Jeff Spelmans and Niels Jespers attempted to climb Broad Peak and K2 this summer.
We followed their journey with this Diary…
“Preamble ; Before telling you what marked my expedition, a few clarifications as a correction. Communication with the press was not always easy. But we were in great demand and it is already that. It is indeed on Broad Peak and not on K2 that Mustapha’s rescue took place. With Niels, we were aiming for both peaks. What Niels finally achieved brilliantly with Hugo (Bolivia).
“On this difficult K2, I quickly found myself without strength. On this experience, I did not regain my level of two years ago at Pic Lenine. I had good days but the recovery was a problem. I mobilized all my experience and all my strength several times before lowering the flag. There was beautiful mountaineering in the big mountains. No regrets. Here is a story that claims to be militant. May this human experience inspire reflection and improve our practice. Realize that a selfie by holding out our ice ax at the top is worth nothing without the path to get there. A path where I liked to put style, autonomy and especially solidarity. So as not to forget that death lurks up there, and not only that of others… The summit or life?
“Tuesday July 6 Camp 1 (5600m) of Broad Peak. With Niels, we descend from Camp 2 (6100m) where we set up our tent and drop off equipment. Monica (Poland), asks us to go down Zoltan (Hungary). The latter suffers from snow ophthalmia and does not see much. Nobody wants to go down with him, says Monica. Camp 1 is however well populated. Five hours later he is at base camp.
“Saturday July 17 Camp 3 (7000m) of Broad Peak (8051m). I arrived at this camp yesterday with difficulty. Today is rest before leaving overnight for the summit. The weather window is perfect. It will also be the only one of the season on this summit. I stay in my tent and try to get to sleep. It is 2:30 p.m. and departure is scheduled for around midnight. I hear a lot of radio communications and other discussions. It annoys me and I start to take an interest in the problem which apparently does not find a solution… Mustapha, one of the two Haps (High altitude porter) of Wouter and Luc (Belgian Broad Peak Team) is ill. The best remedy for altitude sickness or any other problem is to go down quickly. At 7000 m, only 40% oxygen is captured. We are only 500 meters below the famous so-called “death zone”. At this altitude, in good health you survive. With a health problem, you are in great danger. Accompanied by the second “Hap” of the team, Mustapha started the descent. Luc and Wouter kindly accompany their Haps. But it was very quickly a mess despite the oxygen bottle and the first drugs. Mustapha’s state requires reinforcement and more skill, but no one apparently wants to stick to it. The attraction and the frenzy of the first peak of the season are strong in this camp 3. But that can be explained. Family, training and budget, we sacrifice a lot to be here. At this altitude, efforts are expensive and it is common to withdraw into oneself. Commercial expeditions also have their prerogatives… You should also know that the Haps are the local sherpas, but are much less experienced and even less trained in rescue than their Nepalese counterparts. Goodwill does not last long here.
“There are more than 2000 meters of vertical drop to descend on slopes ranging from 35 to 55%. Finally, the base camp liaison officer imposes the detachment of the large commercial expedition underway on this Broad Peak. Me at the same time, having finally had knowledge of all the data of the problem, I commit myself without hesitation. Finally in this camp 3, I am modestly the most qualified and also the most motivated. I empty a red bull in two sips that I had planned for the summit and I quickly get dressed. I pack my bag more slowly. We must not forget anything, I already project myself in all the situations that I will encounter. My two frontal, the rope, the pulse oximeter, some gels and something to spend the night outside. I passed the Finnish climber Lotta Hintsa who also volunteered to help. But she has just attempted the summit and is very tired. My body filled with adrenaline, I join the caravan in less than 10 minutes. Indeed, it is the mess. I introduce myself and impose my leadership on the rest of the group. Now it is my responsibility and it is out of the question that I fail in this rescue while I have covered the summit. I intend to put a minimum of return with a maximum of security in this company. I make a quick assessment of Mustapha. He is on his legs but he can barely stand. He has trouble with his balance, which could be a symptom of edema in the brain. It’s not terrible but it could be worse. We have oxygen, but I don’t know the capacity or the inflation pressure of the bottle. I will have to check it regularly and adapt the flow if necessary. I haul as many people as possible from the fixed rope on which everyone hangs without worrying about the anchors. I don’t want to end up at the bottom..
