Reports from Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner's and Ralf Dujmovits' home team
(Comments and well wishes are welcome at the bottom of the page.)
Gerlinde, Ralf, Maxut, Vassily, Darek, and Tommy had a very long day yesterday as they went all the way down to Chinese Base Camp, where they arrived late and exhausted. But before they switched off the base camp lights, they were able to send us the summit photos (above) that we have so eagerly been waiting for! Warm regards.
Update—Morning on the mountain—A big hello at deposit camp: We are very pleased to report that Tommy and Ralf were able to meet Gerlinde, Maxut, Vassily, and Darek at the deposit camp, which is at the end of the heavily crevassed glacier.
All are on their way down to base camp, and after a short rest will continue to the Chinese base camp. The camels are already waiting there, and the team will start their way back into civilization tomorrow.
We are sending our heartfelt congratulations to the whole team, especially Gerlinde, for their amazing success. Warm Regards
Reports from Ralf Dujmovits at Base Camp
Update—10:00 p.m. Kyrgysistan Time (12:00 p.m. EDT)—Between Camp II & Camp I: Ralf just spoke to Gerlinde. The four climbers are still on the descent between Camp II and Camp I and had already reached the rock shoulder, which means they have passed the most difficult sections. We hope the rest of the descent will go well and they will be able to spend a good night at Camp I.
Update—10:00 a.m. Kyrgysistan Time (12:00 a.m. EDT)—Team still descending: At midnight last night, Gerlinde—and a little later Darek as well—reached Camp IV at 8,000 meters (26,250 feet). Vassily and Maxut stayed the night at their bivouac at 8,300 meters (27,230 feet), from where they left at 7 a.m. They have now almost reached Camp IV.
Today, all four climbers are planning to descend to Camp I at 5,300 meters (17,390 feet), where they will spend one last night at the foot of the North Pillar before heading to our deposit camp tomorrow. I am planning to go up and meet them there.
From there, it will probably take another three hours to carry our heavy gear across the dry K2 glacier to our base camp, which Tommy and I have almost completely dismantled. Once at base camp, we will pack up our last belongings and go down to the Chinese base camp (about 3½ hours), where our camel herders are already waiting for us.
These are our preliminary plans, but the four of them have to get down safely first. We wish them all the necessary strength and concentration, which they certainly need to manage the last 2,500 meters (8,200 feet) of their descent. I will be in touch again as soon as Gerlinde, Maxut, Vassily, and Darek have arrived at Camp I.
Reports from Ralf Dujmovits at Base Camp
Final update for today—10:30 p.m. Kyrgysistan Time (12:30 p.m. EDT)—Team at bivouac: Gerlinde just contacted Ralf by radio and told him that all four climbers had reached last night's bivouac. While Maxut, Vassily, and Darek are still deciding whether to stay there or go down to Camp IV, Gerlinde has already started her descent to Camp IV. We are still keeping our fingers crossed and wish them a safe descent.
6th Update—8:30 p.m. Kyrgysistan Time (10:30 a.m. EDT)—Team on descent: Ralf has just reported from base camp that he could see the four lights of the climbers at the end of the ramp, just above the Japanese Couloirs.
5th Update—The whole team reaches the summit! Maxut, Vassily, and Darek have also reached the top of K2 and were able to share the summit success with Gerlinde. The four of them are now on their way down.
Gerlinde is over the moon and can't believe how lucky they were to reach the summit together in this fantastic weather, despite the difficult conditions during the ascent.
Gerlinde told Ralf on the radio that she would like to thank everyone who kept her in their thoughts and kept their fingers crossed for her climb. She would also like to thank everyone for their mental support, which she could clearly feel and literally carried her to the summit.
However, despite this amazing achievement, we all know that the team still has to reach their camp safely, and we wish them all the best during their descent. Warm regards.
4th Update—6:18 p.m. Kyrgysistan Time (8:18 a.m. EDT): Gerlinde stands on the summit of K2 as the eleventh person and first woman in the world to successfully climb all fourteen 8,000-meter peaks without the use of bottled oxygen. She reports that the view is incredible and the sun is out. Maxut and Vassily are right behind her, and Darek is also not far away.
3rd Update—4:35 p.m. Kyrgysistan Time (6:35 a.m. EDT): Gerlinde and Vassily have just reached the summit ridge, and Maxut and Darek are close behind.
2nd Update—4:15 p.m. Kyrgysistan Time (6:15 a.m. EDT): I was able to speak to Gerlinde over the radio at 3 p.m. They had just arrived at the ramp, which leads from the Japanese Couloirs to the summit ridge, and progress was very slow due to the deep snow. At one point we could see from base camp how the four climbers were going in three different directions to break trail, but all of them had to start from scratch as the snow was just too deep.
It is now 4 p.m. and the two climbers who are breaking trail—I cannot tell who—are making much better progress and have almost reached the top of the ramp (see image above), which means they are almost at the summit ridge. The summit ridge is a rather wide slope that, according to the German Aerospace Centre, ends up in a basin which leads to the final slope.
