This year Monika Witkowska was on Broad Peak
Her original plan was K2, but that expedition was cancelled for Covid reasons and now a late switch has seen her attempt it’s near neighbour.
It was an eventful few weeks, which we followed with this Diary…
“There is a general mess at the base, because everyone is packing. The only person who did not reach the base and still remains up is an Argentine who shocked us with the information that he is NOT going to leave camp 3 for now (where he was left alone, all alone) and is preparing for a lonely summit attack tonight. Some of the Broad Peakers say bluntly what they think about it (I will not quote, but generally take him for a madman), others (including me) do not comment, but are simply afraid of this boy. And when it comes to peak attacks, paradoxically it was easier to get K2 this year than Broad Peak. There are still heavy clouds hanging over Broad Peak, while over K2 the sky is clean. Among those who stood today at the summit of K2, and the only ones – without additional oxygen, are our good colleagues: Niels (Belgian) and Hugo (Bolivian), who previously reached the only five that entered Broad Peak. Reaching both of these peaks in just 2 weeks is a truly incredible feat. After all, both Niels and Hugo are high-altitude machines, and by the way – great lucky people. I am so glad that they succeeded! Since nothing really happened today (apart from the fact that a Grivel stick-ax was stolen from my tent, which, after expressing my disapproval of this act, was miraculously tossed in the same place).
“I will briefly describe the functioning of the camp mess (because I had questions about it on priv ). Every camp has a mess room, usually it is a large tent, the main part of which is occupied by a table or tables, on which it is customary to always have thermoses with hot water (if you don’t have to, ask for it), plus boxes with tea, coffee, sometimes other drinks or some snacks. Meals are eaten in the wardroom (there is a cook in each camp, as no one would bother to cook in the base on their own) and a large part of the day is spent. The generator is turned on at certain times, which means that you can recharge your electronics, and now everyone has a lot of this electronics (cameras, cells, watches, laptops, MP3s, satellite locators, radio for communication, etc.) it is usually one side the wardroom table is littered with cables, which always have more than plugs. If we are not outside the camp (I mean somewhere above or visiting the base under K2), a large part of the day is spent in the wardroom. Nowadays, it means browsing the news on the Internet (if there is internet), working with a laptop, or just talking. The latter applies to me in particular, because someone keeps dropping into the mess hall – mostly guests from other camps, sometimes some trainers (today there were 3 guys from Poland), and everyone is interesting in their own way, so I spend most of my time talking. For some reason, there are always the most visitors in the wardroom of our camp – maybe because we are in a central point, maybe because we have more space than anywhere else, irrelevant. The advantage of this is that we are the main source of camp information, we come to settle various matters, we also held climbing meetings of the brothers. The holdings are interrupted from time to time by the bang of avalanches. At that moment, conversations stop and everyone listens. If the avalanche descends from the Broad Peak, everyone jumps out in front of the wardroom and looks at the wall where someone might be climbing. If it is somewhere on a completely different mountain, no one jumps out, at most they just wave their hand that it’s an insignificant detail. In the wardroom it is the most crowded in the evenings, due to the fact that the stoves are usually turned on (after sunset in the base it gets really cold). Our mess is unique for the local bases, as Akbar (the head of the agency) has invested in a domed tent, warmer than other types of mess, but it’s cold anyway. And it does not help to keep locking the doors or lining the floors with carpets. In any case, lighting a small stove is a great moment every day, long awaited by everyone. Of course, one small stove will not heat the whole mess – squeezing yourself with a chair into the radius of heating the stove is the goal of most of us, but there is enough space for up to 3 people. By the way, there has been no more scuffling to the stove in the last few days. Reason? Well, the stove refused to cooperate. Social life usually ends around 9 p.m. (unless there is a special occasion), because then it gets so cold that it is difficult to bear (especially when you sit away from the stove) and the kitchen staff who gets up at dawn just wants to sleep . And when someone does not want to sleep, they can always look at the beautifully starry sky, although to be honest this sight has already become a bit of a commonplace for us. Around 10 p.m. from the tents you can only hear either snoring or coughing. Well, I can’t wait for my goddamn cough to pass (no drugs are helping). I wake up, cough, choke, then get a little sleep and again … Oh, the charms of high altitudes.”
“Why am I not on the summit now? I should be in Camp 3 now and get ready for tomorrow’s summit, but instead I’m down at the base and I can consider the expedition over.
