Climbing the K2. The diary of Paul Hegge, first Belgian on top.

Saturday June 15
Arrival in Istanbul

Weather will be the most crucial factor for potential success on K2. Based on the departure we are assured of exciting times on the K2. The pilot barely managed to get the plane to land in Istanbul due to a storm. Although much later than planned, I missed the connecting flight to Islamaba

Sunday June 16
Unwanted rest day in Istanbul & night flight to Islamabad

Turkish Airlines was so generous to offer a tourist visit to Istanbul in addition to hotel and food, but it literally fell into the water. In the meantime 30 years ago that I was really in Istanbul again, but the city had not got any better with the personal cult of E. Time enough at the airport to brush up on my Urdu.

Monday June 17
Arrival at 4 am in the super new airport of Islamabad where I will be met.

The drive to the hotel brings me into the atmosphere. Although the most modern highway of Pakistan, all typical elements of traffic in the Indian subcontinent are covered. White road markings serve to indicate the center of the lane, interruptions for tolls or safety checks with an excessive number of staff and spectators, typical desert-like landscapes littered with chimneys for brick makers. The only missing element is animals as a means of transport. Maybe a little too early in the morning. The signposts towards Peshawar make me dream about the 'big game' in the 18theand 19thecentury. Today still very relevant for relations between Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and all under Russian influence Stans (Turk, Usbek, Tashek). After barely 2 hours of rest in the hotel, I already leave for the airport for our flight to Skardu (2,228m). It looks like we can avoid the dreaded but also fascinating 2-day bus ride on the Karakoram highway straight through Baltistant to Skardu. Four years ago - when climbing Gasherbrum 2 - I followed this path twice. We are effectively checked in and are barely an hour later in Skardu where we can catch a glimpse of the Nanga Parbat (8.125m) on which my friend Tunj Findik (expedition leader on Gasherbrum 2) is currently trying to climb his last of the fourteen 8,000m summits. as the first Turk. When landing, our pilot receives a loud applause - just like in Istanbul - navigating between the mountains before landing on the strip is indeed impressive.

The first contacts with the team are very promising. No difficult characters at first sight. Also great to see my sherpas from my previous climbs, Sanghai on G2 and Neema on Everest, as well as Noal Hannah, a professional Irish adventurer I had met on Everest. It soon becomes apparent that Sanghai will now also be my sherpa and Neema will be that of Noal. In addition, Noal and I share room and tent in the next week. Can't be better.

In the evening we try to watch Belgium - Panama on a mini-TV. Between the many black-and-white snow fields we only know 10 'after the facts that Lukaku scored the 2-0 and the 3thegool escapes us completely but well, Belgium started well.

Tuesday June 18
Rest Day in Skardu: Expedition briefing and preparation

This relatively quiet hamlet on the Indus is the last resort with a level of 'civilization' that is still known to us. The rest is only interrupted every few hours by the Name, call to prayer. When checking the material, my camera does not work. Weird but nothing to do ... Are we going to find anything like this in this village? Informal channels will certainly point the way? After a few questions on the bazar street, I am allowed to sit on the back of the motorcycle and I am taken to a shop with all kinds of electrical appliances. Between all the junk ... a more primitive version of my current camera where I can still use my current batteries. Not fantastic? It has undoubtedly cost me a solid 'bakshish' (commission for the motorcyclist) but the service is faster than that of any internet sales site in Europe.

Wednesday June 20
Drive from Skardu to Askole (2,600m): Camping

The 6-hour jeep tour is always just as exciting. But everything runs on 'bare' wheels, no landslides, no interrupted suspension bridges, The water in the Braldu river is clearly much lower than 4 years ago. Probably the biggest problem in Pakistan in the coming decades. An exploding population of around 180 million people who are completely dependent on the Indus for their water supply (of which the Braldu is a tributary) and whose flow rate is systematically falling or becoming very erratic (massive floods of 2010).

Arriving in Askole, I take Viridiana Alvarez, the youngest of our team with her 35 years on a visit through the village. She is a handsome Mexican, which causes a lot of commotion in the village. The men almost never get to see anything like this and the women are very curious. I try to interpret a little. The children are enthusiastic as always and come to show their toys in large numbers. Self-made cars on a string etc ... The star is the boy who has 1 plastic soldier whose arms and legs can move. I have to film him for minutes so that he can show all the movements of his soldier. It is so charming and painful at the same time. All children are as dirty as they are sympathetic But also here of course the annual expeditions make the demand for a pen, rupees or chocolate never far away. And the teenagers are able to start throwing stones if they don't like it.

We camp a first night but the heat prevents me from falling asleep.

Thursday June 21
Trek from Askole to Jhola (3,185m): Camping

We have started our trek of more than 100 km towards base camp. Today we leave the green fields of Askole for a desert landscape of rocks and sand. It is very hot and I feel bad. The tiredness of the preparation, training + full time work, followed by at least 2 white nights (yesterday and on the plane) and then the first - overly seasoned - camps, take their toll. Hopefully this is the first and last time that I have diarrhea.

My knees also seem to be anything but ready to pull. Exactly as if I have not had any training.

Friday June 22
Trek from Jhola to Paiyu (3,383m): Camping 

Fortunately today it is more cloudy and the heat is more bearable. The knees are less painful and the stomach holds ... After 6 hours we can pitch our tent in the shade of some trees in the last oasis. Glad it's a rest and acclimatization day tomorrow.

Saturday June 23
Rest day in Paiyu: Camping

Sunday June 24
Trek from Paiyu to Urdukas (4,130m): Camping

Suddenly everything goes better. I feel slowly in my locks and I am very well able to digest the transition from solid ground to the Baltoro glacier. From Urdukas we have a beautiful view of the Trango Towers and the Kathedral, very famous rock climbs, before the bad weather arrives.

Monday June 25
Trek from Urdukas to Goro II (4,250m): Camping

We are now completely in the glacial environment of the real high mountains. Trekking is going well but I am certainly not among the strongest of our team. Most are only a month back from attempts at other 8000m peaks (Kanchenchunga, Lhotse) in April and May and are still perfectly acclimated. Moreover, the majority is actually a professional climber ...

