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Gia Tortladze: Why we abandoned Winter K2 expedition

In December of 2000 I was invited to participate in Polish winter expedition on Makalu. I was extremely happy, since I had to work with very experienced and professional team. With similar enthusiasm I trained for Polish Winter K2 expedition in December 2002. Sadly, by the end of this affaire I understood that I was wrong.

In 2003 three of us decided to left K2 Winter expedition and to go for climbing in Tien-Shan mountains, we informed the expedition leader about our complains and we emphasized that we have no intention to discuss mistakes of the expedition. We also told to everybody present during this meeting that we do not want to be blamed for the fiasco of the expedition. Unfortunately, the situation is such that I have to explain all the facts to reader in order to get rid from dirty campaign, showing us and myself in particular as principal culprit of the expedition failure.

First of all, I want to show all the mistakes, made in preparation and during the expedition and to analyze two winter expeditions Makalu and K2. My deep impression is that these expeditions failed not due to impossibility, but because of egocentrism and lack of responsibility of the expedition leader.

Let us discuss the expedition gear.

1. The expedition planned to climb the wall and one needs 5000 meters of rope. We had NO CARABINERS. I think that this is not a mistake, but is the sabotage against your own expedition.
2. We lived in light summer tents for beaches. We lived in them at the altitude of 5100 meters with temperatures down to -30 C.
3. Stoves! - No single stove worked. We had to dismantle them completely every day, clean them and assemble back. By the way, we had the same problem on Makalu, but K.Wielicky did not manage to solve this problem and insisted that stoves are OK.
4. Oxygen masks. For twelve climbers we had only TWO masks. Obviously, one was for the expedition leader and the second for his companion. Normally every climber should have his own mask.
5. Oxygen tanks. We had only fourteen, what is absolutely insufficient. We should have had at least thirty of them.
6. Goggles and masks. We - so-called "Eastern group" - were promised goggles as well as other gear. Only in Kashgar (China) we were told that the expedition has shortage of goggles and we should have our own. In the same time all other members of the expedition had them, even these people, who did not intend to climb the Mountain.
7. Carrimats. There was two types of carrimats - for summer (thin) and for winter. For the climb only summer ones were available, whereas non-climbers in the Base Camp used better quality winter ones.
8. I can't imagine the origin of low quality Millet boots without reflecting inner coverage. These boots freezed and it was impossible to warm them.

Now about food, the subject of nice fairytales by Pani Monika.
1) For the first time in my life I was in the expedition, which ignored completely fresh meat. Many times we asked the expedition leader if we would have fresh meat. The answer was definitevely positive. Likely, he meant fresh mutton, which was bought only for porters, whereas we ate only conserved meat.
2) There were absolutely no fresh vegetables in the expedition. Despite the frost, it was possible to buy and to pack them.
3) There were no fruits at all.
4) Sugar ended very soon and for ten days the expedition had no sugar!
5) There were no high quality lighters, which could operate at high altitude.
I would like to present out standard ration.
Mornings (for 36 days) - chicken pate and fish conserves, one can for three people and tea.
Days (at around 1 PM) - one pack of soup
Evenings (6 PM) - conserves and tea.
I do not know what Polish climbers felt, but we were permanently hungry. Pani Monika described perfect banquet, which I never saw. We also never ate described sausage.

There were seven Polish climbers and TWELVE nonclimbers. I have never seen such a misbalance. Best Polish climbers were set aside. Such climbers as Lisevsky, Pavlovsky, Pustelnik, Kishevsky and others were not included into the team. The most amasing was the absence of Kristof Lisevsky, who was the best one on winter Makalu. When I asked why he is not present, Pani Monika answered, that "K.Wielicky wants to make his own team and there is no place for Lisevsky". In the same time the place was found for Pani Monika. In both winter expeditions (Makalu and K2) she is the "Head Policymaker", who actively participates in all debates. Even in extremely important discussions on who, where and when should go to the Mountain. It was impossible to speak to anybody without her active interference. It was the meddling of non-professionals, who gets their dilettante knowledge from the Internet, was the principal reason of the expedition failure.

