Summer 2018: K2 and the Karakorum.

K2 Photo: M. Chmielarski

Akira Oyabe’s North Japan K2 Expedition opened the Karakorum season earlier this month when they started fixing ropes for their attempt on K2. ExWeb takes a broad look at all the teams currently in the Karakorum, and what to expect this year.

K2. Photo: KhRizwani

The Savage Mountain
Although the second highest peak in the world, K2 (8,611m) sees only a fraction of the climbing traffic of Everest. Of course, “second-highest” does not bestow the same prestige to peak baggers wishing to brag about their conquest, but this is only a corner of the picture. In reality, K2 is different from Everest in every respect; in particular, its technical challenge and squirrelly weather.

The 130km trek to the starting point of K2 is double that to Everest Base Camp. But where the hike up the Khumbu is undulating, and dotted with villages, tea houses and helipads, the trail to K2 is deserted and a sharp ascent from the start. Yes, Mount Everest is taller, but K2 is much harder. It is steeper and relentless, with higher risks of rockfall and avalanche.

K2 has more unpredictable weather than Everest: Its imposing solitary stature generates a notoriously unstable microclimate, with temperatures at the summit plummeting as low as -50°C.

All of this contributes to K2’s daunting 20 percent fatality rate, far exceeding Everest’s three percent. High winds and avalanche conditions frequently lead to seasons with no summits: In the nine years from 2009 to 2017, climbers have failed to summit in five of them. Last year, Vanessa O’Brien led the only successful party.

However, more difficulty means a more coveted prize in mountaineering. Increasingly, the alpine world’s attention is turning towards K2, as Mount Everest becomes associated with commercialism and comfort.

The Karakorum
In addition to K2, the Karakorum contains another three of the 14 eight-thousanders: Gasherbrum I (8,080m), Gasherbrum II (8,035m) and Broad Peak (8,047m).  Countless other 6,000 to 7,000m peaks tempt the committed alpinist. The majority of climbing in the Himalaya happens in the short May window before the monsoon brings bad weather for the entire summer. Lying far northwest of the Himalaya, the Karakorum often – though not always – escapes the monsoon, and July–August is the best time to climb.

This year, teams have permits for K2, Gasherbrum I-IV, Nanga Parbat, Broad Peak, Spantic Peak and Urdo Kangri II.

Gasherbrum II. Photo: Scarpa/Cory Richards

Teams
K2
K2 will see the most traffic in the Karakorum, with 44 climbers that we know of. Team leaders on K2 include Akira Oyabe (Japan), Dan Mazur (USA), Sergio Mingote (Spain), Serge Dessureault (Canada), Rodrigo Vial (Chile), Roland Striemitzer (Austria), Garrett Madison (USA) and Hiroshi Kawasaki (Japan). Many of these teams also have permits for Broad Peak, which is often used as an acclimatization climb. Of note, Madison’s group  includes the top Hungarian climber David Klein.

If simply summiting the Savage Mountain is not enough, Polish skier Andrzej Bargiel returns this year for his second attempt at becoming the first to complete a ski descent of K2.

Garrett Madison, leader of one of the US teams. Photo: Karrar Haidri

K7
At the head of the Charakusa Valley, K7 (6,934m) was ascended first by a Japanese team in 1984 and second by Steve House, who soloed a new route 20 years later. This summer, the ace German climbers Alex Huber and Fabian Buhl, who made the first free ascent of ‘Sueños de Invierno’ in Spain in 2016, have turned their formidable talents to K7. The combination of such an iconic mountain and such strong climbers piques curiosity about their exact plans. Raphael Slawinski, one of Canada’s leading alpinists, is also heading to Dansam (6,666m) and K7 with Alik Berg. Will 2018 be the year a new route is opened on K7?