The view from Goro II on the Masherbrum is breathtaking. It is and remains one of the most beautiful mountains for me. We also have a beautiful view of Gasherbrum IV as well as III and even the tip of Gasherbrum II. It seems unlikely that I was above that 4 years ago. Broadpeak also occasionally peaks through the clouds.

Tuesday June 26
Trek from Goro II to Broad Peak Basecamp (4.572m): Camping

The first half of the trek to Concordia is going well. Temperature is ideal but it is overcast and all mountains are hidden from view. A bit of a shame because in Concordia all the major glaciers of the 8000 m peaks (the largest concentration in the world) converge.

After a short break we leave the Baltoro Glacier (after almost 60km) and head towards K2 on the Austin Godwin glacier. Not much later, it starts to snow heavily, so we start running ahead of our carriers for hours. Near the base camp for Broad Peak (8047m) we try to hide behind boulders, umbrellas and plastic wrap. For the first time we are cold ...

Wednesday June 27
Trek from BC Broad Peak to BC K2 (5,000m):

After just 2.5 hours we arrive in our house for the next 6 weeks. Despite the snowfall, our sherpas manage to pitch tents in a relatively short time. The luggage for the base camp (BC) also arrives and we can all install ourselves in our space tents. In the base camp we all have a private tent. Such a luxury !

Thursday June 28
Basecamp Rest Day

Snow all day long, I devoured Ed Veisturs (the first American to climb all 14 8,000 m tops without extra oxygen) his book about K2.

Friday June 29
BasecampRest Day

We are snowed in and serve to clear our tents every 3 hours. I delve further into the history of this fascinating country with all the recent evolutions of Afghan Taliban on Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban. In addition, I also try to gain further knowledge about climbing the K2 itself. Sophie (Switzerland) and Noal (Ireland) have had several attempts over the past few years, as well as our head climbing Sherpa Mingwha and expedition leader Dawa, both of whom have reached the top 1 *. Worldwide there are only a few people who have twice reached the top of the K2. This is in stark contrast to the Everest where several climbers have already risen more than 15 *. I think that says enough.

Saturday June 30
Basecamp

It keeps snowing but still goes hiking for 2 hours. It brightens up a bit in the afternoon. Reason enough to start a serious snowball fight with the whole team. It inspires sherpas and Pakistani high altitude wearers to dance to local and Western music.

Sunday July 01
Basecamp

First time sun this morning and a first time view of the giant past us: the K2. But for a moment he shows his top. It is impressive.

Despite lack of sun ... got up with sunburn on the face. Yesterday I forgot to put on sun cream (stupid of course but considering it was snowing almost all day long I thought that a cap would suffice but after a short walk between base camps of K2 and Broad Peak, I stayed for 2 hours before our dance session. done me bad ... a beginner's mistake.

We take advantage of the morning sun to shower and wash our clothes. By noon it is so hot that the tents have been converted into saunas. The half meter of snow melts like snow in the sun (seems logical to me).

The revival of the weather will, however, be short-lived. Massive snowfall is forecast in the coming days. There is currently no question of climbing higher. Hope and all we go up and down tomorrow to the advanced base camp.

Monday July 02
Basecamp - Advanced Basecamp (5300) - Basecamp

Today we started depositing some material in advanced basecamp (ABC). It took us almost 3 hours to get there because we lost our way through the glacier falls at the end.

It was great to 'fly back in' and step through the beautiful, rather short glacier trap that leads us to the foot of the Abruzzi ridge. Along the way we were able to catch a glimpse of camp 1 (6100). Real climbing has not yet happened, but it may be clear that it is going up steeply from ABC. It is anything but clear when I climb to camp 1 for the first time because the weather forecasts are not clear and rather bad for the coming days. Marek, one of the climbers who came to the base camp with our team but draws his 'plan' to make it to the top, leaves tomorrow morning at 3 am. He is a professional 'Adidas' athlete who plays for the Czech Republic. He will not follow our route (the classic Abruzzi route on the south side of K2) but will follow the Cesen route (also south side). He has found a Pole here to take this - even more technical - route together. Towards the end their route accompanies ours and they will probably descend later on our route on which they will find much more 'fixed ropes' to 'recline' (technique to descend on rope with back to the valley).

Before we make a top attempt (this may take weeks), I have to be able to go to camp 1 or camp 2 (6800m) once more than the rest of my team members because they are all better acclimatized considering they are in April and May already participated in other expeditions.

In the afternoon the traditional puja (traditional Sherpa ritual / prayer) took place. Miraculously, the clouds opened at the end of the puja and we could see the top of the K2. A good omen! Without puja ... no climb. That means that we are really going to start now.

Wednesday, July 4

We can start our acclimatization rounds! at 6 am I leave for the advanced base camp (no more than a material depot) at 5300m height where our crampons, climbing harness etc put on and put our first real passes on dr k2. it is 9 am and immediately steep up. we follow the edge of a snow field on the abruzzi ridge. it is snowing but there is not much wind and my ice-waterfall climbing gloves are already there. in terms of rhythm it is necessary to adjust to make almost half an altimeter at every step. in the beginning it is still possible to take 15 steps in succession, later this will be 10 and the last 200 meters I have to blow out every 5 steps. regularly a clutter and rumbling sound interrupts my monotonous breathing. to look up ! where does it come from? another avalanche for sure? the excitement of this morning to really start the climb of the k2 makes way for the awareness of the reputation of this mountain. Of course we try to climb on the ledge as close as possible, but still ... the closest avalanche passes at about 30m.
at 2.30 pm I arrive in camp 1. sanhhai is already creating space for our tent. I shovel snow for another half hour and at 3.30 pm we crawl into our tent. we have climbed 1100 m above 5000 m in just 8.5 hours.

not much will probably come into the house from sleep. despite our efforts, the tent surface runs downwards in 2 directions. I slide into Sangai's place every 15 minutes. apart from that our Japanese neighbors can't get any sleep either and they just get on with it.

