July 2019

Still celebrating their Kilimanjaro summit success, our team has completed day 1 of their safari of the big major game parks of Tanzania.  Lead guide, Rob Smith, give us the daily update:

We have left Arusha and driven South West to Tarangire National Park. Having descended Kilimanjaro yesterday, today we found ourselves in the midst of the Tanzanian plains, savannah grassland with stands of Acacia trees and lone Boabab trees studding the landscape. Our new ‘ride’ is a Toyota Landcruiser with a pop-up roof that allows great views of landscape and wildlife.

 

We saw too many animals and birds today to list, but the most popular were definitely the elephants and giraffes. No matter how many wildlife programs you have watched, there is no comparison with seeing these animals in the wild. Large numbers of zebra in their sharp coats, mixed with wildebeest making their way towards watering holes, or later in the afternoon, resting in the shade where available. A ‘dazzle’ of zebras mixing with a ‘confusion’ of wildebeest, to give them their correct collective terms.

 

This is the dry season here, and the Tarangire River that runs through the park is bone dry. Elephants stood in the middle of its dusty flats and dug their trunks deep down to reach water. It is hard not to become saturated with the sights and sounds here on Safari. Tonight we are in the fabulous Lake Manyara Safari Lodge overlooking Lake Manyara and the Rift Valley. Tomorrow we move on to the world-famous Ngorongoro Crater and Serengeti National Park. What a way to follow a Kilimanjaro climb!

 

Today’s Swahili:  Twiga – giraffe — Temba – elephant

A memory of elephants

A memory of elephants

Zebra and wildebeast at a watering hole

Zebra and wildebeast at a watering hole

Our new transport

Our new transport

Our Kilimanjaro team has returned to Arusha after coming all the way down from a great summit climb and is getting ready for their safari.  Here’s lead guide, Rob Smith, with the details of the day:

After our summit yesterday we returned to Kosovo Camp (4870m/15,978ft) and had a couple of hours to rest, eat and drink, and then pack up. We hiked downhill for 3 hours to reach Millennium Camp (3820m/12,530ft) and were glad to reach it. Another early start this morning at 5 am, though practically a lie-in compared to our summit bid, saw us on our final day of Kilimanjaro. We dropped altitude and made our way from Alpine Desert to Moorland to Rainforest.

 

We were lucky enough to see Black and White Colobus Monkeys leaping from branch to branch high in the tree canopy. When we reached Mweka Gate (1638m/5,375ft), our exit point, we received a welcome that had everyone there looking on. The singing and dancing were well worth the effort that the team made over the last 7 days, and was a fitting end to our Kilimanjaro climb. So now we are back in Arusha before driving West tomorrow to Tarangire National Park, to begin the Safari.

 

Today’s Swahili:  Congratulations. Hongera  —  Brother. Kaka — Sister. Dada

Descending into the tree line

Descending into the tree line

Our welcome at Mweka Gate

Our welcome at Mweka Gate

A happy team at the end of the climb

A happy team at the end of the climb

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Our K2 expedition team just arrived back in Islamabad, after the 100 km trek out from base camp to Askoli, 7-hour jeep ride from Askoli to Skardu, and a 34-hour epic drive from Skardu to Islamabad. All members of the team (climbers, Sherpas, Pakistan staff) are safely on their way home now.  (members Valerio, Gina, and Elizabeth had previously departed K2 base camp by helicopter)

It’s been a successful expedition in that we all returned safely, however, we didn’t achieve our secondary goal of reaching the summit. Although we reached Camps 3 / 4, and our Sherpas climbed higher to the Bottleneck area, we didn’t reach the top of the mountain.

This was a result of the snow conditions that were present during our summit attempt, as we learned from our Sherpas and from other teams who were above Camp 4 scouting the route below and above the Bottleneck. The conditions encountered during July 16-18 in this area were deep and unconsolidated snow, up to 2 meters in some places, resulting in 3 known avalanches in this area. Fortunately, no climbers were injured or killed in these avalanches, although some were carried down the mountain before stopping, and sections of the newly installed fixed-line were torn out during one slide. Clearly, this area of the route was very unsafe.

Given these dangerous conditions, we didn’t feel it was prudent to push another summit attempt since it would likely be many weeks or months before conditions would change enough to warrant a safe and reasonable attempt through this area.  A strong wind to blow this amount of snow off the slopes would likely not occur this season, or the alternative, a massive avalanche that would take the snow down the mountain leaving behind only hard pack snow or ice as we have climbed in the past.  Hence, we made the decision to conclude our expedition, along with other teams that arrived at the same conclusion, such as the Furtenbach, Imagine, Adventure Peaks, and smaller expedition teams such as Mike Horn’s team and the Czech team (approximately 80% of the climbers attempting K2 this season).  With these conditions, we felt this was the safest decision, shared by myself, co-guides Victor Saunders & Conan Bliss, and our Sirdar Aang Phurba Sherpa along with the other climbing Sherpas.

