Jon Gupta was Guiding and climbing K2 this summer.
“The emotional evolution of these big high altitude trips is such a familiar feeling, yet the come down still flaws me each and every time. Please allow me to expand a little on just how you have made me feel.
It doesn’t matter how many times this happens, or how often I may write about it, it still impacts me profoundly. Is it the result of giving a huge amount of myself to the climb, or to you, yet receiving nothing tangible back? I haven’t truly decided if I love or hate this low melancholy feeling, or whether I’ve simply accepted that it’s just a part of the process. Nearly 15 years on from my first post expedition comedown and following many subsequent comedowns, I’m still trying to find meaning from them.
“Your expedition K2, like all others, starts with excitement, a sense of the unknown, open minds and an expectation that things will happen ‘expedition style,’ and that’s absolutely fine. It’s so far removed from ‘normal’ life. As time progresses, we all fall into place, becoming accustomed to our new world, our new normal – the expedition way of life.
The closer the time comes to your summit push, the more these new boundary’s are tested. Temperatures rise, personalities are pushed, compromises made. We all worry, yet we all want the same result. Then, suddenly it’s time, and the quickest week of our lives unfolds. We all leave Basecamp together early in the morning knowing this is quite possibly our one shot. We are united with the single aim of safely reaching your mighty summit. One way or another, we’ll be back in a week, successful or not.
Interestingly, I’ve witnessed this bringing out the best and worst in climbers. People demonstrate either incredible selfishness, or the polar opposite – kindness, humility and selflessness. However, you and I both know that the best way is to work cohesively, united, as a team.
“The emotional high from summiting a big mountain, especially one like you, is always huge. So much anticipation, so much build up, so much uncertainty and so much hope. Your reputation precedes you whether you like this or not. When the summit finally arrives, the release is enormous. I cried on your summit this year. Something I don’t do very often. I don’t believe normal life provides us with the tools to understand or manage the magnitude of this magical moment. However, we can take these new experiences back to our ‘normal’ worlds with us – one of the great reasons I believe these expeditions are so indescribable and monumental.
Wherever in the world I might be, to stand on top of a big summit like yours, far out there, exhausted, having given it everything, wow, that’s always epic. It’s truly so special K2, and that moment is all yours. As for me, I’ll hold on to those memories for a long time to come.
“As a guide bringing clients to your vertiginous slopes, I try to consider everything. Every microscopic detail. My client’s success is a direct reflection on me, not you. Success is multi layered and whilst reaching the summit is success, so many little things can take away a small part from this for me. It might be in the guise of sunburn, frostbite, dehydration, dropped gloves, flat batteries. In other words, anything that is foreseeable, should be foreseen. I cannot hold you accountable for any of this, I have to take responsibility.
I suppose after all these years climbing amongst your fellow mountains, I expect my extensive experience to help produce not just good results but exemplary ones. It’s always the little things that matter so much. The devil is always in the detail. Frostbite would be a complete failure in my eyes because I believe these things are almost always avoidable. I continuously heap pressure on myself to ensure none of the above occurs.
“So, everything falls into place and we stand atop your beautiful snowy summit. Thank you. The feeling is euphoric. It’s so incredibly good. The impossible made possible. However, as many great climbers have said, the summit is only half way.
This year you allowed Becks and I to pull off a colossal day by descending all the way to Basecamp that same day. That’s Camp 4 to Summit and then to Basecamp in a single 25 hour push. I LOVE these big mountain days. They truly shape you and these feelings will always stay with me. Naturally, there were times that hurt, I hated it and wanted to stop but pushing through these barriers are what make these days the best.
It never crossed the line to being dangerous and even when it got dark, you were still kind to us. We ate and drank and paused often. I’m so accustomed to operating on these types of huge days I fall almost into autopilot, knowing that I can’t relax until we are all safely back at Basecamp.
“I think the combination of the reputation you have K2, the summit day you granted us in absolutely perfect conditions, flirting with the upper boundaries of acceptable risk, and the huge single push descent are collectively responsible to the come down. I guess it’s as much physical as it is mental. You pushed me K2, just the right amount.
K2, you are scary, you’re big and you’re utterly epic! We got away with it, so thank you for that. We came, did our best, climbed well and you accepted our plea to pass through unscathed. I am forever in your debt.
“K2, let me tell you about my come down. I know it’s coming. I even warn my clients about it, so it’s nothing new to me. These feelings are so common in my life that I both revere them and look forward to them simultaneously. I now realise it’s part of the process and understand it’s my mind and body recovering from what I’ve asked of it. You demanded a lot of me, 5 weeks of my life, and I gave you everything I have.
