Mike Horne, the Swiss/Sth African superman and his equally talented team left BC yesterday morning and climbed to C3 uninterrupted. This 6-man team is the strongest climbers I have ever encountered. I have briefly run into Uli Stech on the slopes of Everest, but these guys take all prizes.
On our first foray up K2 to C1 all those weeks ago, Mike and his team came careering down the mountain, virtually free-falling through the waist deep snow and not clipped into any of the safety ropes – they had declined to wear harnesses!
Upon arrival at C3 the “superteam” intended to sleep the night, and upon awakening this am, continue to climb to Camp4, a “camp” or point on the mountain so far unreached by any team hunkered down here at BC.
I woke at 5:45, grabbed my comms gear and grabbed my normal seat in the mess tent before expectantly training the team telescope on C3 and Mike’s team. It was immediately clear that they were breaking camp and collapsing their tents. The power of the telescope allowed me to see them quite clearly, stuffing their packs and gradually preparing to move out.
Suddenly one of the group broke free, but instead of continuing as expected higher, to my absolute horror he started to descend. Over the course of the following 45 minutes individual members of the team broke away and before long all 6 had started to descend.
The telescope allowed me the opportunity to examine the snow above their camp for new tracks; evidence that perhaps they had ventured higher but turned back – but there were none. The only tracks were the old footprints left by our young Sherpa team left when setting the high point of the ropes some 10 days ago.
Something significant had altered their bold plans – they had not only planned to try and summit in what we understand from our weather reports to be an “eye of a needle” weather window, but had also planned to summit without the use of supplementary oxygen – a challenging combination to say the very least. As I write the superteam are still descending in the full glare of the scorching sun and owing to the teams disdain of two-way radios we do not yet have a clear indication of why their plans have reversed.
My perspective is somewhat simple. The main problem with K2 this year is the weather. I suppose one could say every season is dominated by the weather as the mountain is static, but this year seems exceptional. The warmth at BC and lack of any wind has forced the “freezing layer” up to circa 6000m. The already deep snow above C3 is not bedding down but remaining sugary and making the breaking of a trail that remains in place very difficult. We actually need the temperature to drop, freeze the day-warmed snow of nighttime and embed a relatively easy route. The snow may still be deep, but the lower temperature allows for a workable crust to form. Right now its sugar snow and frankly exhausting at sea level, let alone at 7000m+.
I remains to be confirmed when Mike and his team arrive back at BC, but I suspect they decided the snow to be impassable, especially without supplemental oxygen and called time. We shall see, but if that is the case I have just witnessed the strongest of the strong give up – not a sight to fill me, a much weaker climber, with much confidence.
There is also a collection of climbers from other teams currently struggling up Broad Peak. A Spanish pair left at 1am for the summit and now seem to be floundering in deep snow hours from their goal and baking in the sun – most feel they either C4 way too late or either don’t have the strength to move fast enough to make the summit in good time. We shall watch with interest, especially in the context of the predicted violent weather change.
In the midst of this coming and going, we held our daily weather briefing this am. Russ showed us a plethora of charts from various respected agencies all agreeing that the next couple of days will mark a change, but not a change for the better. We are expecting a violent pressure change, thunderstorm style, which suggests reasonable precipitation. As I have explained the freezing layer is currently so high, this probably means rain at BC and snow at the higher reaches. The only good that can come from this is that somehow the ambient temperature drops.
The outlook beyond the 25/27th thunderstorm is elevated wind, with the days from the 27th onwards predicted to be 50/60kmph – not especially difficult, but if the snow is heavy, producing significant avalanche conditions. Our only hope is to see this weather bomb though and pray to any and all Gods that there is brighter weather thereafter. The clock is ticking and winding down on us, whether we like it or not.
Vanessa and Ethan, my son, arrived home from Cornwall yesterday and to my intense relief this morning, I managed to have a 30-minute chat. For the first time in while I managed to explain the overall situation, hear her voice and benefit from the reassurance she unwittingly gives me. It must be strange for her to realize that despite my outward confident persona, I am more reliant upon her to remain upright than I am my spine.
The endless hours of isolation and solitude sit well with some people, but not with me. Despite having, compared to some [at least relatively] stacks to do, I agonize and squirm in pain throughout every day – the sense of “loss” of family growing exponentially. I look around and see others much less occupied and apparently unconcerned. I simply do not know how they do it – I am mystified.
The advantage, if there is one, of such loneliness is introspection. One is inevitably forced to look inwards and self-examine. Emotions one has perhaps shelved because of lack of attention or time, simply bubble unhindered to the surface and dominate your existence. It is as if because they have been ignored or parked “conveniently’, they determine to exact a brutal revenge. I have been ravaged by the pain and guilt of how I have lost sight of what is most important in my life to the point that I have been rendered almost crippled.
My daughter Hannah who I am ashamed to say I have not spoken to for 3+years, recently said that when I go on expedition I suffer a “spiritual awakening”. Her question was whether the “expedition me” is the “real me” or a temporary phenomenon that is shed like snakes skin once home and I am once again immersed in self-importance.
From my own frank perspective, sitting where I do now, feeling increasingly stripped bare, I know the “real me “is here and now. This miserable image crushing experience removes the trappings of self-importance and opens the theatre curtains to what is important and also what you have grievously neglected. There is no escape. I have neglected my sons Oliver and Seth and especially my daughter Hannah in too many ways to mention and know I must make emends – if they will let me. I am sorry.
Irrespective of whether this mighty lump of rock allows me to climb it, my true battle is always with myself at BC. The true altitude sickness – introspection and self examination, weigh on me more than any pack, more than any extraordinary Sherpa load, for I have a lot to answer for – a reckoning that has now come due.
Perhaps the planets will align, perhaps the weather will smile upon us and perhaps I will stand on top of another giant rock. Good will have been done irrespective of my success or failure – many have contributed to my cause and the Nspcc, and for that I am grateful. However, the brutal, hostile and revealing nature of this cursed place will I hope serve an equally important purpose – to strip me of my arrogance and self importance and allow me to regain the love of those within my family who frankly deserve so much better.
Nothing that happened in my childhood, or luggage I may have carried since I was 10 years old justifies such behavior. If nothing else, this brutal expedition will help me, for once and for all, rid myself of this legacy and allow me to be the Father my children so deserve.
I wont let it be any other way – I just need a chance.