American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Chinese Karakoram, K2, North Buttress via the Japanese Route, Ascent and Tragedy

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

K2, North Buttress via the Japanese Route, Ascent and Tragedy. The expedition was composed of Spaniards José Carlos Tamayo, Iñaki Otxoa, Juan José Ruiz, Ramón Portilla, Juan José (Juanjo) San Sebastián, Juan Ignacio (Atxo) Apellaniz and me and the Argentine Sebastián de la Cruz. On June 21, we installed Base Camp on a glacial moraine at 5000 meters after an intense portage from what is known as the Chinese Base Camp. This job was carried out by Nepalese Sherpas and Pakistani porters. We got there at the same time as an Italian expedition under the leadership of Arturo Bergamaschi, which gave us such wonderful support at the time of the tragic events at the end of our expedition. An Anglo-American expedition led by Adrian Burgess had already fixed ropes to Camp II. We quickly got to work and on June 23 placed our Camp I in a bergschrund at 5600 meters. Camps II and III were pitched at 6700 and 7500 meters on June 29 and July 9. On July 18, Otxoa suffered a fall, broke an arm and had multiple injuries. We lowered him to Base Camp, where he was attended by the Italian doctor. On July 19, we got to the 7950-meter col on the north spur where we set up a tent as Camp IV. On July 26, San Sebastián, Apellaniz and a member of the Anglo-American expedition, Alan Hinkes, made an attempt at the summit, but they didn’t get much higher than 8000 meters, having to fix the last ropes. On July 30, Tamayo and de la Cruz climbed to the summit from Camp IV, taking eleven hours up and five down to camp. The next to make an attempt were Portilla, Apellaniz and San Sebastián. Portilla felt indisposed after arriving at Camp III and descended to Base Camp. The other two kept on and on August 4 reached the summit at 10:30 P.M. A storm broke over K2 and they had to bivouac at 8500 meters. The next day, an avalanche separated them and they again failed to reach Camp IV. On August 6, San Sebastián did manage to get to Camp IV, but Apellaniz bivouacked another night at 8000 meters. On the 7th, despite his extreme exhaustion, San Sebastián climbed up to Apellaniz to give him something to drink and bring him down to Camp IV. On August 8, after a horrible odyssey, they descended to Camp III, where Portilla and de la Cruz had ascended in a rescue effort. They gave them drinks. San Sebastián recuperated some, but Apellaniz’s condition was desperate. Nonetheless, the four descended on the 9th to Camp II, where another storm blocked them for a day. At dawn on August 11, as they were getting ready to descend, Apellaniz died, surrounded by his friends, whose efforts could not save his life. That same day, the three, aided by the magnificent Italians, arrived at Base Camp. Juanjo San Sebastián was utterly exhausted and suffering from severe frostbite. The Chinese authorities prevented an evacuation by helicopter, giving trivial excuses. We denounce this scandalous attitude, all the more so considering the high prices and the complex regulations they impose on climbers. They must be pressured to take the necessary measures in a case of emergency.

Sebastian Alvaro, Televisión Española, “Al Filo cle lo Imposible”

This AAJ article has been reformatted into HTML. Please contact us if you spot an error.