This summer Graham Zimmerman and Ian Welsted attempted K2, via the West Ridge and in a lightweight and modern alpine style.
We kept track of their journey via this Diary…
“Ian and are headed out of the Karakoram in one piece – uninjured and healthy – but far earlier than planned.
“Our expedition ended three weeks early due to a variety of logistical and environmental factors.
“It’s frustrating that after years of planning and a year of dedicated training I was not able to give an alpine style attempt of Chogori/K2 an honest attempt, but very happy we’re both headed home unscathed.
“Of the factors that are sending us home early and empty-handed, most important to discuss here is the heat that shut down our attempts and killed/endangered others on the mountain alongside the huge pulse of the monsoonal moisture that remains over the range.
“I have friends in the scientific community checking into whether these are statistically significant events and at first blush it appears they are, meaning that we can start talking about them in terms of the climate crisis.
“So back to North America we go where I’ll be back at the work with @protectourwinters pushing for political and social action that drives us towards a green energy economy.”
“I’m currently sitting in the sun while getting ready to sit out a week of bad weather and reflecting on the summer thus far.
It’s been powerful to watch the glaciers around us transform under this barrage of heat from snow covered ice with smooth curves to hard bare ice. It has me thinking a lot about my work with @protectourwinters as we try to address the climate crisis.
Yes, these changes create challenges for us climbers trying to ascend routes like the West Ridge but far more importantly it has immense impacts on the communities that live in these mountains full time.
And looking at the global scale, this crisis effects all of us.
When I get back from this trip, I’ll be back to work on that front.”
“It is amazing that more than 50 people just summited K2 over the past few days. I am not sure how they are all doing it, but I would love to have an insight.
“Graham Zimmerman and I in the same time climbed to 7000m on the west ridge where we encountered nearly continuous wet avalanches and rockfall on a slope we had to cross, and temperatures around +10, so slopes above us for 1000m or so that were unfrozen.
“I believe it was on this day that Rick Allen, whom we had met and befriended on the walk in, tragically died on the other side of the mountain. Rick was a kind and gentle soul, who will be missed by all. Condolences to his friends and family.
“Friends from Canada were supportive of our decision to retreat and await colder, safer temps, so thanks for that, especially @paulmcsorley.
“With a big snowstorm in the forecast we are now wondering if the season is going to slam shut on this amazingly hot weather window. Good on those who took the opportunity to climb and to summit.”
“In this most recent weather window we attempted the West Ridge of Chogori/K2.
There we some brilliant moments including:
-Stunning climbing on ice slopes under a bright full moon.
-Walking narrow snow and ice ridges.
-Feeling as though we were climbing through history as we mixed climbed past signs of other climbers on the mountain
-Sitting out during the days and watching the sun’s light move over some of the world’s most stunning peaks.
But in the end we were stopped in our tracks by some of the warmest temperatures either of have experienced in the big mountains. At 7000m we were unable to go any further due to near constant avalanches and rock fall down the route.
At our 6900m bivy I recorded ambient (shaded) temperatures of 10+ degrees Celsius. Far too hot for climbing a route like the West Ridge. And with more high temps on the way we decided to bail and rapped all night.
I knew that the climate crisis was affecting these mountains but I can’t say that I anticipated getting scorched off the second highest peak in the planet.
We are now back at basecamp with Fida Ali and Nadeem, safe and sound and caffeinated. No need to be concerned about us for the next few days as we loaf around, eat dhal and recover.
I’ll address this more later, but there have also been a few accidents in the mountains around us. All I have to say currently, is that my heart goes out to those affected.
Be safe out there my friends.”
“Progress on the West Ridge has been moving forward in fits and starts. Route finding on the bottom of the route has been more complex than expected and the early spring snow has been causing some problems.
“But the summer heat has come to the Karakoram which is helping with the snow and we’ve got the route finding figured out.
“Right now it’s storming, but our forecaster is telling us that a weather window is on its way at the end of the week and we’ll be back at it.
“Slightly derailed but still thoroughly entertained by the whole scene here.”
Ian – “Had our first hiccup, sitting in basecamp under bluebird skies.
“We got lost in the dark and descended so missed out on this perfect weather window. Good thing we are here for a long time; we will go up again after a few days rest.”
Graham – “Acclimatizing in preparation for making alpine style attempts on the West Ridge has required lots of patience.
