Climbs 8K Peaks
K2: Not This Time Around
Hushe Valley, Pakistan
August 25, 1999
In 1996, 29 climbers summited K2. It looked like K2 was on par with Everest where a record 32 people have summited in one day. But since then, no one has summited K2. Meanwhile, over 84 climbers at last count (probably more) reached Mt. Everestís summit this spring season alone.
A young group of Koreans, lead by Hyeng Chil Lim, remained on K2's standard southeast Abruzzi Route until mid-August. A local cook, Apo Razak, informed me that the Koreans returned to Skardu today. They reached a high point near Camp III (7,200 meters), where they stashed tents and ropes. But when a storm pushed them down, they threw in the towel.
A Japanese expedition, lead by Takuo Fujiwara, reached the top of a prominent, steep snowfield at 7,500 meters to establish Camp IV. Above that is the treacherous and avalanche prone Y-Couloir leading to a snowy ledge (8,200 meters) which traverses the whole west face. The Japanese team hired premier Balti climber, Rozi Ali, to help them up the arduous couloir. But that help was not to be. Rozi fell in early July, breaking several ribs, and went home. (Rozi is a climbing legend in the Karakoram. Last year, he made a phenomenal 48-hour ascent of Nanga Parbatís eastern Diamar Face.)
The expeditionís assistant cook's tragic death in June, from High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE), also beset the expedition. The one American on this expedition, Samuel Neal, reached a high point of 7,300 meters, above Camp III.
The Focus International Expedition led by Italian Manuel Lugli reached Camp II (6,700 meters) on the southeast Abruzzi Ridge. Tragedy struck early for the team when Romanian Mihai Cioroiano was hit in the chest by a large stone on July 10th. He perished in the arms of American climber Jay Sieger an hour later. The expedition members, devastated by Cioroianoís death, abandoned their attempt. But Sieger vows to return and told Pakistanís Nation newspaper, "I will come back to K2. It will be for Mihai and my parents."
Although he did not summit, Hans Kammerlander was the star of this yearís dismal K2 climbing season, besieged by tempestuous weather and misfortune. He made a magnificent solo effort through waist deep snow to 8,400 meters, beneath K2's summit dome.
Perhaps the expedition that felt most successful about their endeavor on K2 this year was a National Geographic Society (NGS) film team lead by Dave Rasmussen. The film team did not climb, but spent two months in Base Camp filming a documentary, Base Camp. It will air on NGS Television channel in April, 2000.
No doubt, climbers will be back on the Baltoro next May and June en mass. They will, as hundreds before them, be drawn magnetically to K2's mystique and energy. But for now, K2 stands resolute above all, as it has for millions of years. Indifferent to man's dreams and quests, deep tectonic forces continue to push K2 up, millimeter by millimeter, into the cerulean Karakoram sky above. In its solitude, K2 reigns supreme.
Greg Mortenson, MountainZone.com Correspondent