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 K2 Ski Expedition 2009: Tragic ending to the K2 Expedition


2009-07-31

Tragic ending to the K2 Expedition

I guess most of you have already heard the tragic news about Micheles accident on K2. Anyway heres some info on what happened.

Michele Fait on K2

Some times life doesnt turn out as planned. June 23, 2009 was one of those days.
We were on our second acclimatization climb on K2. This time Michele and I were feeling much better than on our first acclimatization climb. No headaches. After spending two nights in our Camp 2 at 6350 meters we were skiing down towards Base Camp. We had passed a steep and rocky section, that I thought was the most difficult part of the ski descent, and we were out on a big open slope. It was still steep and we were skiing very slowly, speedcontrolling jump turns. While doing a turn Michele lost his balance and fell backwards down the slope. He was sliding and tumbling for several hundred meters. Since the slope gets less steep lower down I was sure he would stop at some point. But he never did. All I could do was to stand and watch Michele fall down the slope. In the end he fell over a rockband and disappeared into the next bowl. It was horrible to watch!

I thought that if he had survived the fall he must be severely injured so I had to get down to Michele as fast as possible. I started skiing down the slope. Since there was a rockband separating the two bowls I couldnt ski straight down to him but had to ski down to the bottom of the mountain and then climb back up in his bowl. It took me half an hour to reach Michele. While climbing up it was all quiet, I could see the crows circling above Micheles body. Looking at the cliffs he had fallen over I knew the chance of finding Michele alive was slim. But I never gave up the hope. Unfortunately, when I reached Michele he didnt show any signs of life, he wasnt breathing and had no pulse. He was dead!

Since the body was in a very dangerous spot, right below a big Serac and on an avalanche prone slope, I didnt think much about what just had happened but started to lower Micheles body down the slope. By traversing a bit I could get to a fairly safe line below some cliffs. I lowered Michele for about 200 meters before I came to a point where I had to traverse another big avalanche prone slope.

New expeditions had arrived in base camp the day before the accident. Among them, Fabrizio Zangrilli, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner and David Göttler had seen Micheles fall from BC and walked up the glacier to help. Since it was already afternoon on a warm and sunny day the snow was wet and heavy and the risk of avalanches was great. To bring Micheles body over the dangerous slope would take us quite a long time. We would spend too much time in the danger zone and therefore we decided to leave him on the mountain over night.

On the walk back to base camp it suddenly hit me what just had happened. Michele and I were skiing down the mountain of our dreams. We were smiling and having the time of our lives. In a second, tragedy hit and Michele was gone. I have never experienced anything like it. It was the worst day of my life.

The next day David, Fabrizio and his teammates helped me bring Micheles body down the last 100 meters to the glacier. We made a snowpit to store the body in while waiting for a helicopter. In the morning, two days after the accident, the helicopter arrived. Micheles body was transported to Skardu and onwards back home to Italy. 

After the accident I lost all motivation to continue climb on K2 and decided to give up and go home. All my thoughts go to Micheles family. I cant imaging what its like to loose a son.

Michele Fait

Michele was a good man. I will miss him.

/Fredrik

Update: The mountaineer Michele Fait, 44 years died last night while he was skiing K2. Early reports state Michele crashed while skiing into a canyon area, which can be seen somewhat from base camp. Climbers found his body ...Sad

2009-06-18 - Skiing on K2

K2, What a mountain. It is 8612 meters high, but when I stand here in base camp, at 5100 meters, and look at it, it doesn't fell like it is more than 1000 meters to the summit. It is a weird feeling when I know it is more than 3500 meters to the top.

