K2 summit push: No summit, turnaround below bottleneck, but great paragliding flight from Camp 4 :)

What happened to our summit push?

In short:

We started yesterday night (of 17 July) at 8 pm from Camp 4 at Abruzzi route our summit push towards K2 summit. I was feeling great for my planned summit without use of supplemental oxygen. So I was advancing very well, overtaking many people until being directly behind the rope fixing team. Unfortunately, shortly before the start of the bottleneck at around 8300m, the rope fixing team stopped their work and turned around. So we were all forced to turn around. I was very frustrated and disappointed as I was feeling great and the night was overall good for a summit push, with ok temperatures and little wind. But if the risk for fixing the bottleneck is too great (due to avalanche danger, hip deep snow and a big crevasse), there is unfortunately not much to do.

So we turned around, went back to Camp 4 at Abruzzi, slept there, and then Max and I both managed to take off with the paragliders from Camp 4 at around 8000m to fly down to basecamp. I believe this is the first time someone has actually flown from K2 :).

Am I going to do another try in the next days / weeks? No. The past days have shown me again what I dislike about 8000m climbing: No climbing challenges, you are ultra slow, and most important: You are about 80% dependent on other people, variables, weather, things totally outside of your control.

The longer version:

Max, Nima Dorje Sherpa and I had started up the Cesen route as it is more direct than the Abruzzi. Unfortunately, conditions turned out quite challenging, as there was much more fresh snow than forecasted. So the trail breaking was very hard. We went directly to Camp 2 at around 6200m on Sunday. Also, there was almost no one on this route, so the trail breaking was entirely up to us.

The route is indeed steep and sustained, so it is very physical, more so with snow.

On Monday, we then mounted to Camp 3 at around 7000m. Unfortunately set up lower than we had hoped. And again a very physical day.

On Tuesday we then had a very long day, going from Camp 3 at 7000m to Camp 4 on the so called shoulder at around 8000m. There were about 40cm of fresh snow and the trail breaking was very exhausting and annoying. So we arrived quite tired at Camp 4.

Then the next disappointment. Unfortunately, the rope fixing team had not yet even managed to fix through the bottleneck. Apparently, an avalanche had swept down the brave Sherpas doing the fixing, during which unfortunately one broke an arm, and ripping apart the work done so far.

Ok, so an unplanned night at 8000m without supplemental oxygen. Not good.

The next day, that is, Wednesday, I made the proposal to follow the rope fixing team directly, during the day, when it is nice and warm. Well, this sounded good only until we watched then the rope fixing team and could see that they were very slow, obviously due to bad conditions – but so it was clear that they would definitely not reach the summit during the day.

Now another problem arose: We had borrowed a tent from another team, but their members would arrive in the day. So we had no tent to wait for until the night, when possibly another rope fixing attempt might start. Thus, we had no choice to actually walk down to Camp 4 on Abruzzi route where our other sub-team was. Let me tell you, it is very annoying to actually lose altitude meters on an 8000m peak…

But as mentioned, no choice.

So we went down to Camp 4 at the Abruzzi route and spent the afternoon there to hopefully start a summit push.

And word was: Yes, the rope fixing team will surely start in the afternoon and surely fix to the summit!

So we started our summit push with one day delay yesterday Wednesday 17 July at 8 pm! I was very motivated and felt really good for my planned no-O2 summit push! I had started quite at the end of the „queue“ but soon overtook most people, walking in my own speed, as slowly as possible – the summit is the goal!

Things looked and felt good until shortly before the bottleneck. And then, unfortunately and frustratingly the rope fixing team again had to turn around due to too great a danger due to avalanche risk, hip deep snow in the bottleneck, and a big crevasse (my understanding).

You can imagine that I was deeply disappointed, frustrated, sad and annoyed. But alas, these brave Sherpas only turn around for good reason, so not much to be done.

We turned around then (as all other teams, e.g. from Seven Summit Treks) and went back to Camp 4 on the Abruzzi route. After an ok night Max and I got up quite early and prepared our takeoffs with the paragliders. Thanks to David for helping / holding the gliders!

And, after the disappointment with the failed summit push, at least we both managed an excellent takeoff from 8000m and then had a great flight from K2 directly to Basecamp :). To my knowledge the first ever paragliding flights from K2! Video follows…

What about other teams or more attempts? To my understanding, the team from Madison Mountaineering is right now at Camp 4 of the Cesen route and might check out the situation for a summit push tonight. The Sherpas from Seven Summits Trek might also do another try in a few days after some rest. Other than that, I only know of Adrian Ballinger and his team who spent one night at Camp 4 and will probably now weigh his options for a summit push in the next days.

What does this overall mean for me?

I am not going to do another attempt in the next days or weeks, even if other teams try again (although the situation at bottleneck will probably stay dangerous). The reason is that I simply do not want to do this stuff anymore.

The past days have again shown that you are at an 8000m peak, more so at a high one like K2, extremely dependent on the actions of other people and teams, on conditions, on weather. This is the opposite of autonomy and what I normally prefer. Sure, you can climb alone without support from other teams, Sherpas, fixed ropes etc, but then your success chances are even more minimal.

So in the end I have to answer the question what else I could do with my time instead of waiting at basecamp, hoping for the rope fixing team to have success, hoping for good weather etc.

I mean, how much would I progress for example in my climbing if I took off four weeks and just went climbing?

So, when doing this weighting I have come to the conclusion the balance for 8000m climbing is now off and I feel I should devote my time to other things. By the way, I had come to this conclusion already during our unplanned night at Camp 4 at 8000m.

