Friday, July 27, 2018

Karakoram Summer 2018: A Record-Setting Season on K2

While I was away at the Outdoor Retailer Summer 2018 event in Denver, Colorado a lot went down in the Karakoram mountains of Pakistan. So much so in fact that I couldn't simply let the season slip by without mentioning the milestones achieved there, particularly on K2, where it has been a record setting setting year indeed.

Last weekend a clear weather window opened on the world's second tallest mountain, allowing teams to launch their attempts after a long and often-difficult season. Throughout the summer there has been heavy snowfall, high winds, and increased chances of avalanche higher up the slopes. But, the teams on K2 remained patient, waited for the weather to improve, and stuck to their acclimatization schedule. That patience eventually paid off when a large wave of climbers reached the top last Saturday, followed by another large wave on Sunday.

How large you ask? According to Alan Arnette, more than 60 climbers successfully scaled K2 this season, breaking the record of 51 that was set back in 2004, which predates even the start of this blog.  Alan points out that for every climber there were roughly two support Sherpas, with successful climbs made by individuals from Mongolia, China, Japan, Belgium, Switzerland, Mexico and Ireland. Of those climbers, five were women, including Gangaamaa Badamgarav, who is the first Mongolian to make the ascent.

The Seven Summits Treks and Madison Mountaineering Teams were the most successful squads on the mountain this year, with the bulk of the climbers coming from those two units. Other teams arrived in Base Camp this week, but it now looks like the weather window has closed and the end of the season may be in sight. It is not unusual to have K2 summits take place in August however, so there is still a chance that there could be some more successful summits before things are done.


One of the more interesting expeditions that we've been following this season is that of Andrzej Bargiel. Last year, Bargiel came to K2 to attempt a full ski descent of the mountain but gave up on those ambitions when he realized the dangers of avalanches were too high. This year, he returned to the mountain to pursue his dream of becoming the first person to ski the "Savage Mountain," and last Sunday he did just that. Reportedly, the Polish climber strung together four different routes to reach the summit, and then made the first full ski descent of the mountain shortly there after. He can add K2 to his list of 8000-meter peaks that he has skied, which also includes Broad Peak, Manaslu, and Shishapangma.

The Japanese team led by Akira Oyabe was the first to reach K2 this year and they found success on the mountain too. The group put eight climbers on top of the peak, but sadly also lost one of its members. 41-year old Kojiro Watanabe summited the mountain with his teammates, but sadly he fell on the descent while making his way down a section of the climb known as the Bottleneck. He was the second death on K2 this year, and of course our condolences go out to friends and family.

As mentioned, the weather window closed on K2 earlier in the week and future plans for more summits this season remain nebulous. Fredrik Sträng –– who summited Broad Peak a week and a half back –– has posted the news that he is headed home after his third attempt on the mountain. Snowstorms prevented his team from reaching anything higher than 7000 meters (22,965 ft) and he says that the monsoon has arrived early in Pakistan this year. Whether or not that means we'll still see a few more stragglers give it a go remains to be seen, but it looks like things could be over.

Congratulations to all of the climbers for such a successful season. This will be one to remember on K2 indeed.

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