All K2 expedition dispatches

Expedition leader, Garrett Madison, reported in from K2 Camp 1 (6065m/19,900ft). The team had a great day climbing up from advanced base camp in clear, calm and warm weather. Climbing conditions are very good and they are looking forward to moving up to Camp 2 tomorrow. The team spent the afternoon at Camp 1 resting and hydrating. There are about 30 other climbers on the route, currently spread out over a couple of Camps. Most teams are targeting July 26-27 as possible summit days.

The K2 summit push is on! Today Garrett reports a “perfect day on K2” for the climbing team’s first segment of their summit push: base camp to advanced base camp (17,280ft). Headed to bed now, they plan to be climbing tomorrow by 06:00am to reach Camp 1 (19,900ft) around noon. Stay tuned for our daily dispatches!

K2 Camp 2 through telescope

Camp 2 viewed by telescope from base camp


On Tuesday, July 22nd, we plan to begin our summit push by first moving up from our base camp to our advanced base camp. From there we plan to move up one camp per day, putting us in Camp 4, our high camp, on the afternoon of July 26th. With weather and route conditions allowing, we will leave that night for the summit of K2 and hope to reach the top on the morning of July 27th. If successful, we plan to descend that afternoon to one of our lower camps such as Camp 3 or Camp 2. Then we will descend all the way to base camp the following day. If we need to spend an extra night or two up high on the mountain, we have ample reserves in place to extend our stay without having to be concerned.

There are at least 50 other climbers in camp planning to make a summit attempt this week with the good weather, some may go for the summit as early as July 24th. Currently the route is fixed to Camp 3, so we still have some work to do fixing the lines up to Camp 4, and then beyond Camp 4 through the “bottleneck” and the traverse above the bottleneck. There likely will be substantial work in breaking trail through the deep snow above Camp 3 and Camp 4. Hopefully with the sunny weather forecasted the next few days with temperatures warming during the day and cooling at night, there will be some consolidation in the snow-pack, making for easier trail breaking up high.

The weather forecast is very promising this week, with little to no precipitation and light to moderate winds up high. We will post our progress regularly to this Madison Mountaineering K2 dispatch page.

K2 Camp 4 to summit

K2 Camp 4 to summit viewed from base camp

This morning Pakistani time (Monday, June 21, 2014) Garrett called in on Skype and provided an update on the K2 expedition and the plans for the summit bid that starts tomorrow! It was great to talk with him. The team sounds strong and the weather looks fantastic and getting better. We are all excited to follow the teams progress this week.

K2 Base Camp
Over the last five years many climbers have attempted to climb K2 every season, however there has been only one short window (July 2012) where climbers made the K2 summit from the south side. (In 2011 a small team of elite climbers with Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner reached the summit via the North Ridge on the Chinese side of the mountain). The notorious 2008 season on K2, where less than 30 climbers reached the summit but many had a tragic ending on the descent, has been well chronicled in recent years by the written works “One Mountain Thousand Summits” and “Buried in the Sky” as well as in films “The Summit” and “K2: Siren of the Himalaya.” These works illustrate multiple factors of why K2, the “Savage Mountain” is a much more daunting and formidable challenge than Everest:

  • The unforgiving steep slopes of rock, snow, and ice that require a technical and precise mixed climbing ability, where one mistake can easily result in a fatal fall.
  • The weather being much more difficult, high winds and frequent snowstorms making climbing difficult, and making the route at times unsafe with avalanche conditions.
  • The objective hazards such as rock fall, ice fall, and snow avalanches. It is believed that a snow avalanche wiped out climbers Marty Schmidt and son in 2013 at Camp 3.
  • The lack of support on the mountain. On Everest (south side) there are approximately 30 teams each season, and many of these teams work together and share the task of establishing the climbing route. On K2 there are 4 teams in base camp, and we are currently working with only one other team to establish the route.