“The Hap detached by the Liaison Officer is good and seems in good shape. His name is Nazir Sadpara. We quickly make a good team. Me, I take care of the technical choices and communicate with the liaison officer of the base camp. Nazir holds Mustapha from behind and I guide him down the mountain. We do not hang on the rope, but we use it to keep Mustapha in balance and to slow him down. Sometimes it falls to the left or to the right. It takes a lot of energy from us, but we’re quick under the circumstances. I encourage him every 5 minutes to keep in touch. He’s super brave and he fights with the energy of desperation. If its condition deteriorates, I will grind it with my 40-meter strand. Out of those 8000, it is disturbing to see so many people climbing without a rope, relying only on the fixed ropes. We arrive after a few hours at Camp 2 (6100m) where Lotta is waiting for us with the medicines. We are really lucky with the weather. But it is true that we are in the conditions of a summit day… We do a 10-minute break and we take stock again. I want Mustapha at all costs to stay on his feet because otherwise it will be much more complicated. I give him a gel and make him drink. At times he wants to remove his oxygen but I point out to him that it is out of the question. With Nazir, we agree to continue downwards. We take out the headlamps because night is coming. Mustapha’s condition improved further with the loss of altitude and possibly the medication. At each stint, we are in a certain routine where everyone knows what to do. Carabiners are handled with method and concentration. Sometimes Mustapha wants to stick to it, a sign that his condition is improving, but it is not a good idea. We can see the lights of Camp 1 (5600m), a Hap is waiting and preparing the bivouac. From the base camp, the liaison officer follows our progress thanks to our frontal. The base camp is in full swing. Nazir decides to take a break so that Mustapha can talk on the phone with his mother. A special moment even if I do not understand anything… We are on a spur and we are getting the antenna that is at Concordia.
“Arrived at camp 1, I assure Mustapha until the entrance of the tent because this camp located on a rocky ridge is super crappy. His oxygen cylinder is now empty. Miraculous timing. Its saturation in 02 is reassuring, but still well below mine. One of his colleagues will watch over him during the night. I drink a cup of tea with the Haps. I have only eaten a galette for 7 hours and the start of the rescue. I don’t have my stove, I’ll eat later. I throw myself into an unoccupied tent where I sleep for two hours almost sitting down because it is so sloping. We wake up around 4:30 am, we have scheduled the departure at 5:00 am. I eat a fruit paste. Mustapha is even better and we go down. The team is well established. We arrive at the bottom, one of the Haps starts screaming and singing like at a football match. I still stay focused because the place is subject to rockfall… We take off our crampons and start walking on the glacier. I give my pole to Mustapha because it is still a little shaky but it works… I meet the professional mountaineer Don Bowie who goes to meet his companion Lotta. He tells me all the good he thinks about my action. A big hour later we arrive at Broad Peak Base Camp at 4850m. It is 9 am. That is almost 18 hours since taking charge of Mustapha. All Pakistanis are at the entrance of the camp to welcome Mustapha. I am a little on the side. A Hap insists that I walk in front. I get lots of hugs, ask for a souvenir photos of the rescue team, and get into a tent where I’m served like a king. A bottle of coke for myself. A luxury here. The liaison officers come to congratulate me and have lunch with me. I’m giving a little interview for the explorers website. I chat a bit with Akhbar, the manager of my agency in Pakistan, and return to K2 Base Camp. Akhbar insists that someone carry my bag. I decline, I would like to be a little alone and decompress… I take almost two hours for the four kilometers. I arrive at the BC of K2 around 3:00 pm, 24 hours after leaving Camp 3. Niels, Hugo and Oswald are still busy battling it out with Broad Peak. There is only Anne, Hugo’s wife, to welcome me to this base camp where I can finally settle down.”
“Today we said goodbye to K2 and Broad Peak. Tomorrow we won’t see them for the first time in a month.”
“After 2 summit attempts in succession, Hugo Ayaviri, Oswald and I were on the top of Broad Peak on July 18th at 3:15 PM. It took a lot of effort, but it was worth it.”
“When a dream becomes reality.”
Niels reached the summit of K2 within just 10 days of also standing on top of Broad Peak!
News reaches us that Niels has reached the summit of K2!
This morning around 6100 m on the Abbruze spur, I made the decision to go down.
After a good day yesterday, a sleepless night didn’t allow me to recover.
I’m out of strength. Even the descent to base camp was laborious.
I must have now lost a dozen pounds and have to resuce myself all the time. This is obviously frustrating because there was still time left with beautiful weather.
But I’m also relieved because persevering would be very dangerous.
Thank you for your encouragement and good luck to Niels and Hugo who are up there on this terrible mountain.”