Thus, no, I will not wait for another possible summit window and I will not try again, I want to come home now and do active stuff where I am in control of most variables :).

Still, here some pictures from our summit push!

K2 summit push: It’s on!

So finally the summit pushs for K2 2019 will start or have started!

Max, Nima Dorje Sherpa and I will start our summit push tomorrow Sunday, 14 July 2019, via the Cesen route, with a planned summit on Wednesday, 17 July 2019.

But let me give you a more detailed overview of what’s now planned on the mountain. I waited a bit with giving you the next information because there is often a lot of delay, misinformation, rumors etc. running around, so I prefer to wait until the smoke has pretty much cleared ;). Still, at an 8000m peak there is no guarantee for the plans to follow through to the letter, one avalanche which wipes away the fixed ropes on the route can change the whole situation.

The overall situation regarding rope fixing, camps, weather etc. seems to be as follows:

  • On the Cesen route, the Sherpa team from Madison Mountaineering reached Camp 4 on the shoulder yesterday Friday, 12 July 2019. Ropes are fixed up to Camp 4. The trailing from Camp 3 to Camp 4 was quite hard, but now there seems to be a good trail. Big thanks to Gareth Madison, Ang Furba Sherpa and the Sherpa team for the hard work and excellent progress! Madison and Furtenbach are cooperating this year, so also thanks for the excellent cooperation so far. With the binoculars I could see that Camp 2 looks decent, well protected and offers good tent space. Camp 3 though is rather small, somewhat exposed and cannot take many people.
  • On the Abruzzi route, the ropes had been fixed up to Camp 4 already some days ago by the Sherpa team from Seven Summits Trek. Big thanks to Dawa Sherpa and his Sherpa team as well for the hard work and excellent progress!
  • Camp 4 on the Cesen route and Camp 4 on the Abruzzi route are not the same: While Camp 4 on the Cesen route is located directly on the shoulder, Camp 4 of the Abruzzi route is located about one hour walk below. Reason for this seems to be the existence of some seracs below the shoulder on the Abruzzi route, so the Camp was moved from its original location and now involves a somewhat meandering route. This also means a little bit longer summit night for the people on Abruzzi route. Abruzzi and Cesen route meet a little bit above Camp 4 on the Cesen route
  • The rope fixing from Camp 4 / shoulder via the bottleneck to the summit will probably be done on Tuesday, 16 July 2019, by the Sherpa team from Seven Summits Trek
  • Weather forecast looks good and stable until at least 18 July 2019. Winds are supposed to be low, coming from a Western direction, temperatures are looking acceptable as well though not as warm as in the past days. But Pakistan weather is notoriously difficult to forecast precisely, so some variation might occur…

Regarding the summit strategies of the teams, I can give the following rough information:

  • Our team / Furtenbach: Two sub-teams: As mentioned, Max, Nima Dorje Sherpa and I will start our summit push on Sunday, 14 July 2019 via the Cesen route. I am quite happy about that as the Cesen route is steeper and more sustained, which in turn means a more direct and hopefully quicker ascent – which I prefer :). Our planned schedule looks as follows:
    • Sunday 14 July 2019: We intend to go directly from Basecamp (5000m) to Camp 2 (around 6400m) and sleep there
    • Monday 15 July 2019: Go from Camp 2 (6400m) to Camp 3 (around 7200m), sleep there
    • Tuesday 16 July 2019: Take one tent from Camp 3, go from Camp 3 (7200m) to Camp 4 (around 8000m), rest for the afternoon, start the summit push in the night around 22:00. Align with other teams as necessary to avoid jams in the bottleneck
    • Wednesday 17 July 2019: Navigate the bottleneck in the night, reach the summit snow fields at first morning light and hopefully reach the summit in the morning!
    • Thursday 18 July 2019: Hopefully latest day to be back at Basecamp
K2 Cesen route: Approximate route description and location of high camps
  • From Furtenbach team, sub-team David and Anja have started their summit push together with Mingma Sherpa and Ang Kaji Sherpa already today Saturday 13 July 2019 via the Abruzzi route. They will take one more day as they will also sleep at Camp 1 (whereas we three want to go directly from Basecamp to Camp 2). We will then meet at the shoulder at 8000m for the summit night!
  • Madison Mountaineering team: To my knowledge, they will start their summit push via the Cesen route one day after us, that is, Monday 15 July 2019. They also intend to go directly from Basecamp to Camp 2. So their planned summit day is one day after us on Thursday, 18 July 2019
  • Seven Summits Treks: They also have two sub-teams like us, but all will go via the Abruzzi route. One sub-team started already today, Saturday 13 July 2019, they will sleep in each camp. The other sub-team will start tomorrow Sunday 14 July and go directly to Camp 2 to then continue together with the first sub-team. Their planned summit day is then Wednesday 17 July 2019, like us

I have no knowledge about the summit approaches of the other teams.

Overall, this looks like a nice staggered approach to avoid jams. With Madison Mountaineering there should be no overlap at all as they start one day after us, so this is ideal. With Seven Summits Treks, there will be no overlap until the shoulder at least for Max, Nima Dorje and me as we are climbing Cesen route and they are climbing Abruzzi route. So this is also good. At the shoulder, we will then have to coordinate who approaches bottleneck at what time in order to avoid jams. The bottleneck is the only narrow passage where passing other people is difficult or impossible. On the approach to bottleneck and after the bottleneck passing is normally no problem as there is a lot of space. But until now the cooperation between the three teams from Madison, Seven Summits Trek and Furtenbach Adventures has been excellent so I am very positive we will all get along just nicely also for the bottleneck. It could for example mean that we as a small team start one hour before the bigger team so then there is no overlap. We will see.