Thursday, July 5

K2

sit in camp 1 at 6100 m with sanghai as a tent mate, at 10 m norbu and ganga sit in the second tent. we are really sitting here on an eagle's nest on a protruding rocky point where there is room, well, you have to create your own platforms for about 10 small tents. far too little for the number of climbers out there. that's going to cause problems. the location is very impressive. it is the only place where a little tent can be set up. the edges of the k2 are so steep! an avalanche passes every hour on both sides of our eagle's nest.
not going up again today. I had already decided to hold an adaptation day here and to sleep a second night here. tomorrow we hope to go to camp 2 at 6800m, spend the night there and descend the next day to our base camp. tomorrow, after all, the rest of our team would come to camp 1, so room must be made.
my biggest effort today is to crawl out of the tent to go to the toilet. I take my ice ax and with both hands firmly anchored I squat over the ledge. after all, it wouldn't be the first
times that a climber does not return from a toilet visit.
and the Japanese ... their getater even drowns out the howling wind! so you don't have to come to k2 for a rest. who said again that it will mainly be a mental test?

Friday evening, July 6

Suis de retour au campe de base apres 3 jours. atteint le camp 1 a 6100 m avant hier et dormi 2 nuits la-bas,

objectif etait d'aller au camp 2 a 6.700m corn j'ai du retourner a 6550m a cause of crampes dance les bras. tres decevant. sans doute une carence (magnesium?) la montte est extremement raide sans repis, k2 rien a voir avec les autres 8000m que j'ai grimpe. je me sentais de l'attaque ce matin et ce soir you me sens abattu. ce ne sera sans doute pas la derniere fois. ce k2 est impressive. il faut direct que temps ne m'etait pas favorable, le vent etait glaciale et la neige semble entrer partout malgre les vetements. il faisait tres froid.

Saturday, July 7

It was hard to sleep last night. I made the wrong move in the tent last night and shot something in my buttock and back. kind of sciatic that prevented me from sleeping painlessly and of course makes me ask about my health. I did back and leg exercises this morning to loosen everything and it is already a lot better. Marek, our Czech adidas athlete also gave me a magnesium boost against cramps last night. the arms still feel very tense but they no longer cramp. ahfin, an extra day of rest tomorrow will still be needed. all the minor ailments of the past few weeks add up: diarrhea, hemathoid, burned face (beginner's mistake), the usual blisters of the feet, sprained finger, muscle cramps and a bit of sciatic ... We're going to stick to that in terms of health issues.

This morning for the first time the weather was beautiful and for the first time we were able to admire the k2 in all its spendeur. I was already a little jealous of my other expedition members who will now certainly get to camp 2. A shower and a shave later, I feel much better mentally and then…
I learned that just under Camp 2 a first accident occurred in which Serge, the leader of a 3-person Quebec expedition, made a 1500m fall. I didn't know him but 1 of his team members Nathalie. sophie, one of our team members and good friend of nathalie, was on his way to camp 2 and saw serge fall. he was descending House Chimney, one of the big obstacles just before camp 2 and something must have gone wrong. sophie has descended back with nathalie - of course in shock - and has just returned to our base camp. tonight we have dinner with the quebec expedition members. the news has of course kept me busy all day.
all our other team members have arrived safely in camp 2.

Monday, July 9

A sleepless night behind me when I start to get ready at 4.30 am to pull a third time to the foot of the abruzzi ridge. the glacier trail presses me on the facts that kept me awake last night. I lead ganga and her sherpa (mine has already left to bring oxygen to camp 3 and will only find me on my way back in camp 2 in 3 days) not in the footsteps of other climbers but in the glide of Serge's body who brought the sherpas yesterday from the foot of the abruzzi through the glacier to the base camp so that repatriation can happen today with helicopters.
after 2.5 hours we are at the foot of the k2. we put on our climbing harness and our climbing irons and we take it
our climax in hand. from now on a minimum of 5 hours of non-stop dredging in deep snow, over ice and rocks to camp 1. the weather is excellent and we seem to be the only ones on the mountain. I am gradually starting to make peace again with this mountain. since nobody seems to have climbed to camp 1 that morning, we must break our own path. often some sherpas alternately take care of this. However, norbu clearly does not feel like it and is keeping behind his client ganga. ganga cannot or will not take over because she knows only too well that this minimum requires 30% more energy. when after 4 hours of 'tracing' my candle is gradually out, Purbu finally proposes to take the lead. around 12.30 we reach camp 1. time to recuperate and drink soups. I know from experience that little food is still attractive beyond the 6,000m mark. but my own mixture of hard-boiled eggs, tuc salt cookies and saucis tastes huge. with the hum of the rotors of the Pakistani army helicopters in the glacier valley I turn a page, tomorrow will be a crucial test for me.

Tuesday, July 10

For a moment the wind picked up heavily at night and I feared that further climbing would not be possible. but by 5:30 am the wind went down and at 7:15 am I hacked into the ice for the first time under a bright sun. I quickly got into a good rhythm although the terrain became even steeper. a couple of sherpas had left half an hour earlier. I would normally not see them anymore because of their speed. but also norbu and ganga were soon different lengths behind and so I got the feeling that I had the k2 for myself. awesome ! finally I started to enjoy the climb and occasionally at rest to look around instead of bending over my ax bent for oxygen. at the foot of House Chimney, the last major obstacle for camp 2, I even accompanied the previously departed sherpas. what a difference with 5 days earlier when, numb, disconcerted in my arms and disillusioned, I hadn't even gotten here but could only go down completely. the few days of rest, better acclimatization, the liters of magnesium water but also the beautiful weather make a huge difference. without the latter, this giant seems to me to be climbing, with good weather there might be a small chance. with fresh courage I start the chimney climbing house chimney. the shrine is full of ice, but by continuing to climb on the outside with well-spread legs it is a real windfall. Three quarters of an hour later I am in camp 2. seeing that nurbu and ganga are quite behind, I leave my backpack behind and climb for more than an hour to get a view of the next big obstacle 'black pyramid'. however, at 6800m I think it is a good idea and I descend back to camp 2 at 6650 m where ganga has just arrived. it is now 2 pm and time to recover after a successful test!

