K2: "The night will be long but beautiful."
August 6, 2008 5:11 PM   Subscribe

A few days ago on K2 in the Pakistani Karakoram mountains an icefall trapped climbers more than 8 kilometres above sea level. Eleven died, from the cold and lack of oxygen, from falling or being hit by debris. The expedition website of Nicholas Rice provides an intimate and compelling account of the entire season of activity on K2 and neighbouring Broad Peak.
posted by Flashman (19 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Isn't August a little late in the season for going up on K2? I know the Indian monsoon tends to shut down Everest by June or July... it seems these northwest locations would get the bad weather by this time... then again I'm just guessing.

Nevertheless I'm spending an interesting evening learning about K2 and mountaineering. Is there a good gallery of high-resolution images from ascents anywhere? I'm finding stuff like this K2 shot but they're all horridly low resolution and not very immersive.
posted by crapmatic at 5:46 PM on August 6, 2008

Thought this was interesting:

The routes up K2 mirror this decay, as rivers flow down where once consolidated snow was, and rockfall danger is exponentially higher as there is less snow and ice on the mountain....It almost seems as thought the mountain is weeping for the recently deceased (rain in base camp; 16,000ft isn’t exactly typical).

Normal weather pattern or global warming at work?
posted by longdaysjourney at 5:50 PM on August 6, 2008

who pays for the rescue of these people?
posted by billybobtoo at 6:00 PM on August 6, 2008

crapmatic --
Is there a good gallery of high-resolution images from ascents anywhere?
National Geographic comes to mind.
posted by bl1nk at 6:03 PM on August 6, 2008

billybob -- most adventure expeditions usually have travel insurance as a mandatory requirement. Some underwriters will cover, say, a half-million dollar helicopter evacuation operation for a relatively small amount (like, $200, $300) ... so, your short answer is that everyone who buys travel insurance collectively pays for the occasional calamitous accident.
posted by bl1nk at 6:06 PM on August 6, 2008

"who pays for the rescue of these people?"

Depends on what you mean by 'rescue. If they are high enough then rescue means sherpas with hot tea and lines will attempt to bring them down. It that doesn't work they die where they fall.
posted by UseyurBrain at 6:34 PM on August 6, 2008

K2 was also the location of one of the most famous life-saving belays ever. Some you win and some you lose.
posted by Dr. Send at 6:37 PM on August 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Damn. It's not for me, that's for sure.

That being said: To those who want to spend a time like this discussing who pays for rescues, all of these climbers have paid rather large fees to be used for exactly such a thing. You don't generally see families suing as a result of the casualties in this kind of situation.

I guess what I'm saying is that it's a real tragedy that people died yet again in their attempt to conquer K2 and tell the tale, but they know what they're up against. Each of these people, if fully prepared for what they were about to do, had come to terms with the real possibility of not making it back.
posted by rollbiz at 6:54 PM on August 6, 2008

Isn't August a little late in the season for going up on K2? I

From what I read in the NYT article, August is actually the only time to do it. Hence, many people going up the mountain at once.
posted by swift at 6:56 PM on August 6, 2008

Interesting read. Amazing that the author is only 22.
posted by PercussivePaul at 9:02 PM on August 6, 2008

The newspapers had a figure that said that of people going for the summit 1 in 4 dies.
I find that mortalityy astounding.
posted by jouke at 9:15 PM on August 6, 2008


Annapurna's mortality rate is even higher (103 summits, 56 deaths through 2005). Ironically, it was the first of the fourteen 8000-meter peaks to be climbed.
posted by lukemeister at 9:38 PM on August 6, 2008

Useyurbrain, Sherpas are Indian citizens, and therefore not welcome in Pakistan, which is where K2 is.

One of the minor dangers of K2 is that there aren't the trained porters available at Everest.

Crapmatic, K2 is nowhere near Mt. Everest, and Aug. is the only time there is the chance of climbing it. The weather patterns are completely different.

K2 is a much, much nastier and more dangerous mountain than Mt. Everest.
posted by QIbHom at 5:35 AM on August 7, 2008

I just read all of Nicolas Rice's dispatches and found them incredibly compelling. The tragedy only takes up four or five entries at the end, but reading his unedited accounts of what was happening at the various camps as news trickled down is just incredible and struck me as much poignant and personal than anything I could've received from a newspaper story (and don't even bother with reading the preachy armchair-warrior comments on the NYT site, which proves again why newspapers going Web2.0 can be a bad idea.)

The real amazing part though is how quickly we've received access to these dispatches. It's been less than a week since the disaster and we're reading the entries nearly as they happened. I didn't think I'd be impressed anymore by this kind of immediacy, not after being on the Internet for over 15 years now, but every now and then something like this happens and I realize that yeah, the world's just been made a little bit smaller if we're getting reports like this so soon.
posted by Spatch at 6:12 AM on August 7, 2008

Yes, that's why I thought it worth sharing here on Metafilter. I had been following this accident from when the first reports were posted on some climbing websites, and then in newspapers, but I became completely engrossed in Rice's web postings. On a more prosaic level it's amazing that we have immediate access to these accounts, even from such an incredibly harsh, remote spot; and that so much of his and Hugues' day-to-day life in basecamp revolved around things like e-mail and webposts, uploading photographs, recharging laptops and satellite phones, topping up phone accounts, even configuring iTunes and downloading new mp3s!

But also how it fleshes out these people who beforehand to me were just names in a news report: Wilco, one of the Dutch survivors, who actually sounds like a bit of a jerk; Hugues, who was on the verge of leaving before an abrupt change in the weather changed his mind; Gerry the Irish bloke who decides to push on despite bad blood between him and Wilco... And reading of the obvious tedium of base camp does make more understandable the fact that when a weather window suddenly opened up, so many of them decided to suspend their better judgement (e.g. the elapsed time, the inadequate fixed ropes) and go for the summit; they'd put up with so much for what was perhaps just that one opportunity.

Nicholas Rice does come across as very mature, and sincere, and this is all written in an amazingly dispassionate manner, considering he's just lost a friend and a number of other people he'd obviously gotten to know very well over the past few months. I imagine that altitude, exhaustion and the constant stress of being in that place - under threat of avalanche, crevasse fall, rock fall, sunstroke - all play their part in numbing your emotions.

Sherpas are Nepali; there were/are some on K2 and one died in this incident. There are also trained Pakistani high altitude porters working on K2, at least two of whom, Baig and Karim, also died while working for Rice's friend Hugues.
posted by Flashman at 8:55 AM on August 7, 2008

Thanks, reading my way through all the dispatches. Fascinating!
posted by Onanist at 9:54 AM on August 7, 2008

Book deal for Nicholas Rice in 3...2...1...
posted by chickaboo at 1:14 PM on August 7, 2008

Flashman, you are right, Sherpas are Nepali, and I should have known better. That was an idiotic mistake.

Not knowing there were a few Sherpas on K2 this time, that was ignorance, which I'll go work on fixing.
posted by QIbHom at 4:24 PM on August 7, 2008

This surprised me too, but I guess if you need high altitude guiding they're the best in the business. According to Nicholas Rice, it was one of these Sherpas, Pemba, who found Marco Confortola unconscious in the snow with his gloves and harness removed, and one can only suppose saved his life. This detail appears to have been overlooked in most media reports of Confortola's descent from the summit.
posted by Flashman at 5:22 PM on August 7, 2008

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