K2 without oxygen, 2008

k2 flag

The Singapore flag flying proudly at K2 base camp



The K2 climb ws probably the most harrowing for Robert and Edwin, who saw friends perish on the slopes of the mountain. After a ood long rest, they reflected on their experience and the lessons learned, of which there are many.

One of them is regarding Pakistan’s High Altitude Porters, which we want to share here to help others to be more prepared if their climbs.

The team hired three High Altitude Porters (HAP), including Mr Mehraban Shah, at US$4000 each to ferry loads and set up camp up to Camp 4, and to strip the camps at the end of the expedition.

On 14 July 2008, Mr Mehraban Shah and the other 2 HAP (Mr Zulfiqar and Mr Jhan Baig) load-carried with our team up to Camp 1 (6,000m). The guys noted that Mr Zulfiqar was very slow and did not know how to use the figure-of-8 descender for abseiling. Mr Jhan Baig had to loop the descender for him. Mr Jhan himself abseiled off a fixed rope tied to the opened gate of the karabina. Robert had to yell to him to stop and re tie the anchor.

Symptoms of AMS

On 16 July 2008, the 3 HAP went up to C1 and slept there for the night. The next day, Mr Zulfiqar and Mr Jhan Baig complained of loss of appetite and headaches — symptoms of Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). Mr Mehraban had a headache and was given a pill for it. Mr Zulfiqar returned to base camp after 30 minutes of climbing towards to camp 2. Mr Mehraban and Mr Jhan and the team continued to camp 2 (6700m). Robert and Edwin, Kami and Jamling had to share Mr Zulfiqar’s load as well as lighten Mr Jhan’s load because of his AMS.

All HAPs returned to BC that same day while all our members stayed in C2 on 17 and 18 and return to BC on 19 July 2008. The HAPs suffering from AMS made no effort to further acclimatize upon their return to BC.

On 21 July 2008, Mr Mehraban Shah and his team agreed to carry a load up to C2, and would proceed to C3 (7200m) if the weather permitted. All agreed to this as C2 was not considered high enough to be adversely affected by the weather during that time for a load carry.

At 0445, 22 July 2008, Mr Jhan Baig knocked on Robert’s tent and asked for the carry to be postponed as the weather was bad. It was lightly snowing with little wind. Robert told him that the weather in the mountains cannot be perfect. After some discussion, he agreed to carry the load to advanced base camp (ABC) at 0600hrs. Thereupon, the weather would be assessed again for a carry up to C1 and C2.

At 0600hrs, it was snowing lightly and there was light wind. The weather was good for a carry to ABC. All HAP did not leave BC despite their earlier agreement.

Weather fine, HAPS asleep

At 0900hrs during breakfast, the weather was almost perfect with the sun shining. All HAPs were sleeping in their tents. Throughout the day, the weather remained adequate for a carry up to C2. Mr Anwar Baig, our BC manager from Hunza Guides can attest to the adequate weather on that day.

Based on the above facts, the team concluded that :

Two of the HAP were not suitably acclimatized and were also not technically skilled.

Mr Mehraban Shah, the HAP guide who recruited the other 2 HAP, did not ensure they were acclimatized on the mountain during free days.

There was a lack of motivation to work in the interest of the expedition.

In view of the situation, the expedition members decided that they would be safer and happier to climb the mountain by themselves without the HAPs as there is a significant lack of confidence and trust in the HAP’s willingness and skill to do the work adequately.

(After Mr. Jhan Baig left our team , he joined an American team. Fredrik and Eric, the doctor in the American's team, both reported that during their attempt to recover a body, Mr. Jhan was technically incompetent which endangered the whole rescue team. At camp 3, both reported that Mr Jhan slipped and did not know how to self arrest using an ice axe on a gentle slope. Other climbers called to him to use his ice axe, but he instead pulled on the roped attached to the body and other rescue climbers as if it were a fixed rope. He eventually let go of the rope as it was pulling the other climbers down. With no attempt to self arrest, he slid down the mountain and lost his life. There were many witnesses to this event, Pakistani and foreigners.)

Replacement HAPs ill

Hunza Guides, our agents in Pakistan, then sent two more HAPs who did one ferry load to C3 and promptly fell ill and left. Another replacement HAP arrived at BC ill and did a modest load to C1 and left. The last replacement HAP arrived when we had already stripped the high camps and did not need his services.

In all, the HAPs were at BC for only 35% of the time, during which they offered HAP assistance 20% of the time.

Despite high-praising resumés from their previous clients, Hunza Guides could not ensure a level of service that we paid for. We felt they could have done more to ensure the HAPs, for whom we paid princely sums, were worth their cost. The HAPs would have jeopardized our climbs had we not brought along our Sherpa friends, for whom we paid full fees as climbing members on top of their salaries, but who load carried far more than the HAPs.

As for the kitchen staff and base camp manager, we have only praise and appreciation. They were exemplary in their work, which showed up starkly against the non-performance of the HAPs.

We wish nothing more than to see a strengthening of the skills and mountain fitness of Pakistani HAPs. They are very strong, but lack climbing skills and confidence, at least those who worked for us. We can only hope the situation will improve with more training.

For a record of their daily reports during the expedition, click here.

You are welcome to sent your comments to us at [email protected]

Our sponsors for K2

In a year when sponsors were scarse, we were fortunate and priviledged for have the following sponsors:

Singapore Sports Council

SSC logo

Singapore Tote Board

Singapore Pools

tote pools logos

And our sponsors in kind:

NATIONAL ENVIRONMENT AGENCY for THE incredibly accurate daily weather forecasts from its meteorological service.

MOTOROLA for its walkie talkies

KOKA NOODLES for their noodles