george, 57 years old and national american and ex-refugee from Ceaucheskou, I came across while he was descending - after spending 2 days in camp 2. A bit of an odd figure, once married to a Nepalese and at that time already built up a rich Himalayan experience. after a years of divorce affair, he makes his comeback here. before that he and our team came to the base camp and enjoy the same support in the base camp. once on the mountain he has to take care of his own logistics and he counts on some Pakistani high porters (and on the work of our sherpa /;). he suggested that I use his tent that was placed in the highest place just below a large overhanging rock. I was only too happy to use this rather than being crammed with 3 in 1 tent which, moreover, showed that - in the absence of any team member - up to 3 * people had done their needs and had not cleaned anything up. double shame!
Miracle: My satellite phone is working for the first time and I can phone Thais and Nathan as well as leave a message with my parents.
although I can go to bed almost luxuriously in my 1-person tent, I can hardly sleep. an old very pops up: height apnea. every time I fall asleep, a lack of oxygen forces me to gasp for breathing and I wake up again. apparently my body is not completely adjusted yet. for a while I try to concentrate on the creaking of this mountain and on the numerous avalanches that pass. depending on the sound, I try to estimate the size, distance and direction. on the ridge itself that we climb, we are basically spared from avalanches but I still comfort myself with the thought that every avalanche would pass over my tent under the overhanging rock. the second part of the night the apnea diminishes and I can sleep happily for a few hours.

Wednesday, July 11

Going to the toilet is undoubtedly the least pleasant and most dangerous in the higher camps on the k2. I can understand that someone is even entitled to put his big need in the tent, but it remains unacceptable. it is half past five in the morning and I dress half, take half an hour to put on my shoes and crampons and go out with my ice ax to squat a few meters from the tent .... A life-threatening undertaking without some protection because I can't click anywhere since I can't put on my climbing harness. Discretion is also not possible. early birds are testing their material one last time in front of their tent. only an hour later, a soup and a can of fruit mix later, I am ready to descend to the base camp. we have about 1650m to descend today. the american team Madison has unfortunately also decided to descend again.
after only 100m descending we are therefore moving to
to recall house chimmey. several climbers get stuck and it takes no less than an hour for my turn. Fortunately the weather is fantastic today because otherwise things will just go wrong here. an hour of exposure in bad weather here can be fatal for many. we just need an extra rope here if we want to avoid accidents on the 'top days'.
a little later I pass the section in great concentration where Serge fell 1500m five days earlier. then I get into the rhythm and when the american team rests a little longer in camp 1, I can break free from the 'peloton' and continue to descend at my own pace. for a moment I am still startled by a snow avalan for which I dive behind a rock but which eventually passes by about 10 meters. for the rest, the toughest (but much safer) is the 2-hour trek from the foot of the abruzzi ridge to the base camp.
I am just too late for lunch but the cook is always ready to prepare a hot meal. to comfort me for the loss of Belgium against France, what I just get to know, I get French fries with baked potatoes as vegetables ...
meanwhile, no news from ganga where a sherpa has remained. she is apparently altitude sick exhausted and only comes in 5 hours later.

Thursday, July 12

Nous sommes tous de retour au campe de base. les sherpas des differents equipes ont pu grimper au dela du campe 3 et ils disent que la condition de la neige et de la glace en haut est bonne. apd maintenant nous attendons une series de jours avec de beau temps cad surtout tres peu de vent. selon les previsions ce ne sera probablement pas toute de suite

Friday, July 13

Not much to do today. Visit of a number of expedition leaders in our dining tent to make arrangements for the top attempts. After all, I do see some logistical problems: with 40+ sherpas we are with too many climbers for too little space on the mountain both in terms of tents and in terms of narrow passages (corridors) that can only be dropped. If everyone tries to reach the top on the same day, this can lead to dangerous situations. There are a few mountaineering legends such as Dan Mazur who was already there in 1992 with the American expedition of Ed Veisturs (1st American who climbed all 8000 people) with Scott Fischer, Rob Hall (the 2 expedition leaders who died at Everest in 2008 , now filmed drama) etc…

in the afternoon just descended to the art gilkey memorial at the foot of the k2 where there are commemorative pictures of the many climbers who never returned. many names evoke whole stories. it is of course a small world. self-pity is, of course, out of place, we look for it yourself - so to speak. but such a visit is always a strong reminder so that your family does not experience this.

stories sometimes suddenly come together at the table. for example, I spoke with Ali, our Pakistani high porter, who was on k2 in 2014 with a Brazilian client, when he tried to make it clear to a solo climber that it was too late to go to the top. but he ignored that. the person concerned turned out to be a miguel from whom tunc find and I - on the way back from the ascent of the gasherbrum 2 - would have witnessed his last conversation with his wife. It still gives me goosebumps.

Saturday, July 14

Third day of rest; We are waiting for the starting signal for the final climb that will cost us about a week. the weather looks good but there is hesitation. hopefully a decision will be made today

Time to introduce our complete team:

Team presentation (more than 33 successful 8000m top climbs + at least as many attempts + 30 summits solely by our main climbing Sherpa and the 3 personal Sherpas from Noal, Sophie and I):

Sophie Lavaud: Switzerland 50 years old, professional since 2010, has already climbed seven 8,000m peaks, has just returned from Kanchenchunga where she had to return only a few hundred meters from the summit. This is her third attempt at K2.

Noal Hannah: Ireland / South Africa, 51 years old, professional adventurer, guide on Everest, was already 8 * at the summit of Everest North. Was in the same expedition as Sophie on Kanchenchunga in April-May. This is his second attempt at K2.

Krishna Thapa Magar: Nepal / UK-London,: 39 years, professional Gurkha (special forces of UK), who has just finished his 20 years active service and can now stay with the freedom to climb 6 months a year etc ... He has already topped Dhaulaghuri and Everest (South) and was previously also at Makalu and Manaslu. This is his first attempt at K2.

Viridiana Alvarez: Mexico, 35, leadership consultant who has focused on climbing 8000m in the last 4 years. Started with Manaslu, top Everest South last year and reached the top of Lhotse on May 13 this year. Also her first attempt at K2.

Yoshi,: Japan, 41, project engineer consultant active throughout the world. Top attempts at Cho Oyu, G2, Manaslu but only top of Everest South so far. First attempt K2.

