TULALIP – Don Beavon has a choice.
Next summer, he can go on a tropical cruise with his wife. Or he can sit in a cold, snow-covered tent on a remote mountain, surrounded by makeshift memorials to the dead.
What will he decide?
“I can’t even think about it right now,” said Beavon, 51, who recently returned from an attempt at the 28,251-foot summit of K2, the world’s second-highest mountain.
His 10-member team spent nearly three months on the remote mountain on the border of Pakistan and China. Beavon and seven others came within 1,800 feet of the summit at one point, only to be turned back by 60 mph winds.
It was the farthest up the mountain they would get. Much of the summer they spent huddled in tents waiting for the snow to stop.
He’s been on 14 international climbing expeditions, has climbed Mount Everest and more than 20 other major peaks.
“This is probably the worst weather I’ve ever had on any expedition,” Beavon said. Mount Everest was colder, but K2 had “a lot more storms, a lot more snow.”
Members of several teams reached the summit on July 20, including Russians, Koreans, Italians and three Americans not from Beavon’s party. But two others died: Italian climber Stefano Zavka and a Sherpa working for the Korean team. The Sherpa fell; what happened to Zavka is unknown. Several other climbers were injured.
Winds, deep snow and sometimes both turned back the climbers several times. Whenever Beavon’s team descended to get out of the weather and then climbed back up to higher camps, “we had to dig the tents out,” he said.
At one point, tents set up at a high camp were believed to still be available for climbers coming later. But when Beavon’s team arrived, the tents been blown off the mountain.
“They were just totally gone,” he said.
Climbers have been known to be blown off the mountain too. The area around base camp is cluttered with handmade memorials to many of the 51 climbers who have died on K2.
“We found a lot of body parts,” Beavon said. “We found a piece of a skull. We found a boot with a foot in it. We found a couple of torsos.”
The group also found a bloodied jacket believed to belong to an Italian climber who died on K2 in the 1980s.
In August at base camp, Beavon was able to borrow a satellite phone from another climber and call his wife, Sheila. She said she was taking a trip to Hawaii. The two had talked before about taking a cruise someday.
“I said, ‘If you want to schedule a cruise, now’s the time to do it,’” Beavon said. “Just make sure it’s someplace tropical.”
A friend of Beavon’s is leading an expedition up K2 either next year or the year after. He’s not sure if he’ll go along.
“I don’t think I want to be sitting in a little tent for the month of August waiting out a snowstorm next year,” Beavon said.
Before this year, only 191 people were on record as having summited the difficult mountain, compared to 1,400 for Mount Everest.
“Whether this one’s in my future again or not, I just can’t say right now,” Beavon said. “There’s going to be other adventures. I’ll always go climbing.”
Reporter Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439 or firstname.lastname@example.org.