Overall conditions seem to be good and the Sherpas are quite optimist which is reassuring. The trail seems to be good on both routes, Abruzzi and Cesen. The seracs at bottleneck also seem to be a little bit smaller than in the years before and the passage through the bottleneck will hopefully be a little bit faster than usual as ice seems to have melted away. I am glad to hear that as the seracs at the bottleneck are still super-menacing and dangerous, back home in the alps one would never accept such a dangerous path under seracs, being exposed for several hours – but alas, here we do not have much choice…(I hear that one team wants to explore a little detour around the bottleneck (potential „Wiessner“ variant), but I do not want to say more, we will see if there is a chance to do this variant – good luck!)

Excitement is rising on my side :). I am feeling very good, conditions look good, so the chances are not that bad. But reaching the summit of K2 still requires a lot of luck! There are so many success factors outside of our control, you cannot „plan“ this summit. Also, I will see up there how I feel and how well my acclimatization feels.

Wish me luck :).

And about my additional plan (as well as for Max) of taking the fast descent from K2 ;): We have to see on summit day where the winds are coming from. Too much wind from the back and we cannot take off. Having the right conditions for takeoff after indeed reaching the summit would be double jackpot, so I am not thinking too much about this now.

I will hopefully add some pictures from K2 Basecamp life later to this blog post if the internet connection permits.

Until then, have a great weekend back home and all over the world!

Final confirmation: Summit push starts on Sunday, 14 July 2019

The dates have been confirmed, we will go up tomorrow Sunday 14 July via the Cesen route. Some snow is expected for Monday, 15 July, but only about 10cm, so negligible. Tuesday looks like good weather, and our planned summit day Wednesday 17 July 2019 should hopefully have the best weather, that is, no precipitation, no clouds, low winds.

K2 Basecamp Life

Before I go up K2 tomorrow, some more pictures and hopefully videos for you to give you an impression of the K2 Basecamp. The general daily routine is similar to Broad Peak Basecamp life ;).

Basecamp life and more outlook

Finally I get to collect some picture about basecamp life. If I describe it in words it is not very impressive ;): It consists mostly of sleeping, eating, lying around, resting, talking, talking smack, discussing weather, discussing outlook for the next days, sleeping again, eating, staring blankly into empty space, listening to music, wandering around basecamp and visiting other teams, sitting around, eating, thinking what the hell you are doing here etc. Repeat ;).

But stop, to my defence, I am not only lying around like a sloth, I started today to deduce manually the formula for the barometric altitude to keep my brain working a little bit, and I even succeeded! So it seems my IQ has not yet shrunk to zero ;). Though I did the formula only with the simplifying assumption of an isotherm atmosphere, i.e., temperature stays the same over all altitude levels. But so I have something to do for the next days, that is, adjusting the formula for let’s say the assumption of adiabiatic temperature change with increasing altitude ;).

Barometric formula manual deduction and proof at 5000m above sea level 😉

And here a little gallery about Basecamp life at Broad Peak:

Videos coming in the next days, uploads are still very slow and it is getting late today. And some info about Basecamp life at K2 also coming in the next days! Hint: It is not very different to Basecamp life at Broad Peak ;).

Outlook: Delay expected…

A quite typical thing for high altitude mountaineering has happened: Things are getting delayed ;).

At the moment it is not really clear when we can go up the mountain and start the summit push, and it is also not clear which route we are going to take.

On Abruzzi route, the ropes are fixed up to Camp 4, on Cesen route the ropes end about 500m below Camp 4 it seems. Here it will probably take some days until the Sherpas can continue. So at the moment there is some tendency we will go up via Abruzzi route instead of Cesen (as originally expected) as we can hope here to advance faster. But then again, we need to wait for the ropes to be fixed from Camp 4 to the summit, or at least we need support for the tracing. It seems that often there is a lot of snow above the Bottleneck and it is pretty much impossible for a small team to do the tracing on their own as we would get stuck and might have to turn around.

That means that we now have to wait a bit to see when the rope fixing / tracing continues and how we can best fit in as a small team with the big teams. As most of us want to go without supplemental oxygen we have to be careful not to get stuck behind the rope fixing team or slower people as this is usually a no-go without supplemental oxygen, especially during the night. So we still have to figure out our speedboat-strategy. I will keep you posted! But for now quite surely we will not start before the week-end, if at all.

Moving to K2 Basecamp and outlook for the next days

We moved to K2 basecamp on Monday 8 July 2019. Everything has been moved, that is, kitchen tent, team tent, personal tents, material, food etc.

Sorry I can only update now – on the weekend, the internet was not working properly, and yesterday Monday I had managed to get a bad case of sunstroke, so I was mainly resting in the tent with a very annoying headache…you would think that the boy has learned by now to protect himself from the sun but alas, only one hour in the T-Shirt with the neck exposed was enough to get myself this sunstroke. So obviously it is not enough to protect the head, also the neck should be protected, boys and girls ;). But everything is fine again.

Potential routes / climbing strategies on K2

Having arrived at K2 Basecamp, we will soon have to decide which strategy and route to follow.

