First International Winter Expedition to K2 – part 2.

A WINTER EXPEDITION TO K2
By Andrzej Zawada
All photos copyright Andrzej Zawada
[Translated by Ingeborg Duubrawn-Cochlin]

The Cathedral

At Base Camp and the Ridge

During our trek to Base Camp, the weather was splendid, just as the calm sunny days of our winter reconnaissance five years earlier. In Urdukas, we met Pawel Kubalski who had spent three months in this exceptionally gloomy place where during winter there are only a few hours of sunshine. There we also had to say good-bye to Jaques Olek whose responsibility now was to supervise the traffic of porters between Urdukas and Base Camp.

The main body of the caravan spent Christmas Eve on Concordia from where it reached Base Camp on Christmas Day. It was also the last day of the fine weather we had been having. From December 27th we started to experience the reality of winter conditions. At first, there was little snow but it increased continuously so that it soon became necessary to dig tunnels to reach our tents buried unde the snow.

The frosty winds blowing from Concordia in the south caused many problems for us in the Base Camp. Meanwhile, on the top of K2, winds were blowing from the North and Northwest.

No sooner had we established Base Camp than it became obvious that Mike Woolridge was suffering from appendicitis. It required a very speedy helicopter operation on 31st December in appalling weather conditions to fly him out and save his life. We were all very sorry about Mike’s misfortune. He was a very pleasant and likeable companion who had put so much effort in preparing for the expedition. The British contingent was now reduced to two- Jon Tinker and Roger Mear – since John Barry had withdrawn from the expedition as early as the beginning of the caravan trek. I was informedthat he just turned back one day without saying a word and went down. He has not explained his strange behavior to this day.

We started towards Abruzzi Ridge on 27 December by establishing an Advance Base Camp. Our progress was interrupted by persistent spells of appalling weather. Thick clouds and heavy snow accompanied hurricanes. During our winter climb of Everest, the winds had been blowing constantly but at least there had been blue sky above and this had made a tremendous difference to us.

Altogether during our three months stay at Base Camp (eighty days) we counted only ten days of good weather. On the exposed Ridge on K2, the hurricanes completely paralyzed our movement. In one month, we could manage only one camp.

The route on the Abruzzi Ridge is so cluttered with ropes that climbing is reduced to a monotonous use of jumars. Just one day of good weather and we could make considerable progress. With such a strong climbing team, first-class equipment and plenty of oxygen, all we needed was one week of fine weather in one uninterrupted stretch.

Good weather could come at any time, even in the last days before the permit expired as happened to us on Kunyang Chhish and on our Polish winter expedition to Everest . But this time it was not to be.

One of themost interesting events at the Base Camp was the visit for a few days by a party of Pakistani Officers who were very interested in our experience of winter conditions and our methods of coping and protecting ourselves from the extreme cold and sickness . They were collecting this information in order to help their own army.

Berbeka, Pawlikowski, Wielicki and Tinker established camp at 6,1000m on 5th January 1988. Cichy and Wiclicki then managed to set up Camp 2 above the House’s Chimney at 6,700m. But as it turned out, it only lasted one night since the tent held down by oxygen bottles and rope was demolished by the hurricane force winds. Fortunately, Berbeka, Bergeron and Pawlikowski were in possession of another tent, which incidentally took them one hour and a half to set it up properly. The three of them then had to return to Base Camp, suffering as they were, from frostbite.

More depressing weeks followed without any progress on the Ridge, although from time to time the teams attempted, at tremendous sacrifice to themselves, to climb in the hope that the weather would stay fine for at least a few days.

Once again Wieklicki and Cichy showed their outstanding class when, on 2nd March after conquering the Black Pyramid, established a temporary Camp 3 at 7,300m. Mear and Gagnon reached Camp 3 on 6th March. They spent a desperate night there and the following day in a raging hurricane, frostbitten and totally exhausted, they managed to re-treat to Camp 2 where Kubalski and Pawlikowski were waiting for them.

We failed to achieve our objective on K2. We do not blame ourselves because we did everything that was humanly possible in those inhospitable conditions. We were simply powerless in the face of such dangerous, formidable and life threatening elements which people have to confront in the highest mountains.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: