Well how do we sum up our Madison Mountaineering K2 2021 expedition?
Today Chase, Becks, Jon and Rob flew from K2 Base Camp to Skardu on 2 helicopters with the Pakistan Army. The flight was spectacular, skimming low down the rugged Baltoro Glacier, where we had trekked up several weeks before. Leaving the cloud capped K2 behind us, we sped past the 3 summits of Broad Peak, before swooping right at Concordia. We strained our necks out the side windows as the soaring granite bulks of Cathedral, Trango and Uili Biaho zipped past. Sights we had taken days to approach and march past on the way in to Base Camp, as we each personally contemplated what lay ahead.
Now we were completing the return journey, content with our efforts and the conclusion we all hoped for but knew was unlikely. Our entire team had safely and successfully climbed K2 to its summit and returned to Base Camp. Rarely are expeditions harmonious, safe and successful in their objective. However K2 2021 was just that. A small team of dedicated climbers were happy to commit despite uncertainty and no guaranteed outcome. The odds of summiting K2 in any year are low. At times in the lead up, the odds of this trip simply running seemed low. But problems were overcome, and the team assembled a week behind the original schedule.
We acclimatized, ropes were fixed in stages and our Sherpa team worked hard. We had an extended wait of 12 days waiting for the right weather window. Patience was tested as other teams attempted Broad Peak while we waited.
On 28 July all decisions were vindicated as we climbed steadily in the darkness, under a starlit sky. The sunrise lit the horizon like a band of gold as the sky lightened to reveal a sea of cloud over China. We reached the summit in windless conditions, and it was hard to believe the top of K2 could feel so benign. Relief was palpable and the whole team spent as much time on the summit as they desired in this unique place. Congratulations were exchanged, embraces given, prayer flags were strung out, photographs taken and quiet moments of contemplation had.
The descent was as testing as the summit was benign. It felt that K2 wanted to remind us that attempting a climb was as serious an undertaking as ever, though we needed no reminder. Snow had been stripped off the lower slopes, removing the frozen bond that held the mass of rocks safely in place. It was a relief to get everyone to the base of the mountain the following day, and we walked down the glacier knowing we had been allowed to leave the clutches of K2.
It is somewhat of a shock to find ourselves suddenly in Skardu, in the presence of strangers and unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells. Such are the ends of expeditions where intense shared experience and close communal living comes to an end, replaced by new encounters with those who have little idea of what has been invested or endured to reach a point meaningless to the majority, but absolutely worthwhile and so memorable to those who stand there. We have set foot on top of K2 and shall remember that for the rest of our lives.
Rob Smith and the Madison Mountaineering K2 2021 team.