I don’t usually write the blog on the mountain for several reasons, not least of all we’re pretty tired once we get to camps so the last thing we want to do is re-visit the day’s activities.
But this time we have had so many incidents I thought I’d get them down before I forgot the details.
Leading up to today Pete and I have had 5/6 rest days waiting for the weather to clear just sorting kit and relaxing as much as possible.
The day before we were to go I developed “DV” out of the blue, several emergency expulsions and it made me feel really bad. Knowing how important this weather window was I was not going to miss this chance to get on the mountain so readied myself and kit to leave at 04:00 the following morning.
17:30 and a slight commotion hit camp.
4 chaps came into our mess tent, 4 Pakistani lads explaining that they were collecting fees for fixing the ropes.
Now for the uninitiated it’s very common practice for teams if Sherpa to go and “fix” a mountain in Nepal, not so common in Pakistan as the level of skill needed is rather high.
Hence why Pete and I have our own ropes and not relying on others- however I think the chaps came in “mob” handed to ensure we were to pay. Initially it really was comical because in response to each of their statements we answered no! Just no, so I think their frustration grew and they insisted we signed something to guarantee we would not touch their ropes, well I’m not sure what the trigger was but with this our amazing base camp team mobilised including our young “cook boy” Hassan…… at least 6 of our guys stormed in and removed the lads much to Pete and I amazement, without any punches thrown, without a doubt if this was the UK punches, tables, glasses would have gone!
About another hour of “Pakistani way” (The chef, yes the bloody chef told us not to worry we’ll deal with this the Pakistani way) and the argument continued out side.
Lots of opinions later and our camp manager Ibrahim came and told us this would be dealt with……30 mins later our Military liaison officer ( All western expedition must have a LO, since the Nanga Parbet tragedy) walked 2 of the lads into the tent and explained that they would like to apologise, like scorned school boys they apologised to us. WOW, 2hrs of drama, excitement and intrigue and Pete and I didn’t even get off our seats……
Although not 100% I did sleep and manage to keep some boiled potatoes down and a cup of tea.
On setting out in the snow and darkness we made good progress up to ABC and caught the Belgium team up who always enjoy giving false “good mornings” when you can see they really don’t care, plus sickeningly they are the most attractive mountaineers you’ve ever seen, bastards!
As we just set off up the first couple of pitches it was going rather well, slower than normal but well. Then the 3 guys up front shouted rocks! I glanced up and saw what looked like an 80’s video game of meteor of rocks falling from the buttress, I shouted “Pete, Rocks”…… in this instance you have 2 choices
Thankfully with an Exped rucksack it covers the vast majority of the back and neck, my helmet protected my head and I tucked my arms under. Bloody hell….. I s#€$ myself even the helmet hits hurt and several hits to the legs stung, then a couple that managed to slide under my cover and twang’ my head.
The meteor shower lasted a matter of seconds, and with climbers shouting it all ended, with me shouting to Pete “Done” yes mate!
On looking around me I was amazed, genuinely amazed that in the snow was a body shape with “shrapnel” plastered around it, 1m above me and 1m below, and nothing else. The climbers above missed it all and Pete missed it all. Today, now at C2 I feel a lucky lad as it had the makings of ending an expedition.
Sadly Pete was struck with the “American shits” and came down with vomiting and shitting, and having to make several stops during the climb with a harness on, he easily won the most awkward poo of the day……
…..until 06:30 the following morning when we had to get up and make our way to C3. -18 windchill + bare bum+ frozen wet wipes!
Climbing up to camp 3 was very tiring and longer than we thought, I guess we were both drained and as we had not slept well we found it tough going. But arrived we did and managed to get a flat, safe camp spot which we hoped made for a better nights sleep.
It didn’t…….sleeping at about 7000m doesn’t make for a good nights sleep, the best you can hope for is quiet night, and although a thumping headache we managed to rest.
As you know Pete and I had a plan to climb on a specific date, snd 1 thing we are is stubborn on this, now because of many factors I’ll not go into it now but just trust us “To stay of go” will enlighten you all later.
Sadly the the majority of those climbers at camp 4, who believed the night of the 17th July was the right time for them would become part of the sad, sad story or mountaineering where mistakes and errors in judgments would end in catastrophe for them and have long lasting consequences for Broad Peak.
When should you attempt the summit push?
…..Only when YOU are convinced it’s right. Never, ever when someone else’s tells you. Never because it might be you only chance. Never because of money. Never because time. Never because of impatience.
To attempt your summit climb could be the biggest day of your life, if your life has been building up to this. You could have given up, sacrificed so much to achieve it, for just this one chance to do what you want, so the decision to do it should never be taken lightly especially when playing at 8000m plus (Remember it’s longly been considered the death zone as your body simply does not want to live for any time above this height)
Pete and I have climbed together many times now and we know each other well enough to understand and acknowledge when each is ready to go for a summit push. I believe we both recognise.
