American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Pakistan, K2, West Ridge and Abruzzi Spur Attempts

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1981

K2, West Ridge and Abruzzi Spur Attempts. Our team consisted of Doug Scott, Joe Tasker, Dick Renshaw and me. We left Skardu on May 10. Deep snow on the Baltoro Glacier hindered our progress. At the foot of K2 on May 24, the porters refused to carry loads onto the Savoia Glacier. As a result, the four of us and our two Hunzas, who helped us to Camp I, spent a week ferrying loads to Advanced Base Camp at the foot of the west ridge. We had decided to make a “capsule” ascent; we would fix our 17 ropes between camps, pulling them up as we moved upwards and stringing them out again. On May 29 we reached 20,000 feet, the site of the 1978 Camp I. On June 5 we got to the site of new Camp I, sheltered beneath a large rock buttress at 21,000 feet. The following day Scott and Tasker occupied this camp to push on to the crest of the ridge at 21,500 feet, thus diverging from the fatal 1978 route, which cut across a slope to the first rock step. With Camp I stocked with three weeks’ food, we pulled up the ropes below Camp I. On June 15, after a four-day storm, Renshaw and I followed the crest of the ridge on mixed climbing and reached 22,500 feet. The next day Scott and Tasker took over the lead, whilst we other two carried loads. At 23,000 feet Tasker led a difficult and very steep rope-length diagonally across the first rock step to reach the foot of a large snowfield beside the ridge, just short of the site for Camp II. The way was now clear of major technical difficulties to 26,000 feet. Scott had strong misgivings about the route and about our “capsule” style. Load carrying was exacerbating a back injury incurred in the 1978 accident. He decided to descend. We saw that a team of three would not be strong enough to continue up the west ridge and that it was better to change the route than to split the team. On June 24 the four of us moved up a broken, rocky ridge to a small site at 19,000 feet on the Abruzzi Spur, where we put up two tents. We spent three nights there, held up by high winds and snowfall. We returned to Base Camp to restock. Scott decided to return home. On July 2 Renshaw, Tasker and I returned to the Abruzzi Spur, making our first camp at 20,000 feet. A long day of difficult and complex climbing on July 3 brought us to the site of Camp II, which we occupied on July 4. After two days of storm, the weather was less fierce on July 7 and we spent a long day on increasingly difficult ground. The more we climbed, the more respect we had for the early explorers of the route. House’s Chimney in particular, below Camp II, must have been the most difficult pitch in the Himalaya when it was first climbed. The next day we moved up and stopped off at a small campsite. On July 9 late in the afternoon we reached a perfect campsite on the crest of the southeast ridge at 24,700 feet. The fresh snow had made this already difficult ground even more so. The best weather was on July 10 when we established camp at 25,400 feet. Deep, worrying snow slopes with hidden bergschrunds and two ice walls brought us to the upper shoulder. All day on July 11 was spent in the tent in bad weather. On the 12th we left to make camp somewhere on the summit pyramid to be in position to reach the summit the day after. Ploughing up thigh-deep snow, we reached a rock at four P.M. from the top of which we dug away the snow to make a tiny campsite, just big enough for the tent, at 26,500 feet. In the middle of the night an avalanche poured down from above, crushing the tent and burying all three. I dragged myself out, pulled out Renshaw, who had been pushed off the ledge by the snow and was held, poised above a 10,000-foot drop, only by the tent fabric. Tasker, deeply buried, was for a time unconscious. Still in stocking feet, we dug him free. Before there was time to put on boots and gloves, a second avalanche swept over us. Tied to a rope, I held onto Renshaw, preventing his being knocked off. Tasker, buried again, had to be dug free. When dawn came, we started down to the previous campsite. On July 14, with no abatement in the weather, we descended an alternate route on snow- covered rock. It took six hours to descend the 700 feet to our earlier Camp IV. On July 15 one last terrifying snow slope led to the top of an ice wall, down which we rappelled. After the rappel, I clipped into an old Japanese rope. An avalanche knocked me down and broke two of the three strands. From there it was a gruelling 7000 feet to the bottom of the mountain. We decided to go back for one more try, taking six days of food. So far we had had two good days in July. We reached Camp I on July 22. By the time we were at Camp II, it was snowing. On July 24 we got to the shoulder at 24,700 feet and spent the next three days waiting for the winds to subside and the snow to stop. July 28 dawned not perfectly clear but better and we decided to go up. We found a much safer campsite on a prow of rock, 500 feet lower than our previous high point. The next day winds kept us in this camp at 26,000 feet. On July 30 we were up at one A.M. ready for a summit attempt. The winds were as powerful as the day before and the visibility poor; we had been on a diet of less than 1000 calories for the last few days. We had to go down. The snow conditions were bad, perhaps worse than previously, but knowing the route, we were able to reach the foot of the mountain, exhausted, late that night.

Peter Boardman, Alpine Climbing Group

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