Ganga: Mongolia, 48 years old, the first and only woman from Mongolia who is the 7 summits has done with of course Everest Nord, in addition also attempts at Broad Peak and she was here in 2013 for the K2 Professional mountain guide and coach. Second attempt at K2.

Naoko: Japan, 36, returned in May from the same Kanchenchunga expedition (2theattempt) as Sophie and Noal. Previously reached the top of Manaslu, Makalu, Cho Oyu and Everest. Also has 2 attempts on Annapurna 1 and one on Nanga Parbat on her asset. She lives half-yearly as a nurse in Japan and she climbs the rest of the year. This is her second attempt at K2.

Li: China, 54, rich Chinese businessman who achieved the 7 summits this year with the climb of the Everest and also visited the 2 (north and south) poles. After the climb of Everest, he decided to climb all 14, 8000m peaks as quickly as possible at all costs. The way is subordinate to the necessary time, so maximum use of oxygen and sherpa support.

Running Sister: China, 29, young Chinese top athlete Li took on to climb all 8000m peaks. Kind of personal slave whose real name we never even hear. We should call Running Sister according to Li. This would be a reference to the ultramarathons she runs. She only speaks Chinese.

Mingwa: Nepal, 29 years old, leader of the climbing Sherpa rope fixing team, previously climbed six 8,000 m summits, reached the summit of the K2 for the first time in 2014.

Sanghai: Nepal, 33 years old, my climbing Sherpa, together we reached the top of G2 in 2014. Previously, it was also at the top of the K2. 6 tops in total. This will be his second ascent on K2.

Neema: Nepal, 43 years old, Climbing Sherpa by Sophie, with whom I climbed Everest north side in 2016. I have been at the summit of Everest 9 times already. First attempt at K2.

Pemba: Nepal, 36, Noal's climbing Sherpa, 11 successful 8000m climbs of which 7 * Everest

Chan Dawa Sherpa: Nepal, 37 years old, expedition leader base camp, climbed all 14 8,000m peaks between 2000-2013 where 6 twice and Everest in addition to 2 * along the south side also once along the north side.

Add to this 6 Nepalese sherpa and 3 Pakistani elevators and then we have almost the whole team.

Monday, July 16
Base camp (5100m) - camp 1 (6100m)

We set off at 5.30 am. Sophie takes the lead from the first meters of the real climb. It's very warm. Myself and Noal follow in her footsteps and by 1 pm we can settle in camp 1. The rest of the team follows in the following hours. Our Chinese friends only arrive around 6 pm ... a sign on the wall? I sleep with Noal and his sherpa in 1 tent. In the middle I get sandwiched which is not exactly comfortable sleeping.

Tuesday, July 17
Camp 1 (6100 m) - camp 2 (6650 m)

Again Sophie takes the initiative and we get to camp 2 quickly. We get in just before the big snowfall. Fortunately, the wind remains low. The other team members also arrive in the course of the afternoon. Some of them, including the Chinese, are already oxygenated. Again, my night is anything but invigorating like a sardine can.

Wednesday, July 18
Camp 2 (6650m) - camp 3 (7200m)

Today it is not only snowing, but the wind is also increasing. I feel in my element on this trail of mixed rock, ice and snow climbing and take the lead for hours. Around noon we pass an intermediary camp set up by the Japanese. It actually starts to storm and we contact the base camp. Dawa insists on continuing to camp 3. I move on immediately and Sophie and Noal join me after a good hour. The route is getting tougher and the powder snow is approaching us from all sides. A number of sections become a real hell. One of the rock sections has meanwhile become a snow river where powder snow flows down at great speed. It is very difficult for me to hold on to and I only crawl up slowly. There follows a final rock traversée, after which a snow climb follows to camp 3. Meanwhile, Jake and Thomas (team Dan Mazur that climbs with us) have come to my height and Jake takes the lead. I am only too happy that he continues the shift work through the snow and that I can nestle in his trail. However, the powder snow and the wind are so strong that within a fraction of a second its track is erased. I quickly lose ground and a little later when Sophie and Noal are also nearby, I can reach camp 3 with them with our sherpas who - despite the wind - manage to put everyone in tents. It is waiting for the other team members. However, they do not seem to come anymore.

Although they climb with oxygen, they stayed overnight in the intermediary camp of the Japanese. What now ? Are we going to have to wait for them? Is the team split?

Again my night's rest depends on that of my tent mates. So I sleep half of them ..

Thursday, July 19
'stuck in' camp 3 (7200m)

In the morning we learn that our cord fixing team has not been able to make any progress and that it makes no sense to go to camp 4. The weather is also very uncertain and the question is whether our fixing team is also working today to secure camp 4 and higher. This becomes frustrating. Every hour that we spend longer at this altitude without oxygen without making progress can cost us dearly. It will certainly cost Marek, our Adidas athlete from the Czech Republic, very expensive. He would accompany us from the Cesen route in camp 4 to continue climbing from there once the higher top route was secured. What we did not know at that time is that the help promised by Poland never came to him. Exhausted from the virtually single-handedly set-up of the Cesen route, he cannot afford any further delay and is obliged to descend. His second attempt also failed in this way.

The rest of our team arrives during the day. They are better equipped than us. They climb and sleep with oxygen anyway.

However, it remains nerve-racking. The weather reports contradict each other, the news from our cord fixation team is contradictory. What do we do ? Does our adventure end here? At a certain moment we get the 'order' to pack and descend back. There goes the dream ... Mentally we get a thump. But we are hesitating to go down ... the base camp says that there might still be another chance the following week. The latter does not seem to be consistent with the long-term weather reports. Furthermore, especially Sophie, Noal and I feel that we cannot repeat immediately after the efforts made.

In the end it is decided to wait for the night and to make a new status at 6 o'clock in the morning.

The day of rest with 3 in a small tent at this height is not good for me. It must now be able to go up quickly in order not to lose any more energy.

Friday, July 20
Arrival camp 4 (7550m)

At 6 am we get the green light to continue to the great relief of everyone.