Quite a lot of time has passed, but there is still not a cloud in the sky, and as far as I can see from down here the weather is still relatively calm. Let's keep our fingers crossed! On behalf of Gerlinde, I would like to thank everyone, who is with the team in thoughts and has sent their best wishes—it gives a lot of strength and support, which is still necessary. Many thanks and warm regards from base camp.
1st Update—11:15 a.m. Kyrgysistan Time (1:15 a.m. EDT): I have just spoken to Gerlinde by radio—she was at an altitude of about 8,400 meters (27,560 feet). All four climbers are suffering from the cold, but they are expecting to be climbing in the sun in about three quarters of an hour. Then they will also reach the angular couloirs which lead to the summit ridge, and they are expecting better snow conditions there. Bearing all that in mind, the four are pretty confident. Gerlinde said that she was feeling good, given the circumstances. We are keeping our fingers crossed!
After Gerlinde, Vassiliy, Maxut and Darek had spent an icy and bitter cold night at 8,300 meters (27,230 feet), they were getting ready for a 1 a.m. start in their cramped bivouac (circled in the image above). Shortly after their departure at about 1:30 a.m., they started having problems with their hands and feet due to the intense cold. Although the gradient above the bivouac is 'only' 45°, the slope is steep enough that it requires the climbers to face the mountain with the front points of their crampons kicked into the snow and ice, supporting most of their weight with their calf muscles. This puts a tremendous constant strain on the toes, ankles, and calves, and reduces blood circulation—and with temperatures of -25°C (-13°F), this leads to very cold feet. On the 8th day of continuous climbing, it is very difficult to dry the inner boots, no matter how good the boots are. Furthermore, after 2½ months of intense and exhausting climbing, the body fat has been reduced to a minimum, which means it is more susceptible to the extreme cold.
The four climbers decided to return to their bivouac tent to warm up, which was definitely the right decision. At 7:30 a.m. they left again for the summit and have made pretty good progress since then. Once again, the day started cloudless and—according to Charly Gabl, our friend and meteorologist in Innsbruck—this should continue all day long. The wind also seems to have died down completely. Last night, when they were melting snow to brew tea, it was completely still. Wednesday is supposed to be another beautiful day, which means it is also looking good for the descent.
Update—8:30 p.m. Kyrgysistan Time (10:30 a.m. EDT): After a long and exhausting ascent that was difficult due to deep snow, Gerlinde, Maxut, Vassily, and Darek decided to spend the night at their highest point at about 8,300 meters (27,230 feet) in a bivouac. They found a perfect bivouac place at the last serac in the Japanese Couloirs. They dug a platform for their tiny tent and are enjoying the last sunbeams inside, eating tomato soup. They are planning to leave at midnight tonight Kyrgysistan Time (2:00 p.m. EDT) and are hoping that they will successfully climb the last 300 meters (980 feet) despite the difficult snow conditions. Kind regards, and continue to keep your fingers crossed.
Report from Ralf Dujmovits at Base Camp
Yesterday evening, our four friends made the difficult decision to use today as a rest and fixing day. They spent a very cold night at 8,000 meters (26,250 feet), and this morning at 6:30 a.m. they started to fix some rope along the traverse into the Japanese Couloirs and couloirs beyond.
According to Gerlinde, they found a lot of powder snow which was covered by a crust and waist-deep in some places. Their progress was very slow and now—as I write these lines at 1 p.m. Kyrgysistan Time (3 a.m. EDT)—they have only covered about 150-180 vertical meters (490-590 feet). The weather is perfect—not one single cloud in the sky—and there is just a light breeze.
In the photograph below you see Maxut, Vassily, and Gerlinde climbing between the seracs on the right side of the couloirs. Darek cannot be seen in the photograph, as he is about 50 meters (160 feet) behind the other three. In the event that they begin their final summit push tomorrow morning, the trail will be broken, the rope will be fixed, and the progress to their highpoint will be much quicker. They are hoping to find fewer snowdrifts and better conditions on the left side of the couloirs, which spends a greater part of the day in the shade.
Let's keep our fingers crossed—we all so wish that they can make it safely.
Update—7:30 p.m. Kyrgysistan Time (9:30 a.m. EDT): The team has decided not to go for the summit tomorrow but to fix the traverse from the camp to the Japanese couloirs. They also want to check out the snow conditions in the couloirs due to expected snowdrifts. They are planning on having a "rest day" tomorrow and try for the summit on Tuesday. The weather forecast remains good, also for Tuesday.
Gerlinde, Maxut, Vassily, and Darek reached Camp IV—located at about 8,000 meters (26,250 feet)—at 4:30 p.m. Kyrgysistan Time (6:30 a.m. EDT) this afternoon. The weather was perfect the whole day, but they still had to break trail in deep snow. Their equipment is dry and the weather forecast is looking good for tomorrow. They are all in good spirits and are feeling pretty confident about their summit attempt. Please, continue to keep your fingers crossed!
Update—6 p.m. Kyrgysistan Time (8 a.m. EDT): Gerlinde, Maxut, Vassily, and Darek have arrived safely at Camp III. They had been struggling in the strong winds during the ascent, but the winds had died down at about 5.30 p.m. They are all well and they were able to dry their gear in the afternoon. The summit attempt is now more likely to be on Monday.