K7 West. Photo: Archives of the expedition Charakusa 2011

Nanga Parbat
Testament to its technical difficulty, Nanga Parbat (8,126m) was first climbed in winter only in 2016, by Simone Moro, Ali Sadpara and Alex Txikon. This January, Nanga Parbat, or “Naked Mountain” in Urdu, shot into the news when Pole Tomasz Mackiewicz and Frenchwoman Elisabeth Revol bagged the second winter ascent but suffered snow blindness and altitude sickness during the way down. A rescue team of Polish climbers — flown in by the Pakistani army from their own attempt to make the first winter climb of K2 — managed to save Revol, but Mackiewicz perished.Since early this month, South African adventurer Mike Horn has been on the Diamir Face, making slow progress because of bad weather. Horn’s high-altitude CV already includes six of the 14 eight-thousanders.

Also on Nanga Parbat, the adventure company Lela has organized a strong team of six, led by Peruvian Richard Leopoldo Hidalgo Jara and including veteran Turk Tunc Findik and Alex Gavan, the Romanian mountaineer who specializes in climbing without O2.

Pavel Korinek returns to Nanga Parbat to lead an all-Czech team of nine to climb the Diamir Face.

Climbing Mummery Rib, Nanga Parbat. Photo: Daniele Nardi

G-IV
Sometimes called the “beautiful mountain”, Gasherbrum IV (7925m) has no easy routes. The legendary West Face, the “Shining Wall”, is recognized as one of the most beautiful and challenging in the world. Despite expeditions throughout the 80s, 90s, and more sporadically this millennium, there remain no established routes on the South or East Faces. At least four teams are on G-IV this summer. Maria Valdimirovna is leading another Lela expedition, which also has permits for G-I and G-II. Valerio Stella heads an all-Italian team of four. Finally, a three-man team of German Climber Felix Berg and Poles Adam Bielecki and Jacek Czech will first acclimatize on G-II, then head to G-IV to open a route on the eastern wall. So Karakorum 2018 may see more than one pioneering route laid down.

Gasherbrum IV

G-IV on a “clear-sky-storm-day”. Photo: SummitPost

Latok I
First climbed by the Japanese in 1979, Latok I (7,145m) is notable for its extreme technical difficulty. This year, it has already seen turmoil, as a team of South Korean climbers required rescue from the North Face. There are also two three-man Russian teams on Latok I, led by Konstantin Markevich and 2015 Piolet D’Or winner Aleksandr Gukov. Last but not least, Ales Cesen leads a three-man Slovenian team. Cesen climbed the Northwest Ridge of Gasherbrum IV to reach the North Summit in 2016.

Latok I, North Ridge. Photo: American Alpine Club

Links :

Exclusive Pt. 1: K2 2017 Interview with Vanessa O’Brien

Exclusive Pt. 2: K2 2017 Interview with Vanessa O’Brien

Exclusive Pt. 3: K2 2017 Interview with Vanessa O’Brien

Nanga Parbat happy and unhappy end

Elisabeth Revol Describes Nanga Parbat Rescue

The end of the rescue operation at Nanga Parbat

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* source: – https://explorersweb.com/

** see also: – Spring 2018 Himalayan Recap.

– 15 days Nepal Everest Base Camp Trekking .

– Overview of Trekking Routes in Nepal.  Expedition in Nepal with Nepal Trekking Routes (Ama Dablam, Annapurna, Makalu, Manaslu, Pumori)

– Nepal Celebrates 65th Anniversary of First Ascent of Mt. Everest.

– Today is 65th Anniversary of Everest’s First Ascent.

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Andrzej Bargiel Aims to Ski K2.

Andrzej Bargiel shredding up the slopes in La Grave, France.
Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

Polish ski mountaineer Andrzej Bargiel is again heading to the Karakorum to try to become the first person to complete a ski descent of K2.

Ski-mountaineers have tried to descend K2 in the past, sometimes with fatal consequences. Italian Hans Kammerlander had planned an attempt in 2001, only to turn around 400 meters from the summit after watching a Korean climber fall past him to his death. Nearly a decade later, in 2010, Swedish ski-mountaineer Fredrik Ericsson died after a fall near the infamous bottleneck section. Kammerlander has said that “somebody will do it, but he’ll need a lot of ability and a whole lot of luck”.