Fredrik at 6300 meters

Fredrik at 6300 meters

A few days ago when Michele and I was on our first acclimatization trip we got to experience how big the mountain really is. We left base camp at seven in the morning and walked along the Godwin Austen Glacier for 30 minutes up to the foot of K2 and the start of the Cesen Route. With ski boots and crampons on our feet, poles in our hands and a heavy backpack filled with a tent, sleeping bag, primus stove, gas, food etc. and a pair of skis strapped onto it, we started the climbing. At the beginning it was a nice ski slope of 30 degrees with perfect hard packed snow. Nice to climb on. We climbed on the right hand side of a big snow slope close to a rock ridge to stay out of the danger zone of a large Serac hanging above the left side of the slope. The ski slope got steeper, between 40-50 degrees and the snow got deeper. I had a hard time to stop dreaming about the upcoming ski descent on this perfect slope in soft powder snow. But first we had to find a tent spot where we could spend the night. I would have liked to ski down straight away but for our acclimatization it is best to spend time on higher altitude. To find a spot for the tent proved to be very difficult. We started the search at 5700 meters but it wasn't until we reached 6000 meters, after a total of seven hours of climbing, that we found a spot that we could imaging being flat. After some digging and building we had a semi-bad tent spot with two of the corners hanging in the air. Guess who got to sleep on that side of the tent? Not surprisingly, I slept pretty good anyway.

The next morning both Michele and I woke up with a headache and it was blowing and snowing outside. Great! After breakfast and a bit of fresh air my headache was gone but Michele must have caught some altitude illness since he didn't get well until we were back in base camp. After chilling in our tent for a few hours it stopped snowing and cleared up so we put our skis on and started sliding down the mountain. We took it easy in the beginning since I am always a bit unsecure on a new mountain especially when it is steep and rocks around. The snow was better than we had expected, cold and just a little windpacked and it was sloughing a bit. When the slope opened up I could do bigger turns and carry more speed, just cruising down the mountain. I had a big smile on my face, cause even if only a third of the mountain, we were skiing on K2. I got 900 vertical meters of nice skiing before I, totally euphoric, took my skis off 30 meters from my tent in BC. I had just skied the coolest ski slope in the world.

Fredrik enjoying the skiing on K2

Fredrik enjoying the skiing on K2

We will now have a few days of rest in base camp, charging batteries, before the next ski adventure on K2.   

Book that I'm reading: Richard Branson - Business Stripped bare - Adventures of a Global Entrepreneur

Music on my MP3 player: No power

 

K2 Base Camp 

Altitude - 5135 meters 

After seven days of trekking up the Baltoro Valley we have finally reached the base camp of K2 which will be our home for the next six weeks. This is where the climbing on K2 starts. 

From Skardu we drove Landrovers on very small and bumpy roads to a village called Askole. The drive was six hours long and one of the scariest I have ever had. At one point we had to go through a small waterfall. The road was only as wide as the car. On one side was a rock wall and on the other was a hundred meters drop down to the river. The road was muddy from all the water and on our first try we got stuck in the mud and had to back up. The second try we had to touch the rock wall not to slide off the road. Fortunately we had a good driver and made it through. I was happy to arrive in Askole in one peace. That car ride was probably be more scary than anything we will face on K2. 

To get all our equipment and food for six weeks up to K2 we had to hire porters. The farmers from Askole were happy to help us out. So happy that they almost started fighting about the loads. It was a bit chaotic before we had distributed the 40 loads to the porters. Unfortunately there where some guys that showed hoping to get work that didn't get any. Hopefully they will get some when the next expedition shows up. 

The trek up the Baltoro Valley is a long walk. We hiked for six days and about 5-6 hours every day on small or non existing trails. It was rocks, sand and ice in an uneven mix. For a weak guy like me that is painful. My feet were not exactly happy after six hours of walking on rocks and glaciers.

About halfway on the trek the porters wanted a break so we had one rest day in a camp called Paiju. Our Guide had brought a live Goat for food. With my stomach problems I wasn't so hungry for goat meat , neither was Michele so we gave it to the porters. They got very happy and had a little meatfest on our rest day in Paiju.   

The higher up we got the better the views got. We passed some great mountains like the Trango Towers, Mustagh Tower and Masherbrum and at that point I even stopped whining about the pain in my feet. The experience culminated at Concordia. From that great junction of glaciers you can view some of the finest mountains in the world: Mitre Peak, Gasherbrum 4, Broad Peak and K2. If you go there in beginning of June when there's not much people, like we did, it's a truly amazing place. 

