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  ANDALUCIA K2 EXPEDITION 2004: the report


CHRONICLE OF ANDALUCIA K2 -2004-

It's hard to use this machine again, to remember intense days like those lived during our summit attempt on K2.  The descent from the mountain with weather from hell, the exhaustion and the need of rest and the preparations and return to civilization, has stopped me from telling you how those moments were lived.  This is it:

On August 23, pessimism reigned on the entire BC, no weather forecast showed a possibility of a weather improvement enough to make us take off to the summit of the mountain.  Some expected porters for the return, others started to plan the descent and in everybody's mind was the idea that K2 was winning the game one more year.  It doesn't look real, considering the human potential that inhabited BC.

On the mountain, the guys from TVE and an Italian group resisted the blizzard in C2, waiting for a change that seemed not to come.  On BC we were bored and we decided to leave on the 24th by dawn, for a stroll to ABC, to clear our minds after so many days of waiting. The first lights presented us a spectacular K2, the snow fumes in movement by the wind flew from the edges and summit.  Everything was spectacular and the weather looked fine, but with wind on higher altitudes.

Around 8 we were back at BC and the mountain was extraordinary, our weather forecast was right: clear with strong winds above 7,500 meters, but a day like that made me have the premonition that on base, everything was a mess.

I wasn't wrong and things were... let's say different.  Everybody had their eyes high, on the summit.

Now we had a big question, to climb or to wait?  Up there the TVE guys climbed to C3, down here others left in a rush to C2.  We decided to wait for noon's weather forecast to take a definitive decision, although we started setting up materials and backpacks.

It was difficult to see but the weather forecasts began to agree on the fundamental: days with clear skies came ahead, but with strong wind above 7,500 meters, which would make a summit attempt difficult.  All those forecasts were like the ones we already had.  So the days passed with not much anything to say.

After dinner, during coffee, we commented our plans for the next few days with Kobler and we had the visit of Sebastián Álvaro (TVE), with whom we also exchanged opinions and we were surprised to be asked for collaboration, by lending the tents on C3 for the Italians who were along with their climbers and who were at C3 without tents or any infrastructure.  During the whole expedition something bitter was happening between Kobler and these Italians of the Official Italian expedition and he decided not to give the high altitude camps.  Something natural, if we count the opinions of Sebastián expressed during the meetings held with the chiefs of the expeditions and in which he perfectly stated the danger of having these practices.  Above all in the higher zone of the mountain.  The collaboration he looked for was given by Carlos Soria's group, to use their tents in C3.  Along the day he also tried to get tents to be used in C4 and luckily nobody agreed, so the Italians had to plan a strategy, in which climbers were sacrificed, to carry material for those who finally attempted the summit.

The oddities of the day did not end here and at 19:30 hours, Sebastián informed his climbers by radio-phone that he had not found tents in C4 for the Italians, that there was nothing against them but against the others and he asked Juan Vallejo to take off the fixed lines that were installed on the route on the way down. Let's have everybody value the gesture.

On the 25th there is a radiant day again and we move on the route on the spur: TVE continues their progress to C4.  The first Kobler group arrives to C3.  The second Kobler group, the Tibetans, Carlos Soria and us stay in C2, during the ascent to C1, Fernando felt sick and he had to turn back down, quitting this possible option of going to the summit.  So that was the structure of the summit bid, three waves which hardly could let success escape from one of the groups.

On the 26th the first group goes to the summit and they do a formidable work.  The climbers from TVE and the Italians open the route to the summit and install 500 meters of fixed lines; they would pay a high price: Edurne and Oiarzábal come down with serious frostbite; this last one needed the help of artificial oxygen to get to BC.  The lack of medical materials and physicians from TVE's team make our doctor and his improvised aid Fernando be the ones who care for the wounded.  From the afternoon of the 27th, what was known as 'Casa Andalucia', was turned into a hospital.  

The door to the summit was open; while the climbers of TVE fought hard up there, we were also fighting down against the cold and the wind in the Black Pyramid, to get to C3.  The conditions did not improve until the first hours of the afternoon, when we had an extraordinary day again.

We started to believe that we had some chance; three climbers in C3, good weather conditions, our perfect Sherpa, the hope of good weather, the forecasts said that until the 29th there would be no significant changes and others said until the 31st.  Dream, dream...

Our next objective was C4.  A radiant day, we go to the 8,000 and we know this is an important day.  During the ascent we meet the Italians and Spaniards to whom we cheer up and thank for the work done.  We had to get early to the camp to install the tents and to rest.  There are a lot of people going up and down, still so high on K2.  Above the second human wave, the summit can be radiantly seen.

When we get to C4 Carlos Soria tells us to use the big tent which he had used, which had been left by the Italians.  Iñaki also joins us with the two Sherpas.  Soria and Iñaki's satellite phones don't stop ringing.  Tente comes down from the summit, radiantly happy and also gets a phone call.  It's curious to see so much phone traffic at 8,000 meters.  We almost have to kick Tente away so that he goes down to C3 to spend the night (the safe camp).

To drink liquids, to rest and to feel a light head, these are the previous hours with a light sleep, which precede the departure to the summit.  The three of us are "fine".  I have some vision problems, which seen to go away by using some drops.  They keep seeing frostbite cases in BC and they keep asking about what happens up here.

