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  K2 2006: K2- 2006 – Centennial of Alpine Club of Canada Expedition: The report

Copyright© Billy Pierson: Murph goes to K2: The best K2 video on the planet:  DVD

K2 2006 expedition, Centennial of Alpine Club of Canada, Manitoba section

            We ended up being only five- member expedition: Louis Allec, Allan Bohn, Jan Kalousek, Helena Kopalova-Rodriguez and myself (Hana Weingartl). Originally the expedition had seven climbing members, but two gave up too late for us to cancel, and so we went ahead. We were joined for the approach by five trekkers in Kashgar, lead by Dusan Pokorny, who wanted to get to the K2 advanced base camp.

            Louis and I were flying from Winnipeg via New York, where we joined with Jan (Honza) and Helena. Jan managed to arrange quite a good deal with China Southern Airlines: unlimited number of 20 kg pieces of luggage, only one payment for excess weight New York - Urumqi. And so we left New York on September 5th. Allan joined us later in Kashgar. For him it made more sense to fly from Vancouver westwards.

            Taher Anvar from Kashgar New Land Travel Services (KNLTS) met us in Urumqi, where we tried to do last minute shopping for food items, which we hoped not to have to bring with us from Canada or US.

The rather comfortable train ride from Urumqi to Kashgar took 24 hours across one of the most inhospitable lands, desert Takla Makan (Taklimakan). Both the train ticket and the charge for the cargo were very reasonable, and I would recommend to take the train at least one way.

            We spent three days in Kashgar dealing again with last minute shopping for fresh products (fruits, vegetables, cereals, hard cheese, salami) and the generator. Later into the expedition we realized, that two solar panels would have been sufficient (especially considering the weight of the generator, and its ability to work in high altitude). Although we brought gas stove for the advanced base camp with us from Canada, it did not match the valves on the butane tank, and so Louis had to get both. Second - major - problem was oxygen. Allan ended up flying from Vancouver with empty oxygen bottles, and was able with help of our guide Abdul to get it done in a local company supplying oxygen for the hospitals. Again the reduction valves did not match, and so Abdul and Allan had the transfer valve custom made in quite a short time a local shop, and for no money, as far as Alan was concerned. It is now one of the most valuable pieces in his gear collection.... We were also finally able to get a good map from our travel services company, despite the interesting “hiking trail” right across the K2 summit, marked in red, called Karakoram trail.

On day three, everything was packed onto a truck along with 3km of ropes shipped from Czech republic directly to the KNLTS (ropes were good, but the discount price was “compensated” by shipping and custom fees).

            On day four, we left for Yarkand and then Illik on jeeps. After two days and several military check points we arrived to Illik, where the camels are housed over the summer.

Twenty four camels, five camel drivers, the cook, the guide and the ten of us left for 5 days trek across the Aghil pass to the base camp. The camel drivers were able to bring on camels our gear to “camel dump” , and so on June 19th  we started from there. They were of a great help, by being able to carry 250 kg to the advanced base camp (ABC) in two days, while us and the trekkers were “slugging” our way up and down. After the camel drivers and the trekkers left, we still had about 500 kg to carry up. We had to split the trek up into three sections as, I have the suspicion, everybody before us. It took us almost 14 days to finish carrying.

            The terrain was quite difficult, much worse according to camel drivers who did the carry for the Korean expedition than in 2004. (Nobody attempted this side of K2 in 2005). Mud slides on glacier and moraine were one thing, crossing the glacier over boulders, and other sliding “...” was another. The thin air yet another.

We have set the ABC at around 4900m of altitude, as the general agreement was, that we need to be able to regenerate (somewhat).

            On July 4th, Honza and I made the “recconaisance” team, trying to find an access to the wall. The introduction to the mountain was rather illuminating - several semifalls into crevasses (especially mine), “sprint” to avoid avalanche.... But we were lucky, the avalanche stopped about 300m away from us, although the air wave and the little ice crystals did not. The next day we had set fixed ropes, according to a schema we had from previous expeditions, on the right side of the major serac in the low part of the wall.

            When the whole team arrived on July 6th the ropes were totally covered by avalanche. We changed the direction, and went for the left version of the route, but still trying to rescue at least some of the gear. The left version was experiencing avalanches daily as well, but they were smaller, and generally we could dig out the ropes most of the time. However two days later an avalanche caught Alan, Honza and Louis. Helena, being the last one on the team that day, got the full vision of it, puked, and went down. All three of them caught several hits by rocks ane ice, especially Allan, who could not use his hand for some time. Honza swears that his parent saved his life, because they got him a brand new high-tech helmet for his birthday, he was wearing.

We were able to establish the C1 on July 5th, to only find it covered by an avalanche the next day. The poles from both tents were broken, and from that day, we would collapse the tents before leaving. By July 12th, when we re-built the C1 and were transferring gear and equipment to the camp, it began to snow. The time table of avalanche departures became unmanageable, and we decided to get down and wait.