“What happened? The reason is prosaic, so prosaic that, while informing my loved ones, I no longer knew whether to laugh or cry… But one by one. As some of you probably remember, my previous summit attack, about 10 days ago, failed because my HAP, as it is called in Pakistan, guide porter, announced 300 meters above Camp 3 that he had a stomachache and was going back to the tent. What happened later, i.e. quite dramatic events for me (problem with the replacement of oxygen cylinders, descending the slope from a high altitude, etc.) were a consequence of these problems with HAP and a proof that my attempt to climb to the top on my own, was not a wise idea.
“Okay, I went back down, I figured I would get a new HAP. To those who ask why I wouldn’t be able to leave without HAP, I explain that there are many reasons. The most important are health reasons – rarely, but I have unconsciousness and I simply have to be with someone, especially at high altitudes. The second reason is that, without a team, I am not able to lift the necessary equipment (tent, oxygen tanks etc.) by myself. Third reason – I do not consider HAP’s help as dishonorable – the greatest climbing celebrities use HAPs, so I do not see any reasons why I should not take advantage of it as well.
“I was supposed to get the new HAP from the Koreans who had already finished the mountain action after Kim’s death. Everything has already been ordered, and meanwhile, on the eve of my going up, the Koreans… changed their minds. They decided they needed all their HAPs and I can’t take any of them. I admit that it was a big surprise for me, because they proved that they liked me very much more than once, and in this case they were aware that with their last-minute decision, they deprived me of the chance to reach the summit.
“Well, Akbar, the head of the agency comforted that he would find HAP after all. And indeed, at dinner, when the level of my nervousness was reaching its zenith, it turned out that from the K2 base he went to us, to the base near Broad Peak HAP, which at 4 am the next day will take off with me up. A HAP named Taki (a nice sounding name by the way) was actually supposed to be Oswald Rodrigo’s HAP for winning K2, but Oswald withdrew from entering K2, HAP could be said to be free.
“It bode well that a few years ago Taki was Andrzej Bargiel’s HAP, so I could say that I have a top-shelf HAP. The next day just after 4 we left the base camp. Such turned out to be a very nice guy, although he walked quite slowly for HAP, but I decided that it was a tactic for me so that I would not get tired too much. After an hour and a half of hiking, we approached the wall, to the place where harnesses, helmets and crampons are put on, and Taki said that… he was not going any further.
“I thought that maybe something was not settled in financial matters, so I wanted to connect to the base by radio, but Taki clarified: his heart hurts and he can’t go any further. What I did? No, I didn’t yell at him, my hands just dropped, the feeling of helplessness overwhelmed my pissing. In the previous situation with Fide (that was the name of my previous HAP), I had to cry because I couldn’t understand how – so many months of preparation, work, activities, when everything was subordinated to the expedition, was so wasted? This time I couldn’t even cry, and besides, this is the kind of good-natured who apologized a hundred times that he had let me down, that it was difficult to blame him (his predecessor, Fide, did not apologize for any kind).
“What was there to do – I said goodbye to my colleagues who continued uphill, and we returned to the base. I’m sorry? Sure. Am I bitter? Sure. I am sorry that I had two chances of reaching the summit, I know that judging by my physical and mental chances – the summit was within my reach, but people failed. Not me, but others. On the other hand, I always tell myself nothing at all costs. Something is for something. Sometimes something does not work out and makes us feel resentful, often has a “bottom”, in fact it gives a positive result, and an apparently bad situation for us turns into a good, positive one. When I hinted at dinner today that I am probably the most unlucky on this trip, one of my colleagues, hearing it, said: “Maybe thanks to this you live?” Maybe… There is nothing to discuss. Apparently it was supposed to be this way.”
“Ps. Today, on K2, a very good climber, Rick Allen, died in an avalanche.”
“Unfortunately, the mountain action has been stopped.
“Monika had to return to base due to HAP’s health issues (second one already…) who replaced the unfortunate predecessor. Unfortunately, there is also a lack of other HAPs at this moment, and the weather window does not give a chance to bring all the equipment alone.
“The powerlessness of this situation is all the more depressing, because Monica was motivated and in very good condition, and the top is most within her reach… As you can see, the unpredictability of the mountains and people is sometimes very similar. It’s a good thing these troubles didn’t happen high, which would be a big threat to both of them.
