As the reality of Mike Horn’s departure was sinking into our collective consciousness a Sherpa from Garrett Madison’s team was venturing up the Abruzzi route. As he neared C1 a huge rock plummeted down, just missed his head and sadly pulverized his left arm, breaking it in 2/3 places and also dislocating the shoulder in a forward direction.
If the mess tent was not already somber, the news of yet another rock-strike and yet more broken bones further lowered the mood. The day had been dominated by a string of rock strike injuries, the background roar of large and small avalanches and lastly the news that Seven Summits group had lost a ton of equipment that had been stored at their Abruzzi Crampon point when struck by a huge avalanche.
This last piece of news was disconcerting in its own right, as it brought home to many [as if they needed it] that even crampon point was dangerously vulnerable. Apparently the team had worked feverishly to recover, boots, crampons, harnesses and helmets from the snow, but I understand to no avail – quite what the owners will do now without this equipment is anyone’s guess and few if any people carry spares.
Medically qualified members of our team raced up the moraine to help the badly injured Sherpa, further depleting the Himex drugs, which to this point had been distributed freely to many ill and injured. As graphic reports of his trauma were received in camp, one could sense something had changed.
I had a few quiet words with Russ and it soon became apparent that he was semi resigned to relinquishing any hold we had on K2. He was rightly of the opinion that the threat, not just at higher levels, but now owing to the thaw, the lower levels too, was becoming way too great to order his staff into harms way. The climbers had earlier sat in semi-stunned silence listening to Mike Horn declare bluntly that despite this being his 4th attempt and having spent 18 months of his life at K2 BC trying to succeed, he was adamant that K2 could not be climbed this year. Coming from just anyone, this revelation could have been taken with a pinch of salt – but coming from such a strong group of climbers [the likes of which I have never previously seen] it struck home like a missile. No one in the Himex team could hold a candle to their strength in sugar snow and one could sense this fact pass through all minds.
It was clear that things were coming to a head and Russ gave the collective the night ponder their reality.
Dawn broke unexpectedly clear and beautiful – not what the forecast predicted which irked certain members who felt cheated of their current shot at Broad Peak. The forecast and all the accompanying charts had been clear as day – the weather today was due to be awful, but it appears their calculations and models had misjudged things by 24 hours.
In the context of this tense atmosphere, Russ took the bull by the horns and called a meeting, the point of which was to both canvas the climbers’ mood and intentions and also make his own opinion known. It soon became clear that no one could fault Russ’s thought process and logic as it pertained to K2. It was exceptionally dangerous and with the forthcoming dire weather, likely to get a whole lot worse. He was reluctant to send the Sherpas into harms way, to the extent that retrieving a substantial and expensive quantity of equipment was not really an option unless the weather improved – this would however, be the only [potential] future K2 foray if circumstances allowed.
The remainder of the meeting was dedicated to the assessment of Broad Peak and the potential retasking of people and resources to make this summit a reality after the expected bought of foul weather. It was “agreed” that in the time left available to the expedition, taking into account that Porters would take 5/6 days to arrive once requested, and that the walkout would take another 3-5 days, that subject to weather, Broad Peak would be the collective aim.
Once K2 had been effectively “closed” [a decision I happen to agree with] I determined to exit, as Broad Peak has no interest to me whatsoever. My focus had been K2 and will always be K2.
Our Pakistani liaison officer suddenly pulled me aside and suggested that, as K2 was now off limits to me that I use the imminent Sherpa helicopter medical evacuation to leave BC. There was nothing left for me to be gained from sitting through a week’s foul weather – nothing was going to change for me. I gratefully accepted the advice and in 45 minutes had packed my essentials, leaving the majority of my legion kit to be freighted back to the UK.
With Discovery cameras whirring, I said my goodbyes and bolted to the Helipad, where I joined the badly injured Sherpa and team. In minutes I could hear the clatter of the two Army helicopters entering the valley. The first swooped in confidently and lightly touched down on the carefully prepared rock surface. In moments the Sherpa was gently hustled aboard and the dark green bird was airborne.
The second swooped in, tottered in the air for a moment before plonking down. I was ushered forward, threw my bags in to the back seat and hauled myself aboard. The pilots, both wearing oxygen masks to void the altitude, turned and smiled – the rotors spun up, I waved and suddenly K2BC was gone.
I sat in stunned silence amidst the roar of the jet engines. How had all the work, training, effort, expense and emotional drain come to this – nothing to show? I feel hollowed out having worked so damn hard to make this a reality. We have been undone by warm conditions – the irony screams – I want to scream. K2 was rendered lethal and impassable by good weather!
I cannot find the words to express how I feel right now.
However, Russ’s decision is sound – I cannot fault it. Mistakes in my job cost no one their lives – Russ doesn’t have my luxury.