| Broad Peak is often called an 'easy' 8000m
mountain. I am focusing on the West Ridge since it is the most common route
and the one I took in 2006. A climb of K2 was
to follow Broad Peak but I never got there so I will offer limited comments on
it. 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 is based on my experience and are
my opinions so always consult with a professional before making any serious climbing
Q: Where is Broad Peak and K2?
A: In northwest Pakistan about 30 miles from the border with India.
The nearest village is Askolie, about a 6-8 day trek from base camp. View Larger Map
Q: How did K2 get it's name?
A: Most mountains are named after nearby sites, the surveyor, some
geographical feature or religious symbol. But since K2 is not visible from any
village, it kept the name given by the surveyor, TG Montgomerie, when he was
surveying the Karakorum peaks in 1856.
Q: When is it usually climbed?
A: As with most Himalayan peaks in Pakistan, summer is best since
it is warmer with less threat of snow. I climbed in July and August and had
fantastic weather in late June and July but we had severe snow towards the end
of the expedition that stopped the climb for most of our K2 team and all the
Q: I understand that Broad Peak is an easy 8000m climb. How
hard is it?
A: It is not 'easy' - no 8000 meter mountain is easy. BP
is often called "easy" in the sense that
there is almost no technical climbing (e.g. vertical walls). However
there is always avalanche dangers plus the biggest challenge is that
Broad Peak actually has three summits. Many climbers who claim they have
summited Broad have actually only attained the fore-summit. It is another
hour, more or less, across a clean ridge that allows climber to claim
the true summit at 26,407. As I said, we found it challenging. One
climber from another team died near the summit from dehydration and exhaustion
plus another climber from another team had to be rescue from a crevasse.
The route is usually set with a fixed line from the glacier and higher.
Q: How does Broad Peak compare with Cho Oyu, Shishapangma
A: It is similar to Cho Oyu and Shishapangma with their
long snow slopes but it is significantly steeper than these mountains.
Also there is little to no support from the Pakistani High Altitude Porters
(HAPs) so most personal and group gear including the tents, food
and stoves are carried in your pack unlike using sleds on Denali.
Q: How does Broad Peak compare with Everest?
A: It is a great training climb for aspiring Everest climbers
to see how their body reacts to high altitude - 8,000m. There are no features
like Everest's Lhotse Face or Hillary Step on Broad Peak and the overall
atmosphere is different with the long isolated trek to base camp, no Sherpas
or teahouses. It is also a lot less crowded. You feel very remote.
Q: Is a Broad Peak climb dangerous?
A: Absolutely. You should only attempt Broad Peak if you
have the proper experience and logistics for emergency situations. It is
isolated and helicopter resource is available but must be pre-arranged
via a deposit with the military. Most deaths are a result of falls but
the weather and altitude also takes it's toll. Hypothermia and exhaustion
killed one climber in 2006.
Q: How many people had summited and how many people had died
trying on Broad Peak?
A: According to 8000ers.com 25
people have died with about 375 summits.
Q: How many people have summited and how many people have died trying
A: There have been 300 summits (compared with approximately
3500 on Everest). 75 climbers have died on K2, thirty-three while descending
from the summit making it is the most deadly mountain in the world. 11 died
in 2008 including my friend Gerard McDonnell. K2 has a special reputation
for women climbers. Basque climber Edurne Pasaban was the sixth woman to
climb K2 in 2004 and is the only one still alive today. All five women have
died while climbing - 3 descending from K2's summit and 2 on other 8,000m
Q: What was your training like?
A: Aerobic capacity, muscular strength, balance and attitude.
I ran, lifted weights, stretched and used visualization techniques to address
these areas. I climbed Colorado 14ers through out the previous winter. I
had to reduce my running since my knees just would not take it anymore so
I used an elliptical machine instead. When I did run, I changed from long
8 mile runs to 3 miles runs with intervals. Also, I actually put on weight
since I knew that I would lose 20lbs or more (and I did lose 22lbs) during
the expedition and on Everest that weight loss made me weaker. To see what
I did for Everest, please see my page on training that
provides much more information.
Q: Was altitude a problem on this climb?
A: Yes, it is always a challenge on 8,000m climbs. Almost
everyone did not use supplemental oxygen. Altitude can be a problem
for anyone above 8,000', much less when you are going above 22,000'. To
acclimatize en route you trek 60 miles to the base camp from Askole
at 9,500’ to Broad Peak BC at about 15,500. This takes 7 days or more
depending on your schedule.
