2nd Newsletter of the International K2 Expedition to the North Pillar of K2

After four exciting, beautiful but also exhausting days, we returned to our advanced base camp (ABC) at the lower part of the K2 north pillar on Friday afternoon (8th July). We are now planning to rest at this camp, which is also called ‘Italy Base Camp’ (4,650m), for a few days and are hoping to get a break in this extremely changeable weather here. Since we arrived at the Chinese Base Camp (3,900m), a lot has happened.

First of all, the camel herders assisted us tremendously to get to the Italy Base Camp (the name of the camp stems from the successful 1983 Italian expedition, which was led by Agostini di Polenza). Unfortunately we were not as lucky with our two low-altitude porters, who were supposed to help us reach the ‘proper’ advanced base camp at 5,050m. After our first carry, which admittedly was pretty tough, the two quit their job telling us that work at Muztagh Ata was a lot easier. Without their help, it would have cost us too much time and energy to set up our ABC at 5,050m, and so we decided to put it lower at 4,650m – about half way up the side moraine of the K2 Glacier, which stretches about 20 kilometres from the foot of the mountain towards the North.

The eight Kyrgyz camel herders were even kind enough to help us carry some gear to the real ABC, which has now become our deposit camp.

After the camel herders had left us we were stuck in bad weather for three long days. As we do not get satellite connection at this side of the K2 Glacier, we set up a little communications tent on the East side of the moraine – our only connection to the outside world. The two Kazakh members of our expedition affectionately call our email excursions, which involve half-an-hour’s walk over hilly and stony moraine, a ‘visit to Anastasia’! It is quite an effort to get to our Internet Café and as nobody serves us coffee there we have to take our own in thermoses! However, the views into the Shaksgam Valley are a well-earned compensation for the exhausting excursion.

On 5th July, the weather improved and we ascended to our deposit camp from where we continued to the foot of the incredibly impressive north pillar of K2. All of us were weighed down by extremely heavy rucksacks. We set up our Camp I about five-minutes walk away from the beginning of the pillar at an altitude of around 5,300m, which is an interesting height as it is the usual altitude for a base camp of any other 8,000m peak.

The next morning, Darek, Tommy and Gerlinde descended to our deposit camp to pick up some gear that needed to be carried up to Camp I. In the meantime Maxut, Vassiliy and Ralf took 500m of fixing rope and anchors to the 250m-high gully. This mixed climbing in perfect conditions really made this excursion a lot of fun. At noon we all reunited at Camp I, and everyone was feeling very content about their day.

On 7th July, we all went back up with very heavy rucksacks. Especially Vassily but also Gerlinde took the climbing lead on this amazingly beautiful day. The climb started off on an increasingly steep snowy ridge, which offers amazing views of the K2 Glacier, and then turned into a challenging grade V rock climb. At 6,200m, we decided to divide our labour: Maxut, Darek and Tommy built a small platform, which we will use on our next ascent; Gerlinde, Vassily and Ralf fixed the rope on a 100m-long traverse. Vassily and Gerlinde continued climbing for another 100 metres to about 6,300m on pretty tough rock while Ralf exchanged all ice screws on the traverse with Abalakov threads. After a 1,000m abseil and about 13 hours after we had left, we returned to our camp and felt very pleased about our good teamwork. Tired but content we went to sleep very early that evening.

As predicted by the weather forecast, it started to snow heavily during the night. Nevertheless, we wanted to make the most of the day and descended to our deposit camp to carry fixing material, tents and ropes to Camp I. When we returned to ABC after these four exhausting days on Friday afternoon, we were pretty tired but confident about our climb. Now we are planning to rest and recuperate for a few days and are hoping for another weather window to arrive soon.

Gerlinde, Ralf and the rest of the K2 team are sending you warm regards from a snow-covered base camp

© TEXT G.Kaltenbrunner/R.Dujmovits; TRANSLATION Billi Bierling

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Short report from 3 July 2011

Gerlinde and Ralf got in touch with us yesterday afternoon. They are both well. However, there is no internet connection at ABC, which means that they are unable to send and receive emails. They have found a place on the glacier where they can get a signal, however, this means that every time they want to send an email they have to walk over rough terrain for half an hour each way. They will probably be on the mountain for the next four days and Gerlinde will be in touch again as soon as they get back.

Kind Regards

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First report – int. K2 North Pillar Expedition 2011

Dear Friends
Finally we are able to send an update from our base camp, which lies at an altitude of 3,900m and a lot has happened since our arrival in Bishkek. We met Darek during our layover in Moscow and we reunited with Maxut and Vassily at breakfast in our hotel Bishkek, where we had the chance to freshen up a bit. As we all had our Chinese visas we were able to continue to Tash Rabat near the Chinese border, where we found shelter in a hut at an altitude of about 3,000m. We stayed with Juri and his wife, a lovely Kyrgyz couple, who usually come here during the summer to provide accommodation for travellers. The next morning we even got the chance to taste fermented horse milk from a neighbouring farm – you really have to get used to the taste, however, it is supposed to be very healthy!!

