Last summer, Dave Morton set out with Adam Knoff to reach the summit of Pakistan’s K2 unsupported and without oxygen, using one of the peak’s most difficult routes. During the 40-day expedition, both climbers were put to the test on one of the world’s most dangerous mountains. Dave chronicled the entire trip in a series of posts and photos for First Ascent.
By Dave Morton
Our days at base camp after we first arrived were spent putting together a camp amid the massive snows that have collected this season. No cook or porter can remember this much snow on the ground at the various base camps in the past 20 years. From base camp, another 8,000-meter peak—Broad Peak—lies directly down valley, giving us an unobstructed view. Of course our view straight up towards the summit of K2 is also unobstructed, and a bit intimidating to say the least.
We have one cook with us named Sakawat, a 25-year-old Balti from a local village. This is his fourth expedition as base camp cook and support on K2. There are approximately six other camps here comprising a mix of different climbers. We believe that there are around 40 people trying to climb K2 this season. A little less than half are trying the S/SE spur and the rest are climbing the Abruzzi Spur, which was the route of first ascent of K2 in 1954. We are acclimatizing on the S/SE spur route, and that in the end may prove to be the route we take to the summit as well.
In the back of our minds we hope to have a chance to climb a route called the “Magic Line.” This route was first climbed in 1986, and since then, only one climber has successfully reached the summit using this route (Jordi Corominas, in 2004). It is an elegant route that screams at you from base camp, following more or less following the steep south ridge of K2. The large amounts of snow this season make summiting on this path an unlikely outcome, but Adam and I hold on to the possibility of this demanding but beautiful route.
After a few nights of rest in base camp we took a load of supplies up to Camp I. We were up and back in about 6 hours and were able to chop out a ledge for our small tent in Camp I. Camp I sits at around 6,000 meters or just about 20,000 feet, and at that point of the route there are no spots for tents, so they have to be cut out of the steep snow ridges.
After another couple of rest days at base camp we began our first rotation, or acclimatization trip, of which we believe we will make three before trying our summit push. The body needs to adjust to the altitude by going up and down, encouraging our bodies to physiologically adjust to the higher altitudes including producing more red blood cells than our bodies would normally need.
We departed base camp and spent our first night in Camp I. The following morning we broke camp and headed to Camp II at approximately 6,300 meters (19,685 feet). Camp II is a larger ledge on the face which can hold about five tents, spacious, in our terms. On July 17, we headed out of Camp II to try and hit a high point of 7,000 meters (approximately 23,000 feet) for this rotation. We had a spectacular day with virtually no wind and clear skies. It is a beautiful thing, being that high on one of the most powerful mountains on earth looking down at a sea of peaks in the distance. We touched our goal of 7,000 meters at Camp III and then returned for a second night in Camp II. We awoke early on the 18th and descended quickly back to base camp by 9 a.m. with Sakawat eagerly awaiting us.
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