Everything seemed to be right on track when we set off for Camp I on our summit push just over a week ago. The trip through the ice fall and onto the crevasse ridden Gasherbrum glacier, things had started to open up a little bit as the snow melted away. We met a bunch on their way down from GII & as we approached them I posted straight down into a crevasse right up to my chest! I struggled around on my elbows with my axe in hand and managed to pull myself out before I plunged fully in and ended up in a rescue situation!
Later on as we reached Camp I we came to a snow bridge that looked to be near the end of it’s life and spent some examining it & looking around for other routes before deciding to “take the plunge”. We carefully braced as we each made our way over without incident. This bridge would stay in our minds however and talk of how to avoid it in future was rife.
Despite having access to the best weather reports in the world, there is no accounting for the Karakorum weather and we spent two days waiting in whiteout conditions in our tents. We were told the weather above Camp III was lovely however the lingering precipitation would have to just wear itself out before we could move.
When the weather cleared we continued our push along with Sophie, (one of the Belgian team members who had waited at Camp I.) The journey to Camp II up the now collapsed Banana Ridge was similar to before, the 2 days spent at Camp I had taken their toll on energy levels and Arnold put in a valiant effort breaking the trail in the mushy snow that had fallen over the previous couple of days.
At Camp II all was as we left it. The weather had turned & all looked positive.Arnold and myself spent one of the coldest nights of our lives trying to keep ourselves warm in just our down suits, unable to accommodate the extra weight our sleeping bags would have required. We were obviously eager to get going the next morning & we made the climb to Camp III in 6-7 hours and arrived to a trio of tents that the previous group had used ready and waiting for our arrival. Arriving in the early afternoon we had plenty of time to relax, eat and get ourselves ready to leave for the summit at 9:30pm.
Arnold and myself enjoyed two fulfilling hours of sleep and I woke up ready for action. I had been concerned about waking up groggy, sick or in any way unprepared. I was more ready than I have ever been.
Action time had arrived and two years of planning and preparation was going to payoff. Mingma Sherpa had made a straight climb from Camp I to Camp III along with the Korean sherpas. We would be slip streaming behind the Korean sherpas as one of them had already been to the summit and knew where the turn off for the fixed rope on the summit pyramid was.
Thefirst six hours went like clockwork. We had reached the traverse and were more than half way across when Sophie started to struggle with the cold. After much debate and a number of measures were tried Arnold decided it was best if hetook Sophie back down. Grace had also been struggling with the cold and joined the retreat team. This left myself, Jon and Mingma on course for the summit.
Around 4am the first of the gust started to blow in, kicking up a bit of spin drift. As we pushed on the gusts picked up intensity and began to bombard us with spin drift. Eventually we started to be hit by a couple of gusts that threw our balance and pounded all of us into the side of the mountain. Looking ahead, the Korean team had stopped just 50m ahead of us at the end of the traverse, we guessed waiting out these gales before heading up the summit pyramid and the last 350m of the climb. At first we decided to head up and wait things out with the Koreans but the gusts continued without relief and it became clear the they were only worse the higher we went. We dropped down a few meters to see if we could wait out these gusts.
Looking around at the surrounding mountains we saw only tranquil summits. The localized spin drift seemed to only be affecting Gasherbrum II from what we could see. It may have clear in just a couple of hours but at this altitude and this temperature a couple of hours waiting could mean coming home with your toes ina bag. At Mingma’s insistence, we began the descent, just 400m from the summit.
Thegusts did not go after a couple of hours. By the time reached camp III the gusts had ripped through two of our tents. At camp II one of our tents was narrowly saved by Grace, who spotted it flipping over and sat on it until help arrived allowing it to be packed up. We descended to Camp I to lick our wounds and take stock of what we had lost.
Despite 3 days of good weather predicted, we found ourselves logistically trapped. Our sherpas were exhausted, Camp I was almost out of gas and low on food. Any further summit attempt would require a drop to base camp and a systematic resting of ourselves and sherpas as well as a resupply and in some cases rebuild of the higher camps. It was a heartbreaking change of fortunes from the dizzying highs of suggesting “could we climb two eight thousanders in 5 days?!”to scurrying back down to base camp, each of us a failure by our own standards.
So I sit here base camp, we arrived back about three hours ago. Again we sit hereon what would be a perfect summit day. How we managed to pick the one day with unpredicted, localized weather that ripped though the high camps for our summit day frustrates each of us beyond belief. There must be some lesson we can learn, some way to avoid this in future. The only lesson we can see now is”never take anything for granted in the Karakorum”.
Now we wait three days for the weather to go bad, so we can wait for it to turn good and we can go again. There are not too many places in the world where you can climb to 7,600m and arrive back with nothing to show. We now have to focus on one mountain.
Right now I’m physically wasted, emotionally drained, the very definition of disappointed and fit for the bin! A few days at base camp will hopefully set my brain and we’ll come to a group decision about which mountain to tackle.
It’s going to take some time to come to terms with what is my first failure in the mountains. No-one climbs 8000m peaks without some failings and it is probably no harm to be humbled by one of these great peaks. Please know that no one is more disappointed than myself and the rest of the team here. I’m going to focus on getting fit and ready for the next bid and hopefully I can write to you all soon at least about one first Irish ascent.
On a positive note myself, Grace, Jon and Arnold have managed to remain a cohesive happy team. We have been living in a pressure cooker environment, living side-by-side 24-7 and even when our frustration has been vented on climbing harness’ and garbage bags we always managed to cheer each other up. It’s been along tough road, the one thing that has always been positive is the team dynamic and without that it would be long, tough, lonely road.
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