I loved every minute of this expedition with you. You’re up there in my top 5 experiences of all time.
“Thank you K2.”
“Our K2 expedition is unwinding and coming to a close here. Mixed feelings are setting in as the initial euphoric emotions of summiting gently fade slightly and we all come back down to ground level.
“My busy mind, full of the expedition and it’s success, is slowly clearing and thoughts of heading onwards are coming into view. First to Skardu, then on to Islamabad.”
“Where to start? Wow. Every now and then in life you do something big and it changes you. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had quite a few of these life defining experiences and I feel nothing but gratitude for them all, for they have shaped me into who I am today.
I’ve also climbed multiple mountains and been on close to 100 expeditions. I have loved them all. I’m not obsessed. I’m as happy when I’m at home but I do have a deep profound passion for big mountain expeditions and all that they give to me. They are truly special.
When K2 was proposed to me my acceptance was initially cautious. I never thought I’d get the opportunity to climb this mountain, let alone guide it. Was it even guidable? It’s reputation is so big, it is probably the most revered mountain in the world.
Presently, I am seeking change and some new drive in my life. I had never been to Pakistan but heard some incredible stories about expeditions and the mountains there. I’ve been blown away by the stature, vastness and unrelenting steepness of the mountains here. They feel very real.
The history on K2 itself is also somewhat extraordinary. Are there any other mountains in the world with so much tragedy and disaster, where so many legendary lives have been taken?”
“Summit day could not have been more perfect. Four of our Sherpas (Siddhi, Pas Dawa, Mingma, Dawa Nuppu) joined forces with Sherpas from the other team (Pioneer) and fixed the lines from C4 to 200m below the summit on the 26th July. On the 27th the Pioneer team summited and we climbed from C3-C4. We arrived at 5pm and quickly settled in for a short evening before leaving for the summit at midnight.
What had been impassable deep snow just a week before had been stripped away to firm névé by the wind storms a few nights before. The ropes were in and the weather prediction was absolutely spot on. There was not a puff of wind all night. Everything had fallen beautifully into place for us. I couldn’t believe it. What had I done to deserve this once in a lifetime opportunity?
The night was quiet and calm. The moon illuminated our way and the stars were out in full force. An electrical storm flashed in the sky miles off to the west. K2 was standing down and opening its arms to us and I felt like nothing could go wrong. The whole team made great progress meandering up the steepening slopes into the bottle neck, under the serac and up the steep icy slopes to the shoulder for a rest. The technicality surprised me as we front pointed up 75 degree ice yet I revelled in the position we were in at ~8400m. I’d rarely felt this alive.
An hour or two below the summit the sun gently started to rise and I could finally see the route to the top. I paused and breathed heavily into my oxygen mask, bent double with my arm resting on my higher leg. I gently shook my head and squeezed my eyes tight as they filled up – the realisation that we were definitely going to make it began to sink in. This is simply the world’s greatest feeling. It’s pure magic. Spellbinding. The tears rolled down my cheeks and I pushed on to catch up with Lhakpa, Pas Dawa and Becks (my client).
High altitude sunrises are always incredibly beautiful but this time the knowledge that we, a group of climbers with no special right to be offered a pass, were pending any disaster, going to make it to the summit of the second highest mountain in the world. I simply can’t articulate what this feels like.
The next hour passed without change and Becks, Lhakpa Sherpa and Pas Dawa Sherpa were soon on the final 20m ridge to the top where the rest of the team were already celebrating a few minutes ahead of us. As I often do, I paused a moment to watch Becks and Lhakpa take their final steps before following on, my emotions almost overwhelming me.”
“Truth – without the Sherpas we wouldn’t have had a summit. It is as simple as that. I’ve climbed with a lot of people around the world and worked alongside a lot of porters and local guides and not a single one is as strong, dedicated, humble and competent as any one of the Sherpa team we had here. They may be kind, knowledgeable and selfless but the Sherpa have these qualities in bucket loads and are also exceptionally strong, skilled, dedicated and never once moan about the incredibly arduous work. I would, and have, trusted them not only with my life, but with the lives of my clients on numerous occasions. Granted, we had ten of the very finest Sherpas that Nepal has, lead flawlessly by the legendary Aang Phurba Sherpa. They work tirelessly, without complaint, constantly. It is incredibly inspiring to be around these guys. Their selfless commitment to our success and unparalleled superhuman strength, literally blows away every other climber i’ve ever met. I owe them everything and much of my success in the Himalayas is due to their hard work allowing me to follow in their path.