From Concordia we had a five hours walk up the Godwin Austen Glacier to K2 base camp, including a tea break with two Austrian climbers at Broad Peak base camp. Just to make a our day a bit more interesting, with a teacup in my hand I got to watch a French guy fly down from high up on Broad Peak with a Paraglider. Not a bad tea break.

Anyway, we have now arrived at K2 base camp which will be our home for the next six weeks. Everything is good. The stomach problems that has been bothering me since I left my Pizza diet and ventured into the Pakistani food in Islamabad is now gone. My Italian mate Michele is my mentor on the food, he says that you can never eat too much Pizza. ;)

We are now getting ready to start climbing on K2, the mountain of my dreams. 

If you have the possibility, check out the Baltoro Glacier and K2 on Goggle Earth. It's pretty cool.

Facts:

GPS Position:

Lat N 35°50,34'

Lon E 076°30,85'

Book that I'm reading: Anthony Kiedis - Scar Tissue

Music on my MP3 player: Red Hot Chili Peppers - Californication

Sponsors:  Dynastar, Tierra, Osprey, Hestra, Grivel, Adidas Eyewear

Supporters: Tissot, Giro, Scarpa, Primus, Garmin, Honey Stinger, Ortovox, Exped, Jämtport  

Photos: Fredrik Ericsson

Earlier: Dear, EverestNews.com, This update is a week old. I tried to send it on the 4th but for some reason the email wasn’t sent. And after that I haven’t had internet access until now.

Anyway, from now on the updates will come regularly. /Fredrik

K2 Ski Expedition - Update 1

2009-06-04 - Skardu

Altitude: 2220 meters

A lot has happened the last few days. Some good and some bad.

I arrived in Islamabad last Sunday without any problems. I didn’t miss any flights, all my bags arrived, even the gear that I sent by cargo a couple of weeks ago was in Islamabad waiting for me. Chocking!

But as always on my trips, some things doesn't go as planned. This time it wasn't me but my climbing partner Michele who got into trouble. When I was about to board the plane in Frankfurt I got an sms from Michele saying: “Do you have Pakistan Visa? I stop in airport because I don’t have Visa“. Apparently Michele had forgot to get the Visa that one needs to enter Pakistan. That turned out to be a small problem. Michele went to the Embassy of Pakistan in Milano last Monday and got the Visa in one day and could get on a plane for Pakistan two days later. So today when he joined me here in Skardu we could just laugh about that incident.

A much less entertaining thing was the news we got from the Ministry of Tourism. The other day I went there on what I thought was the regular "sign some papers and smile" exercise and I would walk away with the climbing permit for K2 and trekking permit for Laila Peak. But that was not the case. We got the climbing permit for K2 alright but they didn't give us the trekking permit to go to Laila Peak. I tried to ask them why and the funny thing was that they didn't have an answer. They just said NO. We put in a second application for the trekking permit but it didn't help. The answer was the same. I'm very disappointed that we can't go to Laila Peak since that, along with K2, was the big goal of this trip. It's hard to see anything positive in that now but I guess in a few days I might find something. 

Other than that I have started to feel some movements in my stomach and lost my appetite. I must have caught some sort of bug which is not uncommon when you travel to Pakistan. So far it's not so bad and I've started to eat antibiotics. Hopefully it will be all gone in a few days. 

The good things then.. Well, we are on the way towards K2. It has been my dream for many years now and finally it is happening. So things could be worse.

Tomorrow we will drive up to Askole and from there we will start the six days long trek towards K2 base camp. More news when we arrive in base camp around June 11.

Sponsors:  Dynastar, Tierra, Osprey, Hestra, Grivel, Adidas Eyewear

Supporters: Tissot, Giro, Scarpa, Primus, Garmin, Honey Stinger, Ortovox, Exped, Jämtport

Background: K2 and Laila Peak Ski Expedition 2009

This summer I’m going to Pakistan with my Italian friend Michele Fait to try to climb and ski the world’s second highest mountain K2 (8612m).