We later learned during our trek out that on July 24th several climbers reached the top of K2, led by a strong team of Sherpas and Nimral Purja (Nims). Adrian Ballanger’s private team was close behind them and also made the summit.  We were initially surprised by their success but also wanted to learn what allowed them to make the top.  Was it simply pushing hard through deep and unstable snow conditions (including the risk that posed) or did the conditions change in such a short time period to allow for safe and reasonable climbing?

I was able to have a WhatsApp conversation with Adrian after they got down to base camp, and he reported that essentially conditions had significantly changed since our attempt, allowing for safe and reasonable climbing.  In Adrian’s words “We sure were surprised…we could see it was stripped (the slope). Lots of signs of wind effect…some may have sluffed (avalanche). There was a big wind event on the morning of the 22nd…that may have stripped it. We fully recognize how lucky we got…I wouldn’t have guessed such a significant change was possible either, especially with no major weather change forecasted…know that your decision was absolutely the right one…with the available information.”  Our hearty congratulations to all those who reached the summit of K2 this season!  Well done!!

Hindsight is 20/20; if we were able to foresee the change in conditions from Camp 4 to the summit after the wind event on the 22nd that cleared the slope, and before the weather moved in on the 26th, then a short summit window would present itself. However, at the time we moved to Camp 3 (July 17th) and had to make a decision, we were acting on the best available information from our Sherpas and other climbers regarding the unsafe condition of the Bottleneck area, and our weather forecasting service which didn’t suggest any forthcoming weather activity to clear the slope.  It is likely that high winds the morning of the 22nd, in combination with an avalanche, cleared the slope. Fortunately, no climbers were on or above/below this area when it cleared, as it would not likely have been survivable. Luckily for Nims’ & Adrian’s teams, their timing was such that their scheduled summit attempts just happened to fall within the narrow weather window beginning on the 24th, whereas our team and most others that were slightly ahead of this schedule were attempting just a few days earlier when conditions were impossible.

It’s tough for us to come away without a summit, especially after putting in so much effort.  The training, time away from home, and the weeks spent on the expedition acclimatizing are all part of a monumental effort.  However, K2 is an extremely demanding mountain in good conditions by any measure, and with our primary dedication to safety, we are happy to have our entire team return in good health!

Conan, Victor, Rick, Brian and me are looking forward to a good rest here tonight in the Serena hotel after an “adventurous” drive from Skardu to Islamabad, but we’ll save that story for another time!

From Kilimanjaro, lead guide Rob Smith shares the happy news:

The sunrise was beautiful and gave respite from the previous hours of climbing in the darkness. Each of us in a pool of light from our headlamps, steadily climbing up the loose rock and scree. The faintest of light on the horizon, grew larger and brighter, transforming through a range of orange, red and pink hues. We reached Stella Point on the edge of the crater rim at 18,800′, and stopped for a hot drink and some shelter from the wind. From there the slope was less steep and dawn made the route finding easier. As the sun rose higher it cast a huge shadow of Kilimanjaro onto the clouds below. It put our presence on the side of the mountain, nearing its summit, into perspective. We reached the top at 6.45am, after a harder than expected climb for some. Kilimanjaro might often be referred to as a to trek, but its 19,341′ should not be underestimated.

 

Kilimanjaro, Uhuru Peak, is a beautiful mountain that allowed us to step on her summit a few hours ago, giving us memories to last a lifetime.

The shadow of Kilimanjaro at dawn

The shadow of Kilimanjaro at dawn

Kilimanjaro Summit!

Kilimanjaro Summit!

Karanga Camp to Kosovo Camp, the last segment before summit day. The Kili team has now climbed to high camp and will be heading to the summit tonight!  Here’s lead guide Rob Smith with the details:

We reached Kosovo Camp (4870m/15,978 ft), our high camp at 12.15pm. For the first time in our trip, we have met successful climbers who have summitted Kilimanjaro. They did so earlier this morning and were pleased to be on their way down, as we continued up past Barafu Camp, where the majority of climbers stay. The extra effort today will give us a shorter summit day tomorrow. So now we rest, and we will have an early dinner before trying to catch a few hours sleep. Tomorrow begins at midnight, quite literally, as we will get up and prepare to leave at 1am. So wish us luck and tune in tomorrow for an update.

