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K2/Chogori Winter 2003

2/17/2003: K2 Winter Expedition Sudden weather change, hurricane winds

Trying to catch my computer

The mountaineers are licking their wounds. Krzysztof Wielicki, the head of the expedition, has sent some of them back below to the Chinese base, so that they can rest and heal their frostbites under better conditions. It is unknown what will be left of the expedition after the snowstorm.

Muhammad Hanif watches over us like a good spirit. The senior weatherman in Pakistan keeps sending us by email accurate weather forecasts, enclosing friendly comments and pieces of advice: “Be careful! And hide safely“ or “You now have three days of good weather ahead, let's go!“ This time, he sent his warning twice, imploring us to take it seriously – hurricane winds are approaching – and even though strong air flows and low temperatures are fairly common in winter in Karakorum, this time the danger is grave.

Krzysztof Wielicki has taken these pieces of advice seriously. He has descended to the base from camp II. He has also decided to send the participants of the expedition to the Chinese base, located a day's walk and over one kilometer below from here, so that they can rest. At the upper base, at 5100 m, with temperatures reaching minus 30 deg. C, it is hard to regenerate strength. Everyone staying here is guaranteed to become slimmer, no matter how much they eat. A few people wanted or had to stay here, however. Swollen toes of frostbitten feet will not always fit into shoes. You have to treat them somehow, but it is difficult.

A few days ago, a group of five long awaited friends arrived. Taking the opportunity, a camel caravan brought supplies for the expedition, first and foremost food. Jacek (Jacques) Olek, honorary deputy head of the present expedition, arrived from Canada. Polish alpinism owes the execution of the victorious, pioneer winter expedition to Cho Oyu and the first and only attempt so far to reach the summit of K2 in winter from the Pakistan side to the friendship between Olek and Andrzej Zawada. Zawada started to prepare together with Olek this expedition as well. Zawada’s incurable illness caused Jacek to go to the scheduled reconnaissance under K2 from the Chinese side, in the winter of 2000, together with Dariusz Zaluski. They had to check whether it was possible to reach this place and cross the rapid Shaksgam River.

From Poland came Robert Janik, a surgeon, experienced rescuer and former chief of the Voluntary Tatra Mountain Rescue Team, one of the few witnesses to the great days of Polish alpinism. – I've been here for a short time only and wouldn't like to make the current situation appear worse than it is – says Janik – but I have the impression that the Himalayas let you catch some breath even in winter, while Karakorum appears to be exceptionally harmful to man.

Muhammad Hanif was right saying that the wind strength would be untypical even for winter. As predicted, the snowstorm has blocked our view to the world. The wind tears with such strength at the tents that the aluminum frames are breaking. It is impossible to write this report. The tent is tightly closed, while the table with the computer on it keeps jumping up like it is bewitched. I cannot keep up with it.

What are the tents going to look like after this blizzard? Will they be sitting at all on K2’s northern slope?

Monika Rogozińska from the base under K2

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

Dispatches