Facts about the climb
Maryland resident Chris Warner and Tao Franken are teaming up for this ambitious double-header. Warner, the owner of Earth Treks climbing gym, has been on 10 8,000-meter peak expeditions. He has summited on Cho Oyu, Mount Everest, Shisha Pangma and Lhotse.
In 2002, he attempted both Broad Peak and K2. His second summit bid on Broad Peak ended on an avalanche-prone, 50-degree snow slope, just 150 feet from safer terrain. His attempt on K2 ended in tragedy, as a friend fell from thousands of feet above and landed 500 feet from Chris and his partner. The first on the scene, Chris and his climbing partner pronounced him dead.
This is a challenge three years in the making.
Tao Franken is the owner of Bomber Gear, a high-end kayak accessories business, and a mountaineering guide for Earth Treks. Franken has a long and decorated past as a competitive adventure sports athlete (from Rodeo kayaking to BMX). He has an impressive ice climbing resume with numerous WI 5 and 6 solos. This will be Franken's first expedition to an 8,000-meter peak. Warner and Franken have been climbing together for nearly 20 years.
Broad Peak itinerary
The journey to basecamp begins in Islamabad, Pakistan. Here the team will meet before flying to Skardu, in Pakistan's infamous Northern Area. It will take an 8-9 day trek to arrive at base camp, which is at 17,000 feet on the Godwin-Austen Glacier below the mountain's triangular South Face.
The standard route of ascent for Broad Peak is the west ridge. The base camp will actually be at the bottom of K2, which is at least a two-hour walk from the base of the route. From there, the camps will be established.
The climb up to Camp 1 (19,800 feet) ascends long snow slopes up to 50 degrees. Camp 2 (20,400 feet) is reached by climbing snowfields and a few rocky steps before arriving on the crest of the ridge. Camp 3 is located below some seracs at 24,000 feet. Summit day involves climbing snow slopes from 30 to 50 degrees, leading to a col between the main and central summits. Steeper slopes (50-60 degrees) lead to the rocky and corniced summit ridge. After climbing over a false summit, it is then another half mile (above 8,000 meters) before reaching Broad Peak's true summit.
Warner and Franken's plan is to acclimatize on Broad Peak. Upon reaching base camp (around July 4), they will establish a temporary camp at the base of the route. They will ferry gear to the site of Camp 2, sleep there for a few nights, then return to base camp. Provided the weather is favorable, the team will climb from base camp to Camp 2. The following day it will advance to Camp 3 and then head toward the summit.
The goal is to summit mid to late July.
Less than 250 people have summited the K2, which is the world's second tallest mountain. At 28,250 feet, K2 is much steeper than Everest. The climbing is harder. The weather is worse. With a history of epic ascents, K2 has earned its nickname: The Savage Mountain.
The SSE Ridge (a.k.a. the Cessen Route) was first attempted by British mountaineer Doug Scott and his friends. It was finally pushed through to the summit by a team of Basque climbers. Since then, despite many more attempts, only 8 teams have summited K2 via this route.
The SSE Ridge is arguably the "safest" route on K2. Like every route on this peak it is very steep and consistently technical. Every successful team has relied on fixed ropes and pre-placed camps to reach the summit. To date, no American has summited via this route.
Warner and Franken's plan is to climb it in pure alpine style: no high altitude porters, no oxygen, no fixed lines and no pre-placed camps.
The base of the route is about 1 1/2 hours above base camp. Most parties establish Camp 1 at 20,000 feet, below a rock tower. Camp 2 is usually placed at 23,000 feet above an area called the white desert. Climbing to this point can be extremely difficult, with numerous rock steps and steep snow fields.
Camp 3 is placed just above the intersection of the SSE Ridge and the Abruzzi Route (route of first ascent and so-called normal route) as close to 8,000 meters (26,240 feet) as possible.
Summit day on K2 is the most dangerous time on the climb. Some of the strongest Himalayan climbers have turned back within a hundred feet of the summit. Climbers have taken as many as 20 hours to climb from high camp to the summit, a vertical gain of less than 2,200 feet. The climbing can take that long simply because the snow and ice conditions can be so poor, and even in the best of conditions, the climb is hard and scary.
There is no lingering on the summit of K2. Once reaching the top, it is a race to get down alive to the safety of Camp 3.