American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Chinese Karakoram, K2 Attempt and Ascent of P 6640

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1995

K2 Attempt and Ascent of P 6640. Towards the end of April, Americans Mark Wilford and Brad Johnson, Britons Alan Burgess, Alan Hinkes, Paul Moores and I assembled in Kathmandu with all equipment and food. All this baggage was put on a truck and five Sherpas accompanied it overland for 11 days to the roadhead at Mazar in Xinjiang Province of western China. We climbers embarked on a series of flights through Lhasa, Chengdu, Urumqi and Kashgar, and then on by jeep to Mazar, a dusty, desolate army outpost in the Yarkand valley. On May 10, we began our journey to Base Camp. Our gear was carried for the next seven days by 47 camels over the Arghil Pass, into the Shaksgam valley and then on to Low Base Camp at 12,200 feet. On May 18, the camels departed and for 13 days we six climbers and five Sherpas ferried our gear 17 miles to High Base Camp at 16,600 feet. On May 30, most of us established High Base Camp while Moores and Wilford reached Camp I at 19,000 feet. They reported that the ice was so hard that our Russian-made ice pitons were bending as they drove them in. The route to Camp I lay to the right of the true ridge and followed a slight depression over some steep ice bulges. This was a natural avalanche track, but no other way was practical. The way to Camp II at 21,800 feet lay up the right flank of the ridge before sweeping back up left to the ridge and a small place to camp. There were two icefields of up to 55° and the ice was black and hard. Moores and Wilford fixed rope again. After a week’s delay from storm, they almost reached Camp II on June 18. Not until June 21 did we get to the site of Camp II and carry 150 pounds there. The difficult route waa threatened in the afternoons by heavy stonefall. Between Camps I and II we fixed 5500 feet of rope, which tended to freeze into the ice because the afternoons were warm and the nights cold. The ice screw anchors melted out in the afternoon heat. It took six hours to reach Camp II and this made an afternoon descent inevitable, increasing the risk. Moores, Wilford, Johnson and Hinkes fixed rope up to Camp III at 25,000 feet over very loose rock and interconnecting snow slopes. Two more expeditions arrived: from Spain and Italy. There was much negotiation with them over the use of our fixed ropes. The Spaniards helped us carry rope to Camp II. The Italians did not, but they used our ropes to fix their own and finally used ours when the stonefall danger became apparent. On July 7, Moores left for a job at home and Alan Burgess and Wilford left with him. The strain of such a dangerous route was taking its toll. As leader, I descended to discuss the situation with the liaison officer and arrange for their outward journey. In Base Camp, I found Johnson sick with swollen glands. The weather improved and Hinkes, the only sufficiently acclimatized member, joined two Spaniards to make the first summit attempt. On July 26, they reached 26,000 feet, just beyond Camp IV, but after one Spaniard fell into a crevasse and the snow was so deep on the 30° slope, they called off their attempt. During the last days of the expedition, Johnson and I made the first ascent of P 6640, a difficult ice climb on the 3500-foot south face. A full article on this climb appears earlier in this Journal. We left Base Camp on July 30.

Adrian Burgess, Alpine Climbing Group

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