K2 Routes from the South / Pakistan – taken from Wikipedia https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3e/K2_south_routes.jpg

The potential routes for us are the Cesen route (E) and the Abruzzi route (F). These are the „easiest“ routes up K2. From those two, the Abruzzi route is the most common one. The other routes are very hard to access and climb and / or too dangerous. The so called Magic Line (C) for example has only been climbed twice since 1954 (first ascent of K2 ever). It involves sixth grade climbing at 8000m, is very long and sustained. To the right is the so called Polish Line (D), a route which has only been climbed once at all by the two famous Polish mountaineers Kukuzka and Piotrowski (who was killed on the descent). It is a very dangerous route as it is constantly in the danger zone of seracs. Reinhold Messner called the line even suicidal.

Both Abruzzi and Cesen route have its merits and problems, but my information on the Cesen route is rather scarce.

The Abruzzi route offers an overall easy route with few technical sections. The first more technical part is the House Chimney between Camp 1 and Camp 2. It is a short but steep chimney (approx. 7-8m) at around 6700m which would require a grade IV climb if freeclimbed. Between Camp 2 and Camp 3 follows the so called Black Pyramid, which offers ongoing mixed climbing, that is, a mixture between ice and rock. After Camp 3 at 7400m, there follows a long snow field to Camp 4 at 7900m. At Camp 4, the Cesen route and Abruzzi route converge.

From Camp 4 on, you move up towards to the infamous Bottleneck, a passage under huge seracs, unfortunately presenting an objective danger which cannot be bypassed. So the key is to be as fast as possible, insofar that is possible at 8300m…

Once you have passed the bottleneck, about 200-300m of snow field walking towards the summit follow, supposedly at a moderate angle.

The Cesen route itself is steeper but shorter. You can access it quite directly from the Basecamp, which is nice, whereas for the Abruzzi route you have to take quite a long walk towards the North around the mountain, passing about two hours through a cumbersome and annoying glacier. So in terms of speed the Cesen route is preferable. However, it seems to be prone to rockfall. This year, though, with the bigger amounts of snow, it seems to be quite safe. We will see ;).

And then, once we have passed the bottleneck and the summit snow fields, hopefully we arrive at the summit which offers a nice platform for a paragliding takeoff – we hope!

Outlook

Which route are we going to climb? For the moment, we will hopefully climb the Cesen route. It is much more direct, which I prefer. Also it offers overall more possibilities to pass slower people, there are less possibilities for jams, as I understand.

At the moment the weather looks great, it is warm and the wind is weak. The main questions is now when the fixed ropes will be installed from the Camp 4 to the summit. Once this is clear, we can start! Maybe already on Wednesday or Thursday…let us hope that the weather stays stable!

Broad Peak – Acclimatization and fast descent ;)

On Tuesday 2 July we went up Broad Peak for an acclimatization rotation.

Why another mountain acclimatization rotation?

You may ask yourself whatfor I do an acclimatization up the mountain when I have raved about this pre-acclimatization thing. Well, while this really works wonderfully, it can – for now, and in my opinion – not yet fully replace a mountain acclimatization for an 8000m peak, simply because you do not manage to get the same time and altitude exposure with the generator as on the mountain. After all, you do not want to spend 24 hours per day in the tent or with a mask ;).

So at least one acclimatization rotation on the mountain is still on the list in case of an 8000m peak. But I am pretty sure that in the near future it will be possible to fully acclimatize at home and go straight for the summit of an 8000m peak.

Start of the acclimatization rotation

We started on Tuesday with a direct ascent to Camp 2 at around 6200m. Things went beautifully and the pre-acclimatization clearly worked as planned as I arrived quite easily at Camp 2. After one night in Camp 2, we continued up Camp 3 at around 7050m. Things got a little bit harder now as there was alot of snow and I carried in exchange with Max one 200m rope which weighs six kilogramm. As I am not a Sherpa let me tell you that I could feel that additional weight at this altitude ;). But still, we arrived at Camp 3 before noon and could enjoy the afternoon sun.

After some rest, we started out at 19:00 further up towards the summit. For myself, I had pretty much decided not to go to the summit as I had summited anyway already in 2017, but just go to 7500m which should be enough as acclimatization for K2, while not unnecessarily wasting energy for my main goal K2. But I felt I would ultimately decide on the way up.

So conditions were in the beginning similar to what they were two years ago. Honestly, my motivation was not exactly large to begin with as the summit section at Broad Peak is long and tedious and does not offer really interesting climbing sections. Thus, arriving at 7500m around 22:30 I did indeed decide to turn around as I felt continuing would be rather detrimental to saving forces for K2. I was back at Camp 3 before midnight and then enjoyed a very good night with good sleep. I am pretty sure I could have continued to the summit as my acclimatization felt good, but I was not motivated and did not want to waste energy.

The next day, I was now waiting for the other members to come down. Max, Anja and the Sherpas had continued towards the summit. Information was not really clear and finally one Sherpa who had returned early told me that the team had summited only around 11:30. So instead of going down myself immediately I now decided to stay on in Camp 3 in case things got slower and help might be needed.

Max came back to the camp in the early afternoon and told me that conditions had been pretty bad and exhausting, and that the summit itself was in a whiteout, so no nice pictures, no great view from the summit. At that point, I have to admit, I felt indeed not sad that I had turned around at 7500m ;). One more member finally came back at 19:00 which means a 24hour rotation for the summit section which is very very long.

Congrats to Max for summiting Broad Peak!

Having waited this long this meant another night at 7000m which I had not planned but everybody was back safe in Camp 3 which is the most important thing.

Today then we got up around 6:00 in the morning, packed our stuff and started the hike down.

Max and I went down until around 6800m, shortly under Camp 3 and then waited a bit.

Why?