Andrzej Bargiel climing in La Grave, France.
Photo: Red Bull Content Pool

This is Bargiel’s second attempt. Last season he abandoned due to high avalanche and rockfall risks. The video below shows some teaser footage from the build-up to the 2017 expedition.

Bargiel is a seasoned extreme athlete who has previously skied Shisapangma and Broad Peak. This year, before attempting K2, he intends to acclimatize by climbing and skiing down Gasherbrum II, the lowest and most accessible of the 8000m peaks in the Karakorum.

16/06/2018, Bargiel landed in Skardu, the last stop in Pakistan before the Karakorum.

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* source: – https://explorersweb.com/

** see also: – Spring 2018 Himalayan Recap.

– 15 days Nepal Everest Base Camp Trekking .

– Overview of Trekking Routes in Nepal.  Expedition in Nepal with Nepal Trekking Routes (Ama Dablam, Annapurna, Makalu, Manaslu, Pumori)

– Nepal Celebrates 65th Anniversary of First Ascent of Mt. Everest.

– Today is 65th Anniversary of Everest’s First Ascent.

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Mike Horn to climb Nanga Parbat.

Photo: Mike Horn

In a break from his ongoing Pole2Pole project, in which Mike Horn is trying to circumnavigate the earth via the polar regions, the South African adventurer has set out to climb Nanga Parbat, the ninth highest mountain in the world. Horn arrived at Base Camp on June 6 and is planning to climb the Diamir face. Success on Nanga Parbat would mark Horn’s sixth 8,000m peak.

Mike Horn’s lengthy list of achievements include his 2006 expedition to the North Pole in winter with Borge Ousland; a solo 6,500km traverse of the Amazon; and a full circumnavigation of the globe via the equator in 2001, by sailing, canoeing and walking. As part of his Pole2Pole journey, he has already traversed Antarctica solo and sailed the Southern Ocean.

Horn has arrived in Pakistan with his two daughters after an overland trip through southeast Asia. Photo: Mike Horn

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* source: – https://explorersweb.com/

** see also: – Spring 2018 Himalayan Recap.

– 15 days Nepal Everest Base Camp Trekking .

– Overview of Trekking Routes in Nepal.  Expedition in Nepal with Nepal Trekking Routes (Ama Dablam, Annapurna, Makalu, Manaslu, Pumori)

– Nepal Celebrates 65th Anniversary of First Ascent of Mt. Everest.

– Today is 65th Anniversary of Everest’s First Ascent.

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Hansjörg Auer to solo Lupghar Sar West.

Austrian mountaineer Hansjörg Auer has just departed for 7,181m Lupghar Sar West in Pakistan’s Karakorum.

Hansjörg Auer on the southeast ridge of Annapurna III in Nepal, 2016. Photo: Alexander Blümel / Red Bull

Tempered by a number of hard solo climbs in Europe, Auer is now translating these abilities to the great ranges. He will continue his tradition of solo climbing. His only companions will be a cook and a few porters on the lower slopes.

Auer has previously summited the 7,000-er Kunyang Chhish East, also in the Karakorum, with his brother in 2013. This expedition sparked his interest in returning to the region. A German team first climbed Lupghar Sar in 1979, but Auer says that there has been no recorded activity on the mountain since 2000. He intends to climb the peak’s west face.

Hansjörg Auer during a break on the way to Masherbrum in Pakistan, 2014. Photo: Manuel Ferrigato

Auer told ExWeb that his original intention was to climb a different mountain in the region, Khurdopin Sar, but that his climbing partner for that attempt fell ill. Speaking to PlanetMountain, Auer gave a fascinating insight into the mindset required for solo climbing in the highest mountains on earth:

There is a big difference between setting off alone from home and soloing a mountain, to going on an expedition with others and then soloing … because a partner is unwell, or whatever. Sometimes 80% of the time during an expedition you’re not actually climbing. When you have a team of friends with you, it’s easier to deal with that time off … But now I won’t be able to count on my friends … This lends the project a very special taste. If I’m honest… this is a taste I’m always looking for somehow.

