On August 1, 2008, Hermosa Beach climber Nicholas Rice awoke after a freezing night at Camp IV and made his way to just below the "Bottleneck". Rice, 23, was attempting to climb K2, the world's second-highest mountain, widely considered one of the world's most difficult summit (and one of the most deadly).
The Bottleneck, as the name implies, was an exposed section of the climbing route where climbers were dependent on fixed ropes set by other climbers and Sherpas for passage up and down. In this way, the Bottleneck is similar to Mount Everest's Hillary Step. Unlike the Hilary Step, however, the Bottleneck lay beneath a system of ice seracs—towering and unstable blocks of ice.
That morning at camp, Nick had spilled water on his socks, getting them wet. Consequently he got a late start that day. After about an hour of climbing, Nick (who was climbing without oxygen) still wasn't warming up. He decided the prudent course of action was to turn back, and he did so, returning to Camp IV. After resting at camp for several hours, Nick decided to continue descending. Other climbers continued upward.
Soon after that, Nick learned that the ice blocks overhanging the Bottleneck had broken loose in an avalanche, killing three climbers and stranding others above by destroying the fixed ropes.
Like the events described in John Krakauer's book Into Thin Air, the K2 avalanche has a ghoulish quality that lingers in the imagination. Discovering that the ropes—their lifeline—had been cut, the trapped climbers' options were extremely limited. I expect we'll see a great deal of coverage on this tragedy as more details emerge.
Nick has posted regular dispatches of his climb, including the avalanche and rescue efforts, on his website.
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