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Big Avalanche on K2, Canadian Stuart Erskine and Team are OK

Canadian Stuart Erskine from Camrose, Alberta, travelled to the Karakorum this summer to climb K2 with Madison Mountaineering. Before his trip, he told the CBC on his approach to K2, “I’m a bit nervous to be honest. Not knowing what I might be getting myself in for. But I believe there’s no turning back now. If you sit back and think about it, you are pretty hard pressed to find an activity that has a 30-percent death rate.” In the past two years, Erskine climbed the Seven Summits, a goal made after seeing some photos taken by a friend of the seven peaks. In 2016, he skied to the South Pole and climbed Mount Everest.

Climbers had hoped to advance up the mountain on July 21, but snow kept them at camps one and two. On July 23, a big avalanche came down and destroyed camp three, luckily no one was there. Madison Mountaineering had this update, “Our team is now back down in base camp after our K2 summit attempt. Tomorrow was supposed to be our summit day, the weather currently looks perfect as predicted, clear skies and no wind. We had everything in position for our summit attempt, after about 5 weeks of preparations, we had established our high camps, had climbed to camp 3, and were looking forward to our summit. But it was not meant to be, as when we were preparing to climb from camp 1 to camp 2 on the morning of July 23, we saw a big avalanche come down the mountain. We later learned that this avalanche was massive, had started somewhere near our camp 4, and had covered nearly a third of the mountain down to the base, taking out our camps 3 & 4, nothing was left.

“We were lucky that we were not in these camps when the avalanche occurred. Without our equipment for our summit attempt (tents, oxygen, ropes, food, etc) we cannot continue our climb, we are now heading home, as are all teams. Yesterday we searched the avalanche debris field at the base of the mountain, about 7000′ below where the slide began, but found nothing, as the debris was around 10-20 ft. deep in most areas. We will leave base camp in a couple of days and trek out, then fly or drive to Islamabad and fly home. Even though we did not make the summit we had a great experience and and are thankful for the time we had in this beautiful mountain range.” Two Quebec climbers, Serge Dessureault and Benoit Lamoureux, were also attempting K2 and will be returning home without a summit push due to the avalanche.

Since the start of summer, there have been only been a few ascents of 8,000-metre peaks and they were on Broad Peak. Last week, nearly 20 climbers left base camp on Broad Peak, but were stuck at camp two after high winds and snow settled in. The following day, most climbers returned to base camp. Oscar Cadiach is currently going for the summit with his team, it would be his 14th 8,000-metre peak without bottled oxygen. On Nanga Parbat, Ferran Latorre is going for his 13th 8,000-metre summit without bottled oxygen and is currently on his summit bid. Most climbers on Nanga Parbat are awaiting another weather window. A number of attempts up the north face earlier this year ended with no summits. On Gasherbrum II, a number of teams are stuck at camp one awaiting better weather.