To avoid a surprise problem with the fixed lines, which would lead us to an intense cold situation (without oxygen) we decided to leave at 1 hr.  Our plan needs 8 to 12 hours to the summit, and never after 14 hours.

The departure is a moment of agitation and tension that tends to chaos, but we start walking as planned.  I had the impression that there was not an excessive cold.  We walked in the darkness following silence, the flags and marks on the snow and ice, which guided us by the Shoulder, on the way to the first fixed lines in the Bottleneck.  You never really know if you go fast or slow... only one step after another.  Although I still had the inconvenience of a veil over my eyes, but what worried me in the first hours was some exaggerated loss of equilibrium. When dawn came, I told my teammates that I decided to go back to C4.  I gave them the four objects I carried which could be useful on the way down.  I sat and didn't want to go down.  I decided to continue ascending until the day came, hoping the light of the sun would make me recover to let me reach the summit.  On the fixed lines, I suddenly felt asleep twice and I didn't wait for a third.  

I started my way down to C4.

Salazar, Morales and Migma continued their way, slow and safe.  Everything was having a good rhythm.  The conditions of the snow were good, there were fixed lines.  Only to climb and to dream.  At 9 Salazar was finishing the Trek, Morales was a little behind because of the delay with me.

Around 10 hours, the people at BC watch how a cloud builds up on the summit; those who are arriving to the highest point by that hour find wind and clouds.  The cloud is more consistent now and around 10:30 hours, at 8,400 meters, Salazar and Migma decide to give up the summit and turn back to C4, before the storm gets them. Morales is finishing the Trek and they start climbing down together.

When the fixed lines end, the trail over the Shoulder turns into a deadly trap with no visibility.  Salazar and Morales get to a flag but they can't see where to continue and they ask for help via radio-phone to BC.  I get the news from Kobler in C4, who also has people coming down with problems.  I exit the camp with Migma and some flags, along with Kobler and somebody else.  But we don't get too far, because we are soon informed that everybody has gathered and they are coming down fine, and we soon see them through a clear in the clouds.

In C4 we all knew that because of the weather conditions, the best was to go down to C3.  Considering the time and the exhaustion, we decide to go down first thing in the morning.  Better or worse, we spend a new night in the big tent.  Everybody has their minds in the following morning.  It snowed and the wind blew against the tent. We knew the difficult day we had ahead.  Outside the tent, when Migma was talking with one of Kobler's Sherpas about the descent, a blond climber came to ask me to organize the Sherpas to climb to search one of his partners.  I told him it was impossible to go search anybody in these conditions, and that the work of the Sherpas was fundamental to open the trail on the way down to get us all out of this hell.  He must have understood it quickly, he didn't say anything else.  It was the first clear news that there was someone missing on the mountain and with the reigning conditions it was a possible victim.

The Sherpas started to go down with all of those who were ready, it was around 6 in the morning.  After the first steep slopes the Sherpas disappeared and their trail was almost erased by the blizzard.  We descended most of the trail sliding on our asses, opening a trench in the snow.  When we tried to walk, we usually ended falling on the snow after loosing balance because of how deep the snow was.  Luckily the flag signals on the route were good and we could go from one to another without problems.  During the descent Morales and an Italian suffered hard falls with no consequences.  We had to get to C3.  In a fleeting clear we could see the tents, which we could later reach.

In C3 there was still nervousness and chaos, when we got there Carlos Soria was on his way out with his nervous Sherpa and close to the first anchor he yelled: we can't find the rope, we can't find the rope... We decided to rest and to prepare liquids until 12 before going down to C2.  Getting to that camp was equivalent to saving our lives, we would not spend the night in C3 under any circumstances.  When Sherpas, Swiss and Italians continued their way down, they asked how we were and we wished them luck.

At 11:45 we were ready to continue descending, the storm was getting stronger and we didn't see anybody at C3.  I located the rope and started my own dance on the fixed lines of the Black Pyramid.  Snow and wind surrounded us, as well as the cold.  We still had the obsession of going down.  Before 16 hours we were in C2.  It was the camp that we knew the best and we also knew the route to the bottom of the mountain, we also knew that the storm down there would not be so terrible.  We had also escaped.

On the afternoon of the 30th we arrived to BC, I needed help, to descend by the last snowy slopes of K2 and I arrived to the Andalucia hospital with the help of a lot of friends on a stretch.

A little after arriving to BC, we had the confirmation that behind us other climbers had stayed in higher camps to try to make their dream come true.  On the 1st, almost all the expeditions had left BC and nobody paid attention.  The Catalans were alarmed of the situation and asked for our collaboration to climb to C2 to help them is they could get to that point.  Rai and Fernando prepared medical things to climb and would not come back to us until the 2nd if during the night of the 1st there was a contact by radio-phone that confirmed that they were in C3 and could climb down to C2.  That never happened.  The last contact was on the 1st and they desperately said they could not find C3.  Possibly there are three dead people. 

I end this relation with the rage that fills me up for not being able to get up there, and also the happiness of being OK, with all my teammates here in Skardu and soon at home, where I won't find a beloved one, my father, who died while I was trying to make a dream come true, the same day I was about to make it.  The little or much which I achieved on K2 is dedicated to him.  It's so bad it is not the summit.  This one is for you father.

MANUEL GONZÁLEZ DÍAZ

ANDALUCÍA K2 -2004-

Translated from Spanish by Jorge Rivera

Dispatches

 
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