Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Camp 3

Returned yesterday from a sojourn up to camp 3. Chris Szymiec, Jake Meyer and I left camp 2 (6,450 m) the day before and finished fixing rope to 7,100 meters. We had two high altitude porters, Mohammed and Fareed, helping out carrying rope and a three man tent. At 7,000 meters we decided to let them go back down so they dropped their loads on a ridge line. There were some dead tents buried in the snow here and, since it wasn't clear how far we still had to go and clouds were gathering around us, I decided to chop out one of the tents and pitch ours in its place while Jake and Chris continued fixing above. It turned out we were closer than I thought and they returned shortly and helped to finish our platform.

Although our platform was large, sleeping over 7,000 meters was not very comfortable. It was pretty hard to work up much of an appetite, too. But the views were amazing and we had a good time laughing, melting snow and talking to the other camps on the radio. That night we had climbers in camps 1, 2, 3 and 4.

Shot some good video of climbing on the way up, the spectacular views and making dinner in the tent. In the morning, we climbed the last 100 meters to camp 3 where we fixed some more rope and stashed our tent. Fabrizio was descending from camp 4, refixing questionable rope along the way while other members were climbing up from camp 2 for their turn sleeping in camp 3. We sat in the camp for awhile enjoying the views, but feeling a bit knackered from the altitude. After fixing a bit more around the corner from camp, we descended to basecamp, 2,000 meters below.

Camp 3 sits below a large rock and contains several abandoned tents. After the serac fall last summer that killed 11 people, tents were abandoned at many high camps on the mountain. It's strange to find them, still stocked with food, fuel and miscellaneous items. They're mostly destroyed after being up there for a year, but one at camp 2 has actually been housing us this year.

The expedition has nine or ten days left. We are leaving here on August 7th. The clouds are closing in and it's probably going to snow tonight. The next possible day to move will probably be the 1st of August, perhaps the 31st of July. This means one last chance for the summit. We spent lunch discussing the logistics of this and what the possibilities are. We'll see how it all shakes out.

I spent last night and most of today getting some good photographs and footage. I walked down towards Broad Peak base camp this morning and got some good photographs of K2 with my Hasselblad. The mountains here are so huge that I find my lenses are not wide enough. I had to walk away from base camp in order to even fit K2 in the frame.

With our departure coming up so quickly I'm thinking a lot about what else I need for my intended Abruzzi documentary. Being on an expedition schedule makes it very hard to get every shot I'd like to. My hope is that with the material I get on this trip I can raise enough funds to come back next Summer and really focus on recreating Sella's photographs and exactly retracing the Duke's footsteps. There is the additional angle of the "Karakoram Anomaly," too. More time needs to be taken to gather the necessary information to make historical comparisons about glacier positions, mass, height and so forth. But this trip has been a fantastic start. The parallels between the 1909 expedition and ours are very interesting and I've gotten a lot of exciting footage. There are several projects that could be completed from what we've gotten already. I look forward to getting to work editing and working towards completion of the larger project next year.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

A Call from Dave at Camp 3

Dave Ohlson yesterday had the opportunity to use the Field Touring Alpine satellite telephone and made a voice blog for them, from way up at camp 3 on the Cesen Route.

Take a listen here:

If you're curious, Camp 3 on the Cesen Route is at about 7,000 meters (22,966 feet) -- at least, I think it is. I don't read Russian and a Russian site was all I could find with an actual height for camp 3.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Living on the Glacier

Our base camp is situated on the Godwin-Austen Glacier. Looking at a picture of base camp (I'd post one, but satellite phones are pretty expensive) it would appear we're on solid ground, but this is not the case. Our camp is located on a debris covered portion of the glacier. As they flow through a valley glaciers pick up a lot of rocky debris that falls from the mountains above. On the lower stretches of large glaciers, below the nieve line (the point above which more snow accumulates than melts in a year), the surface is covered in this debris. Small quantities of dust or debris can hasten the melting of a glacier due to the absorption of solar radiation, but as the layer thickens, it actually starts to insulate the glacier. It also makes for a bizarre landscape.

Our camp is on rubble not far below the nieve line; the ground is covered in rocks the size of pebbles up to tent-sized boulders. The debris is not very thick and when the sun shines you can hear the glacier melting, a sort of crackling sound all around you. In the few weeks we've been here there have been large changes in the topography around us. My tent, for instance, is now situated on a platform as the ice under the debris has melted all around it. Many large boulders sit on top of platforms of ice as a similar process melts the surrounding ice. Off to either side of our camp are rivers flowing down the surface of the glacier, their beds made of pure ice.

Above our camp, on the way to the base of our route (45 minutes away), the debris ends, but the landscape remains bizarre with towers of ice called nieve penitentes all around. There are also large pools of water out there, a bit frightening when the visibility is poor and they're covered in fresh snow. The second time I walked out to the base of the route I had a funny surprise. I was within site of the rocky ledge where we stash gear and begin the climb. I wasn't watching my feet and as I half-stumbled down an incline below some seracs I saw that where my foot was about to land looked like a frozen over puddle. I crashed through the ice and although the puddle was only a few feet wide I plunged past my waist into the water. This is a common hazard here. Thin crevasses open and fill with water. Small on the surface, they can be very deep. I crawled out and took off most of my clothes, wringing them out and putting them back on. Luckily we weren't heading up the route that day.