Taking the fast way down 😉

I have a little confession to make. I have brought my paraglider to this expedition and now of course I wanted to use it to fly down the mountain instead of walking down for hours. But it was a bit of an experiment as the air is very thin at this altitude and I was not really sure how well the takeoff would work. Thinner air means less lift which in turn means you have to run faster for takeoff. Not the easiest thing to do on an 8000m mountain ;).

So we waited for the mountain wind – coming from the back – to die down and hopefully come from the front, helping our takeoff. At this altitude, a takeoff would become even harder with the wind from the back.

After an hour wait or so the wind from the back had died down and we had zero wind. Still not what I would call good conditions but we had waited long enough.

Max went first and had a great takeoff. I had helped him a bit with holding the glider so it could not slide down. Now being along and no one coming along I had to find a way to fix the glider so it would not slide down on the snow. Luckily, there was a little bag with some equipment in it just where we had stopped, so I simply put it on the middle of the glider to fix it while I was sorting the lines and preparing takeoff. After some tedious minutes everything was ready and I removed the bag.

I prepared myself for takeoff, waited two or three more minutes hoping for some thermal updrafts from the front, but as they were not coming I simply decided to give it a go like Max. And I was really amazed how well the takeoff then went! Three or four steps and I was in the air! Amazing how well these mountain wings fly nowadays!

Big thanks to Ralf Reiter from Airsthetik for your help and advice before the journey which wing to choose! I am flying the XXLite 2 from Ozone, with 16 m2.

What followed then was simply an incredibly beautiful flight in the amazing Baltoro environment, looking over to K2, back to Broad Peak, and down to Concordia, Baltoro and Godwin-Austen glacier as well as Broad Peak Basecamp.

And a mere 10 minutes after takeoff I landed to the side of our camp, what normally would have taken a four hour walkdown!

I am still blown away by this beautiful flight, so is Max!

Check out the pictures from our acclimatization rotation and the video from the flight.

The video from the flight:

https://vimeo.com/user99949155/review/346420693/9f87409065

And well, now you can probably guess what my / our plan is on K2 ;).

Outlook

We will now have probably around three rest days in Broad Peak Basecamp before moving to K2 Basecamp. First, two members will do another try at Broad Peak summit and we will of course wait for them, and tomorrow or after tomorrow another team member for K2 will fly in with the helicopter.

I am feeling very well so far. Acclimatization went very well, I will have a good rest now, the glider worked very well, and at K2 I hear that the rope fixing teams already reached Camp 2. We will still have to work out a bit our strategy as there are many teams at K2 this year, but me being a notorious optimist I feel that this should overall help as there is a lot of force and push at K2 then with all these people and Sherpas.

I will write on the weekend a bit more about the potential K2 strategy, which routes are probable (Nicolas, to answer your question then), and about basecamp life.

Until then, I wish you all a great weekend!

Hike from Askole to Broad Peak Basecamp

From Askole on, you can only continue by foot, there are no more roads. So you have to go up the Baltoro glacier for about 60 km to get to Concordia and then turn left to go to Broad Peak basecamp via the Godwin-Austen glacier. Also, Askole is the last village on the way, from here, you will meet only other climbers and trekkers and occasionally you will see a military post.

Usually, there are four camps used on the way to basecamp: Joula, Paiju, Urdokas, Goro II. Some people camp in addition on Concordia. So you advance each day one camp further up, and most people will do a rest day at one of the camps, e.g. Paiju. Not for Max and me of course 😉. But more on this later.

Map of Askole to Broad Peak and K2 Base Camp

Hike from Askole to Jhoula Camp

The hike from Askole to Joula is overall nice and easy. Distance is about 20 km, altitude gain about 300m. The only annoying thing is that in the end you have to make a big detour to the left / north via a valley, you even pass the camp, then you cross the valley and have to hike back one km to the camp. And next morning you have to hike back two km to the Baltoro glacier. Landscape wise the hike is nothing special for my taste as there not yet bigger mountains around and the hike is rather dusty and mostly in rock fields.

Hike from Jhoula to Paiju

The hike from Joula to Paiju has a similar character as the first hike. You hike through a bit moonlike landscape with mostly rocks and dust, along the river, and the mountains are not yet impressive. But again, it is a an easy and nice hike with about 20 km distance and 300 m altitude gain. Many teams do a rest day at Paiju.

Hike from Paiju to Urdokas

Now things are getting interesting. The mountains around are getting bigger and more impressive! The hike itself feels a bit lengthy as there is a lot of up and down, thus making you do a lot of ascent for little net altitude gain. There is one river crossing where you either take off the shoes and walk with bare feet through the water, or you walk up senselessly 20 minutes up the river to find a crossing and waste a lot of time, like a certain Eduard from Germany did, but I would never do such a silly waste of time 😉!

Before and upon arrival at Urdokas you get a great view at the famous Trango towers. They offer magnificent and difficult climbing at a still moderate altitude of up to 6200m, so you do not have to do an eternal acclimatization. To the right you can see the great Main Cathedral. Maybe in the next few years…

Fun fact: We had sent one of the porters ahead to reserve tent space at Urdokas because it is a rather small camp site and there were a lot of people expected for the night. So he arrived first at Urdokas, then Max and me arrived as first of all teams. Wonderful tent space reserved, so I thought…in the end it somehow happened that other teams occupied our tent spaces while we were sleeping a bit on the sunny rocks and while our tents had not arrived yet, so we ended up in the evening with the worst tent spaces in a mud pit ☹😉. Well, lesson learned for next time…

Hike from Urdokas Camp to Broad Peak Basecamp, or: the most annoying hike of my life 😉

As mentioned, most teams do a rest day at Paiju or latest at Urdokas. And they do another camp at Goro II further up, some teams do even one more camp at Concordia before arriving at basecamp. Of course, not for Max and me 😉. We wanted to be at basecamp as quickly as possible. We looked at the map and with our expert finger measuring decided that skipping Goro II camp and going directly from Urdokas to Basecamp does not look that far and we should be at Basecamp early afternoon. So we started at 5am, did even catch a good path through the glacier chaos to the main path on the glacier moraine. After only four hours we arrived at Goro II and felt very content with ourselves as within another four hours we should be at Basecamp.

