Monday, July 27, 2015

Summer Climbs 2015: Teams Pull the Plug on K2 Expeditions

It has been a busy and eventful week on the big mountains in Pakistan. When I last posted an update a number of teams were getting ready to make summit pushes on Broad Peak and K2 in anticipation of a weather window opening up this past weekend. Now, the situation has changed dramatically, with a number of major teams calling it quits for the season amidst potentially dangerous conditions on both mountains.

When last we checked in, the Swiss team of Mike Horn, Fred Roux, and Köbi Reichen were high on K2 and preparing to push towards the summit. The team had gone up to Camp 3 at 6800 meters (22,309 ft) and were expecting good weather. But as they climbed higher, the team ran into unstable conditions and deep snow, which convinced them to decide to turn around and return to Base Camp. At the moment, it is unclear whether or not they'll make another attempt, although there have been rumblings that the team is preparing to leave the mountain.

What is clear however is that the major commercial teams on K2 are calling it quits for the season. ExWeb is reporting that both Himex and Madison Mountaineering have decided that conditions are too unsafe to proceed up the mountain, and so both squads are preparing to head home. There are reports of deteriorating conditions, with rock falls, avalanches, and deep snow all making it difficult to climb up. Considering the reputation K2 has for being incredibly dangerous under the best of conditions, it seems wise to move on without endangering any more climbers.

To make matters worse for some teams, there was an avalanche a few days back in ABC that wiped out several camps there, and buried gear and supplies. Some of the teams have gone up to see if they can locate their equipment, while others have seen this as a sign to head home. That avalanche was another reminder just how unstable things are on the mountain this season, which could result in zero summits. Considering the level of success last year, the 2015 season is a stark reminder of why K2 is considered the most difficult mountain in the world to climb.


Over on Broad Peak, a smilier story is being told. A major summit push was launched late last week, with some teams hoping to reach the top this past weekend. Unfortunately, as they neared heights of 7800 meters (25,590 ft) the teams discovered extremely deep snow that made it impossible to continue climbing. The squads were forced to break trail at an excruciatingly slow pace, which ended up leaving them exhausted. Most turned back without ever getting close to the top.

There are some teams that preparing to go up in the next day or two, depending on weather. Amongst them is the Himex team, which is now on a deadline. Their porters are scheduled to arrive back in BC  on Friday of this week, which means that climbing operations must be wrapped up by then. Right now, the team gives itself a "50/50" chance of summiting, with weather conditions and the heavy snow on the slopes ultimately determine their fate.

Australian climber Chris Jensen Burke is taking a "wait and see" approach to continuing her climb on Broad Peak. She says that the difficult conditions there have turned back all summit pushes thus far, and that she is uncertain of whether or not her team will have an opportunity to go up. At the moment, the squad is waiting for an appropriate weather window and will assess the situation should one open up.

Curiously, Burke says that there has been a lack of cooperation and teamwork on BP this summer, which has led to general disorganization amongst the teams. As a result, it has been more difficult for anyone to launch a summit bid since there has been no organized approach to fixing ropes or planning for shared trail breaking efforts.

After reading all of these reports, the bottom line is that it isn't looking good for the K2 and Broad Peak expeditions this season. From the sounds of things, this isn't just about waiting for good weather, as conditions on the upper slopes of both mountains are incredibly treacherous right now. The summer season will rapidly come to an end in the next week or two, with little chance of anyone reaching the top after that. Patient teams are trying to give themselves the best opportunity they can, but it simply might not be in the cards for anyone to top out this year. Like those climbers, we'll have to be patient too, and hope for the best. At this point, lets hope everyone gets off the mountain safely.

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