American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Asia, Pakistan, K2, Northwest Ridge Attempt

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1996

K2, Northwest Ridge Attempt. Matt Culberson, Lyle Dean, Larry Hall, Ron Johnson, Dr. Allen McPherson, Jay Shotwell and I arrived in Base Camp on June 11. We hoped to climb K2 by the unrepeated Northwest Ridge, first climbed by Pierre Beghin and Christophe Profit in 1991 (AAJ 1992). This route had not been tried by Americans since 1975. Advanced Base Camp was occupied at 5200 meters on the Savoy glacier on June 16 with the help of six ABC porters. Camp I was placed at 6000 meters with the aid of skis and sleds, in the protection of serac wall, by June 27 after a spell of bad weather. After fixing for five days on a direct access route of excellent mixed terrain that by-passed the American Towers, Camp II at 7000 meters was placed on the northwest ridge proper on July 3. Camp II-A was reached on July 5 and placed on top of the leftover 1991 French camp on a large protected snow dome. Larry Hall sustained two broken ribs and a wrenched shoulder from falling rock while moving up to Camp II to relieve Lyle and me. Alan helped him to the bottom of the fixed ropes and the following day Lyle and I helped Larry reach Base Camp. Camp III was reached after easy to moderate snow and rock on July 17 as another two-day storm started. We were hampered all summer by two-to three-day storms and major wind. The temperatures also seemed higher than normal, causing an increase in rockfall. It was decided that Lyle and I would be the first summit team. We left Base Camp early on July 17. All members were in Camp I; Jay and Alan went down to rest in Base Camp, while Matt and Ron would help Lyle and me move up to Camp III. We reached Camp II-A on July 20 and Ron turned back due to an increasing problem with severe headaches, even though he had been to Camp II earlier. It started snowing that night and stormed for six days. Unfortunately Camp II-A was very exposed to the wind. Radio contact was lost with the lower camps because of an electrical storm, and use of the radios resulted in electrical shocks. We sustained average winds of 55 mph for this period. On July 27, as the storm was breaking up, we attempted to go down, but could not find the fixed lines due to severe snow loading. On July 28 we decided to carry to Camp III and retrieve extra rope to use for an alternate route back to Camp II. Matt, being wasted from the storm and two weeks in a row at 7000 meters, decided he should go down. We fixed ropes down as close as we could to Camp II and Matt descended safely on very precarious slopes. Lyle and I moved up to Camp III on July 30, only to find that the ravens had eaten our cache. Apparently there was so much snow in the valley that the birds were forced to forage on the upper wind-blown slopes. We radioed down to Jay and Alan, who were on their way up now to attempt the summit, to bring more food. On August 2 the four of us moved to Camp IV which was placed on the north ridge where the two ridges merge at 7800 meters. The upper slopes looked windblown and the weather was fine. The next morning we awoke to increasing winds and a large lenticular cloud above our camp. Lyle, Alan and Jay decided to try for the summit in hopes that the clouds would blow off. They reached 8100 meters before turning back in deteriorating weather. That night the storm started for real and snowed off and on for four days. Our retreat was hampered by avalanches and deep snow, but we managed to reach Camp I on August 5. We were helped down by Matt and Ron who had been cleaning up the lower mountain. The Northwest Ridge is a very long route, but offers some very good climbing, safe camps and is free from the crowds.

John Culberson

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