Getting over a sore neck, traversing unnaturally wet snow and finally getting a taste of Camp 1, Fredrik Sträng’s K2 2017 Expedition has turned out to be eventful early on. Plans are still on track for the summit.
DISPATCH #6 Fredrik Sträng K2 2017
Since arriving at K2 Base Camp on 27 June, the expedition started off with minor delays, those usually attributed to life on K2. On 29 June, Fredrik and his climbing partner, Ali Musa, attempted to reach C-1 but snowfall and heavy winds forced them to abandon their plan. At Base Camp, they remained, but not idle.
According to Sträng, harboring yourself in your tent when bad weather dictates a delay is a bad idea.
I have seen it so many times before on big mountain expeditions when the weather is bad, people hide in their tents. Not only is activity paramount for keeping yourself fit but it also keeps you sane and alert. The last thing one wants is a soft head becoming indifferent and lazy as time flies.
With this wisdom, he took to the glacier, playfully defying the elements to climb some ice and build a mountaineer’s snowman, complete with Petzl Quark ice axes for arms.
He is at home on the Goodwin Austen Glacier listening to the songs of the environment around him, the cracking ice and the howling of the wind. It has snowed every day since he arrived at K2.
The mountains sing different songs than what city-slickers are used to. There is wind almost all the time, some birds feasting on the few remains from the kitchen, streams of water rushing in channels on the glacier, occasional rocks that come tumbling down, avalanches that make a deep, deep constant pitch and seracs that break off like the sound of dynamite that blasts off. It’s easy to hear every whisper here in this vast space between majestical K2 and the imposing ridgeline of the three summits of Broad Peak. They are so close that it sometimes feels like those 8000ers are “falling” on top of you if your thoughts are not pure, like if they are going to eat you bare alive.
As for Fredrik’s take on being at K2 nearly 10 years after the 2008 K2 Tragedy, it hasn’t slowed him down or bore a hole in his resilience. It remains with him, always a constant memory of a day that changed many forever. But it remains now as part of history – something he no longer stews in questions about. But, even so, he spares a thought for the victims of that day from time to time and has made peace with his role, his decisions and the tragedy itself.
He visited the Art Gilkey memorial during his first week, rested memories there and moved on into a new version of himself, one that hasn’t given up on the adventures life bares at his feet and dares him to take.
If you’re wondering what the most important part of climbing K2 this season is, he says that it is not about the journey or the return to this hanging story of tragedy over his head. It’s not even about leaving behind the trying days of 2015 and 2016.
In his words, the summit of K2 is the most important part of this expedition. It entails the practice of a very specific way that he climbs up and down the mountain, alive with all 20 fingers and toes intact, still remaining friends with the people he loves and making the least amount of impact on the mountain as possible. He takes with him any trash he deposits or brings up. It is a process of discipline and responsibility that breeds a superior form of appreciation for goal-setting and reaching.
However, if you’re wondering why he is climbing K2 this season, he says this requires a different answer and much more explanation.
Pursuing on a goal like K2 requires the best from me. That is how I want to live, in high expectancy and that no one should dictate what is possible or impossible. Dedicating your energy on a stark goal like K2 makes all the suffering and training worth it. Perhaps, an intellectual in Bushido would call it a worthy opponent, but not an opponent in the meaning to strike down, but an opponent to test and measure your knowledge, strength, and qualities against.
Although it does not need to be said because many who are familiar with Sträng know he is a child of this earth, as noted in our Get to Know Fredrik Sträng article, he makes it a point to tell us that:
I need to feel the wind on my cheeks, I need to get beaten then rise like a phoenix bird to feel alive. I need the harsh, the honest uncontrolled ruthless nature to shake me and appreciate that I am alive, I need this and so many more adventures to come to hopefully inspire others to break the chains of what others “control” of what you can or can not do.
Preparation for K2 Summit
Sträng continues his routine of responsible physical preparation for the climb. Always on the schedule are his yoga practices and meditation. He keeps his mind sane by staying active, reading books and nurturing a social life on the mountain that doesn’t consist of just talking about the weather.
