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Preparing to Leaving K2 – With A Heavy Heart

February 8, 2021. It’s Monday Morning. The Super Bowl at home just ended. Tom Brady just won his 7th Championship. The Buccaneers beat the Chief 31-9. But I feel far removed from the real world. Would any of those football players have a clue how to deal with the cold and the real life struggles we have endured here? That’s just football. This is 8000m winter climbing and many lives have been affected forever in a realm far removed from all of that.

I’m getting ready to leave K2.

It’s been an incredible journey.

Triumph, tragedy, ups and downs, summit fever, an emotional set of days since our final summit attempts here on the night of the 4th morning of the 5th.

In the 4 days that have passed now, I’ve had time to reflect on this expedition, and take time to get ready to step away and leave. It’s time to go home.

Lives have been disrupted and shattered.

I got to know everyone on this expedition quite well. All five of the men lost passed away way too soon in their lives. They all have families at home. That’s the kind of situation that hurts the most. A child at home no longer has a father. A wife no longer has a husband.

These are the things I think about for people that love me at home. How can it not play into my choices? It does even more now. I made choices I made on this trip to ensure that I make it home to the people close to me. That’s so important!

For Ali (Muhammad Ali Sadpara) his dream of safely making the top of K2 and down is over and shattered. But because he didn’t make the top back in January when the others did, was he putting too much pressure on himself to get to the top? John Snorri was with him on that summit push and so was my friend Juan Pablo Mohr who I became close with on this expedition. JP was incredibly strong and friendly. More than capable. Why did this happen, and what happened?

My climbing partner Colin was up there at Camp 3 also and chose not to climb higher. Colin could have been going further up with those guys and who knows what would have happened. The evening of their departure for the summit Colin remarked, “JP told me, ‘hey Colin, I’ve got some rope and 7 ice screws, that’s more than what we need to make it to the top of this mountain, let’s go man!'”

I chatted with Colin more in the past several days and he was with Ali and many others in the tents in Camp 3. Ali was so pumped to give it a shot, and Colin simply backed off because he knew that it wasn’t within his risk tolerance given that he didn’t have time to prepare himself by getting plenty to drink and all the other things to take on the cold night safely. I’m proud of Colin for listening to his intuition up there. I know for both of us now, these events are still sinking in.

The moral of this whole story for me:

  1. Listen to your gut and what the mountain is telling you. I chose not to go much higher and up to the high camp for a summit try. I just sensed the danger and had a feeling that it wasn’t right. So I went down. Plus, even the weather window we had was marginal and for me, -50 °F [-50 °C] with 25mph winds plus the dangers of the technicalities and uncertainties of the upper mountain was too much for me to accept.
  2. Teamwork is the only way to get the mountain climbed safely. On January 16th the 10 Sherpas worked together and made the top because of their cohesive teamwork. Many of the western climbers here for the February 4-5 summit push from Camp 3 didn’t work together, and many of them arrived late to high camp and the lack of tents didn’t allow for a proper rest, rehydration and changing of socks, the preparation for an early leaving of a summit push that was needed (7-8pm). You need teamwork and all the things of getting to the next camp early and rehydration, as well as nutrition to make sound judgments and the necessary energy and smarts to leave early in the night, especially since Camp 3 on K2 is still 4200’ [1,400m in fact] from the summit!

Between 11pm and 2am on February 4-5, Ali, John, and JP went for it full commitment to a K2 winter summit.

We may never know know the true fate of John Snorri, Ali Mohammed Sadpara, and JP Mohr. Some say there is a possibility at this time that they are alive. It’s been 4 days now, and with temps of -50 or lower and winds above 100mph above Camp 3, so sadly they are gone. They have passed away.

In the summer there is small chance their bodies will be found along the upper route, but that’s a long shot.

For a couple of days now, the Pakistani Army has sent helicopters to try and search below Camp 3 and the upper mountain. In my opinion, these helicopter searches are close to negligible because they can’t really fly higher than 24,000’/7300m, the height of Camp 3, and the past several days the winds and clouds have shrouded the upper mountain, so only if they fell down lower from where they were would the best eyes even be able to spot them.

On February 5 at 5:48pm, Colin and I walked into Base Camp after Colin had spent the day descending from Camp 3.

At almost the same moment, we learned later that John Snorri’s Thuraya satellite phone had been switched on. Phone records show that he tried to turn the phone on, and we assumed he was trying to make a call. Was it going to be a call from the summit to his wife? If he was able to place the call, the location and elevation of where he was could have been traced by the phone company. It was simply too cold to even place a call, and we speculate that the cold shut the phone off quickly.

Time was already ticking at this point as they were entering a second night on the mountain that was very cold and not hospitable for life to hold on for very long.

[…], darkness was falling on K2, as were the temperatures. It was -52°F [-47°C] up there.

Were Jon, JP, and Ali on the summit way too late at that time? Or were they already coming down? In my opinion, it’s irrelevant whether they made the top because they never made it back.

K2 has claimed the lives of 3 more in this case and 2 others with the loss of Atanas and Sergie.

Ali’s son Sajid Sadpara waited for Ali, John, and JP to return on the night of the 5th. He left a light on in his tent for when they came back. He had hot water waiting. But nobody came back. Sajid spent the night of Friday, February 5 in Camp 3, a cold, desolate, and lonely place. All the others had descended. In the morning of the 6th the winds picked up. As much as Sajid wanted to stay in the high camp, winds on the 6th by noon picked up to over 60mph [95kmh] at Camp 3, and so descending that morning was the only option. He couldn’t go up to search, he would have risked losing his life. Sajid made it back to Base Camp late on the 6th, and now mourns the loss of his father and will continue to carry this experience in his life moving forward.

Sajid was with Snorri, his father Ali, and JP Mohr in the night of the 4th into the 5th for the summit try but right at the bottom portion of the Bottleneck at about midnight his oxygen regulator burst and failed, and the oxygen bottle emptied, so he was forced to descend back to Camp 3. The others pushed on. (These same regulator bursts were happening to several of our Sherpas and members up there that night that tried to go up, and this may have saved others from getting into more trouble that night).

I think it was way too cold and after sunrise on the 5th it was cloudy. The summit still had pretty strong winds of 20-30mph [35-50 kmh]. Not that acceptable or nice when combined with the cold, compared with when our 10 person summit team from Nepal made the top on January 16.

Then there are the fixed ropes left behind for the last 1800’ [550m] to the top. Some were likely buried and iced up from nobody being up there for the last 17days. There are so many things that could have happened to these guys. We may never know.

Meanwhile in K2 Base Camp, everyone that did make it down safely is set to head home.

Source: Dr. Jon Kedrowski

Note: SAR missions on K2 have a low chance of success because the climbers were much higher on the mountain up in the clouds above 8000m, past the limit of any helicopter’s ability to fly.

Most climbers that assume the risk of being on an 8000m peak, especially in winter, typically accept that there is nothing anyone else can do to help if you climb that high.