K2 is known to set its own rules in the beginning of every climbing season, allowing only a handful of fortunate alpinists to climb all the way to the top and more importantly, return to their respective bases in one piece. This year, when the commercial outfits laid siege to the second highest K2, imitating a climbing spree somewhat of the nature of Everest, K2 decided to put its foot down returning hordes of the climbing entourage back to their bases. This assault on K2 supported strength of approximately 165 climbers including Nepalese, Pakistanis and Western climbers, a strength unheard of.
Just before the onset, speculations were ripe that for the first time in history K2 will witness traffic jams much like the Everest.
That never happened.
Most frequently taken climbing routes including Cessen SSE and the Abruzzi were evenly crowded as the teams moved up the mountain fixing ropes and breaking trail.
By June 17th, climbers reaching Camp-4 were up for a surprise. Snow accumulations beyond Camp-4 and through the bottleneck almost went to two meters deep good enough to bury a whole expedition. It was simply impossible to break the trail through bottleneck up the traverse to the top.
Dawa Sherpa and his team of Seven Summit Treks initiated trail breaking and fixing ropes through the bottleneck until they triggered small avalanches, destroying much of their work and oxygen cylinders.
By June 18th, many of the climbers and commercial outfits have decided to abandon their expeditions including Mike Horn who had returned for the third time to scale K2.
“On July 17th, 2019, we decided to turn around a few hundred meters away from the summit due to strong winds and repeated avalanches” said Horn who was climbing without supplementary Oxygen. “Nature will always have the first word, K2 has taught me that lesson for the third time now. But this does not mean that I’ll be giving up on the dream of one day making it to the summit” Horn said on his Facebook account.
It wasn’t until the arrival of Nirmal Purja of the Project Possible fame that the remaining climbers at the base camp decided to wait for one more attempt following in the footsteps of Purja. By June 24th, high winds have already blown much of the snow from the Traverse, making it relatively accessible. Purja made the headway fixing ropes and breaking the trail in support of Lakpadendi Sherpa, Gesman Tamang, Changba Sherpa and Lakpa Temba Sherpa.
“If I say I’m not nervous at all about leading the summit fixing team on K2, then I’m lying “ said Purja on June 21st. “I have seen the video clips and the images and I’m fully aware of the risks. I also know that some great climbers who I look up to have given up”.
Purja, along with his team mates, not only fixed the ropes but also cleared the track to the summit. Following his footsteps, another 24 strong climbers made their way to the top utilizing a rare weather window of perfect conditions for two weeks.
Among the successful summiteers, most notable were Carla Perez of Ecuador who became the first South American women to climb both Everest and K2 without bottled Oxygen along with her guide Adrian Ballinger.
Unofficial estimates of a total of 28 climbers reaching the top out of 165 aspiring climbers at the beginning of the season.