Q: Can you prepare for the altitude?
A: Not really. The common approach is to move slowly up the mountain (1000' a day maximum) spending your days at a higher altitude than where you sleep up until your summit bid. The human body simply does not function well at high altitudes and especially above 8000m (26,300'). As you go higher, the barometric pressure decreases, although the air still contains 21% oxygen, every breath contains less molecules of oxygen.
Everest legend Tom Hornbein explained it to the American
Lung Association this way:
The lower oxygen stimulates
chemoreceptors that initiate an increase in breathing, resulting in a lowering
of the partial pressure of CO2 and hence more alkaline blood pH. The kidneys
begin to unload bicarbonate to compensate. Though this adaptation can take
many days, up to 80% occurs just in the first 48 to 72 hours. There are many
other physiologic changes going on, among them the stimulus of low oxygen to
release the hormone, erythropoietin to stimulate more red blood cell production,
a physiological and still acceptable form of blood doping that enhances endurance
performance at low altitudes. Adaptive changes are not always good for one’s
health. Some South American high altitude residents can have what’s called
chronic mountain sickness, resulting from too many red blood cells; their blood
can be up to 84-85% red blood cells. The increased blood viscosity and sometimes
associated pulmonary hypertension can result in right heart failure.
You cannot do much to acclimatize while at a low altitude but there are companies
that claim to help the acclimatization process through specially designed tents
that simulate the reduced oxygen levels at higher elevations. I have no personal
experience with these systems but you can find more details at the Hypoxico website.
They cost about $7,000 or can be rented for about $170 a week. Outside Magazine
posted an article in
2013 questioning their effectiveness.
Q: What kind of equipment did you use?
A: Mostly I use the same gear
I used on Everest. Lot's of layers. I use a 3 layer system: base, warmth
and wind/cold. My personal technical equipment included a long handle ice
axe, harness, carabineers and crampons. It is always critical to protect
my toes, fingers and face since these were most susceptible to frost bite.
See my gear page for a complete discussion
and my gear list updated for 2013. I am very pleased with all my gear but had
a few standouts that I note on my gear page.
Q: Anything special in your gear for Broad Peak?
A: I used everything on my gear page under 8,000m climbs
including the full down suit. It can be extremely cold and windy above
Camp 2 so multiple down layers are required. My boots were the La Sportiva
Olympus Mons. I had a poor experience with my new sleeping mat (pad) from
Exped Downmat 9. I don't know if was me or the product but the inflation
technique never worked at altitude and the pad lost air during the night
leaving me to sleep with rocks poking me in my back! Unfortunately I counted
on this new pad totally and did not take my trusty Thermarest - my mistake.
My new Feathered Friends down jacket with hood was excellent. Also my couscous
food approach worked well as did using Accel Gel sports/energy gel. However
using their protein sports drink did not work for me - could not stomach
it at altitude.
Q: Did you use Sat Phones?
A: Yes, I used my Thuraya phone and it worked extremely
well for both voice and posting dispatches on this site on
the dispatch page. For details on my expedition communications, please see this tutorial.
Q: Did you use bottled oxygen?
A: No. Bottled oxygen is usually not used on Broad Peak.
For a few climbers on K2, they used the time tested Poisk system.
route was used for BP?
A: The west ridge route. This is what is considered the "normal" route.
There were four camps at roughly 19,000', 21,000', 22,000' and 24,200'. The
summit is 26,401'. I believe we all found it more difficult than we had believed.
It was unforgivably steep from base to summit - a surprise for must of us.
Q: How long did it take?
A: A: 9 weeks for the combined BP and K2
climb. June 1 to August 5. This about 2 to 3 week longer than a Broad
Peak climb due to the additional mountain. The BP only climbers left
BC around July 12th. It took almost 2 weeks to get to base camp from Islamabad as
well as more time getting our bodies acclimatized to the higher altitudes.
Q: How much does a standard climb cost with and without a
A: The costs can range from $9,000 to $18,500 depending
on who you use. If you use a logistics company only, you cut the highest
cost by a third perhaps. However, climbing in Pakistan is not as easy
as in Nepal so some kind of assistance is necessary. See my Guide page
for more details.
Q: Do I need a permit to climb?
