Here at last was a morning that gave them hope: Monday, August 22, Camp IV, 7,950 meters. The 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. Theirs 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. The mountaineers were climbing the ridge (as it is commonly referred to, even though “ridge” understates the steepness of the terrain) without bottled oxygen or high-altitude porters.
What the team lacked in numbers it made up for in experience. The two climbers from Kazakhstan—Maxut Zhumayev, 34, and Vassiliy Pivtsov, 36—were making their sixth and seventh attempts to summit K2, respectively. Dariusz Załuski, a 52-year-old Polish videographer, was a veteran of three attempts. Tommy Heinrich, a 49-year-old photographer from Argentina, had two K2 expeditions on his résumé but had also failed to summit.