“As soon as there’s a good internet connection, and today it’s bad, Monika will definitely write more about this incident.”
“I have described the previous two days in detail below, and as for today, I have generally spent on preparations for the climb up and the second attempt at the peak attack. The prognosis is great, my condition is great, my mental attitude is also good (brave and optimistic at the same time). I promise that I will be reasonable, and on the one hand I will do my best, but on the other – I will not get carried away by ambitions.
“The “day” plan is as follows: – July 24 – access from the base to Camp 2 (exit 3 at night) – July 25 – access to Camp 3 – July 26 during the day – rest at Camp 3 – the night of July 26/27 and all day July 27 – peak attack, back to Camp 3 – July 28 – descent from Camp 3 to base camp.
“With your support and a few amulets I received for this trip, I should be successful!”
“At the base today, finally a bit better weather, which makes the company in a better mood. I was woken up by the snow sliding off the roof of the tent. Of course, it immediately got brighter, for a moment I even thought that it was sunny, but yes, it’s not. The most important thing, however, was that it was not raining and that you could finally see at least the lower parts of the mountains. As part of the morning walk, I went around the Broad Peak camps, inviting those still in the base to a post-dinner meeting to discuss the re-summit attack. Almost everyone appeared in our wardroom at the fixed hour, except for the British who went on a trip to the base for K2 on that day, and Don and Lhotta who have their own idea for reaching the summit, i.e. they want to go to it… straight from the base. So not stopping longer in any camps (okay, in two for soup), not sleeping, just doing the mountain in one go. For me it is a kind of “cosmos”, something unreal, but we will see – they are both extremely fit, acclimatized, they know their abilities.
“I admit that the meeting was very specific and fruitful. We agreed that we all attack the summit on the same day, once to pave the way together, but also to make it safer. Everyone is to have their radios set to the same frequency, we also agreed that the limit time for reaching the summit is 3pm – whoever does not make it, has to turn back. We also take 200m of an emergency rope – in case of a rescue operation (oh, oh) or if something has to be tied up. Anyway, he remembers what happened with Nastia and Mr Kim, everyone I can see is very security sensitive and that’s good. And just about Kim… Walking around the camps, I also dropped into the Korean camp – to express my condolences. They are slowly shaking off the unpleasant situation. Yesterday one of them literally cried for me, today they had more control over their emotions. They showed me an inscription painted on a metal tray, which will hang any day at the Memorial Hill by the K2 base, and then… they invited me to a Korean dinner. Contrary to my fears, it was better than I expected – brown noodles with egg, kimchi cabbage and sauerkraut. Honestly, in our mess there is a wider choice of dishes, but it’s always nice to make a change for yourself. I’m quitting because dinner comes in. Another day behind me…”
“Monika has just now set off from camp 3 directly to the top of Broad Peak.
It will be an arduous and hard road, especially because there was a 10-meter gap reportedly on the road. Beating her (if that’s even possible) will definitely extend the whole climb and it can take even a day before Monika returns to camp 3. The weather is optimal. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that everything works out and it’s not too hard!”
“I honestly don’t like the days before the peak attack. I’m mentally tired of being mentally insecure, are these definitely the well-chosen days, or the weather forecasts will work out if everything goes the way we plan, or won’t the equipment fail, and above all, will they refuse to obey our own organisms?
The start of the day was not optimistic. At breakfast where only me and Andrey showed up (the rest decided to sleep longer), the Russian surprised me with the news that… it was over for him. Definitively finishing the expedition. He’s going home. I am speechless because the boy is strong and he was doing very well at height. Supposedly he mentioned some family reasons that supposed daughter from the colony needs to be picked up, but at one point he also mentioned avalanches, and that was probably the key reason. Because the truth is, although few of us talk about it, everyone seems to be afraid. And if you have children, fear is inherently more serious.
When Akbar came, he said about Pawel, a Polish climber. I met Pawel before the expedition, at a hotel in Skardu, and I immediately liked him. I used to see him as a nice, joyful, spontaneous boy who was about to conquer Gasherbrum II, and he gained extra sympathy with this – here’s some narcissism on my part – that he took my book on Manaslu on the quest. And here comes news now that Pawel took the helicopter, that he had severe pulmonary edema, that his health was severe. Boy, I hope he gets better soon. Pawel, if you’re reading this, just know that I’m worried about you and you’re supposed to do everything to make me worry!