The 17th July, 2021 was NOT right for Pete and I to climb.
Like many international climbers here we had been working for our summit attempt, many days, weeks “working” the mountain to get supplies, kit, and ourselves ready for the long 14/18 hours of a summit push where you leave your tent and go for it……
This year on broad peak we see an unusual amount of “Elite” teams flexing their mountaineering muscle with different styles and methods of climbing.
So at high camp, C3 on broad peak many arrived on the 16th to attempt the first seasons ascents.
One thing in common we all had was the effort and determination that each had put into getting there.
During the day we had heard rumblings that “tonight’s the night” and folk are going for a summit push. On hearing this this Pete and I posed some questions but got very little back so, discounted the claim until we could answer our questions.
As the day progressed you could see more and more preparation getting done for 99% of the climbers to leave that evening for their summit push.
….Pete and I drank coffee, slept, melted snow.
From 21:00hrs - Midnight on the 16th/17th July 99% of climbers set off for their big day. Leaving at night when the snow and ice is hard and firm. They set off head torches beaming into the ice cold night.
…..Pete looked out of the tent about 23:30, “Bloody hell, look at them they’re all going” I applied Vaseline to my lips and snoozed on.
Now, as is the case from the very start several climbers and mountaineers will fall by the way side and start returning as quickly as they set off. For countless reasons folk will simply come back.
…..Pete popped his head out and said “See, back already” I applied sudocreme to my lips and snoozed on”
Those maths folks out there can work out for yourselves when summits will occur if your summit time is 14hrs-18hrs, maybe elite teams 12hrs.
If you leave at 21:00, you should have summited and returned to C3 by 09:00 if you’re elite….. and so on.
On waking the first question Pete and I ask our Pakistani team “how many summits”- “No summits sir”…….. looking at our watches we see the elite times have passed, we see the good times passed and even the fairly average times passed. Pete and I looked at each other and both thought the same, this isn’t right.
As the day passed a few more folk returned with tales of deep snow and “we just turned around” because it was harder than expected.
One such chap was a fairly eccentric English chap Pete and I had met in 2019 out here, he seems to bimble about out here playing on mountains in a very weird old school British way. We asked him why he had returned especially so late, this was 14:30 (18hrs) he said “Well my partner gesturing at a lady in a down suit was getting cold waiting at the col, so I volunteered to come down”
“What we’re you waiting for?” We asked - quick as a shot he said, “The mountains not been fixed”.
Throughout the day Pete and I waited to hear of ANY successful summits as the day went by it appeared only us really had a concern of the lack of these.
Fixing the Mountain
For many folks, like I’ve said before they rely on the mountain being “worked” for them, they rely on a third party to fix the mountain with ropes, stakes, belays and countless other luxuries if you were in Nepal like ladders and pullies…
This means you are not self sufficient and are always in the mercy of others and are liable for paying for fixing.
Fixing is usually done by in-country elite climbers, Nepal employ the “Ice Doctors” to actually fix the mountain, charge each customer then they know it’s fixed to a quality standard, here in Pakistan it’s fair game for anyone to have a dabble with anything from a bootlace to a metal chain!
It appeared from what our eccentric chum had said that a bottle neck of climbers had appeared at the Col and we’re literally waiting for that narrow stretch of rock to be fixed.
This causes the inevitable issues
In all this palaver it was not lost on Pete and I that folk just had not been returning, usually the elite bound back into camp surrounded by beautiful ladies, champagne bottles popping and sponsorship deals from Rolex et al, (well it does in my dreams)
This wasn’t happening.
Pete and I continued the awful, awful task of transitioning from campers to high altitude climbers, by eating, drinking, melting ice for your 2 litres of water to take, pooing, getting into your teletubby style down suite, packing gear and generally feeling anxious and scared for the night.
We, with Bashir and Mohammed set off for the attempt.
At first slowly but with rhythm we got into a great pace. Passing the various land marks, old camp 3, a graveyard of old used tents, old camp 3 toilets, the first fixed ropes, the crevasse field, none of which you’ll find in a travel guide but all import to us.
The following is true to our recollection and memory of events, timings and exact dialogue may differ and we worked through 4 different languages and at a height up to 7900m
We always carry a radio with us to communicate with base camp and other teams. Pete and I also carry a Garmin tracker and Sat phone for our own safety.
It’s was now about 01:00 that messages started coming through that “14 climbers had been trapped and 1 lady had fallen into a crevasse” you may not be able to progress.
