K2 WINTER POLISH EXPEDITION
17 January, 2003
STRONG WINDS BLOWING
As far as the logistically complicated winter expedition to the world's most difficult mountain goes, so far almost everything has been going according to plan. The alpinists have established over two kilometers of fixed ropes on K2's Northern Pillar. It is possible that camp II will be set up on Saturday at 6600 m. In order to be able to establish it personally, Krzysztof Wielicki decided to set out together with Jacek Berbeka from camp I (5950 m) during the night from Friday to Saturday. For three days, very strong winds have been blowing, making it difficult for the alpinists to continue their activities on K2's northern slope.
The upper base under K2 (5100 m) - or "proper base", as Krzysztof Wielicki, the head of the expedition, calls it - is the most magnificent winter base I have seen so far, with a fairylike beauty. Jagged ice seracs, protruding from all around, change colors depending on the illumination.
If there is no wind blowing, the base is surprisingly quiet. At this time of year, the local glaciers remain silent. It is too cold and the temperature fluctuations between day and night are too small for the hanging and creeping ice masses to "work": to crack with an ordinary snap, a bang, groan or rumble; to collapse in the form of turquoise rock avalanches.
We have arrived here with the TV crew from the Chinese base after two days of exhausting marching over boulders and rocky screes of the K2 glacier, having covered 1200 m of altitude difference. The central section led for several hours through glittering, blue-green ice tunnels, with their faces and hanging icicles coming off picturesquely. The cold is particularly biting, and the sun does not bring any relief during the day. At night, the temperature usually falls below -30 deg. C. The gas lighters have stopped burning. The shoe heaters have frozen. You have to be careful when eating, since the cutlery freezes fast to the tongue.
The construction of a spacious dining tent, where a paraffin heater has been placed, has been finished only a few days ago. This kind of luxury, raising the temperature by a few degrees in the mess hall, animated the social life, manifested in the game of bridge. Until then, the alpinists would escape to their tents after dinner, at dusk, which falls here at 5.30 pm, taking shelter against the cold in their down sleeping bags.
There is no snow either at the base or on K2, only rocks, stones and pure ice, so hard that it broke one alpenstock. In this situation, the no longer needed deadmen, normally used for security, were turned into legs for shapely tables, built by the base engineer - Jan Szulc. An additional, big igloo tent serves in the morning as a room for drinking coffee and eating an early breakfast by those who set out for the Pillar. One sits around a table made, like the benches, of bamboo left in great quantities by previous expeditions. Those poles were designed as tracers, designating the trail in deep snow.
toilet is in the open air, in a labyrinth of icy spires. Esthetic sensations
have to compensate for discomforts and the chill.
Maciej Pawlikowski and Dariusz Zaluski, who have fixed another 100 m of ropes, have just returned from the slope to the base. From the tent in camp I to the end of the fixed ropes, one has to climb three hours. The alpinists have done it under difficult circumstances, since a very strong wind has been blowing for three days.
"I had the impression that someone has dumped one and a half loads of gravel on our tent", said Maciej Pawlikowski through the radiotelephone about the night spent at camp I. On the mountain, which is wrapped in clouds, there is a storm of frozen snow and ice.
Wielicki, the head of the expedition, shows a particular determination
and will to set up camp II. Today, he and Jacek Berbeka will spend the
night at camp I. They want to establish ropes on the remaining 250-300
m to the place where camp II (6600 m) is located as quickly as possible
and carry up the equipment needed for setting up the tent; that is why
they have decided to set out to the mountains at night already. "We
have got used to climbing from 9 am to 5 pm, that is during the day
- said Krzysztof Wielicki over the radiotelephone. - I think it's time
to show the younger ones that you can also climb 14 hours a day. There
is also a chance that the wind will be weaker at night.
(Polish - English translation: "Scrivanek")