The best prescription for such mentally hard days is to take care of something. So I took care of myself, I mean I threw myself into a vortex of social contacts. It started with a visit from Polish trekers, which is 3 boys I had a nice chat with sitting in the Mess Hall when he in turn came to visit from base near K2 Oswald (Oswald Pereira, a filmmaker who was also on winter K2). Oswalda I really like it, acting in different mountains we are in constant contact via satellite communicators, and that he is a very fit and powerful boy, with permission to climb K2 and Broad Peak, he decided to go with us for a peak attack (Oswald’s main goal is to do a documentary though movie reference to winter events on K2). It’s cool, because it’s always more likely to have a countryman on a peak attack.
After dinner (delicious pizza! ) I went around all the camps with an invitation to tomorrow’s meeting in our messenger. This is my and Akbar’s initiative – to meet, agree on plans for a peak attack, compare weather forecasts (we have them in various camps from many different sources), and who wants – we would set up a common strategy for action. Of course, a visit to each camp is at least one tea, because it’s a base custom – a guest comes in, even a stranger, he immediately stands up to a cup and a thermos with some hot drink. By the way, I didn’t think Koreans had such good coffee (of course I was also treated with dried fish). The most interesting meeting I had with Selena though. Selena, ′′ Mountain Princess ′′ as shown on her Facebook profile, is a 12-year-old Pakistani woman who has the ambition to become the youngest person in the world to win an eight-year-old and also the Earth’s Crown. The girl has been climbing with her father for a few years now and so far the highest mountain is in her cv Pakistani, not very difficult Spantik (7027 m). In the conversation she is very resolve, bold and uses great English, but it’s hard not to, since she lives in Canada (with dad, Pakistani speaks English, with mom in urdu). Let’s see how she goes on this Broad Peak. I know that some media reported that Selena has already won Broad Peak, but this is just evidence with which distance you have to treat journalistic ′′ revelations “. Anyway, so far Selena has only reached the base a few days ago and hasn’t even left camp 1. I wish her the best, although I’m not sure that being at high altitudes affecting the body differently, and above all – the brain, is advisable for children of this age.
Now it’s night time. These nights have been very cold lately, but the sky is sown with millions of stars, and the Milky Way is beautifully decorated. Laying in a tent and tapping on my laptop with my grubby fingers. The main noises are the fluttering tent and the bang of falling avalanches from different mountains but Broad Peaka most often. Mountain, be kind to me!”
“Today was a cleaning day for me.
“Yesterday was the first part of the photos from the acclimation exit, today the second part. Tomorrow we have a meeting of all teams regarding the summit attack – everything indicates that it’s a matter of the coming days (but I will let you know). Meanwhile, the stirring combined with surprise has caused news on the base that an Argentinian is roaming late through the Baltoro glacier, who also dreams of climbing Broad Peak. Well, apparently better late than never.”
“Going up for a few days of acclimatization in the mountain resulted in:
– fatigue (it’s hard not to)
– viewing euphoria (because the views were o-erratic)
– new acquaintances (I don’t think there were climbers I wouldn’t talk to)
– altitude cough (he got me late this time anyway)
– losing a few kilos from my beloved body (okay, I confess: after returning to the tent, I ′′ celebrated it with eating the ′′ floor ′′ of the bird’s milk)
– the dream of a shower (well, I won’t lie that hygiene is among the climbers’s priorities at height).
Unfortunately, for ′′ objective ′′ reasons, I mean too deep, unprepared snow and an unnoticed route to camp 3, I couldn’t make the camp 3 accommodation plan – I got to 6700 m, which despite everything is not a bad result.”
“Today I’m camping in the unit (camp 1). Good weather (you can’t see K2), great company (Spain, Hungary, Norway and a few British people), and the internet today I tried to post a post and it didn’t work. Head for 2 nights at camp two tomorrow morning, then sleep over at Camp 3 (7100 m) and probably at base Saturday.”
“And I have a dilemma – the yellow tent on the right is mine, but I was offered to move to one of the larger ones. A small tent is a warm one, in a large one it is more comfortable, and there is a month of travel ahead of me. Oh, mountain problems!”
“Finally, the goal of our trekking has been achieved – we spend the night in the base camp under K2.”
