American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Pakistan, K2 Attempt

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1988

K2 Attempt. The 1987 season on K2 was markedly different from that of 1986. No successful ascents were made, as opposed to 27 in 1986; the death toll was one, as opposed to 13 in 1986. The lack of success was due to a pattern of almost constant storm. Heavy winter snows lay on the mountains. Hurricane-force winds blew above 7000 meters. Our expedition was comprised of Americans Phil Ershler and Steve Swenson, British Doug and Michael Scott, and Australians Tim Macartney-Snape and me. We were assisted by Carolyn Gunn as Base Camp manager and medic. We arrived beneath K2 on July 1. There, amid a vast sea of rubbish mostly of Korean origin, the various K2 expeditions assembled. We intended to investigate the unclimbed east face of K2 but were willing to settle for any route that could be climbed alpine-style. From July 1 to 18 we skied on the Godwin Austen Glacier below the east face up to 6500 meters. Unstable snow made continuing higher unviable. It became clear that our proposed route on the east face was suicidal. We had planned to follow the prominent glaciated rib left of the American northeast ridge. From the flattish plateau at 7300 meters we would either follow an independent line up the summit pyramid via the line attempted by the Poles in 1976 or traverse left toward the Abruzzi Ridge to join it at 7900 meters. We abandoned this route when we saw large séracs obstructing the rib itself and huge avalanches pouring from the ice cliffs at 7200 meters and from the great plateau. From July 21 to 23, Ershler, Swenson, Macartney-Snape and I climbed to 6800 meters on Broad Peak, bivouacking twice at 6500 meters, but again, dangerous snow sent us down. During our foray on Broad Peak we met Norman Croucher and his companion. Croucher, who has no legs from the knees down and climbs with special crutches, doggedly persisted and bivouacked at or above 6500 meters for some two weeks before giving up. At that same time, the Japanese-Pakistani team discovered the body of Dobrosiawa Miodowicz-Wolf, between Camps II and III on a steep section, clipped into a Jümar with the fixed rope wrapped around her wrist. (Kurt Diemberger has pointed out an error on page 13 of A.A.J., 1987. It stated that Przwyslaw Piasecki and Michael Messner “climbed to 7100 meters, where she was last seen.” Actually, according to Krystyna Palmowska, they went only to the tent at 6900 or 7000 meters, below the big ladder, and looked in. Not finding her, they could well assume she was dead; nobody could have survived outside. Her body was just above the big ladder, much below where Diemberger had last seen her.—Editor.) With the help of other climbers, they carried her down and buried her at the foot of the Abruzzi Ridge. From July 25 to 27, Ershler, Swenson and I spent two stormy nights at Japanese Camp II at 6900 meters on the Abruzzi Ridge. On July 29, Macartney-Snape, who had personal business to attend to at home, left. The next day, after two nights on Broad Peak at 6500 meters, the Scotts did likewise. Doug had broken eight ribs falling off a horse a few weeks before the expedition and was still suffering from his injuries. Michael had a lung infection, which hampered acclimatization. That left Ershler, Swenson and me. On August 10, it cleared and we left Base Camp at midnight, heading for the rib on the south face climbed by Kukuczka and Piotrowski in 1986. With light packs, we made rapid progress up to a technically difficult knife-edge. There we found old fixed ropes. Twelve hours after leaving camp we were at 6900 meters, bivouacking nervously under the big ice cliffs that span the south face. It was our plan to traverse rightwards across a ramp beneath the threatening cliffs to join the route the Basques were working on. After an uneasy night, we awoke to storm and gladly descended through bad snow, glissading into Base Camp at noon. Our final attempt began on August 13. Joining forces with the Basques, we jümared up their lines to 7100 meters in 13 hours. Bivouacking near Juanjo San Sebastián and his high-altitude Balti porter Karim, we planned to continue to the shoulder the next day and to the summit on the third day. This was not to be. Storm and wind up high set in. We were all in Base Camp on August 14. On August 15, our group left K2.

Greg Child

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