After a few long border controls we reached Kashgar in the Chinese province of Xinjiang. I almost did not recognise this town. In 1995, after our expedition to Muztagh Ata, the town had a population of about 200,000 and was more or less manageable. However, in the meantime Kashgar has grown into a city of four million people!!! We met Chip (Sandford Brown, a National Geographic journalist, who is accompanying us to base camp) and Tommy in Kashgar. After our arrival, we discussed the last details with Keyoum, our local tour operator, before he took us to a local restaurant for dinner. We started our meal with a bowl of yoghurt and a cup of saffron tea just like the Uigurs themselves. Just before we headed of to Yecheng towards K2, we visited the Sunday market for our last minute shopping. It is a gigantic market, where you can get everything under the sun.
Uncountable bakeries sell Naan bread and you can get any fruit, vegetable or other foodstuff at the other stalls.

>From Kashgar we continued in jeeps – something we were surprised about
as the road to Yecheng was supposed to be in good condition. However, we found out very quickly why we were using jeeps. A dirt road, which initially led along the Taklamakan Desert, wound its way up to a 3,500m pass, where we were faced with our first checkpoint. The road continued over sand and rocks to a 5,000m pass. This particular road is only open for three days at a time; the rest of the time numerous construction workers work on widening and sealing the road in very harsh and dusty conditions.

We had to stay an unexpected night in Mazar as we had lost a lot of time due to three punctures on our tyres and the fact that the truck, which was carrying our equipment and food, had problems with the gearbox! It was actually a blessing in disguise as we were able to spend a full day in Mazar at 3,700m, which was quite good for our acclimatisation. In Mazar we hired another truck and continued to Illik the same evening. During our last and very time-consuming military checkpoint, the soldiers, once again, inspected our luggage very diligently.

In Illik, a village of about 250 people, we went directly to a Kyrgyz family, whose father of five is the mayor as well as the camel herder of the village. The family was extremely hospitable and offered us their common room to sleep. The people in this area are pretty shy and it is obvious that not many tourists come through here.
Illik is a Nomads’ village, where people only live in mud houses during the winter. Every family owns a few camels, which gathered in front of Danier, the mayor’s house the next morning.

Splitting the loads between the camels was a very time-consuming but interesting affair. With 35 camels, eight camel herders, who were each riding a donkey, we trekked to our first camp at 3,450m.

The camels walked rhythmically without stopping at all. Our next stage took us just below the 4,800m high Aghil Pass, where we pitched our tents at Danier’s plot of land at 4,450m. Danier’s wife had already been there for about one week and she welcomed us with a bowl of fresh ‘Airan’ (yoghurt). This lovely woman will probably stay up there for two months to tend to the sheep.

The following night saw a bit of snow, however, this did not seem to be a problem for crossing the Aghil Pass. After our descent, which took a few hours, we finally reached the Shaksgam Valley – a place Ralf and I had dreamed about for many years. We were able to enjoy a significant view of the wide riverbed, which was seamed by the Shaksgam Dolomites to the right and by very steep eroded rock walls to the left. The river meanders back and forth and every once in a while we had to use the camels to cross it. It was the first time that Ralf, Darek and I were riding a camel. It is very important to follow the rhythm of the animal and it is actually the only way to ride these camels. However, we were all happy to get back to our own feet after such a river crossing.

The approach march in such beautiful and very remote nature was extremely energizing for all of us. We are the only expedition on this side of the mountain and we really appreciate this remoteness. Shortly after our arrival at base camp we were able to catch a glimpse of the upper section of K2, which is very impressive. It is impossible to see the whole mountain from base camp and we are already wondering what the peak has in store for us this time. The mountain seems very different from this side – simply new.
Our base camp does not really seem like a base camp. We pitched our tents on a green meadow covered in horse dung with a small clean creek running along it. And we can see all the way into the Shaksgam Valley.

We will only stay here for a short while. On Monday, Maxut, Vassily, myself and the camel herders went to the so-called Italy Base Camp.
Our advanced base camp is still a long way away and it is very unlikely that the donkeys will make the 20 kilometres from base camp to advanced base camp. Ralf and Darek ascended to the Italy Base Camp on Tuesday morning and came back the same day.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) we are planning on spending a night up there and then carry our gear to our ABC, which will probably take another five hours. As soon as we have set up our ABC we will be in touch again.

Warm Regards
Gerlinde and Ralf

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Dear Friends

I would like to give you a brief update before we depart for our expedition to K2. On Monday, we were finally able to send our cargo, which was a lot more than usual, as we do not have any stored gear in China.

When I wrote my last newsletter, it was not certain whether our friends from Kazakhstan would join us, so I am now even more than happy to tell you that they will be part of our expedition. Our team is now complete.

Apart from Tommy Heinrich and Darius Zaluski, Maxut Zumayev and Vassiliy Pivtsov will join us, and Tommy Heinrich’s long-time friend Lawang will support him in carrying his gear.

On 15 June, we fly to Bishkek via Moscow. From there we will embark on a two-day bus journey to Kashgar, where we will buy all our provisions for our seven-week expedition at the Sunday market. We will then take a jeep for three days to Ilik from where we will start our approach march to K2 base camp. I am very excited about the camels, which will transport our luggage to K2 base camp, which lies at an altitude of 3,900m. If I find the time and opportunity, I will be in touch again from Kashgar.

After thirteen consecutive years spending the spring in the Himalaya, I really enjoyed being in Europe this year. However, I can’t wait to embark on another journey and I am very excited about what is awaiting us this time.

I am sending you warm regards and I will be in touch again as soon as I can.



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