1982 K2 Expedition Report Part II
After Dusso, the path followed the Braldu River, whose source is on Baltoro Glacier. For three days from July 8th on, we passed one mountain village after another.
It is with mixed feelings that one leaves these populated regions. Man has brought much beauty to the land he has settled on, but also much that is ugly. I remember the loving care a man lavished on his feverish tubercular wife he had brought to us and the fatherly love and pride of one of our porters for his two dirty little girls he was showing to us.
In Askole, the last village, we visited the mayor, Haji Mahdi, whom we had gotten to know in 1975. He showed us his new house, his new young second wife and invited us to a meal. We bought seven goats from him as meat for our porters, and he gave us an eighth as token of his friendship. These goats seemed to be nice and plump but the next morning they were suddenly skinny. The reason for this change was that the beasts had been given a large amount of salt after which they had drunk great quantities of water, which filled them out. So different is the face of the mountains from the face of man.
After leaving the village we approached the Baltoro Glacier. It lies in a landscape of savage beauty untouched by man. This harsh beauty is not much softened by vegetation or fauna. Enormous, steep, towering monuments of granite on both sides of the stone-covered glacier give one an exhilarating sense of freedom in the clear bracing air. At the end are five mountains all over 8000 metersan awe-inspiring group of high peaks in a relatively small area.
The march was not easy for me for the path passed rolling scree, sheer rock and slippery iceall to be managed on crutches. In a difficult moment I rallied myself with the thought: if the goats, these walking pieces of porters' meat can get through here, so can I. I developed a skill with my crutches that bordered on the acrobatic and I believe I did not make one false step on my injured leg.
A period of good weather lasting three weeks began on the day of our arrival, just as if we had brought it with us. The three Austrians reached Broad Peak on July 23rd and hurried back to take advantage of the good weather for the ascent of K2. By July 27th, all five Austrians were in the Advanced Camp and in Camp 1 on K2 where the members of our expedition were hard at work.
Anna Czerwinska and Krystyna Palmowska had set up Camp 1, 6600 meters, and on July 27th, Camp 2, 6700 meters, with Christine de Colombel. Others were bringing loads up and down between camps. I managed to make it to the Advanced Camp, 5400 meters. Our Austrian comrades seemed not to be in much of a hurry for the final ascent; probably they still were feeling the effects of the 8000-meter climb to the summit of Broad Peak. Therefore, they were still in Camp 2 when Anna Okopinska and Halina Krüger-Syrokomska arrived there at midday with new loads. At 1:30pm, Halina reported by radio to Base Camp. She was in normal spirits and gave a colorful and funny report of the climb: "I have to ask God what kind of weather he intends for tomorrow," she said when we asked her her opinion of the forecast. Anna and Halina were lying in their tent after eating and were talking lazily. Suddenly, without warning, in the middle of their conversation, Halina became unconscious and died within a few minutes.
Seven years previously she had climbed Gasherbrum (8035m) without oxygen, accompanied only by Anna Okopinska. Afterwards she had done many climbs with Anna in the Caucasus and the Alps. Both were on an expedition to Makalu. Halina had had more than 20 years mountain climbing experience and had played a leading role in the organization and execution of many difficult ascents. This time the altitude and exertion had maybe combined to cause some deterioration, undetected until that moment, to be fatal.
We were not left alone in our misfortune. Each neighboring expedition offered us help. Several hours were taken up with interchanges with my fellow members, with the Austrians, with the Polish-Mexican K2 expedition and even with (Reinhold) Messner in his Broad Peak Base Camp. Then I made my decision: we would bring Halina's body back to Base Camp and bury her there at the foot of K2 in a burial place that already has a history. Mario Puchoz was buried there in 1954 and there hangs a plaque commemorating Nick Estcourt, who died in an avalanche in 1978.
We wanted Halina to have a real grave, something that would not have been possible in Camp 2. Her grave was to be accessible even to non-mountain climbers; maybe for Halina's daughter in case she does not become a climber.
In order to bring down Halina's body, our Austrian comrades interrupted their climb and gave their strength and skill to Halina's last journey. The Austrians brought the body down over the most dangerous and difficult part between Camp 2 and Camp 1 on July 31st. The same day our Polish-Mexican comrades took over the transport. In order to do this they too interrupted their climb for three days and walked eight hours from the Savoia Glacier to our Camp 1.
At the main camp the doctor thought at first that Halina had died of a brain stroke. Further discussion of the circumstances surrounding our friend's death led them to believe that Halina had died of heart failure. We said farewell forever to Halina on the 1st of August. It was a beautiful, windstill sundown and we had gathered all the flowers to be found at this altitude.
A feeling of solidarity united as mountain climbers. We were grateful for the sympathy and comradeship shown us by the members of the other expeditions, who, in doing their utmost for us, put aside their own goals.
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Wanda Rutkiewicz's 1982 Expedition Notes, Courtesy Arlene Blum