Broad Peak FAQ
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26,407 feet 8048 meters
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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 decisions.

About Broad Peak

Training, Gear & Communication

Expedition Basics K2 My Experience

About Broad Peak

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 other expeditions.

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 or Denali?
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 on K2?

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 peaks


Training, Gear & Communication

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?
Click for a larger view of my Everest gear. 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.


Expedition Basics:

Q: Which 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 guide?
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 Peak?
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 experience?
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.

K2

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.


My 2006 Experience

Q: Did you summit?
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 I believe

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 K2!

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?
A: There 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!!

Bottom Line

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.