Mike Horn talks about his experience on K2 expedition. — White Star
Mike Horn talks about his experience on K2 expedition. — White Star

ISLAMABAD: K2 was vengeful this year, said famous explorer and mountaineer, Mike Horn, who returned unsuccessful from the mountain.

This year not a single mountaineer was able to climb the mountain while in 2014 mountaineers set a record of the highest number of conquests of the world’s second highest peak.

“K2 rarely provides opportunities. This year was simply terrible– too many rock falls, avalanches and as a result climbers were injured. It was not just bad weather and the difficult climbing conditions, eight avalanches came down on the slopes of K2, four really big ones in one day,” said Mike Horn, adding that he had never heard of so many avalanches in one day in his entire life.

Mike Horn has been climbing in Pakistan since 2007. He has climbed Broad Peak, Gasherbrum I and II. In 2013, bad weather forced Horn to abandon his summit push on K2. He climbed the fifth highest peak Makalu, in Nepal, last year. But Horn was always more attracted to the Karakoram Range.

Despite possessing permits, team held in Skardu for two weeks

“My heart was set on returning to K2,” he told Dawn on Tuesday, before leaving for home.

He had driven to Pakistan.

Leaving his home in Switzerland on May 14, in two jeeps, provided by his sponsors, Horn drove through 11 countries, covering 11,000 kilometers, to reach Pakistan. His ultimate destination was K2 where his plan was to shoot a documentary film as he climbed.

In Pakistan, however, Horn’s team was in for a surprise when they got held up at an army security check post. Despite having visas issued from the Pakistani embassy in Switzerland and a permit to climb K2, he and his two team members were delayed for more than two weeks in Skardu.

In a last-ditch effort, the mountaineer Horn contacted former Pakistani cricketer and friend, Wasim Akram, who then helped get the expedition cleared. On the 18th day the team was allowed to proceed on their expedition.

When asked why he was stopped, he said that he was not sure. “Maybe it was my service record in the military or the fact that I also coach the Kolkata Knight Riders cricket team in India.” He added that he found the behaviour meted out to him disrespectful especially when “all of us had our visas and had paid for the permit to climb K2.”

On K2, bad weather and strong winds thwarted the team’s push to reach the summit.

The three members were climbing alpine style – light and fast without the complications of supplementary oxygen tanks, carrying gear and fixing ropes. Alpine style is faster than the conventional style of climbing which makes the journey five or six days long.

“We clung to the icy slopes with our ice axes and crampons because that is how we always climb,” said Horn reflecting on his journey on the mountain.

At 7, 500 meters (also called the death zone), a rock, which was the size of a football, almost hit the climber in front of Horn.

“It hit his back-pack and just as he warned us, tiny pebbles also came falling down and it was as if somebody was shooting at us,” he recalled.

He explained why he considered the death zone ‘special’. “At that height, oxygen in the air is as little as seven percent. The body is dying. A climber has to descend in 18 to 24 hours because after that one faces certain death. And that is the moment we had trained for – to truly push mind and body to stay alive,” he said as he gestured with his hands, as if he could not find the words to explain how exhilarating the challenge was.

However, the rock fall and the continuous bad weather forced the team to end their expedition.

With the hope that Pakistan would make it easier for tourists to see this beautiful country and meet its amazing people, Horn said that he intended to return next year to climb what he called the ‘mountain of mountains’.

However, this was a crazy and controversial summer for the mountaineer and not just because he was stopped at a check post and because he didn’t make it to the mountaintop. Horn’s footage on the climb offended some fans and viewers because it showed the remains of a climber who died on the mountain.

The criticism compelled Horn to offer his apologies and take the video down from his Facebook page.

“I do not look for sensation. My fans follow me for my authentic and true depiction of my adventures and see and appreciate the world through my eyes,” said Mike Horn.

Published in Dawn, August 6th, 2015

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