July 22, 2017. 8035 meters, 7 am. Strong winds and/or emotions? I can't help but fall on my knees and shed a few tears. Although I climbed Mount Everest in 2002, this is my first 8000-meter peak without oxygen. At the top, I see almost nothing. Even K2 is just a hill of clouds in the blue sky in the background. Marcos Costa is standing on the summit with me, and we congratulate each other. Over the last 10 years, I have crossed paths four times with this witty and unbelievably strong Brazilian rock climber, and always in some of the world's most remote locations, from the mountains of China to Patagonia. Either the Gasherbrum Glacier was not the most common place to meet.
When my French teammates summitted and then left base camp five days prior to my own summit attempt, I sincerely doubted that I would be able to find a reliable partner. One hour later, we crossed paths with Boyan on his way to the summit. This alpinist is a famous zoologist in his home country. Gasherbrum 2 is his 10th 8000-meter peak. Boyan's goal is clearly to become the first Bulgarian to summit all fourteen of the world's highest peaks. He is truly a novel character. After countless car crashes and crevasse falls, he has survived more than his fair share of near-death experiences. In spite of all the warning signs, he continues to cross heavily crevassed glaciers without a rope and to climb dangerously loaded slopes with not a second thought about the avalanche risk.
"There is a lot of new snow," people explained to him 10 days ago.
"The avalanche hazard is way too high. You should turn around."
"These snow conditions are normal for an 8000-meter peak," he replied. "We are not in the Alps. If you turn back you never summit. I keep going…"
And he kept going, alone, reaching 7850 meters after only 2 weeks of acclimatization!
The crazy way he breaks the trail is well known. This process is insane. He uses two ski-poles without baskets to plant them as deep as possible in the snow, and then he pulls on them like he is rowing. This allows him to gain one vertical meter per step but forces anyone following to break trail a second time to take "normal human" steps. If that was not enough, Boyan is also a diabetic. He suffers frequent and serious hypoglycemic attacks. Paralyzed in his tent, he will yell for help, and sometimes the situation takes a real turn for the worse if nobody is around to force sugar into his mouth.
Last but not least, the Bulgarian is a renowned scientist who works as an entomologist at the National Museum of Natural History in Sofia. You will never see him walking without a pair of tweezers and a glass flask of formaldehyde in his pocket just in case he makes an unexpected encounter with an unknown species of glacier spider. One such spider, Aulonia petrovi, discovered on the Baltoro Glacier a few years ago, is named after him. A truly unique individual, just as I said. This is the kind of incredible character you may meet and potentially climb with at Gasherbrum base camp. This time I will refrain from talking about Hussein, the Iranian backpacker who had never really climbed a mountain, barely knew how to tie into his rope, and yet managed in just three weeks to perform his patriotic duty by placing his country's green and red flag on the summit of Broad Peak, aka G2. He would have also attempted to place it on G1 if only he had found someone to climb with. I will also refrain from talking about Roger either, a young guy from Belgium who showed up in base camp with a pair of ascenders, but without category 4 sunglasses or high altitude mountaineering boots. The same applies to Carmen, the cute, 45-year-old Spanish girl who brought and carried 600 hundred meters of fixed ropes but had no clue of how to fix them. What can I say about the pathologically dishonest Polish climber who lied about being a mountain guide, falsely claimed to have climbed G1 with Ueli Steck, and convinced two naive countrymen to pay his guiding fees and travel expenses with no intent or ability to climb higher than Camp 3...
Base camp is a real tower of Babel, where you will meet and see the best and the worst humanity, listen to both the saddest and the funniest stories you have ever heard, and witness the most selfish and heroic behaviour. When Andre, a 60-year-old Italian climber, was left for dead at 7000m by some of his partners who were completely unaware of his life-threatening condition (Andre was stuck in his tent with cerebral edema when everyone left camp3), a team of three very strong Spanish climbers managed to save him, climbing up to his tent and bringing him back down to base camp. When Boyan was seen leaving the Camp 1 alone and then failed to return to the base camp the following night, it was almost a sure bet that he had probably broken through one of the horribly melted-out snow bridges above one of the many gaping crevasses to finally meet his Maker. After two or three loud-and-clear warning signs, he wisely decided to bivy on the glacier between two big holes, returning to base camp the next day with his tail between his legs. I could tell a dozen more anecdotes like these but I will keep them for the next time. The base camp is real a tower of Babel...
Some of the names have been changed to protect the innocent...
Texte and pictures : Guillaume Vallot / firstname.lastname@example.org
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Surging glaciers are one of the biggest enigmas in Glaciology. These are glaciers that can quickly accelerate and reach speeds over 5-10 m per day over several years.
Back from two months of adventures on the new continent full of powdery snow and bloody cracks.