Haha. Now the fun started … or to be honest, the most annoying hike of my life followed 😉.

First, instead of going straight to Concordia we chose a route on the left which was supposed to avoid the snow masses at Concordia and provide a little short cut by leaving Concordia on the right. Well, as it turned out this left path was mostly ultra annoying rocky and blocky glacier terrain with a lot of up and down, meandering around instead of going a roughly straight line, and often being blocked by porters and mulis going slowly on the narrow path. Then, when finally reaching the Godwin-Austen glacier for the left turn, the path was totally unclear and both Max and I (Max had gone a little bit ahead) went too far to the left. While doing this, we both managed to break through some frozen rivers to the knees and get totally wet shoes and feet. I continued endlessly on a rocky ridge, seeing the camp in the distance but it did not seem to get closer. After a long while I had enough of this stupid rocky ridge and I crawled through deep snow to the right to some glacier ridge which actually was quite ok, except for breaking through to the hips every fifth step.

Finally, I arrived at a crossing path which I believed to lead to the camp which I could actually see now quite closely. But after more crawling and slipping I found out that this path was in fact passing the camp on the left and obviously going straight to K2 basecamp instead. So, after I had even passed Broad Peak basecamp and it was already in my back I had enough and I simply crossed to the right directly through the glacier terrain, up and down and up and down, and always when I thought “now I am at basecamp” another stupid glacier wall turned up 😉. Max had continued even further almost to K2 basecamp before turning back, so in the end we arrived at pretty much the same time at basecamp. Talk about professionals 😉.

In numbers, we had hiked this day 33,07 km in 13:30 hours, done 1456m ascent and 733m descent for a meagre net altitude gain of 723m ☹😉.

But all of this is forgotten or rather you laugh about it once you sit in the team tent and get a nice dinner 😊.

Outlook

After five rest days at Broad Peak Basecamp I will start on Tuesday 2 July 2019 up Broad Peak for some acclimatization. I would like to get to 7000m or 7500m. Let’s see how that works! Next update probably on Thursday 4 July 2019 then.

See you!

Skardu to Askole

The last travel entry was the flight to Skardu. Now the fun ride from Skardu to Askole follows!

Luckily we were able to fly to Skardu as otherwise we would have been forced to take the bus for two days via the Karakoram Highway. We had to do this two years ago on the way back and it is a really really annoying journey over dusty and rumply roads, all the time having the Diesel smell in the nose, and sitting for 12 hours each day in the bus.

Skardu itself is surprisingly large with a population of about 70000 people. Otherwise, it is mostly dirty and noisy 😉. And, what’s weird: You do not see any women in the streets, but that is local custom I guess…

After a one day stay in Skardu waiting for some final paperwork to be done we started on Saturday 22 June with the jeep journey to Askole. Some might call it exciting 😉. It starts out on paved roads but very soon switches to unpaved gravel roads through rugged terrain, prone to landslides and rock falls, over wobbly wood bridges, across deep ravines with a wild river flowing deep down. Often the road is blocked, such as two years ago when we had to stop at a landslide, carry all our baggage across the landslide and then get into jeeps again waiting for us on the other side. Luckily, this year the road was not blocked, and we could get to Askole without any issues. We had a good driver who did not have the tendency to show what a hardcore guy he is by driving like crazy on those unpaved roads…

The stay for the night in Askole itself was nice and quiet. Our local guide Iqbal stems from Askole, so he invited us to his home for some tea and food. Families are rather big here by the way: Iqbal has four brothers, seven sisters and about 100 cousins 😉.

Here a video clip to give you a taste of this nice journey 😊:

The ride from Skardu to Askole

https://vimeo.com/user99949155/review/345404036/c6f92ecc2d

The acclimatization thing

Before I continue the travel blog I was asked by several people to give more information on the acclimatization thing. Those who followed me already on the Pakistan and Everest expedition in the last two years will already know about this. I will simplify things and leave out some details to not overcomplicate things…

Basic knowledge about the human body and oxygen

So, as it is well known our human bodies need oxygen to function. It is needed to enable the “cell powerplants” which (simplified) take carbohydrates and fats to transform them into glucose and then ATP, the basic fuel for the cells, which is then burned with oxygen to provide energy, along the way producing CO2. The energy powers e.g. the brain (it needs up to 30% of the whole energy in the body!), muscle cells, basic cell mechanisms like ion pumps, signal transmitters etc. About 40% of the energy is needed for the own cell survival, 60% of the energy for their proper tasks, i.e., signal transmission.

There is an alternative energy producing mechanism which works without oxygen by burning ATP into lactic acid, but this only works only as a “peak” provider and only for a short time. Lactic acid causes the characteristic muscle burn and cramps which you know when you have exercised hard. But for the basic body functioning, enough oxygen is essential.

