Whenever I awoke last night, I could hear the pitter-patter of the heavy snowflakes landing on our tent walls. I didn’t let it keep me awake but I made mental note of it because there was a very good chance that it would affect our plan. Sure enough, when I woke up, the walls of our tent were sagging more than usual and sounds from outside were muffled.
I remained curled up in my mummy bag, while Garrett took his usual 6:30 AM call with the Sherpa team and one of the other teams on the mountain. First was a call to Camp 4, where Mingma had been hunkered down for a couple of days while attempting to do rope work. No response. Next, a call to the Seven Summits International Team Leader, Dawa Sherpa. He reported that his team was still at Camp 3 but despite the heavy snows that his team was reporting, he intended to move them up to Camp 4 in preparation for a summit push. Garrett asked Dawa to keep him posted on conditions and Dawa assured him that he would.
It wasn’t long before we heard from Mingma and Phurba on the radio. They informed us that Mingma and the two Pakistanis with him had attempted to set lines at the infamous “Bottleneck” but their effort was thwarted with thigh deep snow. Dawa called in shortly after and also reported 1-2 feet of snow at Camp 3 but provided no indication of whether or not their team would be moving from C3 to C4. Despite Dawa not committing his team to one action or another, Garrett, Geoff and I knew that the likelihood of the team moving up was shrinking rapidly.
Geoff, Garrett, Rob, and Ang Phurba convened to discuss the circumstances and the consensus was that we would not be moving to C3. Even though Mingma and his team had been unable to set ropes high on the mountain, the primary concern was the section of glacier between C3 and C4. This area is considered by most to be second most hazardous section of the mountain, after the Bottleneck, due to its avalanche prone characteristics. Garrett, in particular, was wary of this section, after avalanches in 2015 and 2016, which destroyed their entire camp when the team was lower on the mountain. The heavier than expected snowfall would be annoying to break trail through but something that we could deal with but an avalanche, on the other hand, was not something to be taken lightly.
We waited patiently to hear from Dawa, hoping to get more details on the conditions between C3 and C4. When the call came, we weren’t surprised to hear that they had decided not to move to C4. Garrett pressed Dawa over whether or not they would be descending and after a long pause, Dawa said they would. With this information in hand, Garrett made the decision for us to do the same, a logical decision based on the fact that we wouldn’t have any information about snow conditions on the upper mountain.
My pack was buckled shut and I was just about to tuck away the straps of my crampons when Garrett emerged from our tent with an announcement. He had just received another call on the radio from Dawa, who told Garrett that he had changed his mind and his team would be sitting at Camp 3 for a day with the intent to make a move to Camp 4 if conditions stabilized. We all just kind of stood there for a moment, letting the information sink in. We had already accepted the fact that we would be descending and knew deep down that the odds of us having another good weather window were slim at best. Now, we had a glimmer of hope, but at what cost? We all knew the risk that the slope between Camp 3 and 4 presented after heavy snowfall and personally, it terrified me. I know that I have the ability to conquer this mountain but the uncontrollable perils of objective hazards, such as avalanche and rock fall, were what could ultimately prevent me from fulfilling my dream.
The entire team stood outside of our tents with our backpacks at the ready and the debate ensued. Jason and James took a strong stance for remaining at Camp 2 and waiting for word from Dawa’s Seven Summits team. David and I took the opposing stance and lobbied to descend as quickly as possible in order to provide as much time as possible to rest before the next weather window. Part of me knew that the odds of us having another good weather window on K2 were slim to none but I had also promised myself that I wouldn’t take any unnecessary risk. Both sides stated their case, while the rest of the team took a somewhat neutral stance. After about 15 minutes of debate we turned to Garrett and asked him to make the final decision based on what information we had available.
After 5 minutes of side discussion between Garrett, Rob, and Geoff, they returned to the group and Garrett announced that we would sit out the night at Camp 2 to wait for word from the team above. Despite my initial stance, I was at peace with the decision because it did not put us in the path of immediate danger. With the decision made, the team settled back into their tents for the afternoon in anticipation of the news to come.