The team’s camp is strategically placed, although the weather is not helping. The plan is to keep the tents near a watering hole but not on an edge face. Predictions deem that the glacier will melt 2 m. in height during the course of the expedition. But as it is, the snow is melting unnaturally fast, prompting the idea that the tents may have to contend with pools of water soon. The glaciers are warm this season.
On 05 July, the team’s attempt to reach C-2 was abruptly ended by the ravaging weather K2 is known for spitting at climbers. The glacier is surrounded by trapmines, which are holes in the ice filled with glacier water. On the traverse, boots get wet and humid before the actual climb to C-2 even begins. Sträng and Musa decided to keep some gear in Camp 1 in the event of unpredictable weather, snow is offering limited visibility and the wind is increasing the chances of avalanches. They enjoyed a quick game of amateur poker, with neither two really knowing the rules. So in that case, they did what we all do, invent a few.
Afterward, the team descended on Base Camp in knee-deep snow.
4 Days of Agony
From 29, June to 02, July, Fredrik battled a vexing neck injury that began while testing his ice axes on nearby accessible seracs. It began as just stiffness in the neck and later transformed into 3 horrible nights of no sleep and pain at an altitude of 16,732 (5,100 m.).
With some helpful advice from a Singaporean doctor and quality exercise, he’s back to feeling a bit better but says the best thing one can say to an injured person is “How can I help?” not, “Oh, I know that pain.”
K2 Weather and the Climb
K2 weather is anything but easy or pleasant. For this, Fredrik has some choice advice.
The route up to camp C-1 is a necessary evil. You have to climb along the ridge with potential avalanche danger to the right and potential sporadic rockfall to the left. In the middle is you, and how do you tackle such an unpleasant position? First of all, climb in the early morning when the night has given the layers of ice and snow a chance to refreeze and “glue” the rocks. Secondly, take turns climbing fast in risky areas where one is looking out and gives you an extra pair of eyes.
He anticipates that this will take a while to recover from, and the real plan is to avoid wandering questions that hijack the mind, like “Shit, am I gonna be okay? Or, “Am I gonna miss my summit chance now?” Fredrik says:
What is not okay is to fall for the temptation to exagerate the situation. I have time, 1.5 months to be exact so I am not worried. Maybe the Gods are testing me and to them I say: I will pass.
On 03 July, the team made a quick trip to C-1 at about 19,685 (6,000 m.) His neck felt much better, however, it still has him feeling like a “dead zombie.” His timing is improving, cutting off an hour from Base Camp to Advanced Base Camp and making it to Base Camp from Camp 1 in 4 hours and 20 minutes without acclimatization while carrying an 18 kg. load.
The traverse was a wet one, again, with snow melting rapidly. Fredrik jokes about having to need a raft and a wetsuit to cross between BC and ABC, with the “lakes” that will appear from the melting snow.
As always, we at BCM are wishing Fredrik Sträng and Ali Musa a successful summit, one that is memorable. We also would like to extend a salute to Abass, the expedition cook who makes sure the team has 3 meals a day while they are not climbing. In the midst of expeditions and competition, many often forget the roles Sherpas, cooks, porters, and other essential help play in an expedition, from transporting gear to setting lines.
This is why, from inception, BCM has referred to Sherpas with a capital “S,” while many don’t view the term as a proper noun, we do. An expedition is only half as successful as it can be if all members of the team aren’t performing, this includes cooks, porters, line-setters, guides and climbers.
We will keep you updated on Fredrik’s progress to the summit of K2.
About Fredrik Sträng
Fredrik Sträng is a Swedish climber, personal trainer and motivational speaker. Sträng has summited 8 of the world’s 8,000 m. peaks, and in 2017, Sträng will be attempting K2 again. He has worked with charitable organizations through the years to help those in need and has been given various awards including Male Adventurer of the Year twice in 2007 and 2010. Sträng is partnered with Sigma Technology. To learn more about Sträng, read “Get to Know Climber Fredrik Sträng.”
Follow our dispatches of Fredrik Sträng’s K2017 Expedition here.