July 9, 2018
I can't believe that I am lying in a tent at camp 2 on K2, it feels terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. And the view. Wow. The expansive view of the Baltoro Glacier and the Godwin-Austen glacier twisting toward each other to meet at Concordia is awesome. So often we are traveling on glaciers, and they feel static. We forget that they are constantly moving. And in the case of the Baltoro and Godwin-Austen, they are always moving toward each other. From here their confluence looks graceful, but I doubt that it is. Tons of ice and rock slowly colliding can’t be.
The terrain on K2 has shifted from snow with some rock to an even mix of the two. Although it was difficult, I appreciated the rocky sections today because it felt good to really be climbing and because I had to engage my mind to think about how my body was moving on the steep, jagged terrain. Also I finally get to use my upper body. I didn’t do all of those pull-ups for nothin'! I found that big, exaggerated moves where I didn’t have a clear plan for how my body would move were exhausting but that if I can took my time and moved with purpose, I felt better. I was contemplating this in a semi-hypoxic state somewhere around 21,000 feet (6400 meters) and decided that is true of life, at least for me. I generally feel more confident when I have a plan.
House's Chimney is the crux of the route to camp 2. I knew that we were getting close to it based on the elevation reading on my watch, but when I looked up all that I could see was an impenetrable wall of jumbled rock. Finally I saw other climbers on top of the wall which meant that I was staring directly at the chimney but still couldn't distinguish it from the rest of the terrain. I can’t imagine Bill House and Charlie Houston standing below it in 1938 and deciding to give it a go. Oh, and then free climbing it. This lore had painted a larger than life picture of House's chimney in my mind. I knew that it is a 100 foot (30 meter) chimney of poor rock and ice that would be rated 5.6 as a free climb. But somehow I still imagined it to be impossibly heinous. I found it more fun than heinous. In fact, if it were at sea level instead of nearly 21,000 feet (6400 meters), it would have been 100% fun. Getting to the chimney was a bit tricky as a slope of hard ice created a slippery ramp to its entrance. I repeatedly slammed the front points of my crampons into it but usually found no purchase. I had much better luck resting my front points into the tiny depressions made by other climbers. The chimney itself was littered with a vertical spiderweb of old rope and wire ladders. All of the rope was aged and faded by the sun and harsh conditions. Near the entrance of the chimney I noticed a chunk of hemp rope iced into the rock. So old, it was probably left there by House's expedition. Climbing House's chimney was hard but felt better than I expected. What I didn't expect to be hard was the snow slope above the chimney. This slope was all that separated me from the shelter of a tent at camp 2 but my body just didn't want to move as fast as my mind expected it to. My body was screaming for oxygen but there just wasn't enough at 21,450 feet. So I slowed down and took deep measured breaths while staring at my tent hoping it would begin to appear closer.
Lying in that tent now, I'm also realize that while I am climbing I feel confident . Even though every minute is hard, sometimes grueling, I know that I am in the right place. It's the moments when I'm not climbing and my brain wanders to the challenges ahead of me that my confidence and motivation waiver. Although I am unable to articulate why, every day I think about going home. When these thoughts creep into my head I fast forward to how I would feel in a month or a year or twenty years if I gave up. And I know that I would regret it deeply for probably the rest of my life. So I have to keep trying. I have no idea what will happen, but I have to at least try.