Around 11:30 we arrive in camp 4 on the 'shoulder' of the K2. The camp is located on the lower part of the shoulder. Most expeditions place their camp 4 about 150 m higher because this makes the top day a bit shorter, but our advanced team of 7 top Sherpas from 3 different expeditions had not got any further than here with fixing ropes and bad weather already hesitated for a few days to continue. From here you basically get a view of the top and especially the impressive 'bottleneck' and its overhanging 'serac / ice formation' that form the last major defensive wall of the K2. It is there that the success of most expeditions and the lives of their participants are decided. The great dramas of 2008 (just 10 years ago) and 1993, but also those of the first climbs in the 1930s, took place there. However, it is snowing quite hard and we have no idea whatsoever of what awaits us. Around 12 o'clock Noal, his sherpa Temba and myself can get into a tent.

Once again I find myself sandwiched between Temba and Noal and I can hardly pass on any movement from one to the other. There is not much sleep in the house, but this time I am lying on my nose with an oxygen mask that brings me to rest. Although the oxygen level is at the lowest possible (0.5) I feel a huge difference with the night before. My breathing is calm and during 3 hours I feel a great serenity in which the whole family and friends pass the review and come to support me in one way or another. We are back in action around 5 pm. We strip our backpack of everything that is somewhat unnecessary to get to the top. We prepare our one and only real meal of the day which, moreover, must take us another 24 hours. On the menu an Irish-made pasta soup supplemented with white rice and mashed potato powder. I have eaten worse at more than 7500m.

At 8 pm Noal and I are the first to get to the top. It has stopped snowing and it seems to be a clear night although our front lamps do not reach far. I hesitate to leave because I really feel unable to pull the group and open the way. There is way too much fresh snow to plow through. Taking the initiative now is going to cost me too many forces that could well cost me the top. I think I have done my share more between camp 2 and camp 3 and now count on others to take their responsibility. I am thinking in particular of those who have been hanging on the oxygen cylinder since camp 2 or even earlier (in the case of our Chinese team members). Eventually 2 Sherpas take the lead followed by Noal and myself. As a fourth person, I already have more or less footprints in which I can step.

Climbing at night always has something special. You actually live hours away from everything and everyone and you try to guess where you are based on your altimeter and descriptions you've ever read. We pass for hours on the 'shoulder' of the K2, the least steep part of the climb on which only occasional fixed ropes are provided. For the rest, we need to orient ourselves on the basis of small flag posts that should be placed every 100 meters. However, it is rather foggy and our sherpas are regularly lost. Sometimes it becomes very steep, whereby we only use the front teeth of our crampons while there is no form of protection (fixed rope). Any loss of balance is fatal. You feel the nervousness that people are looking for the right way.

After about 4 hours, the ascent suddenly increases enormously again and we feel back with the fixed ropes. We have undoubtedly begun to climb the famous bottleneck and head towards the infamous 'traversée', horizontal crossing, under the largest sérac, ice formation that hangs over us from the top of the K2. It is at that very moment that the sherpa of Yoshi, our Japanese, replaces his oxygen cylinder. I cannot help but wait because there is no place to pass without endangering the lives of the 3 of us. Because of this delay we lose touch with the group and it gives me a mental blow. I found the pace so far in the 'peleton' already killing and without any break, but now that we were released, it didn't seem sustainable anymore either. Yoshi was already the slowest climber of all of us anyway, but now I saw the opportunity and I still had the strength to pass him to get back in touch. On the contrary, the sections of quasi vertical rock but especially ice climbing followed each other in rapid succession and I found it increasingly difficult on the ice climbing sections. My technique started to deteriorate and I started to climb on strength and on rope, which of course I quickly started paying cash physically. Cramps shot in my arms and the scenario of giving up suddenly became very real. I hopelessly searched for cracks in the ice to put my fingers or my feet but either there were none or I could not see them. My cursed glasses were constantly masked and with the oxygen mask, balaclava and downsuit hood on, your lateral vision is almost non-existent anyway. Because the rope was almost frozen, the jumar (safety blocking system) had little control over it. When I had won a few meters and suddenly lost my footing again, I just slid back down. Every time an emotional shock to come to a halt again, but above all a physical and mental blow that I had not hit a meter higher. The front teeth of my crampons couldn't get a grip on the ice and I kept thinking about the new pair of ice waterfall crampons that I had in base camp. Although they could certainly have come in handy, I had not taken them with me on the advice of other climbers to save weight. The universal crampons had to suffice.

I became desperate and gradually began to curse everything and everyone including my Sherpa Sanghai. I didn't get any information from him even though he had climbed the K2 before? 'Sanghai' where the f ** are we? Sanghai, when the f ** is this going to end? Sanghai, how many more of these f ** vertical ice sections? ' but no answer. I do feel his frustration that we are progressing so slowly and that the summit may not be reached. But he also makes me feel that it cannot be that far anymore ***.

In the meantime it is dawning. Normally an overwhelming mystical moment for me on this kind of mountains. However, I can hardly get excited about it now. One time I see the typical yellow band in the distance, a second time I see that we are above an enormous gray cloud mass, which means that only 1 peak (Broad Peak ???) punctures. However, it all leaves me cold. I can't enjoy it. I look up and see Yoshi painfully slowly but apparently stoically dragging himself upwards. He uses a different technique. He plants his entire feet against the wall and - hanging on the rope - he straps his body to pull himself up step by step. Original and borrowed from rock climbing when you are tired and you are assured of a higher fixed rope. But dangerous in our circumstances where we use a thin static rope for safety. The condition of these ropes and the anchoring is often very questionable. I check the condition of the rope at each anchor to decide whether or not to use it ... Serge's death is only 2 weeks behind us and another Slovenian climber Thomas already had an almost death experience when his rope snapped. Yoshi puts all his life in the hands of the rope. The least crack and it is 3000m lower at 10 seconds. Yet I only borrow his idea just to relax a bit and shake the cramps out of the limbs, among the few climbers I make. It helps.