Once again I’m an eternally grateful and indebted to Lhakpa Wongchu Sherpa. When it matters he is always there ready to help in any way. On summit night he stood by Becks’ side the entire way ensuring everything went smoothly. His kindness, compassion, work ethic, attentiveness and awareness is exemplary. I have never met anyone quite like him and hope to work alongside him for many more years to come. He feels like a brother to me.
Our four Pakistan High Altitude Porters (Ali, Hussain, Zamia and Zakir) deserve a substantially grander title. Working alongside the Sherpas wherever possible, these humble, quiet, hardworking mountain machines also deserve a slice of the summit pie. Another example of how working together always produces a considerably better result.
Becks (my client) is one of the most inspiring humans I’ve ever had the pleasure to know and work with. A mother of five, crusher of numerous 100+ mile ultras (with podium finishes) and now record holding mountaineer. Becks is now the third British women to climb K2 after Alison Hargreaves and Julie Tullis, both who sadly lost their lives on the mountain in descent. The second British women to climb Everest and Lhotse as a double (in 29 hours) and has climbed three (maybe 4…) 8000ers in under 100 days. However, better than all of that, she hasn’t done any of this for the records or titles, in fact she wasn’t aware of most of them until afterwards.
Now, with Ama Dablam, Everest, Lhotse, Makalu and K2 expeditions under our belts (in the last 9 months) I’m still learning more about Becks and her modest achievements and ethos on life. Surely, being humble and selfless are some of the best personality traits a person could have? She’s also an absolute beast when it comes to fitness and stamina. After summiting K2 we descended with the team to Camp 3 before parting ways and continuing all the way down to Basecamp – a massive ask. We arrived to a warm welcome from our lovely Pakistan Basecamp crew around 00:45am – 25 hours after leaving C4 for the summit! A BIG day out.
Becks is not only an inspiration to her five kids, the other members of this team, the Sherpas and all that know her but to me as well.”
“K2’s reputation as a dangerous and unforgiving mountain is wholly deserved, but it is not for being a savage. This title doesn’t seem fair. Savages are unruly, hostile and ruthless. K2 is not this. It isn’t trying to kill you. It’s not deceitful or mean. It’s just a steep (very!) rocky mountain. K2 is big, elegant, unforgiving maybe and powerful. Yes, it’s objectively dangerous and demands absolute concentration, respect, skill and experience but I wouldn’t call it savage.”
“I will never forget the final steps onto the summit of K2, a memory etched onto my timeline of life – emotion rushing through my body, almost unable to see as my eyes filled up with tears of joy and disbelief. We did it and did it really well.
For me personally, to help facilitate someone else’s achievement is an incredibly fulfilling feeling and far outweighs any personal success. I am so beyond proud of this expedition that I don’t think I can find the right words to explain it properly. However, I hope the above paints a picture of why these big mountains expeditions are so incredibly special to me and others.”
“Finally – thanks for all the comments, messages and voice notes over the last days and weeks, it’s been incredible and I’m very grateful.”
“Yesterday at 06:00 we took the final steps on the summit of the incredible K2!
“My client and I then descended all the way to Basecamp the same day!
“A lifetimes worth of thank yous goes to the METT and Madison team for making this possible.”
Summit Day on K2!
“Today we climbed entirely on snow, which made a really pleasant change from relentless rock.
“It was however, still mostly steep with one incredibly beautiful open traverse in between.
“We’re now safely tucked up at Camp 4 ~7800m where we will whittle the next few hours away rehydrating, resting and refuelling before we start our summit bid at around 23:00!”
“Today we climbed the incredible Black Pyramid…and it was steep!!
“Rock bands and chimneys interlinked with fantastic névé snow from start to finish!
“It was warm again and a few rocks came hurtling out the sky. I had a close call with one but otherwise it was a great day.
“The weather is perfect at the moment and the ropes have been fixed up through the bottle neck and up towards the summit – exciting!!”
“We’re on our summit push and the weather is perfect. Today we climbed from Camp 1 ~6080m upto Camp 2 ~6650m.
“The route is unrelentingly steep from start to finish, not a single flat section. Even the tents at Camp 2 are cut into the side of a steep snow slope protected by a buttress of rock.
“The route is a mix of steep snow, rock bands and chimneys – including the legendary House Chiney, 30m of 80 degree rock and ice.
“Tomorrow we make our way to Camp 3!
“SHOUT OUT – 6 of our Sherpa and some Sherpa from the Pioneer team are currently at Camp 4. Over the next few days they plan to push the ropes up through the bottle neck and on to the final summit slopes.
“Our success is entirely in their hands and I am eternally grateful for their expertise and strength.”