So where do we normally get the oxygen from: Clearly from the air we are breathing in. The air surrounding us contains about the following gases: 21% oxygen, 78% nitrogen, 0,03% CO2, and 1% rare gases (like argon). Our body uses up oxygen in the cells, producing CO2 and H2O (water) along the way. This oxygen deprived and CO2 rich blood diffuses into the blood in the capillary vessels where it is then transported in the veins to the right heart atrium and chamber, from there it is transported to the lungs where the oxygen deprived blood gets saturated again with oxygen in the lung alveoles, and CO2 is taken out and breathed out, from the lungs it then transported back to the left heart atrium and chamber from where the oxygen rich and CO2 deprived blood is transported via aorta and the arteries to the brain and various body parts where the oxygen / CO2 exchange mechanism via the capillaries can start again. The transport of oxygen itself in the blood takes place via the erythrocytes, also known as red blood cells. They contain a molecule called haemoglobin which can pick up oxygen in the alveoles, transport O2 in the blood and then diffuse it again to the cells in the capillaries.

Specific challenges at high altitudes

So far, so good. What is the challenge then for high altitudes? For this we need to talk about so called partial gas pressures. At sea level, the assumed norm pressure is 1013 mbar (hPa) (will change with weather), at Munich we will usually have around 950 mbar. Partial pressure of a gas is now simply multiplying the total pressure of the gas mixture we are looking at with the proportion of the gas in the mixture. That is, for oxygen we would for example take 950 mbar x 21% and get 200 mbar. This is the partial pressure of O2 at Munich with a total air pressure of 950 mbar. As most of you will now, air pressure drops the higher we get. This works as an exponential function, so at 5000 m above sea level pressure has dropped to about 50% of the pressure from sea level, and at Mount Everest 8848 m pressure has dropped to about 33% of sea level pressure. Now it is important to note that the gas proportions within the air do not change with altitude. That is, at Mount Everest the air still contains about 21% of oxygen, albeit at a much lower pressure. Thus, the partial gas pressures drop accordingly with the total pressure. At Mount Everest, the partial pressure of oxygen is about 33% of the partial O2 pressure at sea level.

This drop of partial O2 pressure is what you feel when you go up a higher mountain, e.g. Zugspitze or Mont Blanc: you will get short-breathed and you will not have the usual amount of energy for exercise – less oxygen provided means you can burn only less ATP to provide energy. In addition to the drop in partial O2 pressure in the air, the partial O2 pressure drops even further a bit when working its way through the body, so when the O2 finally arrives in the cell the partial O2 pressure is even a bit lower than it was in the air we were breathing in.

Now, being short-breathed would only by an annoyance – but now we are coming to the true challenge of high altitudes. With partial O2 pressure dropping, the basic cell functioning mechanism are more and more challenged. Id est, we are not only short-breathed, but basic things like ion pumps, signal transmitting, brain functioning will be more and more challenged as there is less and less energy. And finally: At Mount Everest altitude the partial O2 pressure that finally arrives at the cells is so low that it is at the very physiological limit at which human life can be sustained at all. As mentioned above, about 40% of the energy produced are needed for the cell survival, 60% for the signal transmission tasks. Obviously, with a lack of oxygen, the cell will first cut down on its signal transmission tasks etc. before cutting down on its own survival energy. And that is, with all non-essential functions already reduced to zero and only the basic essential functions still on. That is the reason why only very few people are able to reach Mount Everest summit without supplemental oxygen, and also only if they are genetically at an advantage, if it is nice weather and if there is a high pressure weather around Mount Everest. And if Mount Everest was only 200 or 300m higher, nobody could reach its summit without supplemental oxygen.

Acclimatization

Luckily, the human body has ways of coping with lack of oxygen: This is called acclimatization. Otherwise, we would not be able to climb those high mountains. For altitudes up to 2500m, no acclimatization is usually needed. The body can cope with these altitudes with short-term adjustments like increasing breathing frequency. Starting at 2500-3000m, most people will start feeling altitude effects and an acclimatization process is needed, otherwise altitude sickness will set in (more or less severe).

Acclimatization mechanisms

From the above explanations, three basic drivers can be identified which need to be improved in order to cope with the lack of oxygen at altitude

  1. Oxygen intake
  2. Oxygen transport
  3. Oxygen usage

Oxygen intake simply means breathing more quickly, i.e. hyperventilating. The breathing regulation notes the lack of oxygen and increases the breathing frequency. This works immediately and does not take much time. Only problem is that this breathing regulation does not work well in the night, that’s why many people do not have problems during exercise where they are hyperventilating, but at night the breathing frequency drops back to “normal” and that’s when people develop altitude sickness. Fun fact: The Sherpa people from Nepal are genetically better suited for altitude as they have a natural hyperventilation breathing rhythm

Oxygen transport: This means producing more erythrocytes so that per ml blood more oxygen can be transported. This process however takes time, weeks and months

Oxygen usage: This means that the capillaries and cells adjust to the lower oxygen offer by improving capillarization and cell powerplant functions. This also takes weeks and months to develop.

Mechanism 2 and 3 are essential to adjust to higher altitudes, as hyperventilation alone will not suffice at really high altitudes, and they are the reason why acclimatization takes up so much time.

For which altitudes can the body acclimatize?