The statistics on K2 are grim, approximately 1 out of every 4 climbers who make the summit do not return. Of the climbers who have successfully reached the summit of K2, there are only 4 who have reached the top twice (www.8000ers.com), and none have reached the top 3 times. For all of the climbers who have reached K2’s summit since the first ascent in 1954, over 20 times as many have reached the summit of Everest.

The first Americans reached the summit of K2 in 1978, a total of only 10 American climbers have reached the top and returned safely since then (www.8000ers.com):

1978: (First American Ascent) Louis F. Reichardt, James Wickwire, Richard Ridgeway, John Roskelley
1990: Steve Swenson
1992: Scott Fisher, Charlie Mace, Ed Viesturs
1993: Philip Powers, Dan Mazur
1995: Rob Slater (died on descent)
1996: Carlos P. Buhler
2000: Christopher Shaw, William Pierson
2007: Christopher Warner

As climbers evaluating the challenge of K2, safety is our number one priority. If we are blessed with a good weather window and good route conditions, we will make a summit attempt. We feel lucky to be the only Americans in this corner of the Karakorum, experiencing an awe inspiring mountain range, in the northern region of Pakistan.

Spying our route on the Abruzzi Ridge from base camp, good weather is heading our way!
K2 Route Spotting

Yesterday afternoon our K2 climbing team descended from Camp 2, after five nights sleeping at elevations of up to 22,000’. We plan to rest for the next few days and assess the weather and route conditions for our next foray up the mountain. We hope a weather window will materialize long enough for us to make a viable summit attempt of the peak in the next two weeks.

First Rotation Recap:

We began by hiking up the glacier and through the short icefall section to reach advanced base camp (ABC) at 17, 200’. ABC is a pleasant camp perched on a rock outcropping with a stream flowing nearby and spectacular views of the surrounding glaciers. Almost every hour we would hear the icefall avalanches come roaring down the opposite peaks. We climbed up a short section of steep snow slopes the following day to acclimate and then slept again at advanced base camp. Then we climbed to Camp 1, about five hours climbing on snow slopes varying from 45-65 degrees. After a night at Camp 1, we climbed to Camp 2, much of the route being on rock slopes as well as some short snow and icy sections. We climbed through the iconic “House’s Chimney”, a fun rock section of approximately 100’ of near vertical rock, then slept at Camp 2. The next morning we slept in and then climbed up towards Camp 3, returning to Camp 2 to sleep, descending the following day to base camp. The views from Camp 2 were incredible, a panorama of peaks spanning the horizon. If we looked closely we could just make out our base camp 6000’ below.

This morning we are very happy to be in base camp, having enjoyed a hearty breakfast of French Toast with real Maple syrup, bacon, and fried eggs, washed down with Starbucks coffee! We just watched “Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark” on our Pico Projector with Bose SoundLink acoustics. Currently we are now lounging in camp socializing with the other friendly foreign climbers. Our Sherpa team is here with us and their close proximity makes us temporarily forget we are in Pakistan, the camaraderie and customs of Sherpa culture make for a comforting and warm experience, similar to being in the Khumbu valley of Nepal. We will continue resting and evaluating the weather conditions for the next few days.

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The K2 team just returned to base camp after spending 5 nights at elevations of up to 22,000′.

K2: Steep snow slopes above Camp 1

Alan climbs steep snow slopes above Camp 1


K2: Matt & Alan admiring the views!

Matt & Alan admiring the views!

Climbed partway up to Camp 3 today, a cold and windy day but great views. Planning to descend to K2 base camp tomorrow for some R & R!

– Garrett

Elevation = 21,912.01 ft.   Location = (35.870243, 76.532610)

Chilling out at K2 Camp 2 on K2, 22,000′. A little windy and cloudy, but happy to be here! Enjoyed climbing Howse’s chimney just before camp:)

– Garrett

Elevation = 21,880.94 ft.   Location = (35.870113, 76.532650)