Thursday, June 12, 2014

Pakistan 2014: A New Climbing Season Set to Begin

The spring climbing season in the Himalaya has only been over for a couple of weeks, and already it is time to start looking ahead to the summer climbing season in Pakistan. Teams are now preparing for major expeditions in the Karakoram and western Himalaya, and within days they will begin to arrive in Islamabad, and begin to make their way out to their respective mountains. But as ExWeb reports in their pre-season update, the shadow of last year looms large over the season ahead, as climbers question the security of traveling in the Pakistani mountains.

Last year was a particularly deadly year for climbers in Pakistan, in no small part because of a terrorist attack in Base Camp on Nanga Parbat that left 11 dead, and caused the cancellation of all attempts from the Diamir Face. This tragic incident has clearly left a mark on the mountaineering community, as ExWeb says that the number of climbing permits issued for the season ahead are just half what they were last year. While Pakistan doesn't rely on mountaineering as a revenue source in the same way that Nepal does, it is still a significant loss of funds.

But, there is much to celebrate this season as well. 2014 marks the 60th anniversary of the first ascent of K2, and as the season progresses, there will be a number of teams commemorating that historic climb, including a joint Italian and Pakistani team. K2 remains the most difficult challenge in all of mountaineering six decades after Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni first reached the summit. It is the "Mountaineer's Mountain," and even in the 21st century it is a harsh, unrelenting and unforgiving climb with severe technical challenges, notoriously poor weather, and a significant risk of avalanches.

Of course, as I've mentioned before, we're likely to get the best coverage of K2 ever thanks to Alan Arnette's attempt on the mountain. He'll leave for Pakistan in a matter of days, and will provide readers with his usual excellent updates from his expedition I'm sure. Aussie climber Chris Jensen Burke will also be on K2, as she continues her pursuit of the 8000 meter peaks. She is fresh off a successful climb of Makalu a few weeks back, and will soon be headed to the Karakoram as well, where she'll acclimatize on Broad Peak before heading to her ultimate goal. With security concerns in mind however, she has already indicated that her updates may be delayed some as to not give away her exact location, something that she did last year on Gasherbrum I and II as well.

Those security concerns are being felt on Nanga Parbat more than anywhere else. ExWeb reports that there are no teams currently scheduled to attempt that mountain this year due to the brutal slayings there last season. The Pakistani government has assured climbers that the region is safe, and that they will provide armed escorts, but it seems that the killings are just still too fresh in the minds of climbers for anyone to risk it just yet.

Other peaks that will be seeing plenty of attention include Broad Peak and the Gasherbrums. GI and GII will have fewer teams on the mountain this year, but the lesser summits in the Gasherbrum Massif will have several teams looking to make summit. Additionally, ExWeb reports that David Lama, Peter Ortner and Hansjorg Auer will warm up on BP, before they attempt to climb the Northeast Face of Masherbrum, a remote and difficult peak that stands 7821 meters (25,659 ft) in height. It says something about the difficulty of a mountain when you acclimatize on an 8000-meter peak to prepare for it.

Th summer season tends to be a bit more difficult to get reliable updates on, in part because there are fewer people climbing. That said, I will be monitoring these expeditions closely, and reporting on their progress in the weeks ahead. For now, most are just preparing to travel to Pakistan, and once there, it usually takes a few days before they start the journey out to the mountains. Often it can take a couple of weeks just for them to get to Base Camp, depending on weather conditions, security issues, and availability of transportation. Soon the new season will begin though, and there should be some great stories to report.

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