On my second attempt to climb K2 in 1994 I climbed with Woytek Kurtyka and Krzysztof Wielicki. For the first month we concentrated our efforts on a new route on the West Face. However, conditions there hampered our intentions and we eventually shifted to the South Spur (which leads to the Shoulder at 7900 meters). I took this photo looking across the slopes above the Bottleneck (the gully at 8200 meters below the hanging seracs) on our summit attempt. We turned around about 20 minutes from the top at approximately 8570 meters. We felt it was too late to go on and still descend safely. Rob Hall, climbing with O2, was the sole exception. He summited the mountain when we turned around but had severe difficulties on the descent when his O2 finished.
The North side of K2 lies in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region of northwestern China. It is a difficult and complex climb completed by about 35 climbers. I joined the Russian Expedition led by Ivan Dusharin and Andrei Volkov after experiencing uneasy feelings with the Polish International team I had originally travelled to K2 with. Ultimately both teams succeeded in reaching the top.
The Russian Team worked in four teams of four climbers each to alternate the hard work of tackling the difficulties and fixing lines where the terrain was steep. I joined the Russian Team midway through the climb.
I found the Russian climbers to be exceptionally open minded and very committed to climbing K2. Our most enjoyable moments centered around meal time.
Ivan Dusharin and I had met in 1978, 18 years earlier when we had both participated in the 1978 Soviet American Climber Exchange in Tadjikistan on Peak Communism. I found him to be the most skilled team leader I have ever met. His knack for understanding people and his ability to bring out the best in them is a skill I will always admire.
I had an especially good connection with the four man sub team from Novosibirsk. They were scientists and academics with an unfettered willngness to bring me into their fold. These men made me feel welcome and respected. I will never forget their generosity and kindness.
I summited with Sergei Pensov on August 15, 1996. An hour later Igor Benkin reached the summit while I waited for him. Mikhail Ishutin turned around just under the summit. Fromt this vantage point I could easily see how close we had come to the top two years earlier.
Igor Benkin reached the summit of K2 about an hour after I had with Sergei Pensov. On our descent to Camp V, Igor and I were benighted. Igor suffered from high altitude exhaustion and perhaps even cerebral edema. In great confusion, Igor lost track of reality and believed the thin lines we had placed on the ascent had been re-located to different anchors and would lead us astray. Eventually he insisted in re-climbing the slopes we were descending, ultimately leaving me with no choice but to continue down without him. This separation was the most painful mountaineering experience of my life.
Without food or fuel remainging in Camp V to search or even wait for Igor, Sergei and I continued down the mountain the day after summiting. We knew it was almost impossible for Igor to have survived the night alone. This tragedy instilled a huge sense of sorrow and loss among the team and overshadowed our ascent.