“We reached the end of Baltoro glacier and today we’re having a rest day at 4600 m high with Broad Peak and K2 in sight.
“As part of an active rest, we arranged a disco for ourselves.”
“After a few days without internet while trekking to a base camp at Broad Peak, I am now communicating from 4200m high.
“More pictures and news to come. Yesterday we hiked 7 hours through the Baltoro.”
“Internet here has been tragic, I have been trying to load this post since yesterday, (and the day before yesterday). By the way, I am sorry that I don’t reply to emails and messages – I would love to, but there is really a problem with that.”
“A day full of excitement… Views – insane! The powerful Nanga Parbat, here called Killer Mountain, was the biggest impression, but there was also a viewpoint at the touch of three giant mountain massives: Himalayas, Karakorum and Hinduus. But what was on the road, part of the famous Karakoram Highway was also amazing (I mean driving on the edge of the gap, organizing traffic, actually missing it and the road itself – largely still without asphalt).”
“This Karakoram Highway is so hard on us! Today was supposed to be short, only about a 7 hour drive, meanwhile we spent 22 hours on a trip! The guided driver convinced us that if we wake up at 3 am and move quickly, we will use less traffic on the road, and there won’t be any teams remodeling the roads yet, but we’ll still be able to break up at night for the dog – instead of being in Skardu for lunch, we arrived after midnight, totally exhausted and solid dusty.”
“Reason? Well, after a road and a half of a pretty comfortable ride (after asphalt, I mean) we stood… It turned out that a piece of mountain slipped overnight and fell into a moving truck. Two people died and a landslide blocked the road, causing a massive traffic jam on both sides.”
“Half an hour and we’re off! – our guide to local vision communicated, and we naively believed. It’s been an hour, and a half… Nobody but us has been impatient, because after all, every Pakistani knows what Karakoram Highway means (i.e.: you’ll get there if you get there at all). Once the sun looked out from behind the clouds and it started getting really hot, news broke between lazy drag drivers :-Only half an hour left! The news also came to us, which of course made us very happy and boosted optimistic moods. It’s been three times after half an hour, or an hour and a half, in the meantime my brave crew burned into the seats of the bus and slept well, when the guide came with updated news :-Works stopped because rocks are flying (in the meaning: they are flying from above, so dangerous).”
“The heat was intense, but fortunately it turned out that there was a ′′ hotel ′′ nearby (that’s what the guide said) where we decided to drive to wait out the long-term time. ′′ Hotel ′′ turned out to be a smashing bud with three rooms with minus one star standard (they were busy anyway), but there was some shade and where we spread the carimats so the sun stroke was no longer threatening us.”
“Around noon at the ′′ hotel ′′ there was already a crowd of people – drivers and passengers waiting in line of cars, and we were the only foreigners as the main attraction. Someone kept coming up and asking for a photo together, we even had police officers friends lending us their guns for photos and it was nice in general. Interestingly – no one from Pakistani society expressed impatience, and to the question whether such accidents as this, that someone is killed by stones, we heard that, sure, yes, there is no week that something like this doesn’t happen. Hmm, it was hard to call it comfort for further driving, but so far we weren’t going anywhere. Due to the fact that there was no indication that anything would move, we started figuring out how to get two jeans that could take us down the road for smaller cars (she was so parallel). Once our guide found some cars to rent, info came: – The machines are working again – half an hour and it will be done! If so, we stopped jeeps, as it turned out to be right, because after 2 hours they opened the road. Phew, that was one of the longest ′′ half hour ′′ I’ve ever done in my life.”
“But not to easy – as it turned out, it wasn’t the end of our bad luck on Karakoram Highway. Soon after, we stood again (this time a caterpillar fell off the road from a big rock ripping machine), and in another place something fell apart again. And us? Meanwhile, we are used to Pakistan being governed by its laws, that ′′ half an hour ′′ is quite a contractual unit of time, and that we will arrive when we get there. And once we got to Skardu, we all decided that Karakorum Highway crossing was a pretty specific adventure, but it was worth taking!”
“Day 1 of the trip.
“After arriving in Islamabad, we used partially slept off the flight of night, but also to visited the most famous object of the Pakistani capital, namely the enormous Mosque of King Fajsala, completed in 1986, and capable of accommodating 76 thousand faithful.”