“People often ask me what the hardest thing is about climbing 8000m peaks? Simple – it’s the waiting. Personally I don’t have too many problems filling the days. Mostly, I just dream of being up high where the views go on for miles and life feels sharper , almost three dimensional .
“Generally I relish the down time at Basecamp, playing scrabble or cards, reading books and chatting with climbers from all over the world. All these down days soon seem to blur into one. It doesn’t take long for expedition life to feel so normal yet so far removed from the ‘real’ world. A home away from home.
“The big mountains have taught me many lessons in life: patience, calmness, resilience, respect and self belief, amongst others.
“However, in the end the waiting stops and climbing starts. We have to try. Leaving an expedition empty handed is always a possibility but as long as I have tried and given it everything then I am satisfied.
“So, the time has come to try. Very soon we’ll be leaving the comforts and familiarity of Basecamp and heading up the mountain on our summit push.
“It’s beyond exciting. Part of the route (above 6800m) is new to me, and I really love this. I’ve studied pictures, videos and listened to accounts…I feel prepared and ready.
“Here we go.”
“Sat high up above Basecamp soaking in the enormous Godwin Austen glacier, I feel incredibly small. I’m entranced, listening to it creak and groan as it meanders it’s way towards Concordia and the mighty Baltoro Glacier. This place is so epic and vast. I love it and find it humbling. I’m content whittling hours away just watching the world go by, enjoying the stillness.
“K2 continues to overflow with character both day and night. Even when shrouded in cloud, I can feel it’s presence towering above us. K2 never sleeps. It is always watching. It seems alive continuously but even still, I find K2 welcoming and friendly, undeserving of its savage reputation.
“Today, once again, the weather is beautiful. Our incredible Sherpa and HAP team are up at C3 for us, returning tomorrow. We are, as always, indebted to their hard work, strength & unrelenting energy.”
“We’ve just returned to Basecamp after an amazing 5 days up high. We were graced with 4 glorious weather days and we soaked it all up! We spent 1 night at ABC, 2 nights at C1 and 2 nights at C2 with little forays in-between.
“From ABC upwards it’s all pretty steep, although I’m not sure the video shows this.
“The current mountain conditions are great up to C2, but we’re now having a bit of weather so we’ll see!”
“As the sun draws to close on the Karakoram we cook our dinner, boil a little more water & nip out for one last pee before bed.
“It’s 19:00 and I’m deep in my sleeping bag, warm and cozy ready for another 10 hour sleep!
“It’s been a magical 5 days on K2 acclimatising to ~6700m.”
“For the past 4 nights we’ve been up on the mountain acclimatising. We spent nights at ABC, Camp 1 and Camp 2 at 6790m.
Here are my thoughts and musings on K2 – the savage mountain.
K2 oozes character – it’s big, omnipresent and full of personality. Inconceivably steep from every angle it stands proud like a fortress enticing you cautiously onto its slopes.
Commanding its own rules, K2’s weather has no boundaries. The regular afternoon storm clouds wrap themselves tightly around the impenetrable rock and ice bands high on the mountain and the noise of huge avalanches crash down the slopes above us.
There is no rest-bite on the Abbruzi Spur, no time to switch off or unclip from the lines. It is quite simply steep. Everywhere. Our tents are perched precariously on the only vaguely habitable snow slope in over 1000m of vertical.
From time to time K2 pokes out from the clouds showing off a glimpse of its proud triangular summit. So close, yet so unfathomably far away.
Yet today, under a calm deep blue sky, K2 welcomed us with grace and warmth. Feeling at peace and entirely alone we climbed silently up through the ever steepening rock and ice, pinched ourselves that we were fortunate enough to experience these magical moments.
The Karakoram feels different to anywhere I’ve known. Its vast like the deepest oceans yet so complete like a sky full of stars. The silence resonates perfectly across the striking mountains that pierce the skyline in every direction. As far as I can see, most unclimbed.”
“Trek day 4 – today we continue making our way up the monstrous Baltoro Glacier towards K2. Somehow the mountains are getting bigger & bigger everyday!”
“Pakistan is off the charts. I’ve ever seen mountains like it. They all so big & so steep!!
“For the past 3 days we have been trekking up the mighty Baltoro Glacier towards K2 & the views just keep getting better.
“Trango Tower, Great Trango, Cathedral, Mashabrum, G4 & the list goes on!”
“It’s on! This Friday I am off to Pakistan guiding for 2 months, and yup, I’m pretty excited! I’ve dreamt of climbing in Pakistan many times, yet this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to go and, on top of that, into the mighty Karakorum!”