Report from Ralf Dujmovits at Base Camp
At midday today, I was finally able to talk to Gerlinde. She said that the wind had still been very strong and that she, Vassily, Maxut, and Darek had just reached a point above Camp III. At about two-thirds up the very steep bit directly on the pillar after Camp III, they had been wading through huge amounts of fresh snow and snowdrifts. They all sounded well, but they were quite exhausted due to the strong winds. After the four of them had spent a very long and tiring night in a small tent on the rocky shoulder between Camp I and II, they were able to dry stuff like gloves and down suits (not their inner boots though). They are hoping to reach Camp III not too late in the afternoon in order to get ready for the long and exhausting trip to Camp IV tomorrow. I am hoping to get more news at about 6 p.m. our time (8 a.m. EDT).
Tommy and I descended from Camp I to base camp yesterday. Assessing the danger of snow or slab avalanches is very subjective. New snow is only part of the deal. Snowdrifts, gradient and shape of the slope, nature of the soil and the amount of snow that had fallen during the previous days and some other factors should be considered when assessing avalanche danger. However, in places without avalanche warnings there are only two things: your assessment and your gut feeling—and both are different for everyone depending on experience. I was no longer happy up there and my gut feeling said "No"—and I knew that I had to go down.
Gerlinde, Vassily, Maxut, and Darek assessed the situation a little bit differently—and it seems that their gut feeling was also right. I hope that they will make it and every single meter of progress in these difficult conditions makes me very happy. However, I am still very worried.
After having broken into a few crevasses (due to the huge amount of snow and poor visibility the crevasses were very difficult to see), Tommy and I reached our base camp, and we were quite surprised at what we saw: while we had been gone, five huge rocks—1.2 to 2 meters (4 to 7 feet) diameter each—had hit our base camp. It seemed as if they had been loosened by the strong rain from far above base camp and had literally 'skipped' into our camp. Our kitchen tent was a complete write-off, as the biggest rock had completely flattened the stone kitchen. It was lucky that we had asked our cook to go down to the lower altitudes while we were on the mountain. I don't even want to think about what would have happened, had he been there. Maxut's and Vassily's tents were also completely destroyed, whereas Gerlinde's and my tent remained unharmed, which was probably due to the fact that it had been pitched in a small ditch. A rock with a diameter of about 1.5 meters (5 feet) appeared to have fallen right next to it, but due to the ditch it must have bounced back.
We were so lucky not to have been there.
While Tommy descended to base camp to get Abdhul and the camel herders, I stayed here to keep in touch with Gerlinde, Darek, Maxut, and Vassily. Gerlinde's battery power permitting, I will do my best to report about their progress on the mountain in the next few days. Let's keep our fingers crossed—after weeks of very hard work they really deserve success this time!
Best regards from our slightly damaged base camp
Today at 3:30 p.m. Kyrgysistan Time (5:30 a.m. EDT), Gerlinde, Maxut, Vassily, and Darek reached Camp II at an altitude of 6,600 meters (21,650 feet) after spending last night together in a bivouac tent on the rocky shoulder between Camp I and Camp II. The conditions were extremely difficult and they had to wade through hip-deep snow in some parts. Snow conditions and trail-breaking permitting, the four will climb to Camp III at 7,250 meters (23,780 feet) tomorrow. Meanwhile, Tommy Heinrich and Ralf Dujmovits have arrived at base camp safe and sound.
Since about midnight last night until 4:30 p.m. Kyrgysistan Time, it has been snowing with only two hours of interruption. Gerlinde's team is making very slow progress and are planning to bivouac on the rocky shoulder, which is situated about halfway up to Camp II. Due to high avalanche danger, Ralf Dujmovits abandoned his K2 summit attempt at the bottom of the couloirs and returned to Camp I.
Update—8:30 a.m. EDT: Gerlinde and team have reached the shoulder between Camp I and Camp II and will make a bivouac there tonight in a small tent. Tomorrow, four climbers (Gerlinde, Maxut, Vassily, and Darek) plan to continue and reach Camp II. During late afternoon, Photographer Tommy Heinrich also decided to abort his summit attempt and has descended to Camp I, where he will rejoin Ralf as the two return to base camp.
Gerlinde, Ralf and the rest of the team are staying at Camp I (5,300 meters) for another night. Due to yesterday's heavy snowfall and the potential avalanche danger that comes with it, the team decided to wait before ascending to Camp II (6,600 meters).
Today, a good amount of the fresh snow has already come down and the team is pretty confident that they will be able to climb to Camp II tomorrow. The weather forecast has not changed and still predicts dry and stable weather for the end of the week.
The itinerary for the summit attempt allows for an extra day on the mountain, which means that Sunday will remain their summit day. We will find out whether this plan will change or not in the next few days.
After a short break at the Chinese Base Camp, Gerlinde, Ralf, and the rest of the team left for their summit bid this morning. At present they are aiming to go for the top on Sunday, August 21.
Mountain-technology permitting, we will do our utmost to keep you updated in the coming days.