Pete and I thought this very very strange, then a message from the UK through our tracker saying “Severe emergency on the mountain do not go up”
This was physically received 2 hours later.
Pete and I looked around as we arrived at a 1 tented, camp 4 made solely for the Korean climbers we saw in fact we were the only climbers out, no other teams were out with us it was just us.
The radios came alive with chatter again this time with our Military liaison officer explaining. Their are still 14 climbers missing, not accounted for, 1 lady is feared dead as she fell into a crevasse and PLEASE you are the only climbers on the mountain we need to co-ordinate the search and rescue.
Now into 28/32 hours of their initial start of their summit push.
Pete and I had made very, very strong progress and had got to within 350m of bagging our first mountain of the 2, we could actually do this and we could actually become the first Brits……
We had got this far and could be home within 2 weeks
We felt strong and motivated
We had this one in the bag.
At 04:00 in the morning Pete and I sent an emergency message back to the UK “Emergency situation, all communication through tracker, please advice Sakhi of location and action through this”
Within seconds from the UK Ady had actioned our request and was co-ordinating 1000’s of miles away our needs and communications. Ady was pulling together all information and giving me real time locations and reports so Pete and I could respond. Do bear in mind it’s about midnight in the uk and Ady is very much a volunteering family man, just helping us out. But as you will read, his presence on our team is/was as vital as any boots on the ground.
Within minutes of Pete and I creating a plan we could see a few head torches in the distance, now bear in mind at altitude it takes hours to cover distances maybe 100m might take up to 20mins. As we got closer to the torches it was like a scene from a horror film. Whoever it was they just looked ruined, completely drained and broken, they looked through us, clothes ripped, skin cut.
First a Pakistani Porter who could hardly speak told our guys of the situation and as it’s well over 30 hours he was so exhausted he just wanted to go down. We asked of the location of the cravasse and had he seen the lady, he said yes and after initial med support we set off.
The second set of lights came with the greatest relief, a tall guy was literally dragging and I mean dragging a body behind him.
It was the lady “assumed dead” who had fallen into the cravasse, although clearly alive she was badly hurt, clothes ripped, harness torn, cut and bleeding. She had been reduced to this after 4-5 hours of hanging in a cravasse and this clearly had taken the toll. We radioed back our findings to base camp and plotted our track with Ady. Although this guy dragging our casualty clearly had saved her life, he was 30+ hours into his summit bid, cold and exhausted he was as much as a casualty as she.
Now I’m writing this, Paul Etheridge. This is my take and my observations. Without a word from anyone, without a hesitation Pete supported the chap to a more secure placement. Secured the ladies feet, watered handed over medical support and started to get THEM to safety.
Petes guaranteed summit was over.
I continued to liaise with base camp and field off the casualties we had in situ, giving med support when we could or fixing ropes and getting them through the snow.
We were now asked by a western voice on the radio. “Absolute Priority, Mr Kim is missing and believed to be in SAME cravasse as our previous casualty can you get there” because of our initial tracking back in the UK we had a definitive location and could be there in about 2 hours Now I’m not afraid to say that my energy and power was seriously deteriorating but Bishir was as powerful as the minute we started.
We arrived at the location and started a search, a simple box/square search in the snow, wind and dawn light. We found a rucksack and belongings but could see no casualty or body. We continued the search for about 2 hours and reported everything back to base camp.
Exhausted, about 12 hours after we started I was pleased to see a Russian climber had been sent from C3 along with a team of support to help take over, I passed on my search pattern from the tracker and although clearly I was pretty exhausted he indicated that his information was NOT a cravasse but his search is going to be a RIDGE
I looked at the tracker and pointed “here” yes he said. It was 15, yes fifteen minutes from my highest location not the 2 hours we climbed back, nowhere near the location of our 2 hours of searching.
Disheartend, saddened, pissed off, cold and wet I collected my team and slowly silently climbed back to C3.
I arrived back to camp where Pete looked shit, like really shit.
We collated our information and timings so we could recall for later. “Did you bag then” Pete asked “Mate, it was fu####g carnage up there, no I didn’t”
“We’re bagging it together right?” Yes mate.
Let’s go rest.
From 7800m that day Pete and I descended to C2, C1, ABC then to base camp where, tired weak and wet we were held so warmly by our team and all those who had stayed up all night waiting to hear from us.
Mr Kim was later found by the Russian team hanging from a ridge, he had been hanging for well over 7 hours, he was conscious when found. Mr Kim was given water and was able to call his family in Korea.
Within 15 minutes of finding him, Mr Kim had died from his injuries.
Mr Kim’s location was 17 mins from where I stood when dispatched 2 hours away.
Mr Kim was climbing his last 8000m, to then achieve all 14, 8000m mountains in the world.
He was to become the first Korean to achieve this.