“Broad Peak summit reached! After a first attempt on July 17, there was still enough energy for a second summit push on this 8000’er.
“Niels, Oswald and Hugo Ayaviri were the first of the season to reach the top together on July 18th.
“After a few days of rest, the K2 is now beckoning.. the climb can be followed via the tracker in the coming days.”
Summit for Niels – Updates to follow!
“Arrived at Camp 3 on Broad Peak behind the fixing team. Still considering whether I’m going to make a summit attempt tonight or tomorrow. Or both if the first fails. The snow seems to have settled well with the sun and the wind. But we will only find out as we go along.”
Niels – “The Belgian Broad Peak team near camp 3 and at the foot of the mountain. We made full use of the 4 days of beautiful weather. We are now back at base camp and after a few days of rest, we are ready for a summit attempt.”
Jeff – “End of acclimatization. Yesterday we slept at 7000 m C3 from Broad Peak. No more forced work, a few days of much needed rest and a summit push drawing towards 17.”
“Beautiful weather yesterday on Broad Peak so hope the snow settles. Hopefully heading to camp 3 this weekend.”
Jeff– “It’s been 8 days since we arrived at this K2 base camp. Me and my little body didn’t work. Me climbing and him doing red blood cells. The first few days are clearly the fight to simply exist here.
Questioning and doubting is killing your brain. Have I trained enough? Will I get my level back from two years ago? Do I belong here?
Not much time, nor want to write. This environment needs to be done and back to being a bully. Because here is what you need to be and focus on your primary needs.
But today the 7th is really rest day and I slowly feel the second breath coming.
I need to tell these last two days typical of what’s on our mind.
It will always be with mistakes and well ′′ bully of decoffering ′′ (maxime dear to my darling who she talks about me..)
But here no corrector and even less broadband, just a 3,5 g antenna that works whenever it wants, which is already great..”
Jeff – “We always wake up under the bourrasques but still rested.
14 hours in 3,5 m2 at 6100 m is therefore possible. We look up but it’s No way. Wind and snow never clean up. It’s all plated and it stinks of avalanche.
Starting to get down in deep snow. We go through camp 1 (5600 m) which wakes up hard.
We are being asked for assistance for Zoltan. He has snow eye doctor and doesn’t see much anymore.
Mistakes are paid cash here. We all do it with fatigue or sometimes enthusiasm. It’s not just lack of experience..
Obviously we answer favourably even if it’s going to be complicated.
I’m a full time rescue worker.
It’s my calling to help, it’s also what’s been making a living for many years and allowing me to be here.
Niels and I are also technically and physically competent self-reliant climbers.
Despite this, I’m not happy because on the bottom of the lane, the slopes are heating up during the day and can cause stonefalls.
We had a good schedule but now we’ll have to go down slowly while avoiding the overaccident.
We dress zoltan fissa and on our way down. Zoltan helped by my ski mask and feeling safe will cooperate in a great way. We will put 4 h30 for the 750 m elevation to Broad Peak BC. Widely more than double planned but we avoided the stony and brought Zoltan back to safe port. Hopefully he can recover and trace soon.
Arrived at Broad Peak base camp, we join the rest of the newly arrived Belgian contingent.
A good meal in a good mood.
We are now 6 on this Broad Peak with a team full of experience and enthusiasm.
After dinner, Niels and I ride the ice cream parlor to our K2 base camp located 4 kilometres higher on the glacier.
Two days full of various fortunes as only the mountain can offer. We’re making progress.”
Jeff – “So we were off to this feared portage to Broad Peak Camp 2 (6100 m). Leaving around am with this huge bag I’m already dropping off after a quarter of an hour on the glacier. Jeff got the rope? Nah im going to get her…
Even with the GPS track, we still palm ourselves in the glacier crossing. A real maze or you always waste time.
One hour forty for 3,5 km, you can imagine the construction site…
We put the studs on and let’s go for the stiff. Three hours later stopping at camp 1 (5600 m) or need a break.
We put on the jackets because it’s freezing when you remove the bag with your back soaked.
We’re investigating camp 2 and I’m finally finding a beat with the sun coming up.
At camp 2 (6100) we need to do earthwork. The camp is located on a slope. We barely set up the tent for the wind to rise and it starts to snow. We are cloistered in the tent. I don’t even dare go outside to piss and forgot the bottle needed in this kind of situation.”
Niels – “In a few hours we leave for further acclimatization on Broad Peak. We have food for 5 days. Let’s see how high we get.”
