The 2018 Karakoram season began with strong winds and heavy snowfall. By early July, it seemed that this might be another quiet summit year. Unlike Everest, K2 isn't climbed every season. The weather turned abruptly on July 14, and a solid week of great conditions allowed a record number of mountaineers atop K2 — over 60 in all. Gasherbrum II, Nanga Parbat and Broad Peak also recorded successful ascents.
Adam Bielecki on a snowy promontory of Gasherbrum II
A Japanese team led by Akira Oyabe were the first to arrive on the mountain. They put in early work to set the route as far as Camp 2, only to see their efforts wiped out by repeated snowfalls in late June.
As the number of the teams on the mountain multiplied, the weather slowly improved. By mid-July, the winds had calmed, and by July 21, the route was fixed. That same day saw over 30 summits. Notable firsts included the first Latin American woman, Viridiana Alvarez, and the first Mongolian, Badamgarav Gangaamaa.
Not content just to summit, Polish athlete Andrzej Bargiel became the first person to ski down K2, from summit to Base Camp. Some of the best extreme skiers in the world has previously attempted this feat, without success. Bargiel’s achievement ranks as a modern milestone in high-altitude alpinism.
Lupghar Sar West
The 7,200m Lupghar Sar West is not as imposing as some of its neighbours, but tackling it alone is no mean feat. Austrian climber Hansjörg Auer topped out solo on July 8, after patiently waiting out the unstable June conditions.
Felix Berg and Adam Bielecki managed to summit Gasherbrum II on July 16 in tricky conditions via the west face, and early indications suggest that their route may have been unique. Their climbing companions, Jacek Czech and Borys Dedeszko, turned back at 7,500m and 7,800m respectively. Bielecki and Czech had then planned to move on to Gasherbrum IV, but the duo changed their plans after falling ice killed Italian mountaineer Maurizio Giordano on July 11.
David Klein’s and Suhajda Szilard’s plans to summit both Gasherbrum I and II without oxygen were thwarted by weather. The pair made it above the Japanese couloir, but dangerously strong winds forced them to retreat.
The heavy snow also altered German mountaineer Luis Stitzinger’s plans. Stitzinger had initially planned a first ascent of 7,082m Urdok Kangri II but elected to switch his focus to Gasherbrum I. He successfully summited on July 18, along with Italian mountaineer Gianpaolo Corona.
Broad Peak featured a few teams hoping to acclimatize before heading to K2, but here again, the early season looked bleak.
Furtenbach were stopped short at 7,800m during their first Broad Peak attempt
A commercial group from Furtenbach failed on an early attempt on July 7, but they persisted and finally made it to the summit of Broad Peak on July 16. Unfortunately, the delay meant that they didn’t have time to bring off the double-header on K2. They called it quits on July 28, after assessing that the avalanche danger beyond Base Camp was too great.
While the Furtenbach team ran out of time for their double-header, Spaniard Sergi Mingote did not. Mingote managed to summit both Broad Peak and K2 within an impressive seven day span, both without oxygen.
Bargiel’s landmark ski descent of K2 indirectly saved the life of British climber Rick Allan. Allan had left for a solo attempt on Broad Peak but went missing at 8,000m and was presumed dead. But drone operator Bartek Bargiel, there to film his brother Andrzej, spotted Allan alive and was able to direct rescuers to his position.
Elsewhere in Pakistan, on Nanga Parbat, conditions were likewise far from ideal. Mike Horn, Alex Gavan and Tunc Findic abandoned the mountain in early July, deterred by the significant threat of avalanches.
For those who elected to wait out the weather, there were some successes. Korean climber Kim Migon managed to secure his 14th and final 8,000m peak as part of a multinational team.
Photo credit: Adam Bielecki, Eduard Ulysses