American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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Asia, China, K2, North Ridge Attempt

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1987

K2, North Ridge Attempt. Our expedition, sponsored by the American Alpine Club, undertook an ascent of the north ridge of K2. The expedition consisted of two parties, a support team of eighteen “porters” and a climbing team of eight climbers: Lance Owens, leader, George Lowe, Alex Lowe, David Cheesmond, Gregg Cronn, Steven Swenson, Catherine Freer, and Choc Quinn. The support team, accompanied by two climbers, Quinn and A. Lowe, departed the United States on April 18. They established Base Camp at Shipton’s “Sughet Jungal” on May 15. From May 16 until June 3 loads were carried the 29 kilometers from Base Camp to Advance Base at 4975 meters, two kilometers from the foot of the north ridge. Considerable effort was spent cleaning up debris left by the Italian expedition at Base Camp and on the glacier. A lovely camp on the glacier seemed to have been almost intentionally trashed, much to our disgust. On June 3 the remaining six members of the climbing team arrived at Base Camp, and immediately began carrying remaining loads to Advanced Base. The support team departed from the mountain on June 10. On June 13 Camp I was established at 5700 meters beneath a prominent overhanging sérac in the center of the slope to the right of the north ridge. The slope avalanched with every storm, and an occasional larger slide would shower over the overhanging lip of the sérac above the camp, partially burying the two tents below with spindrift. On June 19 Camp II was established on the site of the prior Japanese and Italian camp, at 6600 meters. On June 20 the route was pushed to 7200 meters. This day, we saw members of the British expedition around the comer at about 6800 meters on the west ridge, our only brief contact with anyone else on the mountain. Throughout early June weather had been good, but after the third week of June, a series of storms continually interrupted our progress. The slopes below Camps I and II were avalanche-prone and were avoided for two days after every storm. On July 6, Swenson, G. Lowe and A. Lowe established Camp III at 7600 meters on the site of the Italian camp. Due to storms and high avalanche danger, no further progress was made until July 30, when G. Lowe and A. Lowe broke trail through unconsolidated, waist-deep snow from Camps III to IV at 7950 meters on the north ridge. Exhausted by the effort, they were forced to return to Camp II for a rest day. All members of the expedition carried to Camp III on August 2, and on August 3, A. Lowe, G. Lowe, and Swenson occupied Camp IV for a summit attempt the next morning. At two A.M. on August 4, the summit team awoke to find G. Lowe had developed pulmonary edema, probably a result of his extreme efforts breaking trail in deep snows to Camp IV. Refusing aid, he immediately descended alone to Camp III where oxygen was obtained and his further descent assisted by Freer. A. Lowe and Swenson continued with a summit attempt, but turned back at 8100 meters due to slow progress in poor snow conditions. By that afternoon, another storm had moved in and the entire climbing team had safely descended to Advance Base. On August 12, Freer, Swenson, and Cheesmond departed from Advance Base for another summit bid, again reaching Camp IV when weather deteriorated and forced a final retreat. The entire expedition had departed from Base Camp by August 24. Having chosen not to take a shortwave radio, our expedition had no communication with the outside world between May and late-August. Not until we returned to Kashgar did we learn of the difficulties on the Baltoro, and realize our luck in avoid ing any roughly comparable difficulties during our summer on the mountain.

Lance S. Owens

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