July 7, 2018
Camp 1 19,700 feet
We arrived at ABC in good time, and I am more thankful for the safe arrival of our whole team than I expected to be. Every mountaineer knows that K2 is an unforgiving peak, I spent hours debating the risks associated with this endeavor. I even made a spreadsheet of deaths, causes, and locations. I committed to this climb fully aware that I am accepting those risks.
About two hours into this morning's climb, on the steep snowy slope below camp 1, I heard yelling from far above. Yelling in the mountains is discouraged unless it is alerting fellow climbers of rockfall or some other hazard. Yelling on K2 is not uncommon, given the amount rock and ice fall. But this yelling sounded different to me. The screams didn't sound like "rooooockkkk!!!" which is the standard call regardless of the falling object. They sounded more intense and desperate. I was in a safe place, so I stopped to listen and assess my surroundings, the muffled screams stopped and I didn't see any rock or ice falling towards me. Seconds later the Sherpa behind me started yelling in Nepalese, I looked to my right to see gear tumbling down the slope beside me. First a water bottle, then a mit. "Someone dropped their pack", I thought. I'd seen this happen before on Everest and I was instantly happy that I was out of the fall line. But Lhakpa kept yelling and then he started praying and I knew it wasn't just gear. I have never seen a person tumble down a mountain before and I was completely unprepared for it. My immediate reaction was to run toward him but obviously that would have been futile. There wasn't anything that any of us could do. When my brain caught up to my eyes, I realized that he was already dead. For several more minutes gear continued to fall down the hill and I just looked away and repeated "breathe" out loud until my body listened. My legs were shaking and I felt helpless. We all did. The team moved to a flatter spot on the slope and talked about what we should do. We were all shaken but ultimately couldn't do anything to help our fellow climber. Many radio conversations followed to confirm that our whole team was safe and then we continued up the hill. I don't know if this was the right thing to do. Part of me feels like it was disrespectful to continue climbing, and part of me doesn't see any other option. I don't know.
Laying in my tent this afternoon, I can’t get the image of his flailing body out of my mind. Every time I close my eyes he is there. I expect that most people feel the same way. I feel like I need to resolve his death in some way and I haven't figured out how. I know that can’t change that he died, and I know that if I’m not able to witness the fall of a fellow climber, I shouldn’t be here. Perhaps all that I can do is use his death to make me a better climber. I don't know yet.