K2 is called
the Mountaineer's Mountain and the Savage Mountain for its deadly and
difficult reputation. I summited K2 on my 58th birthday, July 27, 2014. I
am asked many questions about climbing especially since I am not a professional
climber. So here are the most popular questions with my answers. As always,
this information was based on my experience and are my opinions so always
consult with a professional before making any serious climbing decisions.
Summited July 27, 2014 at age 58 - the oldest American
to summit K2
My mom, Ida, died
from Alzheimer's in 2009. Since then there has been great progress in
understanding the disease but there still is no cure. Many families are
still surprised when they get the diagnosis of Alzheimer's just thinking
their mom or dad, or even husband or wife was just getting old. And they
are shocked when someone in their late 40s or 50s are diagnosed with
Caregivers are the silent victim of this disease often giving up their
own life goals to care for their loved one. They often make such financial
sacrifices that bankruptcy is required to keep going. This situation
is unacceptable yet prevalent across the world.
So it with that mandate that I continue to raise awareness and funds
for research on behalf of Alzheimer's non-profits.
I climbed K2, arguably the world's hardest mountain from
June to August, 2014 on behalf of Alzheimer's causes and once again to
honor everyone with the disease, their caregivers and researchers.
I trained hard to get ready with weekly summits on my Colorado 14,000
foot mountains, most with heavy packs, I was confident when I left
late June. This was my sixth climb on a 8000m mountain (Everest, Broad
Oyu, Shishapangma, Manaslu and
now K2. Well
actually, nine if you include all my Everest attempts. I climbed
with a small team organized by Garrett Madison. I climbed
personally with Kami Sherpa whom I summited Everest with in 2011.
2014 K2 Summit
I had a great, yet challenging time summiting K2 on my 58th birthday
on JUly 27, 2014. Looking at the climb, I can identify 5 key areas that
made it possible:
ORGANIZATION:I have to start with
how the climb was organized by Garrett Madison of Madison Mountaineering.
Garrett has taken more people to the summit of Everest than any other
guide and summited six times himself so he understands expeditions very
well. He thought through the schedule in an aggressive yet simple manner
to minimize our time on K2 exposed to the objective dangers but also
to reserve our energy for the summit push. As a result we only made one
acclimatization rotation. This proved to be sufficient and we used supplemental
oxygen. Others climbing without O’s made as many as four rotations to
the higher camps.
While we used the base camp and logistical services of Seven Summits
Treks, we were a self contained team with our own Sherpa support. It
was a comfortable base camp with good food and general support. I never
got sick before the summit push, lost weight or felt stressed – all this
was key to going into the summit with a good mental attitude.
A final factor was that I employed every trick and technique
I knew throughout the expedition from sleeping to gear to eating, drinking,
foot placement (simple, small steps), clothing layers, attitude, who
I hung out with, etc. One proof of how it worked was that I never lost
my appetite, rare for me.
WEATHER: We experienced some of the best weather K2
has seen in modern expedition times. There was over a week of minimal
precipitation and very low winds. When we summited at 8:00am on July
27, the winds were less than 10 mph. It was cold, maybe 0F and my fingers
got very, very cold as I took off my gloves to make phone calls, etc.
But for the summit of K2 at 28,251′ – this was nothing.
We did see 3 feet of fresh snow the previous night covering some of
the fixed lines but again, this was not a major issue. During our acclimatization
rotation, we had a couple of days of high winds, heavy snow and low clouds
that gave us a hint of what K2 could provide but for the summit window
– it was perfect.
PREPARATION: My fitness was at the best level for an
8000m peak ever including Everest three years earlier. In the previous
6 months, I climbed over 15 14,000 Colorado mountains with 30 pound packs
and did a total of 58 outside activities from 14ers to day hikes. I went
to K2 at my target weight which was 177 pounds for my 5’10″ frame.
That said, in hindsight, I could have used a bit more upper body work
given the extensive rock climbing on K2, plus more cardio work. I think
these are given on such a high altitude technical peak such as K2.
SHERPA SUPPORT: This should be no surprise to anyone
who followed me that having my Everest summit partner Kami (Ang Chhiring
Sherpa – Pangboche) was a perfect match for me. At age 49 with 15 Everest
summits, and an attempt on K2 in 2008, he had the maturity, experience
and personality I needed. It goes without saying I trust my life to Kami.
He was always supportive, professional, competent and is a genuine nice
Kami along with Kami Rita Sherpa, Fur Kancha Sherpa made a couple of
carries to establish the high camps plus were there by our sides as we
climbed. I want to be clear, I would not have summited K2 without their
support. Also, having a small team of myself, Garrett and Matt Du Puy
was perfect. We got to know and trust one another. It is not a gross
overstatement but we almost climbed K2 in alpine style as a small team
– perfect for such a dangerous mountain.