Jeff – “The concept of rest day does not exist here.
There’s always work at base camp…
Tidying, sorting, washing and loading material in an ever changing weather. Not to mention we’re still 5000 m away and even going to the bathroom takes you an effort.. But the view is incredible..
Improve your comfort and especially treat yourself to sunburns, chips and other boobos.
A big reco crossing the glacier too because next time we cross it at night to attack the slopes of the Broad Peak safe (avalanche).
Up at midnight for what will be mission-related. We need to go lay camps 2 (6100 m) and 3 (7100 m) and sleep there.
Our bags weigh around 15 kg / 20 kg.”
Niels – “We just got back from camp 1, 6000m. Yesterday the weather was nice, so the day after arriving at the base camp (BC), we ‘had’ to continue to camp 1. We took 400m of rope up and then digested the night very well. This morning we fixed another 200 vertical meters above camp 1 and then descended again. Now resting in BC. The Pakistanis were supposed to go up again today to fix more ropes tomorrow, but the weather is a bit miserable, so that won’t happen. The ropes up to camp 1 have also been fixed on Broad Peak. They were asked how the weather is and has been. This (spring) year has been fairly dry, so relatively little snow. That can be good, but there can also fall a lot. Now it is snowing, and next week we expect some precipitation every day. Another frequently asked question is how many people will be on the mountain this year. We expect about 50 climbers on K2: 11 customers of the Pakistanis are on their way with Mirza Ali from Karakoram Expedition. He was my outfitter on Nanga Parbat. In the absence of large groups of Nepalese, this man wants to work to provide K2 and Broad Peak with fixed ropes. 9 clients and 9 (Nepalese!) Sherpas from Madison Mountaineering are on their way Everything and everyone is a little late, but still enough people to be hopeful that there will be summit attempts this year. That gives us some time to focus on Broad Peak from now on. We are in BC ourselves with Hugo Ayaviri (Bolivian, nice!), his wife Anne Bialek (French-Bolivian), Oswald (Os High productions, was here in the winter to film and wants to finish his story) and Carlos, a Spaniard . .”
Jeff – “Needed rest and to fuel myself normally but when the weather is nice, you have to ride…
An impressive first rotation at all points with a night at K2 Camp 1 at 6000 m. Spurs of the Abbruzes.
We already have a small house on the mountain and provides international teamwork in a every 4 seasons weather..
Hugo (Bolivia) mounted 200 metres of fixed strings in Wednesday’s day.
And today we fixed above 6000, 350 metres of strings with Oswald (Poland) and an impressive Niels as a leader. We were only 3 on that k2.
Tomorrow day off and then we go to Broad Peak to continue our acclimatization to the altitude.”
Niels – “Jeff and I arrived at K2 base camp today. Tomorrow we will try to reach camp 1 of K2 to reserve a spot there. Thanks to the rental service of @k2antwerpen and @rab.equipment, we already have enough tents to occupy the necessary camps on K2 and Broad Peak.”
Jeff – “Even if everything remains to be done, it’s already a victory to be here at K2 Base Camp.”
“In the next few days I will be stretching on my goals and especially how to achieve it.”
Niels – It’s just after sunset and K2 shows us its peak above the clouds and 3600 meters above the glacier where we will pitch our tents for the coming weeks.
“We are ready. Hopefully she’ll tolerate us on her flanks.”
Jeff – “Goro 4400 2. m Trekking from Baltoro.
We’re slowly coming to Concordia, K2 base camp is not far away anymore. Giants of the world are starting to appear. The landscapes are beautiful.
I kinda underestimated this trekking through the baltoro glacier. The living conditions are really precarious. We travel with porters, mules and the food we will eat for 5 days.
For our Western bodies it’s a real challenge and I’m struggling a little bit of it.. Pharmacy and experience play their part.
When it comes to acclimatization, it’s going to have to be patient but it’s not too bad. I’m a little behind, maybe should have trained in hypoxia like now many climbers do.
The body needs to adapt here and it takes time. The same time we lost on our journey to the health crisis.
But well, it’s just another challenge and what will be important is having good weather windows next few weeks. Even during the trekking we had snow and rain.
We will have to be very strong but I have no doubt that the place will know how to sublimate us!”
Jeff – “Smells like leaving. A few hours of SUV and we’ll start traveling one of the most beautiful treks in the world. Going up the Baltoro and Godwin Austern glaciers it will take a week.”