Auer built his reputation by his impressive solo climb of the south face of the Marmolada in the Italian Dolomites, his first ascents in Patagonia, and his 2013 first ascent of Kunyag Chhish East (7,400 m), which was considered one of the last great problems of the Karakorum.

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* source: – https://explorersweb.com/

** see also: – Spring 2018 Himalayan Recap.

– 15 days Nepal Everest Base Camp Trekking .

– Overview of Trekking Routes in Nepal.  Expedition in Nepal with Nepal Trekking Routes (Ama Dablam, Annapurna, Makalu, Manaslu, Pumori)

– Nepal Celebrates 65th Anniversary of First Ascent of Mt. Everest.

– Today is 65th Anniversary of Everest’s First Ascent.

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Spring 2018 Himalayan Recap.

A sea of clouds as seen from Dhaulagiri. Photo: Carlos Soria

The Spring 2018 Himalaya season has come to a close, and it has been one of the busiest ever. Here are the storylines that have defined the season: the conditions, the successes, and the tragedies.

Weather

A sea of clouds as seen from Dhaulagiri. Photo: Carlos Soria

Spring is the best time of year to climb in the Himalaya, but this does not guarantee safety from avalanches, crevasses, rapid temperature drops, and high winds.

This year, Everest and Lhotse were blessed with unusually stable weather. The jet stream, a band of very strong winds from 9-16km above sea level, hit the Himalaya on May 7. Everest expeditions were forced to wait at lower elevations, and the Icefall Doctors had to wait until May 10 to continue fixing ropes to the summit. Nevertheless, by May 14 they had completed the set lines on both the Nepalese and Tibetan sides of the mountain. From May 13 till May 24, the weather on Everest remainedrelatively calm, leading to a highly unusual 11 straight summit days, and likely a new record for Everest summits in one season.

Teams elsewhere in the Himalaya were not so lucky. Expeditions on Dhaulagiri reported consistent snowfall around Base Camp and Camp 1, hampering progress and leading to a long wait for conditions to improve. Of the 26 climbers hoping to summit Dhaulagiri, not one succeeded. The most promising weather was predicted to begin on May 18, and a number of teams stationed themselves at Camp 3 for a summit push. However, strong winds battered the upper reaches of the mountain, forcing teams at Camp 3 to share tents and eventually turning everyone back.

Kanchenjunga had not been scaled in three years, and while this year saw a sprinkling of successes, bad weather made the climb exceptionally difficult. The first summit pushes on Kanchenjunga began on May 15, with a handful of summits by those with supplemental oxygen on May 16. Those climbing without oxygen were halted by bitter cold and deep snow.

Major Expeditions

At the start of April, we looked at 7 key expeditions.

Carlos Soria

Photo: Carlos Soria

Carlos Soria returned to Dhaulagiri, a mountain that has proven his most consistent foil. Over the years, he had attempted to scale the peak eight times, without success.

On April 22, the eternally fit 79-year-old began his ninth attempt. Soria spent weeks waiting at base camp for conditions to settle. Finally, favourable weather was forecast for May 17-18. But as in 2017, when he had to retreat just 100m from the summit, the mountain did not cooperate with Soria’s plans. Strong winds and abruptly deteriorating weather halted his team at Camp 3 and forced them to descend to base camp to minimize exposure.

Colibasanu / Hamor & Tenji Sherpa

Sherpa Tenji on the Khumbu icefall. Photo: Jon Griffith

Two teams aimed for an Everest-Lhotse traverse. Romanian Horia Colibasanu and Slovak Peter Hamor tried to open an ambitious new traverse via the West Ridge, without bottled oxygen. Tenji Sherpa planned to go via the South Col, in memory of his late climbing partner, Ueli Steck.

Both traverses were ultimately unsuccessful. Tenji managed to summit Everest via the South Col route, but he elected not to attempt the traverse to Lhotse. Colibasanu and Hamor had to abandon their expedition on Everest because of deep snow  along a couloir leading to the West Ridge.