However, it remains vertical and just when I think I don't have the least strength in my arms to even keep myself in balance, let alone climb further up, suddenly a horizontal fracture of barely a half a meter and a snow base. I sit down exhausted and suddenly Jake rushes past me: “Congratulations Paul! Thanks for all the preparatory work! You did it! We are there ”. I answer Jake **: “What the f * are you talking about? I am exhausted, I have no idea how far it is still, I can't climb any ice section anymore! ”He recalls' It's about Paul, it's finished, no more difficulties, we are now apparently on the boring walking section of the snowdome or K2, it's just a matter of a couple of hours, see you at the summit '. I look up and indeed only see a big snow mountain in front of me.

It gives me a huge boost. Barely half an hour later, I look over the edge of the K2 over Chinese territory for the first time. The only thing left is to climb a huge snow corniche in the shape of a moon that forms the top of the K2. I have since joined up with a few other team members and halfway through these corniche all climbers are gathering together ... we have caught up with the rope fixing team and the very last sections to the top are not yet secured. Some want to make their way to the top with their ice axes, but in the end the mind gets out of the emotion. A final piece of rope of 100m is passed from the back to the front and 1 of the youngest sherpas shows his abilities by climbing up in one go. An hour later we all set ourselves back in motion and at 8 am local time we are at the top with about 25 climbers and sherpas.

Saturday, July 21
Top of the K2 (8644m)

The weather is not great. We only have snatches of vistas and are plagued by mini snow tornadoes. One is more enthusiastic than the other, but it is not that simple to take some nice photos or videos in the crowds. With the planting of the Belgian flag and the realization that a Belgian has never been here, some emotion is released. However, it remains rather cool. It is also quite cloudy to film the surroundings, which disappoints me. There are quite a few firsts in our team: the first Swiss, the first Mongolian, the first Latin American, the first Irishman (with the chance to return alive), several sherpa with double ascent which is exceptional, a record 3thetop climb by a Pakistani ... I soon walk to the 'exit' to start the descent. After all, I feel an enormous pressure to get out of here alive. On the way back, however, Sanghai is watching me with a Gopro. I approach him and we hug each other's arms and for a few seconds the emotions are released.

Paul-hegge-K2

Then together we start the long dangerous descent of no less than 2000m to camp 2.

I take revenge on the ice sections with quick reminders and find myself quite quickly in the traversée of the bottleneck. However, due to the foggy weather, visibility is minimal. An advantage or a disadvantage? The advantage is that I am not impressed, the disadvantage is that I do not get a real picture of the most famous part of the mountain.

It will be exciting on the shoulder of the K2. Sanghai and I are constantly in the clouds, so visibility is often zero and we cannot find our way back. We wait patiently until we see a flag and then descend as quickly as possible in that direction until the clouds close again etc ... It would not be the first time that climbers here lose their lives. After all, the faces of the K2 are so immense and if you don't find the right 'exit', you can easily find yourself on inexplicable slopes. It is here that in 2008, Wilco Van Roijen (Dutch top climber), among others, went the wrong way. However, with the necessary patience we find the fixed ropes and from then on it is relatively simple: one sequence of dozens of reminders, hours in a row. It is a matter of concentration, especially with every change and when crossing emerging climbers. A small mistake is usually fatal.

Around 5.30 pm I arrive in camp 2. Noal, Sophie and Krishna have already descended further and hope to get to our base camp. Camp 2 was the goal for me. I am far too tired anyway to descend further in a safe manner. About 50 reminders separate me from the real safety, but camp 2 is by far the least susceptible to avalanches and I can finally sleep on my own. My satellite telephone works at this height and I can call both Nathan (on holiday in Spain) and with Thaïs to reassure them with good news. I am not there yet, but I do start to believe that I am from here. With a liter of water I try to keep the cramps away due to extreme dehydration. Another bowl of cold rice against hunger and we can finally sleep for more than 36 hours. At 6 o'clock in the morning I start - I hope so - to put on my heavy boots, climbing harness and climbing irons one last time.

** Jake, Brit, was the youngest ever to climb the Everest at the age of 21 and with it the 7 summits. In addition, he also holds the world record of climbing all the highest mountains in North America (within the month or so). Together with Thomas van Slovenia, he forms a small team with 3 Sherpas coordinated by the legendary Dan Mazur. We have already sympathized with each other during the trek to the base camp and we climb the K2 as one team.

*** Now back in the base camp and with the current insight, I also understand that he could not tell me so much because the conditions on this mountain can vary from day to day to such an extent that - in my opinion - almost insurmountable and numerous ice climbing sections on another day just be vertical soft ice ladders where you can easily hit with your crampon etc ... Yesterday Sanghai also visited my tent where all my climbing equipment was drying. Upon closer inspection it also appears that the front teeth of my universal crampon turn out to be completely blunt. Since the purchase 5 years ago they have indeed never been auctioned sharply and they have climbed three 8000m peaks. Profit or loss is often in details.

Sunday, July 22
Back in base camp

At 2 pm I sit down for lunch in our main tent. Noal, Sophie and Krishna have returned the evening before at 9 pm. An hour later, Viridiana and Yoshi of Japan follow me and the line closes at 9 pm, when our cook can present his 'victory cake' to the entire team. Whether Yoshi has consciously experienced this, however, I doubt.

It has been careful to the end. During my last 100m real descent, a last snow avalanche still tries to take me in extremis while our expedition leader Dawa is on watch from the advanced base camp with a bottle of coke in my hand… I was not aware of any harm and just barely on time on the rocks on the edge of the snow (couloir) to the great relief of Dawa. A coke later, I leave for the last time through the ice waterfall from the glacier to our base camp with Sanghai. In a week's time, the ice waterfall has changed completely and has become particularly beautiful with many deep rivers, glacial ponds and, above all, particularly dangerous. At a certain moment my right foot slips and I end up with 1 full weight on one of my trekking poles, which, however, folds completely. A hard landing on the back follows but without a hitch. In a few days, the low-back bloodshed will be forgotten and I have a spare trekking stick in the base camp for the way back. After 1.5 hours the glacier finally flattens out and an 'eternal' trail hike to the base camp follows. In a few days it has become high summer and half a meter of snow on the glacier has been pierced by channels and turned into a fakirbed with ice as nails of 50 cm. Amazing how you get from one ice nail to the other and only occasionally sink through ...

