with masses of unsettled snow and this will not change in a few days. Now all on the way down to basecamp. We will see if we give it another try or switch over to K2.”
On the Gasherbrums, Masha Gordon, Helias Millerioux and Yannick Graziani attempted to traverse G1/G2 but stopped after dealing with unfavorable conditions. K2 skier, Andrzej Bargiel, who was acclimatizing on GII abandoned his plan as he didn’t like the dangerous conditions on GII.
A Weather Break and Summits!
Finally in mid July, the Weather Gods smiled on K2 and the weather forecasters gave the climbers a green light to push fast and hard. Furtenbach Adventures decided to stay at Broad Peak and made a big push on July 15 and 16. They made it this time, putting four members, four Sherpas and two HAPs on top, including semi-independent climbers Fredrik Sträng and David Roeske, who didn’t use supplemental oxygen. This was a big deal especially for Fredrik, as he had been denied before. But this proved to be a costly decision to their K2 ambitions.
On GII, Adam Bielecki and the German Felix Berg summited GII while teammates Jacek Czech and the Kazach Boris Dedeszko turned back. All climbed without supplemental oxygen or any kind of additional support staff during the climb. Luis Stitzinger summited GI on July 18, nabbing his eighth 8,000er, all without supplement Os. A Czech team summited Nanga Parbat. With summits all over the Pakistani high peaks, only K2 had not been summited this summer.
K2 Blitz and Another Death
However, with a good forecast, the K2 teams jumped on the opportunity. Led by the Kathmandu-based and Sherpa-owned guide company, Seven Summits Treks (SST), 24 people reached the summit on July 21 (made up of 10 members supported by 13 Sherpas and one HAP). This is becoming a familiar formula to commercialize K2: a 2:1 client-to-support ratio, plenty of supplemental oxygen and four days of good weather. This happened in 2014 and again this year when about 50 people summited. Also on July 21, there were seven other people who summited, taking the day’s total to 31.
The next day, American operator Madison Mountaineering said they had eight members, three guides, nine Nepali Sherpas and four Pakistani HAPs summit. Again, a client-to-guide ratio of more than 2:1.
The Japanese team summited the same day, but their joy was shattered when Kojiro Watanabe, 41, fell to his death in the bottleneck. This was the second death on K2 this year and the fifth in the Pakistan mountains for the summer of 2018. Mingma G Sherpa, who thought he had summited Broad Peak last year but later felt it was the fore-summit, returned this year to make sure he got the absolute top, and he said he did this time.
It was a good year for female K2 climbers with six women reaching the top, including Gangaamaa Badamgarav, who became the first Mongolian to summit K2 as well as the first female from her country. Other females summiting were the American Lisa Thompson, the Chinese Jianhong Li, the Japanese Naoko Watanabe, the Mexican Viridiana Chavez, the Swiss Sophie Lavaud and Yuki Inayoshi.
Sergi Mingote, not using supplemental oxygen, also summited Broad Peak this season, and then went on to get K2. Karakoram Tours Pakistan provided his logistics. Mingote is one of the rare individuals to summit both peaks with or even without Os in a single season. The last person to do it without Os was the late Boyan Petrov in 2014. Petrov died in 2018 on Shishapangma. At least five people summited K2 for a second time, including American guide Garrett Madison and Fazal Ali Shimshal, who made his third summit. Noel Hanna and Jason Black became the second and third Irish to summit.
Fredrik Sträng and David Roeske who both had summited Broad Peak moved over to their prime objective, K2. They waited until the big rush was over believing they had a few days of good weather before the next storm moved in. They reached Camp 3 and were hit with unexpected strong winds and snow thus ended their attempt – a bitter sweet ending to a dream. This was Fredrik’s third attempt on K2.
Adam Bielecki who was on K2 this past winter had targeted GII then GIV and GI but apparently didn’t get any of the due to weather and conditions. Dávid Kleinand Hungarian Szilárd Suhajdawere going for GII and GI but conditions stopped them.
With the excitement of setting a single season record with 62 summits, it was Polish climber-skier Andrzej Bargiel who caught the world’s attention for good reason. He ascended K2 via the Česen Route then skied from the summit taking a maze of routes: Abruzzi Rib, the Česen, the Messner variant and the Kukuczka-Piotrowski to Base Camp; it was the first direct ski from summit to base of K2 ever. He summited Sunday, July 22 at 11:30 am and reached the Base Camp at around 7:30 pm local time. His brother filmed the feat with a drone.
One of the more mysterious events that took place this year was the rescue of legendary British climber Rick Allen on Broad Peak. The short story is Rick left his teammates from a high camp on BP to do a solo attempt on a new route that involved climbing a steep ice wall. When he failed to return as expected his teammates assumed he had died and began to descend. Rick’s longtime partner Sandy Allan contacted Bartek Bargiel who was a using DJI Mavic Prodrone to film his brother’s K2 ski descent and asked if he could fly the drone over the area where Rick was thought to be climbing. He did and they sighted Rick.
They then called climbers Fredrik Sträng and David Roeske at Camp 3 and asked them to investigate the area to see if Rick was still there. They found Rick and, along with help from Summit Climb Sherpa, Tendi Sherpa, Rick returned to base camp mostly unhurt. Perhaps if Fredrick and David were not on BP, Rick would have been lost, so a good decision in the end! This video shows the moment the drone flown by Bartek Bargiel spotted Rick Allen on Broad Peak.
Climber Rescued on Latok I
A View From the Air
Finally, I want to leave you with this video that Bilal Munir Sheik sent me taken from Pakistani Air PK451 as it took a deviation to fly by K2 on July 17, 2018. Look for K2 starting at 5:00 into the clip and Gasherbrum at 7:10. Amazing footage and rarely seen.
Congratulations to all this season regardless of your result – you put yourself out there, gave it your best and for some, you will be back! Well done!
Alan Arnette is a speaker, mountaineer and Alzheimer’s Advocate. He has completed over 30 major expeditions including four Everest climbs with a summit in 2011. He completed his 7 Summits Climb for Alzheimer’s project to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s research. Find out more at www.alanarnette.com.
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