Another strange facet of living here are the sounds. Laying in your tent at night you can hear the glacier underneath you. Loud pops and cracks, amplified by the fact you're laying on the ground. Sometimes it seems like the ice might crack open underneath you. But that's slower process. When we arrived there were no crevasses to speak of. A few very small ones were around, just big enough to break an ankle. In fact, many climbers have ended their trips due to tripping in one of these small cracks. Now, many weeks later there are considerably more and larger cracks appearing. Some of them get filled with rocks as they open, but others fill with water and one is now a couple feet wide and drops down about twenty feet. Walking around after dark without a headlamp is not advisable.

The K2 Diet Plan

Expeditions are a great way to lose weight. We eat very well here; big portions and rich food prepared by our cook Didar, who used to work at the Islamabad Marriott. But despite this fact and the fact that we've spent most of our time here sitting out bad weather in basecamp I've still had to tie string around my waist to keep my pants from falling off. Living at 5200 meters burns calories. Unfortunately a lot of these calories are taken from your muscles: Burning muscle tissue is more efficient than burning fat. So with the altitude and the cold distressing your body, it responds by withering away your muscle mass. After several years of these trips, I'm starting to have two classes of pants, pre- and post-expedition. The positive spin of this: Even though I'm losing muscle mass, my lower weight makes me a better rock climber when I return home.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Duke's Spur

In 1909 the Duke of Abruzzi's expedition surveyed nearly three quarters of K2, from the West Face which rises above the Savoia Glacier to the South Face above the de Felipi and Godwin-Austen Glacier (immediately above our base camp) to the SE spur and the East Face. The Duke's plan to climb K2 was extremely ambitious for the day. After their survey, they decided to attempt the SE spur, now known as the Abruzzi Spur. The climbing is difficult and the Duke and his guides reached a little over 20,000 feet before calling it quits. They later went to nearby Chogolisa where they reached over 25,000 feet, 500 feet shy of the summit and an altitude record that stood until it was surpassed on Mt. Everest in 1922.

A couple days ago I went to Camp 1 (5,900m/19,357ft) to sleep and then to Camp 2 (6,450m/21,161ft) for another night before returning to base camp. I was able to shoot spectacular footage of the views from Camp 2 and some decent footage of people moving between the camps.

Our route is the SSE Spur, generally known as the "Cesen" route after Slovenian alpinist Tomo Cesen. The conditions are excellent. Some deep snow in places, but importantly there has been little rockfall due to a late Spring.

Perhaps as soon as tomorrow (July 11) we will return to Camp 2, spend a night and then fix rope to Camp 3 (7,200m/23,622ft) the following day. Weather, as usual, is the determining factor. Fabrizio receives forecasts from a variety of sources and the consensus is no precipitation, but increasing winds over the next few days. The jet stream is directly overhead and its height is the important factor. When it dips down, winds at 8,000 meters (26,247ft) will reach over 100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour). High winds above Camp 2 would preclude fixing to Camp 3. We'll have to play it by ear.

Filming is going well. Unfortunately, most of the time K2 is obscured by clouds. But there have been some nice periods and I've managed to shoot some nice light on the summit. After sunset I've been able to shoot some amazing stills of K2 lit by moonlight. On my many rest days I've been wandering about shooting anything I can find. Rivers flowing over the ice, avalanches (though I missed the biggest one), Yellow-billed Choughs, Broad Peak (another 8,000'er directly across the valley from K2), various base camps and a million shots of the grand vistas surrounding us.

More to come in a few days!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Bad Weather at K2 Base Camp

The third of July. Sitting in base camp while it snows and blows outside. We've been here eleven days and have only gotten one good day of climbing in. Made a carry to base camp and, in the interest of the expedition, I left my camera behind and carried more rope instead. We had hoped to finish fixing line to camp 2 today and tomorrow, but bad weather has moved in early.

This morning I awoke to the sound of snow on my tent. Knowing that meant we wouldn't climb, I stayed in my sleeping bag until breakfast at 8:00 AM. In the morning it was frigid and windy and I wore several pair of long johns, boots, a down parka, balaclava and hat. By noon the temperature inside our tent was up to 95°F (35°C) as the sun tried poking out. Now it's snowing again and quite cold. It's a bit annoying, constantly having to put layers on and take them off off as the temperature fluctuates wildly.

We have ten climbers here, each with their own tent. Then there's our dining tent, with a long table and chairs, and our kitchen tent where three guys work most of the day to keep everyone fed. We also have a nice dome tent, a Marmot Lair, which is about seven feet high in the middle and a nice, warm place to hang out during these snowy days. It's where I'm tapping out this message now.

That's it for now. We're probably snowed in for another couple of days, so shooting lots of tent interiors and snowdrifts.