A: Yes, you must obtain a permit from the Pakistani Government
and a visa to enter the country. This is a complicated process that
takes several months. You will need help or sponsorship from an experienced
guide company or one of the expedition companies out of Islamabad.
Q: Do I really need a guide for Broad Peak?
A: You will need help getting a permit and entering
Pakistan and traveling to base camp since there are many military
checkpoints along the way. Once there, It all depends
on your skills, money and time available. Broad Peak is a serious
high-altitude climb. Some people go to Broad Peak without a formal
guide and contract with local agencies for porters or carry
everything themselves. There are not a lot of climbers on Broad
Peak so you may find yourself be alone. In harsh
weather (white-outs) or in a medical emergency, you will be on your
own so consider your skill level carefully. Climbing alone or in
too small of a team is never a good idea.
Q: Are there local guides for Broad Peak?
A: Yes you can organize local guides and HAPs through
local expedition companies in Islamabad.
Q: Who are High Altitude Porters?
A: These are Pakistani climbers who work on the 8,000m
mountains in the Karakorum each year. Similar to Sherpas in Nepal,
they carry loads and sometimes (rarely) fix ropes. However, they
have a different work ethic than the Sherpas you hear about, It is
not uncommon for HAP to refuse to climb in bad weather or above certain
altitudes. This means you have to be prepared to be self-sufficient
on the climbs. That said, there are exceptional Pakistani climbers
out there. The basic issue is a lack of training. There are serious
efforts underway to im0rove their overall skills.
Q: How did the High Altitude Porters perform for you in 2006?
A: Mixed. They were fine to carry loads up the mountain but refused
to fix lines. They complained a lot about food, workload and the weight of their
loads. It seemed like there was always an issue to manage with them. On the other
side, they showed great caring and compassion for climbers in need and willingly
made extra trips to the High Camps to ferry tents. The bottom line is that we
could not count on them for difficult tasks so it was good we were self sufficient
and had capable leaders to establish and fix the route.
Q: How do you get on an expedition to climb Broad
A: Most reputable guides ask for your climbing resume and require
some serious climbing experience. Ideally they want to see climbs of Denali
or Aconcagua. But most anyone can get on a Broad Peak commercial expedition
these days without many questions so be careful who you select since you
may get caught up in a mess.
Q: What is involved if I plan my own climb?
A: Basically everything: permits, travel, hotels, food, gear,
routes, communications, emergency contentions - everything. There are local
companies in Islamabad who can provide some services such as getting food
or heavy tents to base camp. And some can provide a HAPs. You
can save a lot of money this way but as I said before, consider your skills
in the event that something goes wrong - are you 100% self sufficient? What
are your medical skills? HAPE and HACE are really possibilities on Broad
Peak - do you have the proper medicine and training to deal with it? And
a hundred more questions. See my guide
page for more. Again, climbing alone or in small teams is never a good
idea. Saving a few thousand dollars is not worth your life.
Q: What kind of weather conditions did you
A: We had unbelievable good weather with almost three straight
weeks of clear skies and no winds. However at the summit it snowed often and
was windy which obscured the route after it was put in by our leaders. June
2006 was very unusual.
Q: What was the K2 plan?
A: We planned on acclimatizing on Broad Peak while the High
Altitude Porters fixed the lines on the lower part of K2. We planned on the
traditional Abruzzi route.
Q: What happened?
A: In spite of assurances from FTA and ATP, the HAPs were
quite a disappointment with their performance on Broad Peak and never got
to K2 to fix the lines as planned. Only a few climbers from the team made
serious attempts on K2 and those were highly experienced mountaineers.
The weather turned bad with heavy snow and high winds thwarting progress above
80000m. When it cleared they continued the climb but the HAPs again refused
to go high or to carry ropes and gear. Left to their own, the team was not
prepared to go it alone. Severe rock fall hit several climbers including one
that had to be evacuated by helicopter.
A: I reached 21,000' or Camp 2 on Broad Peak then I left around
June 30 to return home. I contracted a severe bug on the trek in that absolutely
destroyed my strength. I felt the safe decision was not to push myself higher
and get into trouble but to return home where I could seek better medical
attention to resolve the problem. I was seriously ill from food poisoning
Q: What were the team results?
A: First, all the BP climbers returned home safely. On BP,
there were 5 true summits plus 3 more who climbed to the foresumit or beyond
and 3 HAPs who go to the base of the final top but did not stand on the
true top out of respect for the mountain. On K2, 13 climbers climbed the
mountain with 4 making serious attempts for the summit. No one made it due
to deteriorating weather but they did reach Camp 3. Only 4 climbers summited
K2 in 2006.