Leow Kah Shin and Guy Cotter

Kah Shin climbing the Hillary Step on Everest. Photo: Adventure Consultants

In an attempt to to bag Lhotse, Everest and Nuptse in a single season, Singaporean hedge-fund manager and ultra-marathon runner Leow Kah Shin hired a private team from Adventure Consultants, led by Guy Cotter. He and Cotter didn’t quite make the Triple Crown, but managed two out of three — a fair haul. They climbed Lhotse and Everest in just over 24 hours, beginning on May 16. Earlier, they had abandoned their Nuptse push due to high winds and heavy snow.

Xia Boyu

Xia Boyu climbed with the Imagine Treks and Expeditions team, led by super Sherpa Mingma Gyalje. Photo: AFP

In one of the most inspiring stories of the season, 70-year-old double amputee Xia Boyu managed to summit Everest, 43-years after his tragic first attempt. On that early expedition, the Chinese climber suffered severe frostbite, ultimately losing both his legs.

Boyan Petrov

Boyan Petrov was an experienced mountaineer with ten 8,000m peaks to his name. Photo: Boyan Petrov

Bulgarian climber Boyan Petrov planned to climb Shishapangma, then move on to Everest. He set off for the summit of Shishapangma, alone and without supplemental oxygen, on April 29. It seems likely that Petrov made an attempt at the summit from Camp 3, where he was last seen via telescope from Base Camp on May 3. He then disappeared. Bad weather set in, and after a delay, the search team uncovered just a few traces of Petrov: his tent at Camp 3, and a few belongings, including a T-shirt, insulin medication and energy gels. Kiril Petkov, a close friend of Petrov, was helping with the search and speculates that the climber may have fallen into a crevasse between Camp 3 and the summit. But unless more evidence turns up, we can’t know for sure what became of the experienced Bulgarian mountaineer.

Kami Rita Sherpa & Lhakpa Sherpa

Kami Rita Sherpa is aiming for at least 25 Everest summits. Photo: Seven Summits Treks

Kami Rita Sherpa made yet another trip to the top of the world, summiting Everest a record 22nd time. Meanwhile, 44-year-old Lhakpa Sherpa bested her own record for successful female ascents. Already the woman’s record holder with eight Everest summits, she reached her ninth on May 16 from the North Col on the Tibetan side of the mountain.

Safety

The notoriously dangerous Khumbu Icefall. Photo: Mingma Gyalje Sherpa

The season started with an early fatality on Dhaulagiri. Italian alpinist Simone La Terra died at Camp 3 after his tent was blown away by strong winds.

Fortunately, this early tragedy did not signal a trend. Fatalities remained fairly low, largely due to the calm weather on Everest. However, the volume of climbers has continued to rise, and inevitably there have been some deaths. Five have been reported on Everest for the season, one fewer than in 2017.Of those fatalities, three were Sherpa: Damai Sarki fell into a crevasse near Camp 2 on the Nepal side, Pasang Norbu died near to the summit after suffering a stroke, and Lam Babu died in unclear circumstances on the way down from the summit while supporting a cryptocurrency stunt. Two international climbers perished; Macedonian Gjeorgi Petkov from a heart attack on the Nepalese side, and the Japanese climber Nobukazu Kuriki, who was found dead in his tent while trying to descend from Camp 3.

Lhotse and Shishapangma each recorded one death. On Lhotse, Russian climber Rustem Amirov died from acute altitude sickness near to the summit. Experienced Bulgarian mountaineer Boyan Petrov disappeared on Shishapangma. His body has not been found.

Records

Some of the records set this season were more serious than others. The worlds highest dinner party divided the mountaineering community. Photo: Neil Laughton

Exact statistics are still being compiled by the Himalayan Database, but this season will likely be the busiest ever. Everest saw at least 700 successful summits, substantially more than the current record of 665 set in 2013. Large commercial expeditions climbed on both the Nepalese and Tibetan sides of the mountain, with 11 straight fair-weather days allowing most clients to summit successfully.

Along with the new records for male and female Everest ascents, we also witnessed a new Seven Summits time record. Australian Steve Plain topped Everest on May 14, successfully climbing the highest peak on each continent in just 117 days.

