National Geographic : 2012 Apr
Tomorrow Is Our Day Here at last was a morning that gave them hope: Monday, August 22, Camp IV, 7,950 meters. e gales were gone, the snow had quit, the sky ran blue and cloudless to the black edge of space. For most of July and half of August the six members of the International 2011 K2 North Pillar Expedition had been shuttling up and down the seldom attempted North Ridge of the world's second highest peak. eirs was the only party on the remote Chinese side of K2, the Karakoram Range giant that rises 8,611 meters (28,251 feet) on the China-Pakistan border. e mountaineers were climbing the ridge (as it is commonly referred to, even though "ridge" un- derstates the steepness of the terrain) without bottled oxygen or high-altitude porters. What the team lacked in numbers it made up for in experience. e two climbers from Kazakhstan---Maxut Zhumayev, 34, and Vas- siliy Pivtsov, 36---were making their sixth and seventh attempts to summit K2, respectively. Dariusz Załuski, a 52-year-old Polish videog- rapher, was a veteran of three attempts. Tommy Heinrich, a 49-year-old photographer from Ar- gentina, had two K2 expeditions on his résumé but had also failed to summit. Most notable was Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner, a 40-year-old, dark-haired former nurse from Austria who was on her fourth trip to K2. If she succeeded this time, she would become the rst woman in history to climb without supplemen- tal oxygen all 14 of the world's peaks that exceed the mystique-endowed height of 8,000 meters (26,247 feet). She was leading the expedition with her husband, Ralf Dujmovits, 49, who had already climbed all of the 8,000-meter peaks (all but one without bottled oxygen) and was the foremost high-altitude mountaineer in Ger- many. He had reached the top of K2 from the Pakistani side on his rst try, in July 1994. It had taken 42 days for the six climbers to establish several camps connected by thousands of feet of rope xed across a route that includ- ed everything from vertical rock and ice to avalanche-raked slopes of chest-deep snow. ey pushed themselves to break trail in heavy snow, haul gear, shovel out campsites, pitch tents, melt ice. Many times they relinquished their gains on the mountain, going down to sleep at the lower elevation of Advanced Base Camp, at 4,650 me- ters on the K2 North Glacier. On August 16 they set out on what would be their rst and only real chance for the summit. e snow that had been falling for much of the summer had started again. ey reached Camp I, at the foot of the ridge, that day; avalanches roared and more than a foot of snow fell over- night. ey waited there for a day, hoping the snow on the slopes above would come down before they continued their ascent. On August 18 at 5:10 a.m. they decided to push ahead to Camp II. Every extra ounce was a burden; to save weight, Gerlinde le her journal BY CHIP BROWN PHOTOGRAPHS BY TOMMY HEINRICH Chip Brown reported on the search for Cleopatra in the July 2011 issue. Tommy Heinrich photographed a Polish expedition to Nanga Parbat for the January 2008 issue.