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Alan Arnette: Karakorum Season Update

Veteran Himalayan and Karakoram climber-chronicler Alan Arnette updates us on the status of the 2018 climbing season in Pakistan's Karakorum

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After almost a week of inactivity due to heavy snow, climbing has returned to the five Karakoram 8,000ers, but some climbers are saying 2018 is not a safe year and are leaving. This is similar to 2015 and 2016 when no one summited K2, and only a few topped out on the other Pakistan 8000ers. The Karakoram has always had highly variable weather and 2018 is shaping up as a doozy.

Big Picture

It’s been a difficult past 10 days with the heavy snow keeping most teams at base camp and loading the upper slopes with deep, wet snow. Rain has been reported at several base camps. The avalanche danger is high. However, Tuesday’s reports have the snow over and climbing has restarted, but the forecast calls for more snow so this respite may be short-lived. The best teams will still give it a few days to settle. Remember that after “disappearances,” avalanches are the leading cause of death on K2.

At some point in every expedition, delays will occur. Sometimes it’s health, other times it’s weather; but the stall in climbing always grates on the climber’s nerves. The experienced climbers expect these delays and take them in stride, others tend to get anxious and grumpy. Often this period tests the team dynamics and the skills of the leaders. Communication is critical to maintaining a sense of optimism balanced with a realistic assessment of the situation.

K2 – Rope Pride

Climbing has resumed on K2 with climbers spread out from base camp to Camp 2, near 22,110 feet (6,700 meters). Several teams appear to be claiming to lead the rope-fixing effort on K2 this year, similar to what we saw on Everest this past season. Those seeking bragging rights include 7 Summits Treks, Madison Mountaineering and Karakorum Expeditions, yet Japanese climber Akira Oyabe and his ten-person team have been fixing the ropes as high as Camp 2 for over two weeks.

Sherpas in Pakistan

Climbing in the Karakoram historically was by small independent teams with little to no support other than a cook at base camp. These days, teams are bringing Sherpas from Nepal to Pakistan. 7 Summits Treks has a team of over 30, half being Sherpas. Madison Mountaineering has a large team of 10 members, two guides, 11 Sherpas and five Pakistani High-Altitude Porters (HAPs).

A few years ago, the Pakistan government suggested Sherpas would be banned from climbing in their country, fearing jobs were being taken from the local porters. However, when emotions calmed, it was obvious that by having Sherpas climb alongside HAPs, everyone benefited from increased safety, success and long-term training for the Pakistani staff.

Gasherbrum – Interesting Projects

Over on the four Gasherbrum Peaks, GI, GII, GIV and GVII, it is a mixed bag. Adam Bielecki, who was on K2 this past winter, posted good news and bad news. They got to C1 but it began snowing again and most climbers are now back at base camp. Elite climber David Klein summed up the poor conditions at Gasherbrum’s base camp and posted the image at the top of this article that says it all, “The weather hasn’t been very kind to us.”

A few other interesting projects on the Gasherbrums include the Italian Hervé Barmasse (Member of the Piolet d’Or Committee) and the German climber David Göttler targeting GIV. The Chinese thwarted their plan to attempt the unclimbed north face of GI when they refused to issue a permit.  On GIV, they want to climb absolutely “clean,” so no O’s, sherpas or camps and emissions, pure alpine style, trying to leave no trace.

Another nice project is from the Basque-Catalan group lead by Oriol Baró. They are targeting the south pillar of GIV. Baró attempted this route in 2006 with Jordi Corominas but stopped around 7,300 meters. This summer he is with three strong young climbers: Marc Toralles, Roger Cararach, and Iker Madoz.

Finally, the Brit Masha Gordon along with French climbers Hélias Milleroux and Yannick Graziani intend to traverse from GI to GII, opening what they believe will be a new route. They were headed up to Camp 1 on July 4th.

Nanga Parbat – Snow and Endings

Nanga Parbat, which some consider the toughest of all the 8,000ers, is giving some of the world’s best climbers trouble this summer. Alex Gavan along with Turkish climber Tunc Findik posted, “Due to the increased danger of avalanche in the higher portion of Nanga Parbat … it would have made the climb rather a Russian Roulette. It would have passed a risk management area with a risk beyond reasonable limits for an ascent to 8000 m without additional oxygen.”

July is Key

Now that we are in July, the real action begins. The early teams have paved the way with ropes to the lower camps but with the big snows, they are buried and it will take some work to dig them out – not an extremely difficult task but it takes strength and manpower to be sure.

However, and this is the big bet, if heavy snow continues, especially a few days apart from each storm, progress will come to a halt as it will simply be too dangerous to climb. Let’s hope the climbers get a couple weeks of relatively low snowfall, cold temps, and low winds.

Alan Arnette is a speaker, mountaineer and Alzheimer’s Advocate. He has completed over 30 major expeditions including four Everest climbs with a summit in 2011. He completed his 7 Summits Climb for Alzheimer’s project to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s research. Find out more at

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