            July 17th - stopped snowing, and Helena, Honza and me went to try to find the fixed ropes to C1. We arrived to C1 after seven hours of hard work, only not to be able to find it, again. Back to square one. At 19:00, realizing that we will not be able to shovel out the camp on time, we decided to return to ABC. Next day we returned, and finish the work. Louis and Allan took over from there, carrying to C1, but descending at night because it started to snow again, and they were afraid that they will not be able to descend. In addition Louis started already several days back having problems with knees, and was unable to carry anything above 7- 9kg now on, and had to on couple of occasions return not finishing the carry. Louis and Allan returned to the ABC on July 21st, after spending rest of the night in “depo” under the wall. During the night we have heard a huge avalanche. The next morning we found that the tent they were staying under the wall and the tent where we were storing our gear were both swept by the airwave resulting from the avalanche. We have lost some food, but Allan and Louis were at least able to retrieve from crevasses their gear and both tents (the anchors for the tents stay where they were), while the three of us (HHH) carried more stuff to C1. On July 25th we were able fix ropes almost to C2, but the last day started to have problems with ropes being frozen in ice, and needed to be cut out, quite time consuming task. In addition we needed to bring some more gear to C1, and so we descended to ABC.

            The weather kept on being “gorgeous” (38oC in ABC). On July27th Allan and Honza moved to C1, while Helena and me did another carry to C1. July 28: again bringing gear up, Helena and I arrived to C1. But guys, Allan and Honza, who were suppose to pre-set C2 that day, were not returning to C1.... Until late that evening. We could tell right away, something was not right. They both looked rather pale. Honza was in the morning almost hit by a humongous rock; later that day, on descend Allan was caught in huge rock fall, and was several times hit by rock (open cuts on ribs and legs). They spent about 8 hrs cutting the ropes out of ice, and then wading through knee high rivers of ice and water (enriched by falling rocks). Belay stations were not there any more. They managed to only finish a pitch Allan and me have started the last time. The highest point reached was somewhere around 6500m (we think), just above the last rock section before C2. At this point decision was made to descend, and wait for colder weather.

            It did not quite come, yet. And so three days later we tried again. But the conditions on the mountain did not change. In order to get to C1 we had to negotiate several crevasses. The existing ones were getting wider, and new ones kept on opening. Original snow belay stations had to be changed into ice belay stations (that was the good option). Or dug more then meter deep. Not that one would reach solid ground. It just felt a bit better. Semifalls into crevasses were part of the descend and ascend. Needless to say, with heavy backpacks very challenging.

Helena fell into one crevass quite all right, because the belay station above her gave in. And, no, I did not take a picture. I was somewhat busy taking up and holding the rope. And, no, Louis did not take a picture either. He was somewhat busy, setting up new belay station....

            Allan, although quite beaten up by the rocks insisted on working together with us, and so the day after, he and Honza tried again for C1. They did not find it. It was not there anymore, along with kilometers of ropes, tents and other gear. That pretty much concluded our climb. Beside the fact that we realized, we cannot move ahead, if we have to spend 6 - 8 hrs a day cutting the ropes from ice, and then being caught in rock falls.

            At that point we decided to head for the base camp. We began the return on August 5. That night it started to rain (freezing rain) and snow. We tried to carry everything out, including garbage. We made it back to base camp on August 15th  to a very warm welcome of the cook and the guide, who basically did spend two months on one spot with no people around. We were not really in rush to descend to BC, being aware that the camels very likely cannot cross the rivers anyway. Sure enough, the camels and the drivers arrived on August 18, after quite an epic - they almost lost two young animals in the river. I got the feeling right away, that this does not look good. Instead of the five young Uigur camel drivers, which we had on the way in, only two of them came back along with an old Kirgiz (Kirgiz and Tadjiks are the people who live in the adjacent area of Kunlun mountains). The waters in rivers were still not really going down. Our first attempt to cross K2 river on the way out was deemed to be too risky, and we returned back to BC. We could hear boulders running down the river. So did the camels. The boulders are sometimes 100 - 150kg; the camels are 500 - 800kg. If the boulder hits camel’s legs, the animals stand no chance. The experienced camels knew. And they were nervous. And so were we. Finally we made it out of BC at six o’clock in the morning on August 22nd. Never in my life did I have to cross rivers 200m wide, on a camel, which in order to make it, leans towards the current, sometimes at 45 degree angle.... Needless to say, no, we did not take a pictures...we were somewhat busy holding onto the camels. The old Kirgiz navigated the rivers.

Despite all this, it took us only two and half days to get back to Illik. But even in the final stretch,  we got yet another “treat”: a sand storm, with visibility of only few meters, and no chance to breath.

            Although I read several accounts of the expeditions on the North Ridge of K2, I was a bit skeptical about how much climbing we will have to really do. I have to say, it is climbing all right from the very first pitch to the pitch 20 - something, where we made it, with all the pitches above pitch 11 in 50 - 70 degree ice. The short rock bands we went through were welcomed breaks, also because the belay stations would stay in place for sure, and not melt away.

I had enormous respect for the mountain before the expedition, and that did not change. But I did not expect to find it that awesome.

            We would like to thank our families, all our sponsors and also KNLTS to make this possible to happen.

The K2 2006 expedition, Centennial of Alpine Club of Canada, Manitoba section was sponsored in part by EverestGear.com

Much more on this group in the future!

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