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* source: – https://explorersweb.com/

** see also: – Nepal Celebrates 65th Anniversary of First Ascent of Mt. Everest.

– Today is 65th Anniversary of Everest’s First Ascent.

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Luke Smithwick Thwarted on Labuche Kang III.

A walk in the park. The team at their high point of 6900 meters on Labuche Kang III East. Photo: Luke Smithwick

Last month, experienced Himalayan alpinist and guide Luke Smithwick travelled to the northern Himalaya to lead a climb of Labuche Kang III East, a virgin peak standing at 7,250 meters.
The five-strong multinational team spent some time acclimatizing in Nepal on trekking peaks, before flying to Tibet in early May. After a few days in Lhasa, they moved on to base camp, which is within 40km of the well known eight-thousander Cho Oyu.

Camp one on Labuche Kange III East. The team in high spirits before the severe beating began. Crevasse falls, full-on drenchings in hidden kettle ponds, and other delightful life experiences ensued in the following days. This is first ascent high altitude mountaineering in the Himalaya. Bring your big boy pants. Caption and Photo: Luke Smithwick

Smithwick approached the climb ‘expedition style’ by fixing ropes up the northern flanks of the peak alongside two climbing Sherpas, then the rest of the team followed. Advanced Base Camp was set at 5,258 meters, Camp One at 5,751, Camp Two a little higher at 5,995 meters, with the final Camp (Three) at 6,276 meters.

Forty degrees in average steepness doesn’t mean it was always forty degrees. A steeper section of the route, with Luke Smithwick dealing with fixing 8mm static rope for the group anchored with 22cm ice screws. Yes, that is alpine ice. This is not a snow plod. Caption and Photo: Luke Smithwick

Smithwick reported that crossing the terrain from Advanced Base Camp entailed hard work up a lateral moraine to Camp One, followed by running a gauntlet of seracs to  Camp Two. Further risk awaited en route to Camp Three, with severe crevasse danger.

Escaping the labyrinth. Getting to the upper snowfield and camps of LK3 takes route-finding skills, luck, and a willingness to keep going when it sucks. Caption and Photo: Luke Smithwick

The team made good progress, fixing ropes up steep headwall, and were within tantalizing sight of the top early on May 20:
We turned around only 400 meters from the summit after climbing for 8 hours up a blue ice wall that averaged 40 degrees in steepness.  I felt OK and able to go on… along with the two Sherpas I was working with, however our group was fairly exhausted collectively, and I was guiding, so we retreated to our Camp Three at 6,276 meters (20,486 feet).
A forecast of bad weather also influenced their decision to retreat. But those weather reports that suggested the group needed to summit by May 21 at the latest proved wrong, and the predicted storms never arrived.

6,276m Camp Three on Labuche Kang III East. Surrounding this camp, Luke made “the death circle” with one of the climbing ropes. No one was allowed to leave the circle, as the perimeter was riddled with crevasses. Two crevasse falls occurred right on the edge of this camp, and they were big enough to eat someone. Fortunately, no one was injured on the climb. Caption and Photo: Luke Smithwick

In total, the team recorded 17 crevasse falls, although none were considered “big”. Smithwick also said that they fell into water on the glacier 24 times. “You will not summit this mountain easily,” he concluded. Nevertheless, the prolific American climber plans to return to Labuche Kang III East, possibly as early as September.
The team had earlier believed the mountain was the highest open unclimbed peak in the world, but further research has revealed that Muchu Chhish in Pakistan at 7,452 meters is higher. However, not everyone, including Smithwick, believes that Muchu Chhish is prominent enough to be considered a separate peak.
[Ed: June 4. This story has been edited to reflect that Kabru, a peak on the India-Nepal border, has recently been climbed and that the jury is still out about whether Muchu Chhish is an independent peak. For a discussion of mountain prominence, see Prominence or Dominance: What Makes a Mountain]

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* source: – https://explorersweb.com/

** see also: – Nepal Celebrates 65th Anniversary of First Ascent of Mt. Everest.

– Today is 65th Anniversary of Everest’s First Ascent.

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