 

Today’s Swahili: Tabasamu – smile

On the way to Kosovo Camp

On the way to Kosovo Camp

Resting up for the big climb

Resting up for the big climb

Kilimanjaro lead guide, Rob Smith, details the team’s day moving from Barranco Camp to Karanga Camp, including the ascent of the “Breakfast Wall”:

We were awake at 5am in preparation to climb the Barranco Wall. It was a chilly morning. If we were lacking motivation, it came in heaps, from an impromptu song and dance send-off from our team. Dressed in thick coats and wooly hats, the pace ramped up until Willie threw a cartwheel followed by a backflip. Suitably impressed by his acrobatics, we left camp and were soon at the base of the Barranco Wall. 750′ of rock with a sinuous path worked into it by the passage of climbers. Part scramble, part walk, we made our way to the top. And we were rewarded with emerging into the sun and seeing a sea of cloud beneath us as far as we could see. With the crux of the day behind us, we descended towards Karanga Camp (4029m/13,220ft) with a final steep uphill to pull into camp after 4 hours.

 

Tomorrow we begin the final phase of the trip, as we continue to Kosovo Camp (4870m/15,978ft), our high camp. From there we will begin our summit climb in the early hours of the following morning.

 

Today’s Swahili: Hakuna Matata – No Problem / No Worries.

Kristin climbing the Borranco Wall

Kristin climbing the Borranco Wall

Our high point of the day

Our high point of the day

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The K2 trekking is complete.  The team had a marathon day by finishing the trek and then 4-wheeling for seven hours (!) to Skardu.  Here’s expedition leader Garrett Madison’s update:

Hello, this is Garrett calling in for the K2 expedition team.  Today is July 26th and we finished our trek out from K2 base camp to Askole and then we rode by jeep for seven hours from Askole to Skardu.  We are very happy to be in Skardu and to have a nice lodge with a hot shower.  And everyone’s doing great.  We’re gonna take a rest day tomorrow and then fingers crossed for good weather, hopefully fly to Islamabad the following day.

(photo:  Madison Mountaineering K2 archives)

Kilimanjaro lead guide Rob Smith has this colorful description of the team’s from Shira Camp (3833m/12,575ft) to Barranco Camp (3981m/13,060ft):

Another day of beautiful weather here on Kilimanjaro. Our 6am wake up is becoming the norm, and there are no complaints when the first view is Kilimanjaro casting its shadow onto the clouds below us. The trail climbed steadily from the start, and we rose above the trees to enter a rocky landscape resembling the surface of the moon. This zone of the mountain is clasified as Alpine Desert, and is hugely different from the rainforest we started in. Despite the austere environment, there is some wildlife living here. We saw some 4 striped mice scurrying between the rocks at a rest stop. White collared ravens tustled in the air, as 2 birds locked feet together and tumbled towards the ground before releasing and flying on.

 

After 4.5 hours we reached Lava Tower at 15,000′ where we had an extended stop to take advantage of our height gain. Spending time there should help us sleep tonight as we have dropped in altitude to 13,000′. The trail down passed between Giant Scenecio plants which look like they belong to an older world. We reached Barranco Camp in time to have a look at Barranco Wall, a rock feature we will climb tomorrow. We are all in good spirits and are looking forward to the challenge tomorrow.

Passing Giant Scenecios

Passing Giant Scenecios

On the trail above Shira Camp

On the trail above Shira Camp

Meanwhile on Kilimanjaro, here’s lead guide Rob Smith with today’s progress report of moving from Machame Camp to Shira Camp:

We have had a beautiful day today on Kilimanjaro, moving up the mountain.

 

We awoke at 6am in the shade but in good weather. By 8am we were moving up the steep rocky trail above our campsite. The landscape changed from the dense rainforest we were in yesterday, as we passed through sparser trees and vegetation. Birdsong rang out and porters could be heard singing at the camp we had just left. A thick blanket of cloud lay over the plain below us. Higher up we reached sunlight and the temperature rose. We would crest a ridge to see another in front, with glimpses of Kilimanjaro through the trees.

 

Scrambling in places we finally reached out high point after 5 hours, and had a clear view of the mountain, its wide crater rim now visible. A quick walk downhill brought us to Shira Camp (3833m/12,575 ft), where we were greeted with harmonious singing from our porters. Tonight we will be sleeping at 12,500′ so we are making good height gain. A beautiful sunset and a very fine meal rounded off our day!

 

Today’s Swahali:  Mambo – What’s up? Poa – Cool.

Sunset at Shira

Sunset at Shira

Happy to reach Shira Camp

Happy to reach Shira Camp

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Today the K2 team trekked to Jhola camp and now has just one more day of trekking left.  Expedition leader, Garrett Madison, talks about the long day:

Hello, this is Garrett calling in for the K2 expedition team.  Today is July 25 and we have arrived at Jhola camp (3151m/10,338ft) on the trek out back to Askole.  It was a long day today.  We left camp about 6:00 AM and got in here around 7:00 PM!  But, a nice, beautiful day, lots of great views.  Everyone’s doing well and we are looking forward to our final day of trekking tomorrow and then driving by jeep to Askole Skardu.

(photo:  Madison Mountaineering K2 archives)

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