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K2/Chogori Winter 2003
View from camp II. The K2 Glacier is visible below.

They want to appear older

Monika Rogozińska from the base under K2

Cameras are aimed at the alpinists, but there would be no expedition if it were not for the people in the background. An expedition is like a hand. Each finger is necessary and only the cooperation of all brings results, says our cook, Lachhu ("Lackchew") Bahadur Basnet from Nepal, showing his work-worn hand.

Lachhu is a walking piece of history of himalaism. Though he is only 43, he has already participated in 37 expeditions. He worked with Poles for the first time two decades ago, as a cook boy, during the expedition to Ganesh II in the Gharwal Himalayas, headed by Janusz Majer, when Krzysztof Wielicki, the head of our present expedition, reached the summit. Then, already being a cook, he cooked for Wielicki, when the latter was conquering the Crown of the Himalayas, Makalu, Dhaulagiri, Manaslu, Annapurna, Gasherbrum I and II. He also participated in the last expedition of Wanda Rutkiewicz to Kangchenjunga. He found out that the Polish climber has gone missing in Pakistan only, because in accordance with his contract, he had left that expedition earlier in order to aid Wielicki once again. He has been supporting commercial expeditions to Mount Everest, organized by Russell Brice, for the last ten years. He regrets that he learned too late about the Polish winter attempt to reach Makalu two years ago. His brother was the cook then.

He has lived through some difficult moments during the present K2 Winter Expedition. At the end of December and the beginning of January, when the temperatures fell below -30 deg. C, his big toe was frostbitten. He could not sleep from the pain. Usually smiling, he cursed the winter and the idea of reaching the summit under such difficult conditions. He descended to the Chinese base, with the intention it would seem of returning to Katmandu. And yet he has not left us and has returned after a few days.

For Birbala, the cook's aid from Nepal, this expedition is his second one in winter that he supports with his patience, good humor and imaginative cooking. The first one was Annapurna, when Jerzy Kukuczka and Artur Hajzer climbed the maiden summit in winter, and Wielicki took the ill Wanda Rutkiewicz down to the base. Birbal remembers very pleasantly the head of the two other summer expeditions to the southern slopes of Lhotse and Annapurna. He shows me a big face, which stands for a beard, and the big belly of Janusz Majer, a fairly largely built man.

Birbal does not know his age. He looks young, though according to his passport he should be 42. Lachhu explains: In our country, we get our identity cards at the age of 18. Someone without such an ID can't get a passport, insurance, he can't work in the field of tourism or with expeditions. That's why parents overstate the age of their children. We all try to appear older.

A team of excellent guides and mountaineers from Hunza in Pakistan does an unrewarding job here. They have been sent by Nazir Sabir, our great friend and owner of a tourist agency in Islamabad, one of the most outstanding alpinists in his country. The Hunzas task is to deliver the expedition's equipment on the K2 glacier to the upper base. They arrive loaded, with frozen beards, then they rest a while, eat some soup, drink some tea and immediately descend to the intermediate base, where they live in tents. Always polite, obliging and caring.

The oldest of them, 46-year-old Aslam Khan, always walks around in a blue polar sweatshirt, regardless of the temperature, wrapping his face with a scarf. For 20 years he has been a member of Pakistan's special units. He was the bodyguard of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, he would fly as part of Pakistani Airlines security and spent three years in his country's embassy in Stockholm. After taking early retirement, he began working in tourism, using his knowledge of the mountains where he used to be a soldier.

Sarwar Khan (45) reached the summit of the 8000er Broad Peak and missed the summit of Gasherbrum I by a mere 50 m in a blizzard; he participated as an alpinist in the expedition to Mount Everest. He aids many expeditions to Karakorum and the Himalayas as an alpine porter. Six years ago, he aided the expedition during which Krzysztof Wielicki reached the summit of K2 on the Northern Pillar. Sarwar would arrive with the equipment at camp II. It was on Sarwar Khan's back that I had the honor of crossing the icy Shaksgam River on our way to K2. While I was profoundly embarrassed, the Pakistani calmed me down and said that during summer trekkings, one of his duties is carrying customers. Japanese female tourists seem to like that particularly.

Doulat Amin (26) is very strong. He is a guide and alpine porter, usually aiding American expeditions. In the year 2000, he was on K2's Northern Pillar with Americans, who left behind them bags of nutrients, soups, bars of chocolate, powdered drinks and other strange kinds of candy enriched with vitamins, all of them buried in the snow.

Rehmat Ali (31) know Poles well. He participated, among others, in Piotr Pustelnik's expedition to Broad Peak. He mainly guides tourist groups, however, including Polish groups. He asked to give his regards to all those he has taken care of so far.

The Hunzas have lost weight, have pined away during our expedition, but they still keep on running persistently on the stony K2 glacier. We realize that you have undertaken the great mission to reach the summit of K2 in winter, they say.  And thanks to our work, we can at least partly participate in this unusual task, they say unanimously.

The fight goes on

Monika Rogozińska from the base under K2

The alpinists do not seem to pay any attention to bad weather. There's no such thing as bad weather, they say. We have to work on the mountain. Today, Denis Urubko, Piotr Morawski and Marcin Kaczkan went to camp I. Tomorrow, they are climbing higher.