Basically, for altitudes up to 5000-5500 m the human body can fully acclimatize. That is, given enough time the body will adjust so that life can be sustained indefinitely, albeit at a slower pace. That is also the reason why there are no permanent human settlements above 5500m. Above 5000-5500m, only a partial acclimatization can be achieved, and only temporary stays are possible. The higher up, the shorter. At 6500m, life could be sustained for several weeks but with a gradual decline. Above around 8000m, the so called death zone, even with perfect acclimatization, life can be sustained only for a few days (without supplemental oxygen). Someone without any acclimatization would fall into a coma and die in a short time at this altitude.

How does acclimatization work?

The basic idea is to “tease” the body with a lower oxygen offer, e.g. going up to altitude, and then going back to normal altitudes to give the body time to work on the tease and start working the acclimatization mechanism.

So a classical acclimatization routine e.g. for Broad Peak might look like this:

  • Slow and gradual ascent to basecamp, with rest days, to give the body time to start working the acclimatization. The basic rule is to increase “sleeping altitude” not more than 500m per day
  • After arrival in basecamp, take some days rest to adjust to the new altitude. By the way, basecamps are always set up below 5500m because only then you can still have an acceptable rest
  • After some rest, first acclimatization rotation: Go up to camp 1 at 5700m, sleep there, go up the next day to camp 2 at 6400m, but only touch, no sleeping, go back down to basecamp
  • Take some rest days
  • Second acclimatization rotation: Go up to camp 2, sleep there, go up the next day to camp 3 at 7000m, but only touch, no sleeping, go back down to basecamp If everything went well and you feel fine, you should be acclimatized for Broad Peak summit 8051m. For a higher mountain such as K2 8611m you might want to do one night a 7000m and touch at least 7500m or 8000m
  • But such a classical acclimatization routine takes a lot of time. For Everest, normally eight weeks are assumed necessary.

Potential high altitude complications

Potential complications of altitudes and problematic acclimatization: Altitude sickness. Without proper acclimatization people will develop altitude sickness. The first symptoms are headaches, exhaustion, dizziness, nausea, difficulties sleeping. A slight headache is quite normal and might be treated with a mild painkiller such as Ibuprofen. If the headaches get worse and do not go away with pain killers it is clear sign you are developing a severe altitude sickness. The first and most important treatment is a quick descent to lower altitudes. If altitude sickness is not treated quickly, it can develop into severe illnesses like high altitude pulmonary edema and high altitude cerebral edema which often end with death.

Pre-acclimatization: The smart way

As mentioned above a “classical” acclimatization routine takes a lot of time with boring acclimatization rotations, lots of time in basecamp. This is very very annoying, at least for me. The idea is now to do some acclimatization at home, parallel to your “normal” life. At first, you might think to go into a pressure chamber where you can gradually lower the pressure to simulate the higher altitudes. This would surely work, but a pressure chamber is cumbersome and expensive. Also, the process of pressurizing and depressurizing takes up a lot of time.

Instead, it was discovered that the body starts the same acclimatization process if subjected to lower O2 proportions at normal pressure. That is, the body reacts pretty much the same if subjected to regular air at 50% sea level pressure (i.e. simulating 5000m altitude) or to air which contains only 10.5% of O2 instead of 21% at normal sea level pressure. And technically, it is much easier to take oxygen out of the air than building a pressure chamber.

What you need then is:

  • A generator which is able to draw oxygen out of the air (and replace it with nitrogen)
  • A tent in which you can sleep and breath the hypoxic air with lower O2 proportions at normobaric pressure, as if you were sleeping at altitude
  • A mask for active hypoxic training, i.e., do exercise with hypoxic air – as if you were going up the mountain at altitude

And then you follow a “normal” acclimatization strategy: You start sleeping in the tent at lower altitudes and then gradually increase altitudes. Same for the active training: Start your units at lower altitudes and then increase. I started with a sleeping altitude of about 3000m and in the end spend several nights at around 7000m. For the active training, I did 40-60 minutes units four to five times a week as interval training, that is five minutes high intensity and five minutes low intensity. I started also at around 3000m, did the main part of the training at around 4500-5000m and in the end did some units at 7500m. But those units were rather at a snails pace 😉.

And that’s how the altitude tent for sleeping looks like. It is a head tent style, you sleep with the head and parts of the upper body in the tent. The tube from the generator is simply put into the tent and “crowds out” the normal air. The advantage compared to a full tent is that you can reach the required altitude much faster as there is less normal air to be crowded out. Also, it is less hot and humid. And it is quite easily transportable if you go on travel. The generator though is a bit a pain in the ass as it is large and heavy… All that said, the tent is of course not very romantic 😉.

Head tent for altitude acclimatization at home

For the active training, I used a Bowflex trainer at home which is a mixture of a stepper and bike, and for travels I used a spinning bike. The picture was btw not taken at the sea, but at beautiful Attersee lake in Upper Austria in the morning :).

Hypoxia training on spinning bike
Hypoxia training on spinning bike

With this pre-acclimatization method, I was able to reach Everest summit three weeks after departure last year. So it works and I am a big believer in this method. It enables you to pass more time at home in your normal social environment with family and friends, you can continue your work albeit at a reduced pace, and you spend less boring time in base camp or at boring acclimatization rotations. Furthermore, you arrive better rested and with more power at basecamp. But this pre-acclimatization does not come for free. You want to have around 250-300 hours under hypoxia to achieve the desired acclimatization. Six weeks before departure I started the pre-acclimatization, with six nights per week sleeping in the hypoxia tent, and doing about 4-5 hypoxia training sessions per week. In addition, I did several tours in the higher alpine mountains, for example at Großglockner or at Mont Blanc. But overall an incredible gain compared to a “classical” acclimatization! Big thanks to Lukas Furtenbach for bringing this method to Europe.