As acclimatization for K2 we will make an attempt to ski Laila Peak (6069m).

The expedition starts on May 30 when we will fly to Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. We will spend a few days in the city for meetings with the Pakistan Alpine club to organize climbing permit and with our trekking agency Karakurum Magic Mountain (KMM). KMM helps us with all the logistics in Pakistan and will set us up with a base camp team that will cook food for Michele and I when we are in base camp.

From Islamabad we have a one hour flight up north to Skardu, the last town before we hit the mountains. Skardu is our last opportunity to pick up gear and food that we need for our two months stay in the mountains. Epi gas for our Primus stoves, chips and chocolate bars are some of the things we will buy in Skardu. From Skardu a five hours drive takes us to the small village of Hushe at the end of the road. From there on we will continue on foot. Around June 6 we start the two days trek towards Laila Peak.   

Laila Peak is one of the most beautiful mountains in Pakistan - if not the world -with its summit forming a perfect needle shape. The peak is synonymous with its northwest face which drops down the mountains at almost uniform gradient forming a giant ramp. Its northern and eastern sides consist of contrasting steep granite. The mountain is located east of the Gondogoro glacier and west of the Chogolisa Glacier in the Masherbrum Mountains of Baltistan. Most people have set eyes on the peak after crossing the Gondogoro La from Concordia.

The first ascent was by a four man British team including Simon Yates, Sean Smith and Mark Miller who climbed the peak in 1987 via the west face from the Gondogoro Glacier. Simon Yates dedicated a chapter in his book The Flame of Adventure on the ascent of Laila Peak.

With approximately 1500m ascent the mountain can be climbed in alpine style in one day but many people will choose to bivi on route then summit and descend on the second day. Climbing is mid-grade with an inclination of no more than 55 degrees.

In 2005 Jörgen Aamot and I made two attempts to climb and ski the northwest face of Laila Peak. On both occasions the top section was too icy to ski so we turned around at 5950m and skied down to the Gondogoro Glacier (4500m). It’s my favorite ski descent of all times. Until this day no one has skied from the summit of Laila Peak.

This summer we will spend about two weeks on Laila Peak. It will be the perfect warm-up for K2 and hopefully we can ski from the summit this time.

K2 is the second highest mountain in the world and is located on the border between China and Pakistan. Reinhold Messner called K2 the "Mountain of Mountains" after his ascent in 1979. This pyramid of a mountain is right in the heart of the Karokoram Range and can be seen in its entirety from Concordia. It is at the head of the Godwin Austin Glacier which unites with a second glacier at Concordia to form the famous Baltoro Glacier. It is said to be the ultimate climb, since many consider it to be much more technically challenging than Mount Everest.

The name K2 is derived from the notation used by the Great Trigonometric Survey. On 10 September 1856, Thomas Montgomerie made the first survey of the Karakoram from Mount Haramukh, some 130 miles to the south, and sketched the two most prominent peaks, labeling them K1 and K2.

In 1954 the Italians Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni were the first to summit K2. They climbed the Abruzzi ridge. After the 2008 season K2 has been climbed 298 times but so far no one has managed to make a complete ski descent of K2.

K2 is known as the Savage Mountain due to the difficulty of ascent and the high fatality rate among those who climb it. For every four people who have reached the summit, one has died trying. Among the eight-thousanders, K2 has the second highest climbing mortality rate.

After Laila Peak we will arrive at K2 base camp around June 20. Then we will use about three weeks for acclimatization before we try for the summit. The route we will try to climb and ski is called The Cesen Route and is the south-southeast ridge.

I will post news and photos regularly from the K2 Expedition so that you follow our progress.

Fredrik Ericsson

Sponsors:  Dynastar, Tierra, Osprey, Hestra, Grivel, Adidas Eyewear

Supporters: Tissot, Giro, Scarpa, Primus, Garmin, Honey Stinger, Ortovox, Exped, Jämtport  

 

 
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