PURPOSE: In looking back at my other climbs, I hit
my mental wall way before my physical wall and quit too soon. I never
understood how much reserves my body really had. Again, many people talk
about mental toughness but my previous experiences showed me how far
one can push their body if the mind is willing. So in the last few years,
I have been working on mental toughness. When the time came on K2 to
push my body, my mind was willing. However, I had to reach into depths
I didn’t know existed on summit night plus the descent. More on this
as I write about the overall climb later.
But the biggest difference was the inspiration and motivation that came
from watching my mom struggle with Alzheimer’s. She did it with class,
dignity and humor. She never let on how much it hurt. Her strength and
courage kept me going every time I felt weak – physically or mentally.
In addition, knowing that there are millions going through the same
struggle inspired me knowing that all of you were watching me. I simply
could not let you down. So perhaps the pace went a little quicker.
This is a 30 minute video I created capturing the entire experince
I first saw K2 in 2006 when I organized a dual climb to Broad Peak and
K2. That expedition was a disappointment for me on several levels not
summiting Broad Peak but I was able to see K2 up close thus planting
a seed that has grown along with my experience.
K2 is the world's 2th highest mountain at 28,251'/8611m. It is located
in northwest Pakistan about 30 miles from the border with India. K2 is
called the Mountaineer Mountain and the Savage Mountain for its deadly
and difficult reputation.
It is not climbed as often other 8000 meter mountain due to the technical
difficulty and history of avalanches and deaths. As of 2012, the summit
has seen about 334 successful ascents and 83 deaths, ranking it second
for the dangerous 8000m peaks only after Annapurna. (Updated and different
source: Himalayan Database, 8000ers.com
It is climbed in the summer when the weather is best, but not always
suitable. K2 is reached after a week long journey from Islamabad including
an amazing trek up the Baltoro Glacier passing some of the most legendary
rock pinnacles on earth.
The first summit of K2 was on July 31,1954 by Italians Lino Lacedelli
and Achille Compagnoni. 2014 will be the 60th anniversary of the first
summit. The first attempts began in 1902 by Brit Aleister Crowley. But
it was the Duke of Abruzzi whom made the most valiant attempts in the
early 1900's thus named the ridge most popular used today, the Abruzzi
After five American attempts, Louis Reichardt and Jim Wickwire summited
on September 6 1978, and John Roskelley and Rick Ridgeway the next day.
To see if a human could survive, amazingly Jim Wickwire spent a night
in the open just below the summit at 27,000 feet without food, oxygen,
or shelter in temperatures of -40 degrees.
According to 8000ers.com plus
my own research the last year K2 allowed a summit was 2012 with 28
on July 31 bringing the total to 334 (compared
with approximately 6,800 on Everest). 83 climbers have died on K2,
thirty-three while descending from the summit making it was the second
most deadly mountain in the world. 11 died in 2008 including my friend
Gerard McDonnell. K2 has a special reputation for women climbers. Prior
to 2014, of the nine women who have summited, five have died - 3 descending
from K2's summit and 2 on other 8,000m peaks. Basque climber Edurne
Pasaban was the sixth woman to climb K2 in 2004 and was the only one
of four still alive today along with Norwegian climber Cecilie Skog
in 2008, Nives Meroi from Italy and Austrian climber Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner
who summited from the north side of K2 in 2010.
K2 is known for extreme weather, avalanches and rock fall. It starts
steep and never lets up. 2008 was a deadly year with 11 deaths in a single
incident and 13 deaths during the 1986 season. 2012 was the most successful
year with 30 summits, 28 on July 31st. There were no summits in the recent
years of 2009, 2010 and 2013 primarily due to weather and snow conditions.
Until recently, most climbers did not use supplemental oxygen on K2.
The most popular route is up the Abruzzi Ridge. There are several technically
difficult features requiring skilled climbing. These include Houses'
Chimney, the Black Pyramid and the Bottleneck Couloir. There are no easy
routes on K2.
camps depending on conditions.
Base Camp: 17,500ft/5334m
Base Camp: 18,650ft/5650m
Camp 1: 19,965'/6050m
Camp 2: 22,110'/6700m
Camp 3: 23,760'/7200m
Camp 4: 25,080'/7600m
This was our approximate schedule:
Days 1 -4: Travel to Islamabad and on to Askole
Days 5 - 12: Trek to K2 Base Camp over Baltoro Glacier
Days 13 -25: Establish High Camps, set fixed safety ropes, acclimatization
Days 26 -33:Summit Attempt weather permitting targeting July 27 as summit
Days 34 - 40+: Trek out and return to Islamabad
Join the Climb, Join the Fight; K2 for Alzheimer's
I posted updates during the climb on my Blog.
A full trip report will be available after the climb
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you can form a team to follow my K2 climb and help with the Alzheimer's
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