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Tragedy on K2 as Dave Morton and Adam Knoff Travel Above Camp III (Part 9)
Posted on December 28, 2010

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

After enduring a night of blowing snow at Camp III, we awoke to calming winds around 5 a.m. Peering out of our tent, it appeared the winds had not calmed near the summit. We thought of our friends at Camp IV and assumed there would be no attempt at the summit. They would have had to begin around midnight or 1 a.m. It didn’t appear once again the weather had cooperated.

No rocks had blown through our tent for a second time, though there was some limited rock fall after dark. The plan for the day was to try and hit a high point of around 7,600-7,700 meters and then return to Camp III for a second night of sleeping. After letting the morning sun warm us and partially dry our sleeping bags, we left for higher altitudes around 7:30 a.m.

Slowly we ascended the loose and broken rock slopes above Camp III. The previous two days of intense sun and heat and turned the already fragile slopes into terrain that crumbled underfoot. If one’s concentration was lost for a moment, a barrage of rocks would let loose underfoot. It was very unpleasant conditions.

After a couple hundred vertical meters, the terrain improved because of the snow covering much of the mixed rock-and-ice terrain. The angle rarely lets up from the base to the Shoulder at 8,000 meters, and at 7,300 meters we could feel that angle in our calves and our lungs.

At around 9 a.m. my radio started buzzing. Someone was trying to contact us. I pulled the radio out of my pack and heard the voice of Ralf Dujmovits, whose wife is Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner. She is the Austrian woman trying to finish climbing all of the 8,000-meter peaks of the world without oxygen, and K2 is her last. I told Ralf I copied his call. Ralf said, “Dave, Gerlinde and Fredrik [Ericsson] left Camp IV at 1 a.m., and Gerlinde is now at the top of the Bottleneck. Fredrik has fallen past her only moments ago, and she believes she has lost him. Can you please look to the snow plateau near Camp III to see if you identify anything?”

After climbing a few more minutes toward the drop to get a view down to Camp III, we saw that in fact Fredrik had fallen all the way to 7,100 meters from the Bottleneck at around 8,300 meters.

We spent the next half an hour trying to communicate to base camp what had certainly happened, and that Fredrik was no longer alive. Afterward, our emotions took over and we collapsed in the snow for another half an hour discussing Fredrik and our time with him each night in our dining tent. After collecting ourselves, we decided to continue to try and reach our goal. We arrived at 7,600 meters around 2 p.m. and then quickly returned to Camp III for another night of blowing snow.

On the morning of the 7th, we left Camp III at 8 a.m. and endured another day of deteriorating route conditions. We descended with a Polish climber and the third American here this year. Both the American and Polish climbers were hit with rock fall on the descent. The American was briefly unconscious. We made it back to base camp as a foursome by 1 p.m., and began the difficult task of dealing with Fredrik’s passing. We concluded the past couple of days’ difficulties with a memorial for Fredrik this morning.

Adam and I are now assessing the condition of the route and whether or not we feel it is safe to continue the expedition. My knee held up admirably this past rotation, though I now know there is no safe way to climb the Magic Line or South Pillar as hoped. My knee is not 100 percent, and the limited range of motion would not allow me to perform well on that objective. Tonight we will receive a detailed weather forecast and make a decision based on that special report. We hope that it indicates colder temperatures in the 10 days to come. Without colder temperatures, we feel the route will not remain safe.

Gerlinde and Ralf have gone home, and there remain about eight climbers (including us) still hoping there may be an opportunity to try the summit this season.

Author: - Tuesday, December 28th, 2010
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