While our team is complete and already back in base camp or in full descent, the other teams are on their way to the top today. In particular the American Madison team (with whom our sherpas had put the ropes together) and a part of the Japanese team (who had fixed the ropes to camp 1). There are quite a few who return on their steps but the majority reach the top. A Pakistani high carrier gets into trouble and has been missing for a while but is eventually recovered and can be relieved by 2 other sherpas.

On the descent, however, 1 of the Japanese falls at the famous 'bottleneck', location of most dramas on this mountain and this time the verdict is irrevocable. The body of the barely 41-year-old Watanabe appears not to be recovered.

Monday, July 23

While the American and Japanese climbers who top yesterday are still going downhill and are all expected in the base camp today, there is still a few (Spaniards) whose top attempt we follow through his expedition leader who has his 'tent' in our dining tent. set up. He is at the top at 9.30 am and now we hope that he - probably the last one - can return safely. Then the mountain closes again for at least a year. After all, the weather is turning. Today again very cloudy, typically Belgian weather. The 3 days without high winds at high altitudes are over and in that short period probably a record number of climbers have reached the summit of the K2 without ever having been shining weather. The increasingly precise weather forecasts make this possible. In a few days there will be no trace of human activity here, unless there is a trace of burnt-out firing of carriers that have been too 'lazy' to haul the waste back and make it easier to get rid of it.

The good news is that Pakistani carriers have left to arrive here in 3 days to evacuate the base camp. That means that we can start our return trip next Thursday. Our height carriers will go to camp 1 and 2 one more time tomorrow to recover any remaining equipment. They prefer me ...

Our Chinese friend Li tries to convince Sophie, Noal and me to climb Broad Peak with him. After all, we are acclimatized, all ropes are in place (due to other expeditions) and there are still plenty of oxygen bottles (among others due to our very limited use). Everything is at his expense and he rents the necessary helicopters to fly back to Skardu at the end so that we can be there as quickly as we would simply withdraw. The permits are also provided. Attractive, isn't it? Why would he do that? Of course, Li realizes that his chance at the top is much greater if he has a larger team. For a moment it dawns on us that this is of course a unique opportunity and a unique achievement. But very soon we realize that this is totally not according to our philosophy (with oxygen from low camps and without really getting to know the mountain) and secondly we must also admit that our physical condition is not of that nature to mitigate this risk take. The big difference between those who take a lot of oxygen and a little, is the state of physical readiness and recovery just after a climb. Noal, Sophie and myself are indeed 'drained' and we do not want to artificially drag ourselves to the top. So the answer is no. It does not prevent Li, together with his 'assistant', from taking 5 sherpas for this new short (3-day) adventure. I continue to have serious reservations about Li's approach, but I have to respect his 'incredible drive'.

Tuesday, July 24

Last night I wept like a little child. I woke up at 1 am and relived the part of the final climb between the shoulder of the K2 and the top. Although most of that climb happened at night and everything was covered with clouds and fog at the descent, the route now came to me crystal clear through a combination - I suspect - of the subconscious and earlier reading about the climb. I was stuck with an egg in my stomach, with emptiness and powerlessness in my arms ... and that tension apparently had to go away.

Is this the reason why so few climbers return to K2? Is this the reason why climbers like Ed Veisturs (all 14, 8000 people) or more recently Tunj Findic (13 out of 14) all continue to look at the K2 with admiration but especially with relief that they have ever climbed it and this never have to do again? However, they do not turn their hand to "Everest" climb the Everest several times. To be honest, my feeling is: "Everest any time, K2 never again" but this is of course my current, very fresh feeling.

But it is a coincidence that a new record has been set this weekend by a Pakistani carrier who has now reached the top of the K2 3 * and that a maximum of 10 people (including 5 of our sherpa now) have ever reached the top 2 *. On Everest, the number for both records is almost 10 * higher.

K2 has been under my skin since that fatal but beautiful evening 4 years ago on the way back from the ascent of the Gasherbrum II. This mountain was my ultimate challenge, my ultimate limit. That has also proved to be the case. I really hit my limits here. The K2 has almost gotten me small, but finally gave me a chance to stand on its highest crown. I am very grateful that this has succeeded but it has cost blood, sweat and tears. It is my ultimate limit in that the balance between climbing pleasure and abandonment, between mental boost and psychological suffering, between mysticism and fear of death, was unbalanced. I have given up more than pleasure, I have suffered more mentally than I got a boost from it, I have hardly had any mystical experience while the fear of death was real. Even as I try to get rid of this now, the tears come to my eyes. The limit has been reached. It is therefore no longer necessary.

Large team: explanation for success?

Together with the American Madison team and the Japanese, our team was by far the largest with 10 team members and around 15 supporting sherpa (including pre-climbers fixing ropes) and the same for the Americans. It is only through the cooperation of these 3 teams in fixing the ropes and in coordinating the climbing dates that our team was the first to start the final climbing week and the following day was followed by the Americans and the Japanese respectively. we have been successful. The 2008 disaster was largely due to a lack of cooperation and coordination, as a result of which the necessary ropes were not fixed in time and there was not enough room in the various camps. We have been able to avoid this by working together and using each other's tents. Moreover, everyone was able to save energy by literally following each other's footsteps. Nevertheless, it remains surprising that so many people made it to the top in 3 days. The weather is of course also an important factor in this… it was not nice but it was almost wind free which is crucial for success. The estimation of this has only become possible due to the particularly accurate weather forecast (per 100m height, location etc ...). I am sure that in the past - without this information - the expeditions would have been broken down in the same circumstances. Another factor is the use of extra oxygen from ever lower heights (where I have my reservations). Nevertheless, a success rate of 100% for our team, 75% for the Americans and 60% for the Japanese (with 1 fatal victim) remains miraculous. The experience of the team members involved is something in between. Together we had more than 100 successful 8000m climbs.

But if someone later claims that he has climbed the K2 solo ... then know that this mountain cannot be climbed solo! Every other smaller team has waited until everything is in place to then use the work of the others.

Without all the work of my team members as well as the Americans and the Japanese, I would never have been at the top.