K2, various ascents and records in the anniversary year. July 31,2004 marked the 50th Anniversary of the first ascent of 8,611m K2 by Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli from Ardito Desio’s Italian expedition. To mark the occasion, 11 expeditions bought permits. One of these, a Korean “Clean Up” expedition (an interesting and welcome development given that Korean expeditions are often criticized for their lack of tidiness in the mountains), met with early disaster. On or before June 11 three of these climbers, Hwa-Hyong Lee, Jae-Young Kim, and Kyong-Kyu Pae were at their Camp 1 on the mountain when an avalanche overwhelmed them. All were found dead in their sleeping bags.
K2 had not been climbed since José Garce’s ascent on July 22, 2001. Reasons for this involve the threat of terrorism, weather, and most of all the collapse of the serac forming one side of the Bottleneck at ca 8,300m. The Bottleneck is a leftward slanting snow/ice ramp between a big serac barrier high on the Abruzzi Spur and the rocks bordering the South Face. Serac fall sometime after 2001 made the lower section of the Bottleneck much more difficult and dangerous, stopping climbers in 2002 and 2003.
By the summer of 2004 things had settled down in this area but for a long time it still appeared as if it was going to be another non-year for K2. Then toward the end of July a fine spell of weather coincided with many climbers in position for a summit push. During the night of the 25th–26th nine climbers set off from the top camp at the Shoulder and progressed slowly upward, the Bottleneck proving passable but very difficult and time consuming.
Silvio Mondinella (his 11th 8,000m peak) and Karl Unterkircher led a team of five Italians to the summit, although the work through the Bottleneck, general trail breaking through deep snow, and the fixing of ropes (this year ropes appear to have been fixed through the Bottleneck and up the final slopes above, leading to K2 being almost fixed from base to summit), was shared with the Basque climber, Ivan Vallejo, from the Al Filo de lo Imposible team. Fittingly, given the year, the Italians were first to summit and one of them, Michele Compagnoni, is the grandson of the first ascensionist. Last to summit, at around 5:30 p.m., was the second pair of four Basques, Juanito Oiazabal, and Edurne Pasaban. With her ascent (and safe descent), 30-year old Pasaban became the leading female 8,000m peak collector, having now climbed seven of the 14 giants. Only the late Wanda Rutkiewicz climbed more. In addition, the Basque mountaineer is the solitary living female to have summited K2 and has now climbed five out of the six highest summits in the world. Remarkably, this success has come in just four years.
Pasaban regained her tent on the Shoulder at around midnight, 24 hours after leaving, but Oiarzabal never showed. He was subsequently discovered sitting in the snow only 100m above camp by more Basque climbers leaving for their summit attempt on the 27th. Many sum- miteers and others on the mountain rallied to evacuate Oiarzabal and Pasaban, who had both sustained frostbitten feet. Pasaban eventually lost two toes but Oiarzabal’s condition was much worse. Back in Spain medics were unable to save any of his toes and he is making a slow recovery. However, with his ascent, this highly experienced 48-year old Basque became only the third person to climb K2 twice, the two others being Josef Raconcaj (1983 North Ridge; 1996 Abruzzi) and Shera Jangbu (2000 Basque Route/SSE Spur; 2001 Abruzzi). He also set a record of climbing to an 8,000m summit no less than 21 times.
On the 27th and benefiting enormously from the opened trail, more climbers summited, including six members of Sam Druk’s China-Tibet expedition, members of which have now climbed 12 of the 14 8,000m peaks. The 28th saw another batch including 65-year old Carlos Soria, who became the oldest summiteer and the only man to have climbed three 8,000m peaks over the age of 60, and Mario Lacedelli, a nephew of the first ascensionist. By the time four Japanese and their two Sherpas had reached the top on August 7, a total of 47 climbers had summited during the season but, notably, only 19 of these climbed without oxygen, a far cry
from former years when climbing K2 with bottled gas was simply not the done thing.
Sadly, three more people died high on the mountain in a similar scenario to the 1986 disaster. On the 28th Davoud Khadem Asl from Iran and the experienced Sergei Sokolov from Russia were camped on the Shoulder. Unlike their teammate, Alexander Gubaev, they hadn’t left for the summit that morning but decided to wait another night to see if the weather would improve (it had gradually deteriorated overnight). It is thought that Gubaev, climbing without oxygen, reached the top (the first mountaineer from Kyrgyzstan to reach any 8,000m summit) but he did not return. Asl and Sokolov could not be persuaded to go down and were subsequently trapped by a big storm. They didn’t attempt to descend until August 1, after which nothing more was heard from them. Some of the remaining climbers at Base Camp mounted a rescue but were forced to abandon their attempt due to heavy snowfall.
One more climber was to summit, bringing the total for the season to 48 and the overall total to 246 ascents. This was the Catalan, Jordi Corominas, achieving what was undoubtedly the finest ascent on K2, or any Pakistan 8,000m peak last year, the second ascent of the Magic Line (see below).
Lindsay Griffin, Mountain INFO, CLIMB Magazine