When I announced my decision to leave the expedition, "Head Policymaker" accused me that because of me both winter attempts failed. This statement is calumny, since Lisevsky and myself were the last people to leave from Makalu. We two made seven ascent to the altitude with the loads of 20-22 kilograms, whereas many people were unable to reach Camp I and made 4-5 ascents with 10-12 kilo of load.

It is surprising, that the amount of time devoted to the main goal was less, than for numerous interviews and advertising. It looks like that the promotion and agiotage were more important that the Mountain itself. It is obvious that articles in the Internet, description of heroic events, on- and off-line TV broadcasts were unable to help the expedition, which had no tents, food and, the most important, climbers.

Unfortunately, both of my predictions, on Makalu and on K2 came true. The reason for this is irresponsibility and serious mistakes of the expedition leader and organizers.
What was the ground of the decision to climb the Western Makalu ridge or its change to Japanese route, when K.Wielicky had less than one fifth of necessary climbers? When I showed my skepticism about the Western ridge (with forces available) and suggested to change the route, I was named "traitor" (by Pani Monika). Later, they understood that I was right, but it was too late.

Concerning the K2 expedition. Despite its perfect advertising, it was doomed from the very beginning. High-altitude experience and expedition leadership are different things. I headed 21 expedition (including Himalaya, Caucasus, Pamir, Tien-Shan, Africa) and I'm well aware that it is a hard job. However, the number of mistakes, made in K2 expedition, by far exceed number of mines in all these 21.

I want to present you a shocking fact, concerning our cook Lachu. He got a serious frostbite in ABC - one of his toes became completely black. Despite this, he was assured that his presence at the altitude of 5100 meters and temperatures down to -30 Centigrade is completely safe. And this was told by K.Wielicky, very experienced altitude climber. Another climber also had frostbitten leg and stayed in the ABC following somebody's recommendations. Up to the moment when Lachu felt into hysterics and decided to leave the expedition himself, he was not allowed to go down. Even then he was obliged to return to 5100 in few days. I would like to know his present state!

Our second cook, Birbal, also felt bad. In the Base Camp there was ABSOLUTELY no fuel. At very low temperatures (-20 - 30) and terrible winds, without a kitchen tent he had to prepare food three times per day and to wash dishes.

Now about the gear. The only quality things in the expedition were six high altitude tents (made by Efimov) and ice screws, which I bought on my own (2000$) money and gave to the team. The quality of the tents is indisputable even for K.Wielicky and Pani Monikam but for some reason their appearance is related to recommendation of Denis Urubko, and real buyer is never revealed.

I am shocked by accusation that I defalcate two suits. Every suit has its owner, since they were individually made. Moreover, each one had label with the owner's name. Therefore, I had only one and my own suit.
About high altitude porters. Indeed, they were in perfect physical shape and it is not clear, why these reserves were not used, since they had down suits, suitable for Camps I and II. If they would have to climb higher, K.W. should have to think earlier and to buy gear for them. Even easier solution would be to take the suits from these non-climbers, who lived in ABC and showed off at the kitchen. But for offended K.W. the suit for the cause to slander.

From the serious mistakes, listed above, it follows, the he (K.W.) does not analyze his doings, he can not admit own slips. He never listens to others' opinion. This makes an impression of complacency and dictate. The fact, that the best climbers were not involved into the expedition and that only two oxygen masks were available, give ground to the suggestion that K.W. made the expedition for himself.

In conclusion I will present the job we made during 36 days in the expedition.
G.Tortladze, I.Tukhvattulin, V.Pivtsov, D.Urubko fixed 1700 meters of rope (personally Tortladze 400 meters) and set two camps (I and II). Other Polish climbers (seven people) fixed 650 meters and lost Camp II, set by us. I think that no comments are needed. Therefore, it will be better if K.W. and Pani Monika will change their view on the situation at K2. And they will understand our decision to leave the expedition. All these arguments were presented to them at K2 and I emphasized that I had no intention to discuss the matter anywhere.

Lot of other things could be told, but I think that is enough for the reader. I wish to apologize to many participants of winter K2 expedition for this entire dirt, which I had to publish. I deeply respect all of you, but I am forced to act, since there is an attempt to blame me for the expedition failure.

Finally, I congratulate everybody with successful return.

Sincerely, G.Tortladze.

Translated by Andrey Shiryaev.