Q: How was climbing on Broad Peak?
A: I only climbed to 21,000' or Camp 2 but I can safely say
that every person on our team was surprised about the difficulty of Broad.
The walk from BC to the start of the route was 2 hours. The route started
with a several hundred foot scree climb and then maintained a steady 45
to 60 degree angle all the way to the col at around 25,500' It was steep
and never let up. All the camps were on at least 30 degree angles. In 2006,
the snow started to melt out near the base resulting in mushy conditions
and revealed rock hard frozen ice below Camp 1. Near the summit, the snow
was crusty and deep which exhausted the early summiteers due to trail breaking.
Q: What was the expedition philosophy?
A: This was not a standard "guided" expedition in
the same sense I went on to Everest or Cho Oyu. While there were professional
climbers along as well as local Pakistani climbers with high altitude experience,
this expedition was more independent in nature. We set up our own tents,
cook our own HA meals, carried a lot of group gear and fix some of our own
ropes up the mountains. We needed to be very self-sufficient. The plan was
to acclimatize during the Broad Peak climb while some of the high altitude
porters were fixing the route on K2 and stocking the camps with food, fuel,
tents and oxygen. The plan was to move straight onto K2 and reduce the time
spent on the Abruzzi Ridge. Of course, the weather had the final say on
Q: Why did you choose Field Touring Alpine as a guide service
in 2006 and what was your association with them?
A: In February of 2005 I summited Aconcagua along
with Stu Remensynder of Field Touring Alpine.
It was an excellent climb and I was impressed by Stu and Dave Hancock,
the owner of Field Touring (FTA). They ran a value priced climb that depended
on each climber to be somewhat self-sufficient but provided enough basic
level of support that the climbers could focus on the climb and not
all the logistics. It was in this spirit that Dave and I began talking
about something "special" in the Karakorum Range of Pakistan in 2006. FTA
has been running treks and climbs in the Karakorum for over 10 years.
Once we agreed on a Broad Peak/K2 double header, Dave asked me to get involved
with the organizing and selection of climbers as a member. This website has a
loyal following around the world so we used it to reach out to
qualified climbers. To be clear, it was
a Field Touring expedition with all their terms and conditions. Climbers agreed
to FTA policies and paid all monies to FTA.
Q: How did FTA perform?
A: This was a low budget expedition so nothing was over
the top, fancy or luxurious. It was a very minimal level of service.
The climbers all knew this coming in but still there were a few surprises.
Still. I was amazed at how hands off FTA was for the overall expedition.
FTA coordinated with Adventure Tours Pakistan (ATP) which provided
all the porters, cooks, base camp group tents as well as most of the
base camp food.
Q: How did ATP perform?
were snags with the HAPs not wanting to fix ropes and confusion
over who provided food above BC. But overall they did a pretty good
job of getting 29 people from Islamabad to base camp. The food was very
basic and I wish we had had more meat in the diet. The cook was fairly
rigid in his beliefs that a bland diet of rice and lentils were sufficient.
After a lot of complaining he did respond to our request but could
only work with what he had. One experienced Karakorum climber, Wilco,
brought his own stash of protein.
Q: You did not summit Everest two years in a row, what
made you think you had chance at K2?
A: Fair question! There were a number of factors for me in this
attempt. I tried to cover them in more detail in this short essay I
wrote before the climbs but the essence is that I simply love mountaineering.
It is the climb, the camaraderie with my fellow climbers, the struggle against
the Hill that I go for. The summit is a gift, not a result of my efforts. My
goal was to summit Broad and make a good effort on K2. I had a great time regardless
of not making the summits.
Q: Would you climb Broad Peak again?
A: Probably not. It is a long slog to get there. The
support is poor from the Pakistani HAPs.
However, the views and climbing is some of the best in the world. OK, maybe
I could be talked into it!!
Broad Peak is a challenging climb for most anyone. It starts steep and
never ends. The upper sections are dangerous and the summit ridge has
turned back even the best mountaineers - it is not an 'easy' 8000, mountain.
The views during the trek up the Baltoro Glacier are mind blowing as
are those of K2 up close. All in all it is quite a different experience
from anything in Nepal or Tibet. The trek is a must for everybody into
mountains and the climb at least something to consider.