The distances they have to cover are longer and longer, they leave the base for more and more days. It takes three days now to reach camp III. Bartek Duda and Jacek Jawień, the team carrying ropes and food, sets off behind them. The goal is clear, to install fixed ropes on the part of the pillar in the direction of camp IV as far as possible, which is to be established at 7850 m. The fight is supposed to last for quite some time. Krzysztof Wielicki has just ordered the return camel caravan for March 4th. The return to Poland is expected for the middle of March. Today, however, everyone still wants to fight. Despite frostbites and exhaustion.

At first, fright trains were going over us, then fast trains, and finally we felt as though we got on a crazy roller coaster in an amusement park. said Jerzy Natkański about the night spent in camp III at 7200 m. We didn't sleep a wink.?

The wind squeezed snow inside the tent. The steam of their breaths froze on their down suits and sleeping bags, covering the interior with white frost. Natkański, Maciej Pawlikowski and Darusz Załuski brought ropes, food and equipment to camp III, passing en route Krzysztof Wielicki and Jacek Berbeke who were returning from the camp. The former replaced a part of the fixed ropes, but did not manage to climb above camp III. The next morning, on Thursday, they set off downwards, to the base.

The weather forecast announced on this day in the evening stronger winds, clouds and snowfall during the next two days. Meanwhile, Jacek Teler has set out on his own to camp II. The 35-year-old alpinist is an extraordinary figure. Being a theologian and philosopher, he has the soul of a social man, complemented by enthusiasm towards everything he does. He helped create a homeless shelter in Częstochowa, he looked after drug addicts and street children, held the position of a warden at a court. He loves the Siberian Altai, Thien-Shan and Pamir, where he became involved in various rescue missions. He became part of the supporting group in the present expedition. He would run for a month on the K2 glacier, delivering supplies. He has earned the nickname, Robocop, which is understandable for anyone who has seen him marching upwards like a machine. Once his toes were frostbitten on Mont Blanc, because he gave his partner the medicine that could have protected him against it. At the hospital, he was told that he was going to lose all his toes. He decided to treat himself. He went home. After some time, when the borderline between the dead and the healthy part was established, he took one of the toes out of the joint himself, cutting another one with a scalpel at the appropriate spot. It didn't hurt says Teler. I saved the three remaining toes instead.

A month ago, his feet were frostbitten on the K2 glacier. He made bandages and kept on carrying the equipment. Finally there came the time when he was able to touch the slope of K2, which he received with the kind of enthusiasm which is characteristic of him.

On Thursday, he reached camp II (6780 m) at night, since he left camp I too late. He communicated with the base, unsure of the way. Fixed ropes led him to the tent. And as soon as we breathed a sigh of relief that he was safe, the wind started to blow. The mountain started to howl with a sound resembling airplane engines warming up at an airfield, which is typical of winters in the Himalayas. I would like to congratulate my friends who have secured the tent. I thought that I was flying off only twice, said Teler in the morning over the radio.

The night must have been very tough. At the base, when the rumble of the fluttering tent drowns out all other noises, even the sound of a falling avalanche, the table in my tent starts moving by itself, and the computer, the satellite phone and other electronic devices are falling on my head while I am trying to sleep. Such were the conditions on the night from Thursday to Friday, when Jacek Teler was the only person on the slope of K2.

On the second day, being told by the head of the expedition that his bravery and effort had been in vain, since he managed to carry up only one rope, he packed more ropes into his rucksack that were stored at camp II and carried them halfway to camp III.

At the moment I am finishing this report, he is returning to the base in the fog. Night has fallen. It is snowing lightly. He is going to make it, Robocop is indestructible .

K2 Winter Expedition Weather is getting worse

Silence at the table

The weather is making the situation of the expedition more and more difficult. The wind has pressed the fixed ropes into the snow, they have to be pulled out, it has buried the camps, which have to be dug up, and has made the ice cracks invisible.

Bartek Duda fell into one of them on his way to camp I, before he could reach the fixed ropes. I fell up to my chest. My rucksack stopped me. I crawled out with difficulty, digging my heels in, using my legs and my back. That was a fearsome experience, he said when he was safe. After the night spent at camp I, Bartek returned on Sunday to the base. He realized that he is in too much pain in order to be able to climb with the heavy rucksack. Jacek Jawień remained alone at camp I. He was supposed to accompany Bartek, delivering equipment to the higher camps.

- Jacek should not go alone, warned Denis Urubko at camp II on Sunday morning. The ropes are so icy that the safety devices slide on them. Jawień takes a rest at camp I. On Sunday, the mountain was smoking with snow, blown off by a strong wind. Denis Urubko, Piotr Morawski and Marcin Kaczkan have reached camp III. The tent has endured the wind. At this altitude, the temperature is minus 35 degrees. The wind was blowing strong and it's terribly cold,  says Piotr Morawski over the radio. We measured the altitude of the camp with the GPS. It is 7150 m. Denis is worried that this is very low.

- The poles are holding, only the tent's envelope is torn. Somebody has walked over it with crampons, reported Denis Urubko. Wind permitting, we'll try to climb higher tomorrow and establish fixed ropes as far as possible. But the three of us won't work any wonders. We need support. We need strong teams, carrying equipment, bringing equipment to the camps, taking care of the tents and creating bases of supply, who will then replace us.

We listened to Denis' word at the base in the evening. The wind was pulling at the tents. The penetrating chill would not let us rest.

- Who's going up tomorrow? asked Krzysztof Wielicki, the head of the expedition. He was faced with a wall of silence. I can't force anybody. All I can do is appeal. he asked. Everybody was starring at their plates.

Monika Rogozińska from the base under K2

Written by Monika Rogozinska, "Rzeczpospolita"; translated by "Scrivanek".

Dispatches