Very fortunate. Extremely lucky. Unprecedented. Some of the words all of us who were privileged to summit the world’s second highest mountain in the past fortnight were using with regard to the overriding reason for our successes – the weather. To be precise we were all referring to the warm, low wind, stable and, above all, extended weather window that lasted from 22nd July into the beginning of August – exactly the time that all the teams were gearing up and ready for the summit push – and the consequential excellent snow conditions resulting.
At what I calculate was a total of 46 summits from the 7 teams attempting the mountain, it wasn’t the highest ever summit total in a season – 51 summited in 2004 – but the 35 of us who topped out on Saturday 26th July was the highest ever in one day. This summer also had the greatest number of days in a season that the mountain has been summited by different climbers.
But these stats belie the true picture of K2. For starters there was a large number of climbers attempting the mountain this year, due to the 60th anniversary of its first ascent. Secondly , every one of those on K2 this summer were seasoned professionals – highly experienced climbers with many 8000m mountains under their belt. Although I’ve been climbing since I was 17, in 8000m summit terms I was probably the second least experienced guy or girl on the mountain. And thirdly, had the temperature been just a few degrees colder or had there been any wind then a good number of those who summited on 26th July would have succumbed to the cold or turned back, due to the time our summit push took – 15 hours on average. The weather and snow conditions was the catalyst for our success.
For let no one be mistaken, the lack of any summit successes from the Pakistan side in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2013 – along with many other years where there is no weather window at all - tells a truer picture. Our own attempt in 2013 was testimony to this. K2 is a brute of a mountain to summit. This isn’t just a hard snow plod to the top, but a sustained steep ascent right from ABC all the way to the top, with countless vertical rock bands or 80-90 degree ice slopes to confront. You have to climb this mountain continuously and the hazards – that steepness, the exposure, the constant rock fall and ever present avalanche dangers – make its reputation justified. As I’ve written before, the sustained steepness, with no relief on the whole line of the Abruzzi Spur is something that can be hard to come to terms with.
And, as such, I feel incredibly privileged to have stood on its top for the 5 minutes I spent up there before, as if K2 was warning us, the bad weather and snow closed in. Three years in planning and preparation all came to fruition in that incredible and unmatchable 5 minutes I witnessed. I only wish I could bottle such an intense experience, to open up every few weeks to savor. As I write this blog on an aircraft flying back to the UK I can only gaze outside the window in a deep sense of satisfaction.
My sincerest thanks to my sponsors Thuraya and their UAE distributors Xtra-Link for the ultra-efficient communications systems that have allowed me to broadcast this journey to the world; to Marmot and their UAE distributors ZSI Trading for the superb clothing in extreme conditions; to MEFITPRO for their supplementation that formed a large part of my nutritional programme; to California Chiropractic Center for getting me into the best possible shape prior to the expedition; to Ten Twenty for their website design and updates and, lastly to JA Resorts for their continued personal sponsorship and shared messages.
I’d also like to thank the Sherpas from Seven Summit Treks, which, aside from the weather was the key reason for our success; Nazir Sabir Expeditions, our Pakistan ground handlers, for their entire logistic support and great staff on the expedition; Dubai Podiatry Center for repairing my long suffering feet prior to the climb; Doug Fleming and the Power Breath device that effectively conditioned my lungs before and during the project; Nizar Fakoury and Urban Peaks for the training mask and clothing; Lindt Chocolates and New Forest baker Lisa Rad for their high altitude ‘specials’ and my great team at Professional Sports Group for their support throughout.
And finally, a big thanks to all the people from Baltistan and Pakistan and everyone who has followed, supported or messaged me throughout the journey. It is sincerely appreciated.