“It has also involved spending lots of time looking at stunning mountains, which is nice.
“Now it’s storming hard and we’re drinking hot drinks in basecamp.”
Ian – “Nazir, Little Hussein, Entias Sadpara, and Youseff, the real cool cats of Concordia.
“These guys are the real story here.
“They climb with smiles on their faces in cotton, effortlessly compared to us visitors.
“Little Hussein usually sports a Red Bull hat from when they fixed lines a few years ago so someone could ski down K2.
“One day the story of the local guides will be properly told. Til then, a pleasure hanging out with them briefly.”
Graham – “It seems prudent to share that I am able to get the odd post out from a location not too distant from basecamp. From there I can hit a 4g tower that the Pakistani Military has installed.
“Not surprisingly, being a weeks walk from the nearest town and in one of the largest mountain ranges on the planet, this tower has been heavily effected by storms and has subsequently been quite inconsistent.
“So please don’t worry if you don’t hear from us for long stretches. Know that we’re out here doing what we love and taking all the precautions necessary to come home in one piece.”
Graham – “Know as Chogori by the Balti, Kang Fang by the people to the north in what is now China and named K2 by the British Great Trigonometrical Survey of India.
At 8611m, it is the highest peak in the Karakoram and the second highest peak on the planet.
It’s stunningly beautiful.
It’s been a dream of mine for many years to apply modern alpine climbing tactics to this mountain of mountains.
For now Ian Welsted and I are acclimatizing and watching her change as the summer develops.
It feels good to be here.”
Ian – “3300 meters of climbing. Nobody around.”
Ian – “I have wanted to come here for so long, being here reminds me to make happen what you want to have happen in life.
“Being here with the help of so many people who are rarely mentioned reminds me to be grateful for all that I have.”
Graham – “Our flight to Skardu was on the inaugural Ali Sadpara Air Safari scenic flight of the Karakoram with Pakistan International Airlines. Instead of flying straight to the town of Skardu, we took a big loop north for views of Pakistan’s highest peaks. It was a stunning flight, and it proved excellent reconnaissance.”
“It was powerful to see Chogori/K2 with our own eyes.”
Ian – “The inaugural Ali Sadpara Sky Safari was a huge success.
“For any lovers of mountain travel, this is an absolute must.”
Graham – “Many folks have been asking why Ian and I have chosen the West Ridge of Chogori/K2.
“I thought it easiest to take you through a bit of my thought process and research. Note that Ian’s is different than mine, and one of the bits of magic about this trip is that we have found ourselves inspired by a similar objective at the same time.
“I’ve been focused on climbing 6 & 7000m peaks for several years now and have become very curious about how my body would perform on the highest peaks. With this in mind, I have been researching objectives on those highest hills (8k+) that are compelling and relatively safe.
“Since most of my big mountain experience has been in the Pakistani Karakoram, it was an obvious choice to look at objectives in that range since I have so much more experience with conditions, weather, and logistics.
“This left me with 5 choices, and I scoured them for new routes or old routes that could be redefined, that fit the parameters I was looking for.
“The West Ridge is stunning. It’s not super hard while still being technical. If conditions are right, it will be safe (i.e., no big seracs), and it has an unclimbed direct finish that looks pretty sweet.
“So, that’s what we’re going to attempt.”
Graham – “The Karakoram is the mountain range that I find most inspiring. It is where I have seen some of my biggest success as an alpinist, and it is where I have learned some of my most important lessons.
“There is one peak in the Karakoram that literally stands above the rest, a peak that I have seen on the horizon from several different summits and has always attracted my attention, the majestic and steep 8611m Chogori, or K2.
“For many years now, it has been a dream of mine to take the lessons learned on lower peaks and apply them to the highest peak in the Karakoram. This summer, along with Ian Welsted, I am going to give it a try.
“We will not be taking on the traditional routes to the summit. Instead, we’ll be trying the West Ridge in a lightweight and modern alpine style.
“I am delighted to share that the team at Tin Cup Whiskey is coming along for this journey. I am joining their #PartnerInAdventure team and they are supporting Ian’s and my endeavors on K2.
“We leave in a couple of weeks and during that time, I will be sharing some of the planning going into the trip, from climbing gear to food to Covid protocols. Then we’ll drop off the radar for the summer.
“I am very excited.”